Patterns of Democracy: Government Forms and Performance in Thirty-six Countries Hardcover – 1 Sep 1999
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Lijphart distinguishes between these two types of democracy by illustrating ten institutional differences which divide the typologies. For clarity, the author divides these ten differences into two distinct dimensions: executives-parties, and federal-unitary. The executives-parties dimension addresses "the arrangement of executive power, the party and electoral systems, and interest groups" (3). The federal-unitary dimension illustrates differences in institutional structure of a federated versus unitary government.
According to the executives-parties dimension, the majoritarian system, or Westminster model, is found to have a two party system and a strong one-party executive and cabinet. Often the executive is more powerful than his or her legislative counterparts. Furthermore, a majoritarian system often uses a single member district electoral system which can lead to disproportional representation, and has a highly competitive pluralist interest group system. Lijphart cites Britain and pre-1996 New Zealand as majoritarian systems.
Lijphart's consensus democracy varies institutionally from the Westminster model. First, under the majoritarian model, the executive office is often composed of a multi-party power-sharing cabinet or coalition. In addition, power-sharing exists between the executive branch and the legislature the electoral system often promotes proportional representation. Lastly, unlike the highly competitive special interest group system of the Westminster model, a consensus democracy promotes a system of interest group compromise (4). Lijphart uses Switzerland and Germany as examples of consensus democracy.
According to the federated-unitary dimension, the Westminster system has a strong, centralized government and a unicameral legislature. In addition, most majoritarian systems possess a very flexible constitution that can readily be amended or changed. Furthermore, in many majoritarian systems, the legislature holds the final word in the constitutionality of legislation, and as such, majoritarian systems do not have a strong system of judicial review.
The consensus model, on the other hand, often has a decentralized government, and can be a federated system. Often the legislature is divided into two houses. In addition, the constitution is often rigid, making change difficult. Lastly, the consensus system often has a strong institution of judicial review to monitor the legality of legislation.
To test the effectiveness of consensus and majoritarian systems, Lijphart compares the performance of the two democracies on three main categories: macroeconomic management, levels of political violence, and the "kinder, gentler" aspects of democracy. Lijphart's hypothesis "is that consensus democracy produces better results - but without the expectation that the differences will be very strong and significant" (261).
When exploring the effectiveness of the two democracies in macroeconomic management, the author operationalizes a number of variables. For the sake of brevity, I will condense the findings into six categories: economic growth, inflation rates, unemployment, strike activity, budget deficits, and freedom index. Lijphart tests the performance of the democracies by using both the executives-parties dimension and federated-unitary dimensions.
In the case of economic growth using the executives-parties dimension, there was little difference between majoritarian and consensus democracy. There was a weak negative relationship between consensus democracy and economic but the findings were not statistically significant. This implies that the difference between consensus and majoritarian democracies in regards to economic development is negligible. In regards to inflation, Lijphart finds that consensus democracies have a slightly lower rate of inflation than majoritarian systems. Consensus also performs slightly better than the majoritarian model in regards to unemployment, but again, the differences are slight.
Interestingly, Lijphart found a massive relationship between strike activity and consensus democracy. According to the regression coefficient, levels of strike activity would have been substantially lower in consensus systems than in majoritarian. However, upon further analysis the relationships are not statistically significant and as Lijphart illustrates, the large difference is a result of "big exceptions to the tendency of consensus countries to be less strike-prone than majoritarian democracies" (269). Lastly, Lijphart explores the performance of consensus democracies on budget deficits and economic freedom. Again, the author finds the differences negligible. When using the federated-unitary dimension, Lijphart's finding are similar except when looking at the inflation variable. When comparing consensus democracy on federal-unitary dimension on inflation, Lijphart discovers that a strong negative relationship exists, the relationship is statistically significant, and there is an acceptable t-value. The author explains this relationship by citing that in a consensus democracy the central bank independence. Lijphart writes, "the most important reason why central banks are made strong and independent is to give them the tools to control inflation" (273).
In conclusion, the author writes, "the evidence with regard to economic growth and economic freedom is mixed, but with regard to all of the other indicators of economic performance, the consensus democracies have a slightly better record and a significantly better record as far as inflation is concerned" (270).
The results regarding the performance of consensus and majoritarian democracies in controlling political violence are also rather vague. Statistically, the consensus system is slightly violent than the majoritarian system. However, Lijphart contends that the significance of the relationship declines when other variables are controlled and outlying observations are removed. Ultimately, Lijphart contends that the statistics show "at least a slightly better performance of the consensus democracies" (271).
