Consociationalist theory served initially as an explanation of political stability in a few deeply divided European democracies. It argued that in these countries, the destabilizing effects of subcultural segmentation are neutralized at the elite level by embracing non-majoritarian mechanisms for conflict resolution. The theory was extended as new consociational democracies were discovered, as the related but broader concept of “consensus democracy” was introduced, and as a normative component was added, recommending consociational engineering as the most promising way to achieve stable democracy in strongly segmented societies. Consociationalism has always been controversial, but rather than one great debate about its validity, there have been many small debates about the countries, the concepts, the causes, and the consequences associated with consociationalism. These debates can become more fruitful if consociational theory is formulated less inductively and at a higher level of abstraction, and if the critics of consociationalism focus more on its principles and less on the operationalizations provided by its most important theorist, Arend Lijphart. The erosion of social cleavages in many consociational democracies raises the question of whether the very logic of consociationalism should lead to a prescription of more adversarial politics in those countries.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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