Democracy  &  Nature, Vol. 7, No. 1


Can Groups Have Rights? What Postmodern Theory Tells Us About Participatory Democracy in the Era of Identity Politics

David Ingram


Abstract: The aim of this article is to draw out some implications of Jean-Francois Lyotard's account of democratic legitimation for current debates about 'identity politics.' I relate Lyotard's theory to struggles over global rights and global democracy, aboriginal rights, multiculturalism (Quebec's language laws), and proportional group representation (racial redistricting in the U.S.). I then argue that Lyotard's own conception of postmodern democratic justice wavers between a Rawlsian model of 'overlapping consensus' and a Habermasian model of 'communicative consensus.' I conclude that, although each model has distinctive advantages and disadvantages, the latter model is better equipped to bring about broad participatory democracy in the long run.