Arend Lijphart, “Democratic political systems”, Journal of Theoretical Politics 1 (1989), pp. 33-48.

Main Argument:_ The majoritarian-consensus typology is based on 1) characteristics of the party/electoral system and government coalitions and 2) federal vs unitary traits. Consensus is not the same as consociational democracy as consociationalism is only used in societies with deep cleavages. There are three causal explanations for the placement of the cases in the typology: the degree to which the country is plural; the population size; the influence of the Westminster model (note: Westminster-majoritarian model are derived from the principle of majority rule, not just because it is a part of the British system). Majoritarian democracy cannot be regarded as superior to consensus democracy in terms of their respective consequences for democratic stability and quality.


_Method:_ Lijphart creates a typology


Read This With:

Almond, Gabriel A. (1956) ‘Comparative Political Systems’, Journal of Politics 18 (3): 391–409.

Dahl, Robert A. (1971) Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition. New Haven: Yale University Press.



== Notes ==


This is an elaboration on the typology of democratic political systems proposed in Democracies (Lijphart, 1984)


Dimension 1:

  1. Concentration of executive power versus executive power-sharing
  2. Executive dominance versus executive-legislative balance
  3. Two-party versus multiparty system
  4. One-dimensional versus multidimensional party system
  5. Plurality elections versus proportional representation


Dimension 2: federal-unitary

  1. Unitary and centralized versus federal and decentralized government
  2. Unicameralism versus strong bicameralism
  3. Unwritten versus written and rigid constitutions


Also takes into account the use of direct democracy: the referendum can probably be regarded as a consensual instead of a neutral characteristic

This argument runs counter to the conventional wisdom which tends to think of the referendum as more majoritarian than consensual


_ Consociational and Consensus Democracy_

–     The differences between them can largely be explained in terms of how they were derived

–     Consociational and consensus democracy have a large area of overlap, but neither is completely encompassed by the other

–     This means that consociational democracy cannot be seen as a special form of consensus democracy or vice versa

–     Both consociational and consensus democracy are highly suitable forms of democracy for divided societies

–     Elite behaviour should be treated as a variable: cooperative and coalescent elite behaviour can turn a potentially unstable political system into a stable one

–     Four essential Consociational practices: grand coalition, segmental autonomy, proportionality, and mutual veto (see other Lijphart article for more information)

–     Plural society and elite predominance may also be features of consociationalism

–     Where consensus and consociational democracy differ, the former tends to emphasize formal-institutional devices whereas the latter relies to a larger extent on informal practices

–     In societies that are not naturally and spontaneously consensual, the political system has to be arranged in such a way as to ‘artificially’ introduce as much consensus as possible

_Problematical Cases: Austria, Canada, and Luxembourg_

_Canada_ is only semi-consociational, and its consociationalism has been weaker with regard to the grand coalition than the segmental autonomy principle; hence we should expect Canada to be more consensual on Dimension II than Dimension I – as it is

Problem of measurement: Canada’s one-party cabinets, especially the Liberal ones, have tended to be linguistic grand coalitions

_Austrian_ case is that its plural society consists of two large segments which naturally manifest  themselves as two large parties – making the Austrian party system superficially similar to the majoritarian model’s two-party system

_Luxembourg_ is not a sharply deviant case because it is in the intermediate instead of the majoritarian category on Dimension I

What is important is that the cabinets have included all three large parties on a kind of rotating basis so that, over time, the minimal winning cabinets can actually be called grand coalitions


Whereas two-party and Anglo-American systems were rated more highly on stability and quality, I rate the consensus type of democracy more highly in both respects, but with three important qualifications:

(1) As far as system stability is concerned, consensus democracy is superior to majoritarian democracy for plural societies

(2) The democratic quality of consensus democracy is superior insofar as its first dimension is compared with the same dimension of majoritarian democracy

(3) My conclusions are tentative and should be treated with caution due to the indirect and ambivalent nature of the evidence.

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