• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

Is consociational democracy democratic?

Extracts from this document...


Politics and Society in Europe Is consociational democracy democratic? Today, democracy is both a pervasive presence and a valued symbol in European politics1. Theorists of the concept generally agree on the fundamental principles of democracy but have tended to differ radically in their conception of popular rule and democratic practices2. Consequently, it was somewhat inevitable that democracy as an ideal emerged in different forms across the diverse societies prevalent in Western Europe. Arend Lipjphart's seminal work on 'consociational democracies'3 contributed to democratic theory - concerned primarily with political stability of democratic regimes in plural societies4. The democratic viability of Lipjphart's theory has recently been called into question however5. What then is 'democracy'? Establishing the benchmarks of the concept at the outset will allow us to evaluate the extent to which 'consociational democracy' can be seen as 'democratic'. An assessment of the key themes of Lipjphart's theory - that of 'grand coalitions', 'segmental autonomy', 'proportionality' and 'minority veto' respectively - will set the structure to the following discussion. Drawing examples from the Belgian and Swiss 'consociational' regimes will provide illustrations of the emerging argument that consociational democracy is undemocratic6. Abraham Lincoln famously described the concept of 'democracy' as 'government of the people, by the people, for the people'7. Lincoln's prominent phrase encapsulates three fundamental principles, which, roughly translated, mean that we as citizens govern through political parties representing our interests; exercise our choice through franchise to elect those in control; and have the right to hold persons in power accountable for their actions. Moreover, the fourth striking characteristic noted by academics is that democracy represents political stability8. ...read more.


Thus, with regard to representation, it would seem that consociational democracy acquires the higher democratic ground. On the other hand, even if we concede that 'proportionality' is more 'representative', it is implicit that a defining characteristic of consociational democracy is the absence of competition since the campaigning is directed at the mobilization of the sub-cultural constituency, not at competition with other parties. Competition between parties is, however, a defining feature of democracy39, stemming from the notion of freedom and choice. Can non-competition be equated with absence of choice and thus be seen as undemocratic? Conversely, certain academics have argued that in its pure form the system of proportional representation "generally backfires and may turn out to be the kiss of death"40. Indeed, party volatilities may have significant consequences for the political process in consociational democracies41. The Swiss party system is highly fragmented42, and the increasing fractionalisation of the party system in Belgium has led to high volatility elections and instability43. Does this adhere to the democratic notion of stability? Moreover, in the Swiss context it may be argued that referendums are basically majoritarian in their effects, because they are usually decided by simple popular majorities. Indeed, it has been suggested that, due to the inability to discuss matters emerging in referenda, they are bound to be more dangerous than representative assemblies to minority rights44. Additionally, statistics show that the level of participation in Swiss referenda has been low - often below 50 per cent of those eligible to vote45. In the light of some assertions that 'too many referenda kill democracy'46, can this aspect of proportionality in Swiss politics be described as democratic? ...read more.


38 Indeed, Switzerland has developed "the theory and practice of the referendum to a pitch to which no other nation has begun to match" (Butler and Ranney, eds., Referendums:A Comparative Study of Practice and Theory (Washington, D.C.: American Enterprise Institute, 1978) p.5 39 What democracy is and is not p.70 40 Comparative constitutional engineering, p.73. It has been said that the dispersal of power across several minority parties adds profusion to confusion, Ibid. p.71 41 paul pennings, party elites, p.38 42 The odd fellow, p.141 43 From consociation to federation, Belgium, p.93. In 'Democracy or Anarchy?' Ferdinand A Hermens warned of the dangers proportional representation posed to the survival of democracy, arguing that the instability created by the latter would invoke the rise of autocratic regimes. (F.A. Hermens, Democracy or Anarchy? Astudy of Proportional Representation (New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1972) p.293) 44 Democracies, p.31 45 The Swiss Labyrinth, p.5 46 The Swiss Labyrinth, p.5 47 Consociation and Federation, Lipjphart, p.501 48 Note: The term 'minority veto' will be used interchangeably with 'mutual veto' 49 From consociation to federation, Belgium, p.103. The Belgian constitution can only be changed by two-thirds majorities in both chambers of the legislature. This rule is effectively a minority veto where a minority or a combination thereof controls at least a third of the votes in one chamber. 50 Parties, Pillars and the Politics of accommodation, Andweg p.127 51 Democracies, p.190 52 The Swiss Labyrinth, p.27 53 Comparative Constitutional Engineering, p.71 54 Comparative constitutional engineering, p.72 55 http://www.sagepub.co.uk/journals/details/issue/abstract/ab013998.html 56 http://www.xrefer.com/entry/343729 57 Craig and De Burca p.155 ?? ?? ?? ?? ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our AS and A Level Political Philosophy section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related AS and A Level Political Philosophy essays

  1. Ethos, Pathos & Logos in Dr. Martin Luther King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail"

    stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Klu Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice".

  2. Does democracy bring peace?

    been extremely warlike, a prime example being the basis for democracy itself Thucydides' Athens. Commercial pacifists argue that what has transformed democracy from that time to its present day state was the development of capitalism. Paine going as far as to claim that "If commerce were permitted to act to

  1. Devolved power has all the advantages of unitary systems but none of the disadvantages ...

    Due to the different layers of government, which exists within a federal system, it is extremely difficult to know who is accountable. The state governments are quick to blame the Federal government in an attempt to shift the blame for any wrongdoings in their respective state.

  2. Nigeria Country Study

    and is led by the current President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua. The opposition All Nigeria People's Party under the leadership of Muhammadu Buhari has 96 House seats and 27 in the Senate (26.6% and 24.7%). There are also about twenty other minor opposition parties registered.

  1. Russia's Political Party System as an Obstacle to Democratization

    Additionally, independents contested in every district, whereas parties contested in much fewer, ranging from the Communist Party contesting in 57 percent of the districts to the Movement in Support of the Army party contesting in 8 percent, with the average party contesting in only 32 percent.

  2. How democratic was Britain by 1918?

    A more democratic system was established which would continue. The birth of the labour party was an indicator of growing democracy. By 1900 there was lots of little groups, the break through was the labour party getting two seats. By 1911 mps were entitled to �400 per year. This meant that an mp was a professional job.

  1. Iran Country Study

    implemented and established by Ali Akbar Davar and some of his contemporaries such as Abdolhossein Teymourtash under Reza Shah, with further changes during the second Pahlavi era. After the 1979 overthrow of the Pahlavi Dynasty by the Islamic Revolution, the system was changed drastically.

  2. Participation is the essence of democracy Discuss

    The term direct democracy originated in Athens of the 40,000 free slaves in the 5th Century. The women and current slaves were excluded. Switzerland has adopted Participatory democracy which is a type of direct democracy. The citizens have more participation in referendums and are able to be more involved in politics.

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work