Patterns of Democracies and Participatory Developments – A Matter of Path Dependency?

  • Brigitte GeisselEmail author
  • Ank Michels
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-31816-5_3369-1

Synonyms

Definitions

Patterns of Democracies refers to Lijpart’s seminal book, in which he identifies two different models of democracy, i.e., consensus and majoritarian democracy. In the majoritarian model, political power is concentrated, whereas, in the consensus model, power is shared, dispersed, and limited in a variety of ways.

Participatory Developments are defined as instruments and procedures implemented to increase and deepen citizens’ involvement in political will-formation and decision-making.

Path Dependency is a concept, which assumes that decisions today can only be understood in light of existing institutions. Path dependency insinuates that institutions change within the frame set by already existing institutions, i.e., that they follow a certain predetermined path.

Introduction

Democracy is a dynamic, protean concept and a constantly developing reality. Since the 1990s, many democracies have developed in one way or another towards more participatory citizens’ involvement and a common trend towards increasing citizen engagement can be observed (Geissel and Newton 2012; Michels 2011; Smith 2009). The introduction of democratic innovations that increase and deepen citizen participation in political will-formation and decision-making is now a common policy of democratic governments.

However, participatory developments are far from consistent. They vary considerably. Some countries prefer direct democratic options, such as referenda. Others opt for fostering public deliberation and dialogue on political issues either by passing specific laws that lay down guidelines for involving citizens or by organizing ad hoc forms of citizens’ advisory committees.

Participatory Developments: Direct Democratic Options or Public Deliberation

Direct democratic instruments found their way into almost all new constitutions of post-socialist states, and also many established democracies have passed similar laws. Whereas, for example, obligatory referenda have been almost unknown in Europe until the 1990s, today 16 European states have institutionalized them in their national or regional constitutions. Obligatory referenda are, as the word says, not optional, and therefore understood as a check by the people on legislative or constitutional change.

Some democracies took another path and focused on the enhancement of public deliberation, e.g., to provide meaningful consultation for policy-makers. Many governments around the world support public deliberation with different means, for example, by passing respective laws. Some examples illustrate this trend: The British Department of the Environment, Transport and the Region set up guidelines for local policy-making at the end of the 1990s requiring citizens’ involvement in decisions on local transportation. The French law Démocratie de proximité (2002) demands to establish local committees of civil society actors, which should advise local decision-making bodies on specific issues. At the beginning of the 1990s, Hungary introduced a Minority Self-Government System and has recently revised it. Finland has passed rules called the Participation Project and Sweden revived its Local Boards. Other governments support public deliberation by organizing dialogue-oriented procedures and committees. Dialogue-oriented procedures encompass a large variety of forms including citizens’ juries, citizens’ forums, citizens’ advisory committees, minority boards, consensus conferences, civic round tables, and many other forms at all levels of government (local, regional, national).

The question arises whether country preferences for direct democracy versus public deliberation show certain path dependencies, meaning that they are somehow linked to the historically developed type of democracy and its democratic institutions in a country. For example, in consensus-oriented democracies, democratic institutions reflect the idea of sharing visions, rather than counting individual votes. Public deliberation seems well in line with this logic of consensus-oriented democracies. In contrast, majoritarian democracies might tend towards direct democracy, because the tradition of “the majority decides” is more entrenched in these democracies.

Consensus Democracies and Majoritarian Democracies

Political science provides several concepts to categorize types of democracy; the most well-known is Lijphart’s distinction. In his book Patterns of Democracy (1999), Lijphart makes a distinction between two models of representative democracy: the majoritarian and the consensus model. In the majoritarian model, political power is concentrated, whereas, in the consensus model, power is shared, dispersed, and limited in a variety of ways. This overarching idea of power concentration versus power sharing is reflected in the institutional architecture of these democratic models. The majoritarian model is characterized by single-party majority cabinets, a dominant executive, a two-party system, a majoritarian electoral system, and a pluralist interest group system. Additionally, the majoritarian model is organized around unitary and centralized government, unicameral legislation, flexible constitutions, no judicial review, and central banks that are dependent on the executive. In the contrasting consensus model, power is shared in broad, multi-party coalitions, multi-party systems, a proportional electoral system, federal and decentralized government, and two equally strong but differently constituted houses. In sum, direct democratic instruments are more in line with the logic of majoritarian democracies (power concentration; the majority decides), and instruments of deliberation and dialogue are in line with the logic of consensus democracies (power sharing).

