Consensus democracy

From Academic Kids

Consensus democracy is the application of consensus decision making to the process of legislation. It is a narrow, but perhaps the most important, application of consensus decision making methods. There is no form of government that applies consensus so uniformly, however, the most liberal forms of Islam as a political movement do hold this up as the ideal theory of civics (see ijma for the details.) and in Western Europe, especially countries like Switzerland consensus is an important part of political culture. The term consensus democracy is used in political science to describe the latter.

Many countries in Western Europe (especially Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands) can be seen as consensus democracies. This is contrasted against majority rule, called majoritarian democracy. Countries with consensus democracy have stark divisions between language groups and/or religious groups. There is no group that forms a majority: Consensus between the minorities is necessary to govern the country. In these countries minorities have many means to protect themselves against other groups. Only when all minorities agree (when there is consensus) can policy be implemented and laws be made. These means include:

  • Coalition cabinets, where executive power is shared between parties, not concentrated in one. Many of these cabinets are oversized, they include parties not necessary for a parliamentary majority;
  • Balance of power between executive and legislative;
  • Decentralized and federal government, where (regional) minorities have considerable independence;
  • Asymmetric bicameralism, where it is impossible for one party to gain a majority in both houses. Normally one chamber represents regional interests and the other national interests;
  • Proportional representation, to allow (small) minorities to gain representation too;
  • Organized and corporatist interest groups, which represent minorities;
  • A rigid constitution, which prevents government from changing the constitution without consent of minorities;
  • Judicial review, which allow minorities to go to the courts to seek redress against laws that they see as unjust;
  • Elements of direct democracy, which allow minorities to enact or prevent legislation.

In this view, Switzerland, a country with considerable minorities, is a prime example of such a consensus democracy. Examples of this include: the frequent use of referenda, its confederal structure, and the tradition that all large parties are included in the cabinet, creating oversized coalition governments. This can be directly linked to the many minorities Switzerland has: its population consists of both Protestants and Catholics; and French-, German-, Italian- and Romansch-speaking groups. The EU too can be seen as a consensus democracy: The parliament is bicameral: one chamber, the European Parliament is directly elected, the other the European Council consists of national ministers. The executive (the European Commission) is very weak in comparison to the legislature (especially the European Council). The Commission could be seen as an oversized coalition including (nearly) all large parties in parliament.

In the US consensus democracy is used in contrast to indirect democracy, deliberative democracy and grassroots democracy: The term deliberative democracy is also often used to emphasize opportunities for deeper debate on issues of bodily importance to the community (bodies being the concern of politics as such). It is to be differentiated from consensus models since it focuses on discussions, not decisions.

The term grassroots democracy is somewhat looser and is often used to imply a broad range of consensus-promoting measures, short of a full consensus democracy. This term is generally preferred by those who are not claiming to promise a "strict consensus" system (which is interpreted by many as meaning "act only on unanimity"), e.g. if there is to be an integration with an existing representative democracy.

In general, the term 'consensus democracy' is usually associated with the political 'left' while the term 'semi-direct democracy' is usually associated with the political 'right'. The term 'grassroots democracy' is more neutral and has been employed by both 'the left' and 'the right' in the English-speaking world and its institutions. For instance, the Green Party of the United States, the United States Republican Party, the Canadian Alliance, and the Green Party of Canada have all used it in the recent past. There seems to be consensus on the term 'grassroots', even if there is often little similarity in the measures proposed.

Nonetheless, there remain people who believe that pure consensus decision making can be applied directly to make major political decisions, so the theory of consensus democracy remains distinct.

Requirements to put this theory into effect are:

  • a clear definition of the degree to which people are answerable to non-human power (in Islam this is the khalifa)
  • a clear definition of the people affected and thus involved (in Islam these are the ummah)
  • a clear definition of the degree of effort and expectations of patience required for the solution (in Islam this is ijtihad)
  • a discipline among the learned (in Islam, the ulema or scholars or jurists) to teach and apply this method to reach rulings in the law (in Islam, the sharia), and to avoid precedent overwhelming the current reality of circumstance (in Islam this often did occur, is called taqlid or "blind imitation", and led to the freezing of the classical fiqh under the Ottomans)
  • a willingness to adapt to local customs and usage, where these represent constraints (in Islam this is the al-urf or "the custom")

See also

External links

  • Beyond Plutocracy ( — free online book, "Beyond Plutocracy: True Democracy for America" by Roger Rothenberger.



Academic Kids Menu

  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools