Lijphart seeks to test which type of democratic institutions - consensus or majoritarian - performs most effectively. He tests the performance of these institutions through a statistical analysis of their relative efficiency in three broad fields: macroeconomic management, control of violence, and what he terms the "kinder and gentler" qualities of democracy (293). However, before discussing the results of Lijphart's study, it is necessary to explore what distinguishes the institutions of majoritarian and consensus systems.
Lijphart distinguishes between these two types of democracy by illustrating ten institutional differences which divide the typologies. For clarity, the author divides these ten differences into two distinct dimensions: executives-parties, and federal-unitary. The executives-parties dimension addresses "the arrangement of executive power, the party and electoral systems, and interest groups" (3). The federal-unitary dimension illustrates differences in institutional structure of a federated versus unitary government.
According to the executives-parties dimension, the majoritarian system, or Westminster model, is found to have a two party system and a strong one-party executive and cabinet. Often the executive is more powerful than his or her legislative counterparts. Furthermore, a majoritarian system often uses a single member district electoral system which can lead to disproportional representation, and has a highly competitive pluralist interest group system. Lijphart cites Britain and pre-1996 New Zealand as majoritarian systems.
Lijphart's consensus democracy varies institutionally from the Westminster model. First, under the majoritarian model, the executive office is often composed of a multi-party power-sharing cabinet or coalition.Read more ›
This revision of Lijphart's Classic 'Democracies' is a first-rate survey of 36 democracies, which focuses on the relationships between a number of political variables. One of the most striking features of the book is the manner in which Lijphart divides the book into 10 areas of inquiry (e.g. electoral systems, party formations, executive power, etc.), devoting one chapter per area. He reviews the theory regarding the area of interest, while also attempting to use applied examples from the 36 countries to illustrate that theory. He then tries to construct rough numerical indices to outline more formally the degree and extent to which qualitative differences exist. This helps in conceptualizing how (dis)similar two countries are with respect to one another. The other outstanding aspect of the book is that by the end, the reader is broadly familiar with the structure of all 36 democracies. You walk away understanding how diverse the party formations of federal Germany are, or how UK Commonwealths tend to mirror their colonial power in terms of parliamentary power, centralisation of power, and so forth. Because of its lucid and and pragmatic structure, as well as its strong comparative approach, I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning more about what features differentiate democracies and why France is or is not similar to Japan or Paupa New Guinea--an excellent study by a classic thinker!
Unfortunately not everything gets better with time. The original 1984 version of this book was stellar. An excellent introduction to comparative politics. Easily accessible to undergraduates and a useful reference for early graduates. Unfortunately the new book adds nothing to the original insights and uses surprisingly poor statistical methodology to force points when the data are simply not supportive. At times the author even admits to "arbitrarily selecting thresholds." As a result of the alarmingly poor methodology employed I can no longer use this text as a key componant of my undergraduate comparative politics courses. For graduates I would use it only as an example of what not to do.
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Arend Lijphart's "Patterns of Democracy" has become a standardized text within the comparative politics subfield, but I think the question needs to be asked "Given all the divergence in regime type that sprouted with the downfall of the Soviet Union, is the pure Westminster system still a viable starting point for analyzing the points of democratic governance. There's such a regime diversity these days that even regimes of a Westminster character have mutated into systems with two or three different characters. Its' still relevant information particularly when differentiating between presidential and prime ministerial type systems, cabinets, electoral systems etc. But I have to question whether the mixing of systemic elements has left Patterns of Democracy, a dated treatment of a system that has drastically changed.
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Arendt Lijphart's book Patterns of Democracy is an interesting book in that it says something strong with a weak support. The primary goal of Lijphart is to compare the consensus model of democracy with the majoritarian one, and by doing so prove the superiority of the former to the latter in terms of democratic ideals and government performance. Yet the arguments he puts forward lack both theoretical consistency and empirical support, not to mention their irrelevance as a policy-recommendation to most of the developing world, of which main problem is "to govern" rather than "how to govern". I think, as a student from a developing country, I have enough background and reason to oppose the arguments and findings (?) of Lijphart.
Lijphart does a nice job in bringing together the salient distinguishing characteristics of majoritarian and proportional democracies. He first divides these characteristics into two main groups as executive-parties dimension and federal-unitary dimension; then, he demonstrates that majoritarian and consensus democracies differ remarkably on each dimension. So far this section -which comprises the bulk of the book- is concerned, patterns of democracy is an invaluable resource for its breadth, clarity, and strength.
Yet the problems surface when Lijphart starts answering the "so what?" question. Above all, Lijphart is biased toward the ideal of democracy which maintains that every person must have a say in any decision that influences his/her life. Actually, no one has any problem with this ideal. But Lijphart's conclusion that because consensus democracies fare better in accomplishing this ideal they are superior to the majoritarian models of democracy is misleading and inconsistent with the premise of representational democracy.Read more ›