Democratic deliberation can be viewed in a few different ways.
It can be approached as a means of competing interests coming
together to bargain between groups until they come to some kind of
From an epistemological sense, deliberation is what we do in
the absence of certainty, and where uncertainty exists so does the
political. This requires us to practice as the political
philosopher Hannah Arendt says, "thinking without banisters."
Deliberation takes place as members of a community discuss and
determine answers to perennial questions: What is real? What is
moral? What do we value? How can we best address our political or
There's a third form of democratic deliberation, one often
overlooked or under-utilized: deliberation as a way of working
through emotional trauma. Rather than debate the significance
of certain political events and which legislative actions should be
taken, this more therapeutic view considers deliberation a tool for
helping communities process emotional cataclysms or psychological
maladies, especially past ones left unacknowledged or
This can happen on a personal level, or collectively, for a
community. Think of it like political activism as a massive group
This third form is advocated for by Noëlle McAfee, a professor
of philosophy at Emory University with a secondary appointment as
professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. She is also the
director of Emory’s Psychoanalytic Studies Program. In her 2019
of Breakdown: Politics and Psychoanalysis
, which won the
American Psychoanalytic Association's 2020 Courage to Dream Book,
McAfee applies a psychoanalytic lens to some of the most pressing
political issues faced by American democracy today, such as racism,
inequality, alienation, and globalism.
In this conversation, we reflect on a few things.
What is the fear of breakdown and how does this anxiety make
democracy more difficult to practice? What are some psychoanalytic
explanations for the rise of nativism and authoritarianism in the
United States? What are some of these political ghosts and wounds
that remain submerged or repressed? And what does it look like to
use democratic deliberation as a form of collective therapy?