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Lipset and Rokkan: Party systems and voter alignments

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.

Lipset and Rokkan. 1967. Party systems and voter alignments: Cross-national perspectives. Toronto: The Free Press.

In Brief

A study of which cleavages will define how parties form. Nice summary table on page 47.


First: What are the important cleavages? There are two kinds of important cleavages (territorial and functional). National/regional (territorial) cleavages are those involved in defining the nation, especially the church/government cleavages (over national morals and secularism/ideology) and the "subject vs. dominant culture" cleavage (between cultural groups). These cleavages were stirred in the "national" revolutions that swept Europe beginning in France. Industrial/economic (functional) cleavages are interest-based (workers vs employers/owners, primary vs secondary economy). These cleavages were stirred by the industrial revolutions, beginning in Britain.

Second, how do these cleavages get translated into party differences? There are four important thresholds to consider. Legitimation: Is the right of protest respected, or is all opposition considered conspiratorial? Incorporation: Do most of the movement's participants have the same citizenship rights as its opponents? Representation: Can the movement gain representation/acces to power on its own, or must it join an established movement to do so? Majority power: Is the system bare majoritarianism, or are there checks on the majority's power? (page 27). From these four variables, the authors propose a thorough scheme of various regimes.

Finally, how do we account for the enduring party systems that emerged? Answer: it has to do with the sequencing of the "national" and industrial revolutions in each state. Big model starts on page 36. Basically, the model says that the central core of "nation-builders" (N) who control the machinery of the state face an opposition in the periphery (P) opposed to the current center control. N can seek alliances on two fronts: religious/ideological and economic/interest.

Put differently (as in chart on page 38), each state faces three dichotomous choices. Often, each dichotomy accompanies an extension in suffrage; N extends suffrage because doing so will give a voice to its supporters. First, the reformation/counter-reformation: the state remains loyal to the Roman church or takes control of a national church. Second, the "democratic revolution," or National Revolution: who will control education? A secular or religious state? Third, the industrial revolution: will the state be committed to the landed or urban (industrial) interests? As shown in the chart (look at it), these three choices lead in a path-dependent fashion to one of eight outcomes. THUS: The outcome of the conflicts between state and church in the Reformation largely structured partisan outcomes three centuries later.

Two questions remain: how do we account for territorial parties? And what about agrarian parties?

Agrarian parties: Usually, N had a choice between an alliance with landed or industrial interests. N usually allied with landed interests when the landed interests could "deliver" their tenants' (peasants') votes. Sometimes, N allied directly with the farmers, however, resulting in an agrarian party today. This was most likely under four conditions: (1) Industrial centers were still weak when suffrage was extended; (2) most agriculture was family farms, not large estates with peasants; (3) the countryside had important cultural differences with the cities; (4) and the Catholic church was weak.

Research by the same authors

Research on similar subjects


Lipset, Seymour Martin (author)Rokkan, Stein (author)Comparative PoliticsPartiesSocial CleavagesStructuralismInterest Groups

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