Political disagreement and socratic civic competence

Bentley, Russell (2005) Political disagreement and socratic civic competence. Political Studies, 53, (3), 516-536.


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Contemporary democratic theories that draw on Socrates for inspiration have addressed his method of investigation too narrowly because there has been insufficient attention to the need for authority, which Socrates also identifies. Because his appeals to authority initially appear antidemocratic, we cannot overlook this aspect of his thought. I describe a virtue, civic competence, which is the excellence of citizens who critically engage with the norms of the community, but who also recognise that authority is politically necessary. Deliberation requires elenctic-like scrutiny, but also a willingness to accept some arguments as authoritative. My overarching claim is that failure to exhibit such character traits can appear in more than one form, a point neglected in recent literature, and that not all such forms are antidemocratic. Civic competence is susceptible to corruptions that may never result in citizenship that is simply undemocratic. I define two corruptions of civic competence: 'disagonism' and 'eristicism'. The former treats disagreement as signalling either confusion or wickedness and deliberation as a process of clarifying and tidying discourse. The latter treats disagreement as ineliminable and deliberation as gaming with words in order to defeat an opponent in argument.

Item Type: Article
ISSNs: 0032-3217 (print)
Related URLs:
Subjects: J Political Science > JC Political theory
Divisions : University Structure - Pre August 2011 > School of Social Sciences > Politics and International Relations
ePrint ID: 35040
Accepted Date and Publication Date:
Date Deposited: 17 May 2006
Last Modified: 31 Mar 2016 12:02
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/35040

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