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Consociationalism (/kənˌsʃiˈʃənəlɪzəm/ kən-SOH-shee-AY-shən-əl-iz-əm) is a form of power sharing in a democracy.[1] Political scientists define a consociational state as one which has major internal divisions along ethnic, religious, or linguistic lines, with none of the divisions large enough to form a majority group, but which remains stable due to consultation among the elites of these groups. Consociational states are often contrasted with states with majoritarian electoral systems.

The goals of consociationalism are governmental stability, the survival of the power-sharing arrangements, the survival of democracy, and the avoidance of violence. When consociationalism is organised along religious confessional lines, as in Lebanon, it is known as confessionalism.

Consociationalism is sometimes seen as analogous to corporatism.[2][3] Some scholars consider consociationalism a form of corporatism. Others claim that economic corporatism was designed to regulate class conflict, while consociationalism developed on the basis of reconciling societal fragmentation along ethnic and religious lines.[4]

Origins

Consociation was first discussed in the 17th century New England Confederation. It described the interassociation and cooperation of the participant self-governing Congregational churches of the various colonial townships of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. These were empowered in the civil legislature and magistracy.[5] It was debated at length in the Boston Synod of 1662.[6] This was when the Episcopalian Act of Uniformity 1662 was being introduced in England.

Consociationalism was discussed in academic terms by the political scientist Arend Lijphart. However, Lijphart has stated that he had "merely discovered what political practitioners had repeatedly – and independently of both academic experts and one another – invented years earlier".[7] John McGarry and Brendan O'Leary trace consociationalism back to 1917, when it was first employed in the Netherlands.[8]

Indeed, Lijphart draws heavily on the experience of the Netherlands in developing his argument in favour of the consociational approach to ethnic conflict regulation. The Netherlands, as a consociational state, was between 1857 and 1967 divided into four non-territorial pillars: Calvinist, Catholic, socialist, and general, although until 1917 there was a plurality ("first past the post") electoral system rather than a consociational one. In their heyday, each comprised tightly-organised groups, schools, universities, hospitals and newspapers, all divided along a pillarised social structure. The theory, according to Lijphart, focuses on the role of social elites, their agreement and co-operation, as the key to a stable democracy.

Characteristics

Lijphart identifies four key characteristics of consociational democracies:[9]

Name Explanation
Grand coalition Elites of each pillar come together to rule in the interests of society because they recognize the dangers of non-cooperation.
Mutual veto Consensus among the groups is required to confirm the majority rule. Mutuality means that the minority is unlikely to successfully block the majority. If one group blocks another on some matter, the latter are likely to block the former in return.
Proportionality Representation is based on population. If one pillar accounts for 30% of the overall society, then they occupy 30% of the positions on the police force, in civil service, and in other national and civic segments of society.
Segmental autonomy Creates a sense of individuality and allows for different culturally-based community laws.

Consociational policies often have these characteristics:[10]

Favourable conditions

Lijphart also identifies a number of "favourable conditions" under which consociationalism is likely to be successful. He has changed the specification of these conditions somewhat over time.[11] Michael Kerr summarises Lijphart's most prominent favourable factors as:[12]

Lijphart stresses that these conditions are neither indispensable nor sufficient to account for the success of consociationalism.[9] This has led Rinus van Schendelen to conclude that "the conditions may be present and absent, necessary and unnecessary, in short conditions or no conditions at all".[13]

John McGarry and Brendan O'Leary argue that three conditions are key to the establishment of democratic consociational power-sharing: elites have to be motivated to engage in conflict regulation; elites must lead deferential segments; and there must be a multiple balance of power, but more importantly the subcultures must be stable.[14] Michael Kerr, in his study of the role of external actors in power-sharing arrangements in Northern Ireland and Lebanon, adds to McGarry and O'Leary's list the condition that "the existence of positive external regulating pressures, from state to non-state actors, which provide the internal elites with sufficient incentives and motives for their acceptance of, and support for, consociation".[12]

Advantages

In a consociational state, all groups, including minorities, are represented on the political and economic stage. Supporters of the consociationalism argue that it is a more realistic option in deeply divided societies than integrationist approaches to conflict management.[15] It has been credited with supporting successful and non-violent transitions to democracy in countries such as South Africa.[citation needed]

