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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Consensus Without Veto-Players: Testing Theories of Consensual Democracy

  • Author(s): McGann, Anthony J.
  • Latner, Michael
  • et al.

Arend Lijphart’s conceptualization of the distinction between consensual and majoritarian democracy has been one of the most important developments in the study of comparative political systems in the last thirty years, and has indeed served as an antidote to the anglocentrism that previously existed in the study of democratic institutions. However, the concept of consensual democracy is problematic from the point of view of social choice theory. Theorists of consensual democracy have emphasized consensus as an alternative to majority rule. This paper argues, however, that many of the countries most often cited as “consensual” are actually amongst the world’s purest examples of government by majority rule, having virtually no constitutional checks and balances. Furthermore,the institutions of consensual democracy follow axiomatically from the requirement of political equality. Far from being a new form of democracy, consensual democracy might better be described as “simple democracy”.

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