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Rose: The end of consensus in Austria and Switzerland

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Rose. 2000. The end of consensus in Austria and Switzerland. Journal of democracy 11 (April): 26-40.

Main Argument

A response to Lijphart's Patterns of Democracy.

Extremist parties have gained strength in Austria and Switzerland, not because people are suddenly racist, but because the two main parties have monopolized the government for the past several decades with their permanent coalition--leaving them free to misgovern. People vote for fringe parties--thus expanding the presence in parliament lately--as a protest vote, because competition has been "stifled in the name of consensus"

Still, his recommendations are not all completely at odds with consociationalism. (To be precise, he is attacking consensus democracy, not consociationalism; "consensus" is Lijphart's term for a set of behavioral things (like having Grand Coalitions) that go along with consociational institutions.) In particular, he recommends:

  • It shouldn't be too difficult for new parties to get on the ballot (low signature thresholds, for example)
  • PR thresholds should be high enough--5 percent, say--to encourage opposition consolidation. FPTP works too.
  • Parties should be internally competitive (primaries).
  • The spoils of office should be limited. Limit patronage, and have a ceiling on public subsidies for parties.
  • Federalism helps, as it prevents a party monopolizing one office from influencing policy elsewhere. This can fail, though, as in Switzerland and Austria.
  • Presidentialism can also help. The president must have enough power to counteract the legislature, but not so much power that he can act unilaterally. (This is the only prescription that is strongly inconsistent with consensus democracy).