Party Elites in Divided Societies: Political Parties in Consociational Democracy

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

1

A framework for the comparative analysis of political parties and party systems in consociational democracy

Kurt Richard Luther

Consociational and party theory

The theory of consociational democracy was developed some thirty years ago, principally as a result of the simultaneous and yet initially largely independent work of Lijphart (1968a, 1968b, 1969, 1975, 1977, 1981), Daalder (1971, 1974), Lorwin (1971), Lehmbruch (1967a, 1967b, 1968) and Steiner (1969a, 1969b, 1971, 1974). At its simplest, consociational theory seeks to explain the existence of political stability in certain countries with deeply fragmented political cultures. It comprises a set of propositions concerning in the main two aspects of such political systems: their political sociology and the nature of their political elites’ behaviour. In respect of the first, consociational theory emphasises sociopolitical segmentation, i.e. the existence of vertically encapsulated and mutually hostile political subcultures. For its part, elite political behaviour is seen as characterised above all by co-operation and accommodation, by means of which a metaphorical bridge (or ‘arch’) is built over the gulf separating the political subcultures (or ‘pillars’) and thus the political system’s stability is ensured. Consociational theory undeniably constitutes one of the most influential post-war contributions to the comparative study of West European politics. It generated considerable academic debate, not least regarding its own theoretical status and explanatory power (e.g. Barry 1975a, 1975b; Daalder 1974; Halpern 1987; Kieve 1981; Lustick 1979; Pappalardo 1981; Van Schendelen 1985; Steiner 1981a and 1981b). In addition, it spawned numerous studies of one or more of the West European countries originally considered archetypal consociational democracies, namely, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Switzerland. The inclusion of Switzerland in the universe of consociational democracy though has long been disputed (e.g. Henderson 1981, Steiner and Obler 1977). Chapter 6 will obviously address this debate.

However, the theoretical status of the consociational literature is not my primary concern here. Instead, I shall regard it as offering a model with strong heuristic power. My prime goal is to demonstrate that one very important set of political actors has so far been underemphasised in the model: political parties. I would like to make this role explicit, and to show that by looking in a systematic manner at the role of political parties in consociational democracies, one can produce greater insight into the functioning and into the strategies and

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