Criticisms

Brian Barry

Brian Barry has questioned the nature of the divisions that exist in the countries that Lijphart considers to be "classic cases" of consociational democracies. For example, he makes the case that in the Swiss example, "political parties cross-cut cleavages in the society and provide a picture of remarkable consensus rather than highly structured conflict of goals".[16] In the case of the Netherlands, he argues that "the whole cause of the disagreement was the feeling of some Dutchman ... that it mattered what all the inhabitants of the country believed. Demands for policies aimed at producing religious or secular uniformity presuppose a concern ... for the state of grace of one's fellow citizens". He contrasts this to the case of a society marked by conflict, in this case Northern Ireland, where he argues that "the inhabitants ... have never shown much worry about the prospects of the adherents of the other religion going to hell".[17] Barry concludes that in the Dutch case, consociationalism is tautological and argues that "the relevance of the 'consociational' model for other divided societies is much more doubtful than is commonly supposed".The goals of consociationalism are governmental stability, the survival of the power-sharing arrangements, the survival of democracy, and the avoidance of violence. When consociationalism is organised along religious confessional lines, as in Lebanon, it is known as confessionalism.

Consociationalism is sometimes seen as analogous to corporatism.[2][3] Some scholars consider consociationalism a form of corporatism. Others claim that economic corporatism was designed to regulate class conflict, while consociationalism developed on the basis of reconciling societal fragmentation along ethnic and religious lines.[4]

Consociation was first discussed in the 17th century New England Confederation. It described the interassociation and cooperation of the participant self-governing Congregational churches of the various colonial townships of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. These were empowered in the civil legislature and magistracy.[5] It was debated at length in the Boston Synod of 1662.[6] This was when the Episcopalian Act of Uniformity 1662 was being introduced in England.

Consociationalism was discussed in academic terms by the political scientist Arend Lijphart. However, Lijphart has stated that he had "merely discovered what political practitioners had repeatedly – and independently of both academic experts and one another – invented years earlier".[7] John McGarry and Brendan O'Leary trace consociationalism back to 1917, when it was first employed in the Netherlands.[8]

Indeed, Lijphart draws heavily on the experience of the Netherlands in developing his argument in favour of the consociational approach to ethnic conflict regulation. The Netherlands, as a consociational state, was between 1857 and 1967 divided into four non-territorial pillars: Calvinist, Catholic, socialist, and general, although until 1917 there was a plurality ("first past the post") electoral system rather than a consociational one. In their heyday, each comprised tightly-organised groups, schools, universities, hospitals and newspapers, all divided along a pillarised social structure. The theory, according to Lijphart, focuses on the role of social elites, their agreement and co-operation, as the key to a stable democracy.

Characteristics

Lijphart identifies four key characteristics of consociational democracies:[9]

Name Explanation
Grand coalition Elites of each pillar come together to rule in the interests of society because they recognize the dangers of non-coopera

Consociationalism was discussed in academic terms by the political scientist Arend Lijphart. However, Lijphart has stated that he had "merely discovered what political practitioners had repeatedly – and independently of both academic experts and one another – invented years earlier".[7] John McGarry and Brendan O'Leary trace consociationalism back to 1917, when it was first employed in the Netherlands.[8]

Indeed, Lijphart draws heavily on the experience of the Netherlands in developing his argument in favour of the consociational approach to ethnic conflict regulation. The Netherlands, as a consociational state, was between 1857 and 1967 divided into four non-territorial pillars: Calvinist, Catholic, socialist, and general, although until 1917 there was a plurality ("first past the post") electoral system rather than a consociational one. In their heyday, each comprised tightly-organised groups, schools, universities, hospitals and newspapers, all divided along a pillarised social structure. The theory, according to Lijphart, focuses on the role of social elites, their agreement and co-operation, as the key to a stable democracy.

Lijphart identifies four key characteristics of consociational democracies:[9]

Name Explanation
Grand coalition Elites of each pillar come together to rule in the interests of society because they recognize the dangers of non-cooperation.
Mutual veto Consensus among the groups is re

Consociational policies often have these characteristics:[10]

  • Coalition cabinets, where executive power is shared between parties, not concentrated in one. Many of these cabinets are oversized, meaning they include parties not necessary for a parliamentary majority;
  • Balance of power between executive and legislative;
  • Decentralized and federal government, where (regional) minorities have considerable independence;
  • Incongruent bicameralism, where it is very difficult for one party to gain a majority in both houses. Normally one chamber represents regional interests and the other national interests;
  • [11] Michael Kerr summarises Lijphart's most prominent favourable factors as:[12]

    • Segmental isolation of ethnic communities
    • A multiple balance of power
    • The presence of external threats common to all communities
    • Overarching loyalties to the state
    • A tradition of elite accommodation
    • Socioeconomic equality
    • A small population size, reducing the policy load
    • A moderate multi-party system with segmental parties

