Majority rule in theory and practice: the tenacity of a flawed paradigm (1991)
The 1990s are likely to become the ‘‘decade of democracy’’: more and more
nations are contemplating the establishment of democratic systems, actually instituting democracy, or consolidating existing systems of democratic rule.
This trend encourages us to reflect on the meaning of democracy and its
various forms. I shall argue in this article that two basic models of democ-
racy should be distinguished – majoritarian democracy and consensus
democracy – but that there is a strong and dangerous tendency to define
democracy almost exclusively in terms of the former. Majority rule suffers
from a serious contradiction between its theory and its practice. In theory,
majority rule tends to be regarded as the crucial decision rule – and hence as the defining criterion – of democracy. In practice, however, strict appli-
cation of majority rule is extremely rare. Especially with regard to the most
important decisions and to issues that cause deep splits in societies,
democracies almost uniformly deviate from majoritarian decision-making
rules, to adopt mechanisms more likely to rally a broad consensus.