The book Patterns of Democracy: Government Forms and Performances in Thirty-Six Countries compared consensus democracy vis-a-vis majoritarian democracy as society’s backbone towards social and economic development. Through its discourse, it made evident that consensus democracy exhibits a more mature type of democracy as it better responds to many of the contemporary community’s social and political issues such as women’s rights, environmental awareness and voter’s turnout. The books presented ideas that broadened my perception of sociopolitical and socioeconomic issues.
It has effectively demonstrated the complexities of our society and the dynamics of democracy in particular. For this, the book is a good baseline for building our political awareness and ideological stance. However, I find consensus democracy, as presented in the book, a very debatable concept. As the book relates, consensus democracy is a type of government where every sector with a valid purpose is given due representation in the socio-civic segments of society. It has been practiced and seen success in Switzerland, Belgium and even international organization such as the European Union among others.
Among its identified key characteristics are the formation of a grand coalition where elite leaders of each sector recognizes the dangers of non-cooperation; exercise of mutual veto which requires consensus to confirm the majority rule; proportionality where representation in the national and civic segments of the society is equal to the sector’s population; and segmental autonomy which creates a sense of individuality and allows for different culturally-based community laws (www. wikipedia. com).
Each year, libraries across the United States report hundreds of challenges. The leading causes for contesting a book are sexually explicit content, offensive language and inappropriate subjects for minors [source: American Library Association]. Only a minority of the requests actually make it through to banning the book from its respective library. The Catcher in the Rye. The Scarlet Letter. ...
Popular literature credits Arend Lijphart as is the primary promoter of this type of democracy.
Lijphart sees consensus democracy as “kinder, gentler” approach compared to majoritarian democracy. The book advocates this type of democracy – also called consociationalism – not only as an antidote to countries in conflict but also as the supreme state of society. The way he presented and navigated his evidences into asserting the numerous advantages of consociationalism is obviously coming from a one-track mind. Understanding his standpoint as an avid and pious promoter of this political theory as evidenced in his early works such as Democracy in Plural Societies (1977), he must have been so immersed and engrossed on this concept.
There is no question that this type of democracy works, in some situations far better even, than other democracies. Yet, as a reader, one may not help but feel overwhelmed by the bombardment of too-good-to-be-true attributes and then start to look for flaws and critique the concept. In his narration on how idyllic consensus democracy is, he missed out on several obvious contentions which real life circumstances may pose on its actual implementation. He may also have overlooked some contextual considerations that had served as crucial factors in the success of consociationalism.
Therefore as a review of his work – Patterns of Democracy – it would be insightful to mention several observations from an outsider’s point of view. Consensus democracy is ideal; in fact it’s too ideal it seems too good to be true. Operating from a realist point of view, consociationalism is a fantasy. It is difficult to imagine sectors of the society – each with its own agenda and interest, some with contrasting views as the other – would come together and work for a policy that may not have any effect on their cause. There will always be an opportunity cost which one or several sectors should be willing to pay.
The question now is how much each sector is willing to sacrifice for the common good. Also, the sectors which they intend to integrate in policy-making initiatives are largely issue-based. This introduces another complexity since some of them are ad-hoc groups that disintegrate once their mission has been realized, unable to sustain the support of its subordinates. Except for some constant concerns such as labor, health and education, sectors with less important concerns need not to be raised on national level regardless of its populace.
There is a fundamental difference between a democracy and a republic as it concerned the political entitlement of the citizenry. The citizens of a republic do not participate directly with governmental affairs. The citizens of a republic can however have a say in who does participate. The Roman republic has two prefect systems to prevent dictatorship which didn't work. The Romans called their ...
Institutionalizing a long term sectoral representation and compromise agreements in a much diversified society is a serious challenge to meet, and even harder to maintain. Consensus democracy dreams of a welfare state with less violence, more equality, and greater environmental concern, and all the good things every government aspires for its people. However, the book discussion of consensus democracy makes it seem so easy to realize, eliciting false hopes, leading to unrest and eventual breakdown of the society.
There is nothing wrong in setting goals but it should also be practical and pragmatic as to not mislead the people into an overnight change. The goals of consociationalism could also be interpreted as being preachy. As in the case of consociationalism in Lebanon which was tagged as “confessionalism” due to its religious linkages, consensus democracy defies the separation of church and state – a characteristic common to most democratic states. Aligning the government’s policies with that of the church’s is a U-turn back to the conservative ages which democracies have long tried to break from.
Another comment on the book is that it had the impression of being too imposing. Though it may have seen several successes in some countries as in the Netherlands and Belgium, this type of democracy cannot be forced upon other states. Again, operating from a relativist’s perspective, one must realize that each sovereign state is a unique entity. In fact, recognizing pre-conditions for better application of consensus democracy is in itself a recognition that it cannot be function as effectively in other states.
This is precisely the purpose of comparative politics where various forms of governments are studied to determine which would work best in a particular society. Contrasting consensus democracy with majoritarian democracy was Lijphart’s way of highlighting the positive facets of the former. However, the manner on which the comparison was presented seems to be discrediting the latter in order to elevate the status of consociationalism. It is ironic that consensus democracy calls for tolerance for unparallel views for various sectors yet he is maligning majoritarian democracy to forward his thoughts.
The main function of education is to maintain a value consensus in society, this is the main idea of Durkheim. He also believed that a major function of education was to prepare children for the world of work. He outlined this with three broad functions role allocation, skill provision and socialisation. The problem with Durkheim’s theory is he didn’t actually carry out empirical research, he was ...
This manner of persuasion holds no chance in a consensus democracy for it will only stir more conflict and cleavages among disparate groups. As sectors are represented by elites in a consensus democracy, it manifests an imbalance in the society; elites who have their own interests to protect, have secured places in the society and have nothing much to lose should they fail to forward their cause. This leaves the sectors they represent helpless should the elites decide go with the majority.
The minority will have no power against the majority in fear of retaliating on them with a bigger impact. This scenario is highly hegemonic. Lastly, the federalism by means of identifying the racial and cultural backgrounds is not cohesive, rather it’s the opposite. Continuously referring to them as the minority will not improve the chances of garnering greater support. This will allow the so called ethic groups to detach from the coalition and pursue their own initiatives in some other venue that may not be as diplomatic as consociationalism suggests.