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Abstract

A few events in recent American history are analyzed as “disagreement failures,” while others are described as exemplifying “disagreement success.” These terms are defined in order to support the conclusion that deliberative democracy requires both the celebration of disagreement and the crossing of multiple borders through dialogue. Such a “democracy of conversation” more specifically requires a culture that explicitly celebrates disagreement as an activity, meaning that it treats actual engagement in disagreement as a part of a life well-lived, and that it therefore routinely pushes for the inclusion of as many “sides” as possible in public talk. Supported in this way, cross-border, public conversation would be inherently democratic, community-building, and anti-totalitarian. Held regularly, such talk would help participants to see issues from multiple points of view, and would do so without asking them to give in to the non-thinking of mere tolerance. People who take part in such conversations would be more likely to face up to difficult issues politicians often avoid, and politicians would both be pushed and enabled to do better. In addition, such disagreement practice would cultivate respect for humanity, as participants observe themselves and others making sense, being civil, and in general doing a good job under presssure.

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