Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I say who wrote them.
Lijphart. 1977. Democracy in plural societies: A comparative exploration. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Lijphart presents his arguments in favor of "consociational" democracy. The arguments in this book are somewhat dated; see Lijphart's updated version of these argument in his later book, Patterns of Democracy (1999).
There are two main aspects of consociationalism: (1) a plural society with segmental cleavages and (2) the segmental elites cooperate through consociational structures.
Lipset and others argued that democracy requires cross-cutting (as opposed to segmental) cleavages. Lijphart seeks to develop a model of democracy that will work even in the absence of such cleavages--when there are segmental cleavages like ethnic, religious, or linguistic divides (p 11).
He reviews several other common ideas in the literature--such as the argument that a two-party system promotes development of cross-cutting cleavages, or that deeply divided societies cannot have democracy, etc.--and shows that these arguments aren't true even in Europe (where we would most expect them to be true), especially in Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, and the Netherlands. These small, deeply divided countries have instead embraced what Lijphart calls "consociational democracy."
Lijphart goes on to discuss another solution (besides consociationalism) for countries with deep segmental cleavages: Partition (like Czechoslovakia's "velvet divorce"). Partition isn't a bad thing--sometimes it is the only way to avert bloodshed. Lijphart says that there are three ways to solve the political problems of a divided society without destroying democracy. The first is assimilation--which is likely to happen if one large group forms the majority in a majoritarian (e.g. Westminster/British) system. The second is consociational democracy. The third, if the first two don't work favorably, is partition into homogeneous states. The problem is that people aren't usually neatly divided into two distinct regions, making partition difficult (consider the former Yugoslavia, particularly Bosnia-Herzegovina).
Critics have noted several possible disadvantages to Lijphart's ideas, most of which complain that consociationalism is not fully democratic. For example, there is a small, weak opposition, so it is hard to vote against the government without voting against the system. Lijphart counters by pointing out that (in Horowitz's later terms) winning the election in a deeply divided society is more like just winning a census. So if there were a strong opposition, it would have no real chance of alternating in power, because its size would be limited by the size of its ethnic group. So it is better to include the opposition in a Grand Coalition since, otherwise, power would not alternate and the strong opposition would simply be alienated. Also, critics complain that Lijphart's solution can't bring stability, only deadlock and immobilism. He concedes that policies may take longer to pass, but that policies are also less likely to be repealed in four years.
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