The Professors on Public Life

Authors

  • RICHARD D. FRENCH

    1. CN-Tellier Professor of Business and Public Policy at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs of the University of Ottawa, was a Member of the National Assembly of Quebec from 1981 to 1989, and Minister of Communications from 1985 to 1988.
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Abstract

Many academics misunderstand public life and the conditions under which policy is made. This article examines misconceptions in three major academic traditions—policy as science (e.g., ‘evidence-based policy’), normative political theory, and the mini-public school of deliberative democracy—and argues that the practical implications of each of these traditions are limited by their partial, shallow and etiolated vision of politics. Three constitutive features of public life, competition, publicity and uncertainty, compromise the potential of these traditions to affect in any fundamental way the practice of politics. Dissatisfaction with real existing democracy is not the consequence of some intellectual or moral failure uniquely characteristic of the persona publica, and attempts to reform it are misdirected to the extent that they imagine a better public life modeled on academic ideals.

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