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Matthew J. Parlow, Civic Republicanism, Public Choice Theory, and Neighborhood Councils: A New Model for Civic Engagement, 79 U. Colo. L. Rev. 137 (2008). Reprinted with permission of the University of Colorado Law Review and the author.

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79 University of Colorado Law Review 137 (2008)


This paper analyzes the lack of civic engagement in local government decision-making and the problems that result from it. I consider one explanation as viewed through public choice theory: dominant special interest groups capture local governments for their own private interests. Thus, average citizens are not only alienated from their local government, but they also find the barriers to entry into local politics too high for collective action and participation. While at first glance this account seems descriptively accurate, public choice theory has normative limitations in explaining local governments because it fails to recognize these features of the local politics process as problematic (much less to offer any solutions).

Therefore, I argue that we ought to reject this model of local government in favor of a model based on civic republicanism, which does offer a solution to the problem of civic disengagement. Civic republicanism envisions local government substructures that provide meaningful opportunities for stakeholders to deliberate with one another regarding matters facing their community and correspondingly inform the local decision-making process. In this light, this Article explores whether neighborhood councils - new substructures of local government that aim to involve citizens in policy- and decision-making processes - can improve civic engagement.

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