Institutional Bargaining for Democratic Theorists (or How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Haggling)

Jack Knight, Melissa Schwartzberg

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


    Contemporary political science takes bargaining to be the central mechanism of democratic decision making, though political theorists typically doubt that processes that permit the exercise of unequal power and the use of threats can yield legitimate outcomes. In this review, we trace the development of theories of institutional bargaining from the standpoint of pluralism and positive political theory before turning to the treatment of bargaining in the influential work of John Rawls and Ju¤die¤rgen Habermas. Their ambivalence about bargaining gave rise to a new focus on the value of negotiation and compromise but this literature constitutes an unstable midpoint between the justificatory ambitions of deliberative democracy and the desire to provide plausible models of political decision making. Instead of advocating changes in mindset or motivation, we argue that a fair bargaining process requires institutional reform, as well as a justificatory framework centered on the preservation of egalitarian decision making.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)259-276
    Number of pages18
    JournalAnnual Review of Political Science
    StatePublished - May 11 2020


    • Bargaining
    • compromise
    • deliberation
    • negotiation
    • positive political theory

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Sociology and Political Science


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