Is Choice Enough? Elections and Political Authority

  • Richard Rose


Electoral choice is not the only political institution of value, nor is choice an unambiguous good to be pursued at all times and by all means. Just as subjects of a one-party state can complain of too little choice when they troop to the polls, so citizens of Denmark or the Netherlands may complain of too much choice, when they learn that their collective ballots have returned ten to fourteen parties to their national parliaments. Multi-party competition carried to this extreme is alleged to produce weak government through a coalition of parties so numerous that they can have few positive policies or goals in common. Yet there are also times when a two-party system can be criticised for offering the ‘wrong’ choice, as in the First Austrian Republic between the wars. Its two-party system offered the alternatives of a clerical and authoritarian Christian Social Party or an embattled Austro-Marxist Social Democrat Party — with Pan-German Nationalists a small and even more extreme third party. Sometimes, both faults — ‘too much choice’ and the ‘wrong’ choices — can be combined, as in the Fourth French Republic, where half a dozen or more parties could claim seats in the National Assembly, and at times the anti-regime Gaullists and Communists were the two largest parties.


Political Authority Proportional Representation British Government Legitimate Authority Free Election 
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© Richard Rose 1978

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  • Richard Rose

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