chapter  9
10 Pages

In search of the consociational “spirit of accommodation”


I pretty much agree with the analysis of John McGarry and Brendan O’Leary presented in Part I of this volume – as far as it goes. I miss, however, a systematic treatment of the culture variable, which is a prominent part of consociational theory. From its very beginning, the theory had both an institutional and a cultural part. In his The Politics of Accommodation (1968), Arend Lijphart spent an entire chapter on the cultural aspect of what he calls a “spirit of accommodation.” According to this concept, leaders “must be willing and capable of bridging the gaps between the mutually isolated blocs.”1 Whether leaders in deeply divided societies have the willingness and the capabilities to reach over to the other side is crucial for successful consociationalism. To have the right kind of power sharing institutions is a necessary condition for successful consociationalism but not a sufficient condition; one needs also the right kind of accommodative culture. This was the message of the original formulation of consociational theory in the 1960s. Northern Ireland is a good example for showing the importance of this double aspect of consociational theory. But before I address this, which is the main theme of this chapter, first some general comments on the empirical testability of McGarry and O’Leary’s position and how they view questions of stability, fairness, and democracy.