Party Elites in Divided Societies: Political Parties in Consociational Democracy

By Kurt Richard Luther; Kris Deschouwer | Go to book overview

Series editor’s preface

Older concepts in political science may (seem to) fade away, but (it appears) they never die. This may well be an apt description of the ‘history’ of consociationalism. Its intellectual life started in the 1960s, when Lijphart, Lehmbruch, Lorwin, Daalder, Steiner and others described the apparent deviant working of parliamentary democracy in a number of smaller West European nations: the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland and Luxembourg. These descriptions revealed that the contemporary dominant explanation of political stability could be contested. This dominant explanation was that a blend of sociopolitical prerequisites, such as a homogeneous political culture and pluralist modes of interest intermediation, would—if and when prevalent—promote stable government. If this were not the case democracies would be characterized by centrifugal or centripetal tendencies in which party competition and interest confrontation would hamper stable democracy. This Anglo-Saxon view of the democratic world was convincingly challenged by the above-mentioned authors by means of case-study analysis. Yet, a question that remained unsolved was whether or not these deviant cases were in the final analysis only temporary and geographical idiosyncrasies and thus (more or less) exceptions to the rule.

During the 1970s and 1980s one can observe a muted debate around this issue. In part, this was because it appeared obvious that the archetypal consociational democracies were going through dramatic social and political changes, which were making them either more ‘depoliticized’ and thereby causing them to converge to, for instance, the Scandinavian style of democratic performance or less stable, like Belgium. On the other hand, some academics were attempting to ‘export’ the consociational type of democracy as a third way to (re) democratize nations that were characterized by segmentation of the population, emerging sociocultural cleavages and a fragmented political elite. The proposition that consociationalism no longer existed and the notion that consociationalism was a genuine theoretical model that could describe, or even prescribe, other (emerging) polities, both proved to be inconclusive. Yet for many, consociationalism as a specific type of democracy appeared to have become obsolete, whilst as a ‘model’of democracy, consociationalism seemed too limited.

Yet, in my view, these critical views and subsequent verdicts are not wholly correct. Admittedly, most original consociational democracies do not fit their

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