By Suzanne Jaeger

Reviewed by

Suzanne Jaeger, University of Central Florida

Young has a vision for a democratic world order. Her scheme is inspired, at least in part, by feminist writings on emancipation that value utopian visions as important optimistic goals towards which people work together. She is not simply idealistic, however, for she argues subtly and persuasively, using many concrete examples, against current liberal political concepts that are similar to, but slightly different from, those she develops in her book. Concepts of deliberative and representative democracy are compatible with the value Young places on heterogeneity, multiculturalism, civil discourse and communicative justice. Traditional concepts belonging to the processes of representative government are revised because of an important change in epistemological perspective. Young aims to show the difference it makes to prevailing concepts of justice and democracy when a relational model of the self is assumed. This shift from the atomistic notion of the self that is typical in Western liberal political philosophy to a relational concept of the self mirrors recent ontological shifts in discussions of subjectivity from concepts of substance, presence and self-identity to notions of difference, relational structures and embodied spaces.

The book has seven chapters, and although each stands on its own as a separate essay, they are also connected as the development of Young’s political vision. The first chapter, “Democracy and Justice,” presents her concept of inclusive justice as a revised version of Habermas’s theory of communicative action. Young points out that in large-scale mass societies the context for the processes of democratic deliberation is not face-to-face decision-making. “The challenge for a theory of discussion-based democracy is to explain how its norms and values can apply to mass polities where the relations among members are complexly mediated rather than direct and face to face” (45). She argues in favor of proportional representation. However, rather than base representation on the opinions and competing interests of differently identified groups, she recommends that representation be structured more by the many perspectives individuals have in their plural relationships to each other and to their representatives. Her proposal is intriguing; however, in the end its implementation sounds improbable. Young admits to suggesting a new way to think about representation without also providing a practical account of how to structure a representative government on relationships rather than group identity.

In her analysis of civil discussions, Young emphasizes the importance of acknowledging differences and disagreement rather than the goal of achieving participatory consensus. She does not assume that an underlying agreement or shared understanding is the condition for the possibility of communication. “Serious and open public dialogue is more likely . . . to reveal differences than a common good” (44). One has only to recall heated classroom discussions or an academic department’s hiring committee meeting to find examples of irreconcilable differences. Although most often in such cases authority is the eventual arbitrator, Young instead defends a non-hierarchal system of institutionalized power. She develops a de-centered model of deliberative democracy that follows a version of Habermas’s. “In a decentered model of deliberative democracy, the democratic process cannot be identified with one institution or set of institutions–the state, or legislative bodies, or courts, etc. Rather, the processes of communication that give normative and rational meaning to democracy occur as flows and exchanges among various social sectors not brought together under a unifying principle” (46). In keeping with her commitment to non- domination in political decision-making, Young endorses the relevance of alternative modes of political discussion in addition to argumentation.

The second chapter, “Inclusive Political Communication,” addresses the narrowing of political theory to legitimate only argumentation as proper democratic communication. Here, Young develops three alternative modes of communication including greetings, rhetoric and narrative. She draws on the work of Emmanuel Levinas for her discussion of subject-to-subject recognition. Her concern is political debates that refer to certain groups in the third person and never in the second person, for example, single mothers and low income families. Their voices are never heard in debates of the very issues that directly affect them. They are neither greeted nor addressed other than as the object of the debate.

In opposition to exclusionist political discussions, Young also argues that rhetoric and narrative are both important parts of rational deliberation. “In real situations of political communication, people sometimes reject claims and arguments not on their rational merits, but because they do not like their modes of expression. They dismiss those who do not express themselves in the ‘proper’ accent or grammatical structure, or who display wild and funny signs instead of write letters to the editor” (70). Young discusses the function of both rhetoric and narrative to provide politically significant social knowledge from non- unified, more particularized perspectives.

Chapter three, “Social Difference as Political Resource,” begins by reviewing the various arguments against the politics of difference. She reiterates her arguments against the concept of identity as the distinguishing marker for interest groups and her support of the complex, interweaving network of relationships in which individuals are engaged. However, she adds to this discussion an important spatial notion of structure to contrast with substantive notions of identity.

Young takes seriously the social construction of subjectivity and therefore, like Foucault, Bourdieu, and other social constructionists, Young focuses attention on the social relations that constitute the conditions for one’s personal life, including one’s social class, economic resources and degrees of prestige. She reformulates Charles Taylor’s emphasis on the political importance of recognition, contending that because the politics of recognition “usually is part of or a means to claims for political and social inclusion or an end to structural inequalities that disadvantage them,” the politics of recognition is more about structural inequalities than cultural differences (105). The issue is not self-identity, but self- location within a community.

In a subsequent chapter, Young considers how a deliberative form of communicative justice can be pluralistic, include other styles of speech and communication besides argumentation and be achieved in the decentered mode necessary for large-scale mass societies. She examines explanations of justice that assume a false dichotomy between the competition of private interests and the necessary putting aside of private interests for the sake of the common good. If society is structured by different relations of privilege and disadvantage, then the idea that people can share a common goal or have common interests must be critically explored (109). “Fairness,” says Young, “usually involves coordinating diverse goods and interests rather than achieving a common goal” (110).

