Dewey and Hayek on Democratic Experimentalism

Contemporary Pragmatism 9 (2):93-116 (2012)
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Michael Dorf and Charles Sabel invoke John Dewey’s “pragmatist account of thought and action” as the “backdrop” for their theory of democratic experimentalism, an approach to governance emphasizing judicially monitored local decision making within a system of decentralized administrative authority. Little credit for influence is given to the Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek and his classic liberal ideas. Indeed, Sabel has been highly critical of Hayek’s ideas. Yet, an argument can be made that (i) democratic experimentalism is at least loosely Hayekian and (ii) a combined Deweyan-Hayekian analysis of Dorf and Sabel’s theory reveals some critical mistakes. One implication of my analysis is that Dewey and Hayek’s ideas are more compatible than most democratic theorists and political philosophers will admit. Evidence of this compatibility opens the door for creating and evaluating democratic experiments within a Deweyan-Hayekian theoretical framework, as well as extending the framework to other areas of political inquiry.
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