puts forward some arguments against consociationalism.

I’m not so sure. As someone who spent years campaigning for the non-sectarian Alliance Party in Northern Ireland, I have a lot of sympathy with his general line of argument. But I think there are several problems with it.

First, what alternative can be put forward? Any attack on consociationalism is usually read by those on the inside of the process as a plea for majority rule, or at least for those in government to have the option of excluding minority groups. I’m not for a minute suggesting that this is what actually meant, just reporting that this is how the argument made tends to resonate on the ground.

Second, if a society as a whole takes the mature decision that a consociational settlement, which indeed has other downsides in terms of institutional rigidity and financial cost, is worth it as the price for avoiding war, what is really so bad about that? Living as I do in Belgium, with sky-high taxes (but also decent public services), and working as I do with the Macedonians, this seems to me not a bad argument.

Finally, of course, a good consociational system guarantees rights to its citizens as well as privileges for certain groups. The Dutch system, rather than any of the more interesting ethnic ones, was Lijphart’s poster-child for consociationalism, and the settlement doesn’t appear to have held them back from liberal solutions (and indeed they’ve been able to accommodate smaller groups in the system when they appeared). Similarly in Belgium: the fact that both main linguistic groups (and the German speakers) have deeply entrenched communal rights has not prevented them from making a decent go of accommodating minorities (of course here your position depends mainly on the fairly objective question of which language you happen to speak best, rather than on any more nebulous ethnic criteria).

So in summary, I prefer not to attack consociationalism per se – because, frankly, there isn’t a better alternative – but to insist that consociationalism start from a consideration of indiviudual rights rather than group rights, and try to minimise the latter while accepting that a system with an element of group rights is better than a civil war.

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1 Response to Consociationalism

  1. fjm says:

    Will be thinking of you, I hope she is better soon.

    A lovely picture.

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