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Patterns of democracy

Lijphart's Patterns of Democracyby Arent Lijphart
New Haven: Yale University Press. New Haven, 1999.
Book review: Gerardo E. Martínez-Solanas

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Lijphart outlines in this book two competing types of democracy he classifies as "majoritarian" or Westminster democracy and "consensus" democracy. The first one works with a legislature elected by a simple majority and the voters are empowered to throw the ruling party out if it governs poorly. The second one makes special emphasis on minority rights and more involvement of citizens in political decisions.

The author is nowadays the primary advocate of the consensual approach to democracy and he elaborates in this book his previous analysis in "Democracy in Plural Societies" on the ways and means for a functional democracy on states where traditional majoritarian rule might not work due to deep ethnic, linguistic, religious or other emotional fissures in society.

Traditional Lijphart's analysis is based in statistical evidence and he argues in this work with a quantifiable approach that consensus democracy is better. He concludes that on some indicators -such as inflation- consensus democracies actually do significantly better than Westminster democracies, and that on most others, they do insignificantly better, but at the very least they do not worse. In addition, he argues that consensus democracies also have "kinder, gentler" traits, such as lower incarceration rates, less use of the death penalty, better care for the environment, more foregin aid work, and a sound and sustainable welfare system.

Readers interested in democracy may remember Lijphart's book "Democracies" where he analysed ten variables to classify different types of democracies. In his analysis about consensus and Westminster democracies in this newer book, he finds the main diffferences along two dimensions, each of which has five criteria corresponding to the ten variables of his previous book.

This is a very comprehensive study on democratic systems making this work a must for any scholar. On the other hand, it is quite interesting and readable for any democracy lover.

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