POLI 212 Lecture Notes - Consensus Democracy, Party System, Liberal Democracy
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FEBRUARY 29, 2012:
Liphart’s Readings: is interested in democracy regimes. He covers a period of 1945-
1980 and the countries have been continuously democratic for that time period- he
included 22 countries (but counts France’s 4th Republic and France’s 5th republic as
two different countries.) He wants to classify their similarities and differences. He
says that liberal democracy has many significant differences within it (majoritarian
vs. consensual). He has a causal argument: political regimes reflect qualities of
society. Political regimes are adaptations to certain social features. It is a society
centred view of how regimes come to be.
Liphart’s distinctions between majoritarian and consensus democracy:
The basic distinction is that in a majoritarian democracy you concentrate as much
power as possible in the hands of the majority, still subject to democratic rules of
the game. In a consensus democracy, they want to share and disperse political
power as much as possible. Both are representative democracy, not direct
He develops a 2x2 typology to classify countries. There are 2 dimensions: a
territorial dimension and an institutional dimension (their institutional profile of
The institutional profile of a regime asks a question about relations between
legislature and executive. Is legislative power concentrated or not? Is the party
system a 2 party system or a multi party system? What is the issue space of politics-
is the party system one-dimensional or multi dimensional (is there one issue that
dominates politics or are these multiple issues that organize discourse). Is the
electoral system a plurality system or a system of proportional representation?
In majoritarian democracy, executive power is concentrated, the party system tends
to be a two party system, the issue space is one-dimensional, and the electoral
system is a plurality system, sometimes known as first-past-the-post. The
characteristics of consensus democracy are the opposite.
The territorial profile is the second dimension. The questions are: Is power
concentrated territorially or is it divided (is it asking whether a regime is unitary
and centralized or federal and decentralized)?
The dimensions are independent because a regime can score high in one dimension
and low in another.
His basic argument is that there is a clear relationship between the type of regime
and whether societies are plural or not. The more plural a society, the more
consensual its regime. “Homogenous societies in which a high degree of agreement
exists can afford majoritarian and competitive government.”
In societies which are plural societies the situation is much more difficult. To say
that society is plural is to say that exist different values and these issues and
politicized, and they are the basis of political organization. Political management in
more difficult. Plural societies require a different type of political organization if
those societies are to be stable through time. What a consensus regime provides for
a plural society are incentives for power sharing among different groups. What
motivates his analysis are differences connected to values more generally, not class
or income, especially societies deeply divided along religious, cultural, or ethnically.
Political stability is a consequence of a fit between social structure and political
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