kən-SOH-shee-AY-shən-əl-iz-əm) is often viewed as synonymous with
power-sharing, although it is technically only one form of
Consociationalism is often seen as having close affinities with
corporatism; some consider it to be a form of corporatism while 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
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, it is known as confessionalism, as
is the case in Lebanon.
2 Concept origins
4 Favourable conditions
6.1 Brian Barry
6.2 Rinus van Schendelen
6.3 Lustick on hegemonic control
6.4 Other criticisms
8 See also
10 Further reading
Political scientists define a consociational state as a state which
has major internal divisions along ethnic, religious, or linguistic
lines, with none of the divisions large enough to form a majority
group, yet nonetheless manages to remain stable, due to consultation
among the elites of each of its major social groups. Consociational
states are often contrasted with states with majoritarian electoral
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
John McGarry and
Brendan O'Leary trace
consociationalism back to 1917, when it was first employed in the
Indeed, Lijphart draws heavily on the experience of the
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
Elites of each pillar come together to rule in the interests of
society because they recognize the dangers of non-cooperation.
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.
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.
Creates a sense of individuality and allows for different
culturally-based community laws.
Consociational policies often have these characteristics:
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
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;
Proportional representation, to allow (small) minorities to gain
Organized and corporatist interest groups, which represent minorities;
A rigid constitution, which prevents government from changing the
constitution without consent of minorities;
Judicial review, which allows minorities to go to the courts to seek
redress against laws that they see as unjust;
Elements of direct democracy, which allow minorities to enact or
Proportional employment in the public sector;
A neutral head of state, either a monarch with only ceremonial duties,
or an indirectly elected president, who gives up his or her party
affiliation after being elected;
Referendums are only used to allow minorities to block legislation:
this means that they must be a citizen's initiative and that there is
no compulsory voting.
Equality between ministers in cabinet, the prime minister is only
primus inter pares;
An independent central bank, where experts and not politicians set out
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. Michael Kerr
summarises Lijphart's most prominent favourable factors as:
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
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. 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".
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.
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,
In a consociational state, all groups, including minorities, are
represented on the political and economic stage. Supporters of
consociationalism argue that it is a more realistic option in deeply
divided societies than integrationist approaches to conflict
management. It has been credited with supporting successful and
non-violent transitions to democracy in countries such as South
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". 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".
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
Rinus van Schendelen
Rinus van Schendelen has argued that Lijphart uses evidence
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
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.
Lustick on hegemonic control
Ian Lustick has argued that academics lack an alternative "control"
approach for explaining stability in deeply divided societies and that
this has resulted in the empirical overextension of consociational
models. Lustick argues that Lijphart has "an impressionistic
methodological posture, flexible rules for coding data, and an
indefatigable, rhetorically seductive commitment to promoting
consociationalism as a widely applicable principle of political
engineering", that results in him applying consociational theory
to case studies that it does not fit. Furthermore, Lustick states that
"Lijphart's definition of 'accommodation' ... includes the elaborately
specified claim that issues dividing polarized blocs are settled by
leaders convinced of the need for settlement".
Critics point out that consociationalism is dangerous in a system of
differing antagonistic ideologies, generally conservatism and
communism. They state that specific conditions must
exist for three or more groups to develop a multi- system with strong
leaders. This philosophy is dominated by elites, with those masses
that are sidelined with the elites having less to lose if war breaks
Consociationalism cannot be imperially applied. For example, it
does not effectively apply to Austria. Critics also point to the
failure of this line of reasoning in Lebanon, a country that reverted
to civil war. It only truly applies in Switzerland,
Belgium and the
Netherlands, and not in more deeply divided societies. If one of three
groups gets half plus one of the vote, then the other groups are in
perpetual opposition, which is largely incompatible with
Consociationalism focuses on diverging identities such as ethnicity
instead of integrating identities such as class, institutionalizing
and entrenching the former. Furthermore, it relies on rival
co-operation, which is inherently unstable. It focuses on intrastate
relations and neglects relations with other states. Donald L. Horowitz
argues that consociationalism can lead to the reification of ethnic
divisions, since "grand coalitions are unlikely, because of the
dynamics of intraethnic competition. The very act of forming a
multiethnic coalition generates intraethnic competition – flanking
– if it does not already exist". Consistent with Horowitz'
claims, Dawn Brancati finds that federalism/territorial autonomy, an
element of consociationalism, strengthens ethnic divisions if it is
designed in a way that strengthens regional parties, which in turn
encourage ethnic conflict.
Consociationalism assumes that each group is cohesive and has strong
leadership. Although the minority can block decisions, this requires
100 per cent agreement. Rights are given to communities rather than
individuals, leading to over-representation of some individuals in
society and under-representation of others. Grand coalitions are
unlikely to happen due to the dynamics of ethnic competition. Each
group seeks more power for itself. Consociationalists are criticized
for focusing too much on the set up of institutions and not enough on
transitional issues which go beyond such institutions. Finally, it is
claimed that consociational institutions promote sectarianism and
entrench existing identities.
The political systems of a number of countries operate or used to
operate on a consociational basis, including Belgium, Cyprus
(effective 1960–1963), Lebanon, the Netherlands
(1917–1967), Switzerland, and South Africa. Some academics have also
argued that the
European Union resembles a consociational
Additionally, a number of peace agreements are consociational,
Dayton Agreement that ended the 1992–1995 war in Bosnia and
Herzegovina, which is described as a "classic example of
consociational settlement" by Sumantra Bose and "an ideal-typical
consociational democracy" by Roberto Belloni.
Belfast Agreement of 1998 in Northern Ireland (and its
subsequent reinforcement with 2006's St Andrews Agreement), which
Brendan O'Leary describes as "power-sharing plus".
Ohrid Agreement of 2001 setting the constitutional framework for
power-sharing in the Republic of Macedonia.
Taliban Afghanistan's political system has also been described as
consociational, although it lacks ethnic quotas.
In addition to the two-state solution, some have argued for a
one-state solution under a consociational democracy in the state of
Israel to solve the Arab-Israeli Conflict, but this solution is not
very popular, nor has it been discussed seriously at peace
During the 1980s the South African government attempted to reform
apartheid into a consociational democracy. The South African
Constitution of 1983 applied Lijpart's powersharing ideas by
establishing a Tricameral Parliament. During the 1990s negotiations to
end apartheid the National Party (NP) and Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP)
proposed a settlement based upon consociationalism. The African
National Congress (ANC) opposed consociationalism and proposed instead
a settlement based upon majoritarian democracy. The NP abandoned
consociationalism when the US State Department came out in favour of
the majoritarian democracy model in 1992. in Iran, the present
government is based on consociationalism.
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Ingroups and outgroups
Ethnicity in census
Ethnic interest group
Ethnic theme park