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Democracies: Patterns of Majoritarian and Consensus Government in Twenty-one Countries Paperback – 1 Jul 1984

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Product details

  • Paperback: 248 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (1 July 1984)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300031823
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300031829
  • Product Dimensions: 20.8 x 14.1 x 1.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 952,093 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By A Customer on 12 Jan. 2005
Format: Paperback
This is one of the best books I have ever read. It is a fascinating, in-depth approach to varying kinds of democracies that is also easy to read and understandable. I would unhesitatingly recommend it to anyone who wants to understand more about world politics.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 1 review
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Systemic Analysis of Variation in Democratic Government 7 Aug. 2007
By Matthew P. Arsenault - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Lijphart suggests that within the broad framework of democratic government, democratic states tend to cluster around two political subsystems: the majoritarian and consensus models. In examining these two subsystems, he illustrates the differences along two dimensions: (1) executive-parties; (2) federal-unitary. The executive-parties dimension includes variables like executive type, relations between executive and legislative bodies, party system and electoral system. The federal-unitary dimension contains the variables degree of government centralization, type of legislature, and the degree of flexibility within the constitutional context. In the remainder book, Lijphart takes a systematic approach in analyzing the differences between majoritarian and consensus democracy along his two dimensions.

For example, along dimension one, the majoritarian system is characterized by a two-party system in which representatives are elected through a SMD electoral system. However, the actual differences between the parties are quite small, leading Lijphart to label the majoritarian model a "one dimensional party system." The majoritarian system is further characterized by a high concentration of executive power, controlled by one party and accompanied by bare majority cabinets. Because of the system of majority rule, the executive and cabinet is dominant in relation to the parliament.

In comparison, consensus democracy is characterized by a multiple party system (more than two) and these parties are separated by a number of issue dimensions. Representatives are elected through a PR electoral system. Because of the multiparty system, majority rule isn't likely. As such, the executive branch is often composed of broad coalitions which may include minority parties. Minority rights are further protected by a bicameral legislature which grants special representation to smaller groups. Furthermore, unlike the majoritarian model, power is shared between the branches of government and not monopolized by the executive branch.

Along the second dimension, the majoritarian system maintains a unitary and centralized government. This means the parliamentary majority can operate in any functional area. The majoritarian system is characterized by a distinct lack of federalism. Furthermore, the majoritarian system is often characterized by an unwritten constitution. As such, government powers "are defined instead in a number of laws, customs, and conventions." Additionally, there is a lack of judicial review which makes parliament the ultimate authority.

The consensus model, however, is characterized by a system of federalism (both territorial and material) which grants degrees of autonomy to various groups. This leads to a rather decentralized system of governance. Additionally, most consensus democracies maintain a written constitution. This makes changes difficult through minority veto, thus protecting minority rights.

Lijphart then operationalizes his variables and is able to measure levels of majoritarian and consensus democracy for his 21 countries. Although little difference exists in the actual performance of these two democracy types, Lijphart finds that the consensus model is particularly suited for heterogeneous societies. Consensus democracies consist of political institutions which protect minorities and help mitigate political conflict in a pluralistic society.
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