Political Science

Consociationalism – a Form of Democratic Power Sharing

Consociationalism – a Form of Democratic Power Sharing

Consociationalist theory was developed to explain political stability in a few highly divided European democracies. It is a form of democratic power distribution. A consociational state is defined by political scientists as one that has significant internal divisions along ethnic, religious, or linguistic lines but stays stable due to consultation among the leaders of these groups. It means that the disruptive impacts of profound social cleavages can be mitigated by elite-level cooperation among subcultures. Consociational states are frequently contrasted with states with majority voting systems. It distinguishes itself through grand coalitions, segmental autonomy, proportionality, and minority veto.

Consociationalism is a type of democracy that aims to govern the distribution of power in a state made up of multiple societies (separate ethnic, religious, political, national, or linguistic groups) by giving collective rights to these groups. The distribution of executive power is characterized primarily by proportional representation, veto rights, and segmental autonomy for minority groups. It has recently become a prominent demand among Israeli Arabs.

Governmental stability, the survival of power-sharing arrangements, the maintenance of democracy, and the avoidance of bloodshed are the goals of consociationalism. Integrationists are harsh critics of both consociationalism and centripetalism, claiming that such theories undervalue both the state’s uniting power and the peacebuilding capacity of non-elite actors. Consociationalism is known as confessionalism when it is organized along religious confessional lines, as it is in Lebanon.

Consociational democracy can be found in countries that are profoundly divided into various religious, ethnic, racial, or regional segments—conditions that are typically thought to be unfavorable for stable democracy. Consociationalism’s two defining qualities are grand coalition government and segmental autonomy. Government by the grand coalition is the institutional arrangement in which representatives from all key groups participate in common decision-making for common problems, while decision-making for all other subjects remains autonomous.

The theory is used empirically to explain stable democracy in highly split nations (for example, the Netherlands and Lebanon) and normatively to provide a solution when democracy is threatened by social segmentation (e.g., Northern Ireland, South Africa). The theory has been attacked for its classification of specific countries, the operationalization of its core principles, and the identification of conditions that promote the emergence of consociationalism.

Consociationalism is sometimes equated with corporatism. Some scholars regard consociationalism to be a kind of corporatism. Others argue that economic corporatism was created to govern class conflict, whereas consociationalism arose to reconcile societal disintegration along ethnic and religious lines.

The variety of paths to political modernity reflects a wide range of elements that support or obstruct a country’s efforts to modernize. Sustained economic growth is a major factor that facilitates political modernization, whereas the level of economic development is not decisive beyond a certain threshold.