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Democratic Deals

Democratic Deals

A Defense of Political Bargaining

Melissa Schwartzberg, Jack Knight

ISBN 9780674297012

Publication date: 06/11/2024

Two leading scholars of democracy make the case for political bargaining and define its proper limits.

Bargains—grand and prosaic—are a central fact of political life. The distribution of bargaining power affects the design of constitutions, the construction of party coalitions, legislative outcomes, judicial opinions, and much more. But can political bargaining be justified in theory? If it inevitably involves asymmetric power, is it anything more than the exercise of sublimated force, emerging from and reifying inequalities?

In Democratic Deals, Melissa Schwartzberg and Jack Knight defend bargaining against those who champion deliberation or compromise, showing that, under the right conditions and constraints, it can secure political equality and protect fundamental interests. The challenge, then, is to ensure that these conditions prevail. Drawing a sustained analogy to the private law of contracts—in particular, its concepts of duress and unconscionability—the authors articulate a set of procedural and substantive constraints on the bargaining process and analyze the circumstances under which unequal bargaining power might be justified in a democratic context. Institutions, Schwartzberg and Knight argue, can facilitate gains from exchange while placing meaningful limits on the exercise of unequal power.

Democratic Deals examines frameworks of just bargaining in a range of contexts—constitution-making and legislative politics, among judges and administrative agencies, across branches of government, and between the state and private actors in the course of plea deals. Bargaining is an ineradicable fact of political life. Schwartzberg and Knight show that it can also be essential for democracy.


  • Melissa Schwartzberg is Julius Silver, Roslyn S. Silver, and Enid Silver Winslow Professor of Politics at New York University, where she is also affiliated faculty in the School of Law and the Department of Classics.
  • Jack Knight is Frederic Cleaveland Distinguished Professor of Law and Political Science at Duke University.

Book Details

  • Harvard University Press