The last group of variables that Lijphart addresses is what he terms the "kinder, gentler" aspects of democracy. The author contends that consensus systems are more apt to be "kinder and gentler" than their majoritarian counterparts. Lijphart writes, "Consensus democracies demonstrate these kinder and gentler qualities in the following ways: they are more likely to be welfare states; they have a better record with regard to the protection of the environment; they put fewer people in prison, and are less likely use the death penalty; and the consensus democracies in the developed world are more generous with their economic assistance to the developing nations" (275-6).
Lijphart measures the effectiveness of consensus intuitions by measuring a number of variables: women's representation, political equality, electoral participation, satisfaction with democracy, government-voter proximity, and accountability and corruption. Statistically, Lijphart's findings when comparing the performance of consensus and majoritarian democracies in regards to the "kinder and gentler" qualities are much more revealing. Lijphart finds that consensus democracy "makes a big difference with regard to almost all of the indicators of democratic quality and with regard to all of the kinder and gentler qualities" (300).
To conclude, Lijphart has found that the institutions of consensus democracies perform slightly better than majoritarian institutions in both macroeconomic management and in the prevention of political violence. However, the differences are slim and arguably irrelevant. But, Lijphart did discover that when looking at the "kinder, gentler" aspects of democracy, such as women's rights, incarceration rates and other, consensus democracy performed substantially better.
The other outstanding aspect of the book is that by the end, the reader is broadly familiar with the structure of all 36 democracies. You walk away understanding how diverse the party formations of federal Germany are, or how UK Commonwealths tend to mirror their colonial power in terms of parliamentary power, centralisation of power, and so forth.
Because of its lucid and and pragmatic structure, as well as its strong comparative approach, I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning more about what features differentiate democracies and why France is or is not similar to Japan or Paupa New Guinea--an excellent study by a classic thinker!
Lijphart does a nice job in bringing together the salient distinguishing characteristics of majoritarian and proportional democracies. He first divides these characteristics into two main groups as executive-parties dimension and federal-unitary dimension; then, he demonstrates that majoritarian and consensus democracies differ remarkably on each dimension. So far this section -which comprises the bulk of the book- is concerned, patterns of democracy is an invaluable resource for its breadth, clarity, and strength.
Yet the problems surface when Lijphart starts answering the "so what?" question. Above all, Lijphart is biased toward the ideal of democracy which maintains that every person must have a say in any decision that influences his/her life. Actually, no one has any problem with this ideal. But Lijphart's conclusion that because consensus democracies fare better in accomplishing this ideal they are superior to the majoritarian models of democracy is misleading and inconsistent with the premise of representational democracy. It is misleading simply because Lijphart criterion for judging between the two models of democracy is only one of the criteria that is to be used, it is neither the most important nor the determining one. Democratic governments are formed to "govern" and "represent". Yet Lijphart's arguments are predominantly based on the "representation" criterion. There is trade-off between efficient/durable governments and proportional/representational ones. As Powell (2000) shows in his Elections as Instruments of Democracy, and Lijphart acknowledges this fact, majoritarian governments fare better in terms of efficiency and durability, hence "governability". Lijphart's own research reveals that majoritarian governments perform better in terms of economic growth (p. 266); and all his "bivariate" findings supporting the purported positive relationship between consensus democracy and economic performance evaporates when he includes control variable. It is inconsistent, because taken to the extreme, to satisfy the proportional representation criterion, every single party in every single district should send at least one candidate to the parliament, which would increase the size of the parliaments to tens, if not hundreds, of thousands. The mere "size of the body elected", which is in general less than a thousand because of the idea of representation, forces us to satisfy only the preferences of some voters. So, why blame a principle that we stick at lower level, and we believe that it works well at that level, when it comes to upper level? If we are only concerned about the democratic ideal, why do we not apply "direct democracy" then?
The salient superiority of majoritarian democracy (and the characteristics that are associated with it) over proportional democracy is that it gives way to strong, durable, and efficient government. True, efficiency and strength might translate into negative outcomes as well (such as the repression of minorities or the abolishing of some rights). But the appropriate to overcome this possible problem is not to get rid of majoritarian system (and the advantages it brings forward); rather, we should devise ways in which we can incorporate the elements of "direct" and "proportional" governments into our majoritarian democracies. Increasing decentralization and constitutional rigidity and introducing new instruments such as initiative and referendum have the potential to increase the performance of majoritarian governments with regard to achieving the democratic ideal without losing their existing advantages. To me, therefore, Lijphart is searching after a wrong question, which deals with "whether" consensus or majoritarian democracy. We are more likely to be better-off if we work to find synthetic ways of bringing together the differing characteristics of majoritarian and consensus governments. Thus, so far as the relationship between consensus and majoritarian democracies is concerned, the question is "how much", not whether.