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Journal of Democracy 12.3 (2001) 170-175
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Books In Review
Two Models Of Democracy
Patterns of Democracy: Government Forms and Performance in Thirty-Six Countries. By Arend Lijphart. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999. 352 pp.
Elections as Instruments of Democracy: Majoritarian and Proportional Views. By G. Bingham Powell, Jr. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.298 pp.
These landmark books by two of the most esteemed scholars of comparative politics of our time are essential reading for people with an interest in democracy. Both deal with the contrast between the majoritarian and consensus (or proportional) models of democracy. Majoritarian democracies such as the United Kingdom typically have first-past-the-post electoral systems, only two major political parties, single-party cabinets, unicameralism, and unitary and centralized government. Consensus democracies such as Switzerland or Belgium are characterized by most or all of the following: proportional electoral systems with multimember districts, more than two major parties, coalition cabinets, bicameralism, and decentralized or federal political systems.
Patterns of Democracy started out as a revised and updated version of Arend Lijphart's 1984 classic, Democracies: Patterns of Majoritarian and Consensus Government (Yale University Press). As the project evolved, Lijphart undertook extensive changes, but the core idea remains the same: Modern liberal democracies are based on two competing visions of the democratic ideal. The majoritarian principle emphasizes that democracy is majority rule and is based on a concentration of power. Majoritarian [End Page 170] democracy can create sharp divisions between those who hold power and those who do not, and it does not allow the opposition much influence over government policy. The consensus principle, on the other hand, promotes the idea that democracy should represent as many citizens as possible and that a simple majority should not govern in an unfettered fashion. Consensus democracy disperses power so that there are multiple poles of decision making and multiple checks and balances, thus limiting the power of the central government while providing for the representation of a broader array of interests.
Lijphart's distinction between consensus and majoritarian democracy is the single most influential typology of modern democracies. Until his path-breaking work on the related theme of consociational democracy appeared in the 1960s and 1970s, political science was dominated by a majoritarian bias. For over three decades, Lijphart has persuasively argued that democracy need not follow the majoritarian model. In Patterns of Democracy he repeats this familiar yet important theme: "In the most deeply divided societies . . . majority rule spells majority dictatorship and civil strife rather than democracy. What such societies need is a democratic regime that emphasizes consensus instead of opposition, that includes rather than excludes" (p. 33).
During his distinguished career, Lijphart has consistently underscored the virtues of consensus (or consociational) democracy, and this book is no exception. In chapters 15 and 16, Lijphart analyzes the consequences of the differences between majoritarian and consensus democracy. He concludes that consensus democracies have an equal or slightly better record than majoritarian democracies in economic management and in the control of violence. Moreover, they perform better at promoting women's representation, reducing inequalities, encouraging electoral participation, promoting citizen satisfaction with democracy, protecting the environment, providing social welfare, avoiding high crime rates, and encouraging generosity in foreign aid.
Although Lijphart makes a persuasive case for the virtues of consensus democracy, his ex-ante predilection for it skews parts of the analysis. For example, when he measures the quality of democracy, he selects some issues on which consensus democracy has a clear advantage but not one that favors majoritarian democracy. This part of the book could also have been strengthened by greater attention to the causal mechanisms that enable consensus democracy to achieve better results. Lijphart's bivariate comparisons show that consensus democracy is correlated with better governmental performance, but these correlations do not show that consensus democracy was responsible for the enhanced performance. Often it is not clear why consensus democracy would be better at attaining some results. Quantitative social scientists will yearn for more statistical details that control for other possible sources of causation.
Lijphart argues that whether democracy...