Tradition and the Deliberative Turn

A Critique of Contemporary Democratic Theory

By Ryan R. Holston

Subjects: Political Theory, Democracy, Communication, Political Philosophy
Hardcover : 9781438492094, 218 pages, March 2023
Paperback : 9781438492087, 218 pages, September 2023

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Table of contents


1. Rousseau’s Divorce of the Good from History

2. Kant Formalizes the Divorce

3. Democracy’s Deliberation

4. The Rehabilitation of Prejudice

5. Tradition’s Deliberation

6. Deliberation and Modernity


Reframes the discussion of deliberative democracy in a unique fashion, approaching the debate as a historical conversation.


This book changes the narrative regarding democratic deliberation. It does so by bringing to bear insights into the nature of morality and discourse associated with one of the twentieth century's foremost philosophers of history, Hans-Georg Gadamer. Tradition and the Deliberative Turn thus reframes the discussion about deliberative democracy with a robust historical sensibility, which has largely been missing from this conversation. Gadamer's "rehabilitation" of tradition shows how the concrete ethical life does not merely occlude but also facilitates moral understanding, providing a particular vantage point from which we perceive the world. What other scholars have overlooked is that such a perspective is therefore always limited. Drawing on Gadamer's practical philosophy, an underappreciated element in his corpus, Ryan R. Holston argues for the need to cultivate these historically-rooted and local relationships and the shared meanings to which they give life.

Ryan R. Holston is Professor and Jonathan M. Daniels '61 Chair at the Virginia Military Institute. He is the coeditor (with Justin D. Garrison) of The Historical Mind: Humanistic Renewal in a Post-Constitutional Age, also published by SUNY Press.


"Holston's approach to his topic is interesting and important in that it occupies a middle ground between two extremes." — University Bookman

"Holston presents a fascinating history of rationalism that points to epistemological issues going back to Plato." — Modern Age

"Gadamer saw the fruitfulness of his hermeneutics in its possible applications to other fields. Ryan R. Holston's insightful study achieves just such an application in political theory by showing how Gadamer's fusion of morality with history could help us overcome the instrumentalist understanding of morality, prevalent in modern deliberative theory, which construes values as something from which we could stand apart and look at from the outside. No, Holston powerfully argues, morality is who we are and cannot be viewed apart from our historical being. Renewing the debate between Gadamer and Habermas, this study successfully criticizes the utopian and irreal nature of many strands of contemporary democratic theory." — Jean Grondin, University of Montreal