The first column of Table 1 informs about the classification of OECD countries as predominantly majoritarian or consensus democracy.
Table 1

Public deliberation and direct democracy scores in consensus and majoritarian democracies

 

C = consensus

M = majoritarian

Public deliberation

Direct democracy

Australia

M

Medium

Strong

Belgium

C

Medium

Weak

Canada

M

Medium

Weak

Chile

M

Medium

Weak

Czech Republic

C

Weak

Medium

Denmark

C

Strong

Medium

Finland

C

Strong

Weak

France

M

Strong

Medium

Germany

(M)

Strong

Medium

Hungary

M

Weak

Medium

Iceland

M

Medium

Strong

Ireland

M

Medium

Medium

Israel

C

Medium

Weak

Italy

C

Medium

Strong

Japan

C

Medium

Medium

Mexico

M

Weak

Weak

The Netherlands

C

Weak

Weak

New Zealand

M

Weak

Strong

Norway

C

Medium

Weak

Poland

C

Medium

Medium

Portugal

M

Weak

Weak

Slovenia

C

Medium

Strong

Spain

M

Strong

Medium

Sweden

C

Strong

Medium

Switzerland

C

Strong

Strong

UK

M

Strong

Medium

USA

M

Strong

Weak

Source: Aarts et al. (2014), Democracy Barometer and Varieties of Democracy Project

Path Dependencies?

Both consensus and majoritarian democracies have experienced developments towards more citizens’ involvement in political will-formation and decision-making. Can the expected path-dependencies actually be identified? To answer this question a variety of countries around the world were examined and the findings are clear-cut (see Table 1): the prevalence of direct democracy or public deliberation in different democracies does not follow patterns along the expected paths.

Consensus democracies do not necessarily tend to solve their political issues in a more deliberative way and majoritarian democracies are not necessarily inclined to make decisions via aggregation of votes in referenda. All sorts of combinations occur (see the second and third columns of Table 1). Consensus countries can be neither deliberative nor direct democratic (the Netherlands); they can score high on public deliberation, but not on direct democracy, they can be very relatively strong considering direct democracy, but weak in public deliberation (Czech Republic); and they can provide relatively high levels of both public deliberation and direct democracy (Denmark). Also, the case of Switzerland, a consensus democracy, illustrates the confusing pattern: Considering public deliberation as well as direct democracy, Switzerland is unambiguously the forerunner. Among all OECD countries it scores best in both fields. With respect to majoritarian democracies, UK as well as Canada – two typical majoritarian countries – do not stand out when it comes to direct democracy. Some majoritarian democracies are neither very direct democratic nor deliberative (Mexico); some of them are very strong considering deliberative democracy, but moderate for direct democracy (France, Spain, and UK); or moderately strong in both fields (Australia).

Public deliberation appears to be as common in consensus democracies as in majoritarian democracies. Among the most deliberative democracies are majoritarian (UK, USA, Spain, and France) as well as consensus democracies (Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark). The most direct democratic countries can be found among consensus democracies (Switzerland, Italy, and Slovenia) as well as among majoritarian democracies (New Zealand, Iceland, and Australia). And the least direct democratic countries can be majoritarian democracies (Canada, Chile, USA) as well as consensus democracies (Belgium and Finland).

Conclusion

Whether a democracy prefers direct democratic instruments or public deliberation is neither a dichotomous choice nor is it related to the respective type of democracy. Various combinations of models are possible within a country. One can find highly deliberative and direct democratic societies within majoritarian as well as within consensus democracies. There are societies which are neither deliberative nor direct democratic within both types of democracy and likewise deliberative majoritarian democracies as well as direct democratic consensus democracies.

Obviously, the differentiation between the majoritarian and the consensus model of democracy is insufficient to understand participatory developments. Considering these participatory forms of democracy, four models of participatory democracy can be distinguished. There are countries, which are (1) neither deliberative nor direct democratic, (2) both deliberative and direct democratic, (3) more deliberative than direct democratic, or (4) more direct democratic than deliberative. These two typologies are not interlinked, meaning that there is no relation between the dominant model of participatory democracy in a country and the model of representative democracy that predominates in that country. Forms of participatory democracy develop independently from the paths countries have gone to establish the institutions of representative democracy.

Cross-References

References

  1. Aarts K, Thomassen J, van Ham C (2014) Globalization, representation, and attitudes towards democracy. In: Thomassen J (ed) Elections and democracy: representation and accountability. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 201–231CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Geissel B, Newton K (2012) Evaluating democratic innovations – curing the democratic malaise? Routledge, London/New YorkGoogle Scholar
  3. Lijphart A (1999) Patterns of democracy. Government forms and performance in thirty-six countries. Yale University Press, New Haven/LondonGoogle Scholar
  4. Michels A (2011) Innovations in democratic governance – how does citizen participation contribute to a better democracy? Int Rev Adm Sci 77(2):275–293CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Smith G (2009) Democratic innovations. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Goethe-Universität FrankfurtFrankfurt a.M.Germany
  2. 2.Utrecht University School of GovernanceUtrechtThe Netherlands