Plebiscites, Participation, and Collective Action in Local Government Law

Participation is again in the air. Apparently fueled by current debates concerning decentralized power and republican versus pluralist traditions in our political and legal theory, those concerned with political decisionmaking have turned their attention to calls for increased public involvement in the process. As has been true in the past, the objectives of those who advocate increased participation are by no means uniform. Some stress the positive effects that broad participation would have on individual participants. The primary function of participation in these accounts lies in its educative value, its capacity to produce a more informed, hence more self-sufficient, citizenry. On this view, participation is not necessarily related to constructing political consensus. Instead, participation may be a mechanism for self-expression and the participatory forum becomes a place for disputation. Others express more concern for the social welfare effects of participation. Their argument suggests that participation will create a communitarian atmosphere in which decisions transcend individual interest and reflect instead the interdependence of those who constitute the community.