    Lijphart stresses that these conditions are neither indispensable nor sufficient to account for the success of consociationalism.[9] This has led Rinus van Schendelen to conclude that "the conditions may be present and absent, necessary and unnecessary, in short conditions or no conditions at all".[13]

    John McGarry and Brendan O'Leary argue that three conditions are key to the establishment of democratic consociational power-sharing: elites have to be motivated to engage in conflict regulation; elites must lead deferential segments; and there must be a multiple balance of power, but more importantly the subcultures must be stable.[14] Michael Kerr, in his study of the role of external actors in power-sharing arrangements in Northern Ireland and Lebanon, adds to McGarry and O'Leary's list the condition that "the existence of positive external regulating pressures, from state to non-state actors, which provide the internal elites with sufficient incentives and motives for their acceptance of, and support for, consociation".[12]

    Advantages

    In a consociational state, all groups, including minorities, are represented on the political and economic stage. Supporters of the consociationalism argue that it is a more realistic option in deeply divided societies than integrationist approaches to conflict management.[15] It has been credited with supporting successful and non-violent transitions to democracy in countries such as South Africa.[citation needed]

    CriticismsLijphart stresses that these conditions are neither indispensable nor sufficient to account for the success of consociationalism.[9] This has led Rinus van Schendelen to conclude that "the conditions may be present and absent, necessary and unnecessary, in short conditions or no conditions at all".[13]

    John McGarry and Brendan O'Leary argue that three conditions are key to the establishment of democratic consociational power-sharing: elites have to be motivated to engage in conflict regulation; elites must lead deferential segments; and there must be a multiple balance of power, bu

    John McGarry and Brendan O'Leary argue that three conditions are key to the establishment of democratic consociational power-sharing: elites have to be motivated to engage in conflict regulation; elites must lead deferential segments; and there must be a multiple balance of power, but more importantly the subcultures must be stable.[14] Michael Kerr, in his study of the role of external actors in power-sharing arrangements in Northern Ireland and Lebanon, adds to McGarry and O'Leary's list the condition that "the existence of positive external regulating pressures, from state to non-state actors, which provide the internal elites with sufficient incentives and motives for their acceptance of, and support for, consociation".[12]

    In a consociational state, all groups, including minorities, are represented on the political and economic stage. Supporters of the consociationalism argue that it is a more realistic option in deeply divided societies than integrationist approaches to conflict management.[15] It has been credited with supporting successful and non-violent transitions to democracy in countries such as South Africa.[citation needed]

    Criticisms

    Brian Barry has questioned the nature of the divisions that exist in the countries that Lijphart considers to be "classic cases" of consociational democracies. For example, he makes the case that in the Swiss example, "political parties cross-cut cleavages in the society and provide a picture of remarkable consensus rather than highly structured conflict of goals".[16] In the case of the Netherlands, he argues that "the whole cause of the disagreement was the feeling of some Dutchman ... that it mattered what all the inhabitants of the country believed. Demands for policies aimed at producing religious or secular uniformity presuppose a concern ... for the state of grace of one's fellow citizens". He contrasts this to the case of a society marked by conflict, in this case Northern Ireland, where he argues that "the inhabitants ... have never shown much worry about the prospects of the adherents of the other religion going to hell".[17] Barry concludes that in the Dutch case, consociationalism is tautological and argues that "the relevance of the 'consociational' model for other divided societies is much more doubtful than is commonly supposed".[16]

    Rinus van Schendelen

    Rinus van Schendelen has argued that Lijphart uses evidence selectively. Pillarisati

    Rinus van Schendelen has argued that Lijphart uses evidence selectively. Pillarisation was "seriously weakening", even in the 1950s, cross-denominational co-operation was increasing, and formerly coherent political sub-cultures were dissolving. He argued that elites in the Netherlands were not motivated by preferences derived from the general interest, but rather by self-interest. They formed coalitions not to forge consociational negotiation between segments but to improve their parties' respective power. He argued that the Netherlands was "stable" in that it had few protests or riots, but that it was so before consociationalism, and that it was not stable from the standpoint of government turnover. He questioned the extent to which the Netherlands, or indeed any country labelled a consociational system, could be called a democracy, and whether calling a consociational country a democracy isn't somehow ruled out by definition. He believed that Lijphart suffered severe problems of rigor when identifying whether particular divisions were cleavages, whether particular cleavages were segmental, and whether particular cleavages were cross-cutting.[13]

    Lustick on hegemonic control