Approximately half-way through her book, in chapter five, an essay entitled “Civil Society and its Limits,” Young makes it clear that the concept of justice that underpins her account of inclusive democracy has to do with self-development. She defines self- development as “being able actively to engage in the world and grow” (184). Social institutions ought to provide “conditions for all persons to learn and use satisfying and expansive skills in socially recognized settings, and enable them to play and communicate with others or express their feelings and perspective on social life in contexts where others can listen” (184).

Young then makes what may be the most provocative point of the book in its American context. Because self-development is not reducible to the distribution of resources, and because market-and profit-oriented economic processes impinge on the ability of many to develop and exercise capacities, state institutions are necessary to subvert structural injustices that produce oppression. “Authoritative state regulation can limit the harmful effects of economic power. Economic and infrastructure planning, redistributive policies, and the direct provision of goods and services by the state can minimize material deprivation and foster the well-being of all members of society” (189).

Young goes on to examine the role of civil society in promoting social justice when delimited by state organization. Here again, in keeping with her overall project, Young does not assume that “state organization, economy and its associative lifeworld are distinct spheres or clusters of institutions” (160). Rather, they are kinds of activities. When we recognize that they are not substantively, but relationally defined activities we see how many institutions include all three activities. It is, therefore, not distinct institutions that need to be examined, but “how activities of an associative lifeworld support democracy and promote social justice.” She then discusses three levels of associative activity including private, civic and political, all three of which are interwoven activities administered by our social institutions.

Both the harms of and reasons for the continuing existence of racial and class segregation are discussed in chapter six. Along with the moral harms that segregation fosters, such as disrespect, conflict, and lack of communication, another politically significant problem is that it does not let the advantaged see the lives of the disadvantaged. On the other hand, public spaces such as public streets, squares, plazas and parks serve to displace the effects of segregation. “They importantly contribute to democratic inclusion because they bring differently positioned strangers into one another’s presence; they make concrete the fact that people of differing tastes, interests, needs, and life circumstances dwell together in a city or region” (214).

The role Young gives to both public spaces and public protest epitomizes the ideal of social and political inclusion for which Young advocates in her concept of “differentiated solidarity.” Unlike many other theories of democracy, Young’s acknowledges the normative implications of spatialized social relations. She appeals to the interconnectedness of citizens who are spatially related and proposes a form of regional democracy that respects autonomy as the right of individuals to non-interference in the pursuit of their self-chosen goals. However, this right does not imply a social structure in which atomized agents simply mind their own business and leave each other alone (231). Experience shows that agents are able to either thwart or support one another. Indeed, “agents are related in many ways they have not chosen, by virtue of kinship, history, proximity, or the unintended consequences of action” (231).

Young’s concept of differentiated solidarity is therefore not based on fellow feeling or mutual identification but on a form of respect and caring that also presumes the distance of strangers inhabiting the same region. Reminiscent of virtue ethics, differentiated solidarity is based on a commitment to justice owed to people. Moreover, one of the advantages of a political organization based on differentiated solidarity is that because it is not focused on serving either groups or spatial boundaries meant to contain or exclude, it is open to serve people who do not fit into any particular group, whether by choice or accident. At the close of the chapter Young provides a helpful sketch of regional government as she understands it. She argues against both forced integrations and segregation and describes the ways in which a regional government can promote more equality in neighborhood quality and access to services.

In the final chapter, “Self-Determination and Global Democracy,” Young discusses the boundaries of state justice obligations. To whom are we obligated? For what reasons might we be obligated to those outside the state? She begins with a discussion of the “bantustan” policy in apartheid South Africa which created “homelands” for several Black African peoples on the worst land in the region. The South African state declared the homelands as independent states and thereby absolved itself of any obligation towards the relocated peoples (239). Most nations have judged this policy as unjust because so arbitrary. Young uses the example as a measure against which citizens of first world nations can be seen to have obligations to others outside their state boundaries. She argues in support of the redistribution of goods beyond state boundaries and for stronger institutions of global governance than those presently in existence. Her discussion of the non-democratic governance of global organizations such as NATO, the Security Council, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization is instructive. However, Young remains mystifyingly optimistic about the future of democratic global governance.

In summary, Young’s book is accessibly written and virtuously jargon-free. She offers probing criticism of current debates and positions without alienating the reader unfamiliar with the various theories. Her professorial penchant for explanations and clarifications makes the book seem somewhat formulaic, but therefore also a good resource for upper division and graduate level courses. It encompasses several political theories, provides clear definitions and excellent bibliographic references for both feminist and non- feminist political philosophy. Like other careful thinkers, Young often states what one already knows, but never tried to articulate for oneself.


Suzanne Jaeger

Suzanne Jaeger is Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy and Humanities at the University of Central Florida. She received her Ph.D. from York University, Toronto, Canada. She has published articles in Philosophy Today, Nursing Philosophy, Queen’s Quarterly, and Routledge Encyclopedia of Feminist Theory.