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December 23, 2016 / Congau

Undemocratic Consensus

A stable and tranquil society is a goal of all politics and certain Western countries seem to have achieved that goal. This admirable condition is sometimes called “Democratic Consensus”, and for some it’s the closest thing to an ideal state in the liberalist tradition.

But there is something inherently contradictory about this concept. “Democratic” presupposes free choice and competition whereas “consensus” implies agreement and cooperation. If you agree too much with your adversaries and cooperate extensively with them, the competition will be limited and the customers, or the voters, will have less to choose from.

There has been a clear trend throughout a century of democracy in Western Europe toward a greater similarity between the political parties and thereby the outcomes of elections have become less important. The more similar the alternatives are, the less choice you have, and less choice means less democracy. However, there is indeed more consensus. Now, what is more preferable?

Democracy is constantly presented as the greatest political good, but if that were taken seriously a high degree of conflict should be encouraged in order to increase the scope of choice. But instead we see that most commentators lament divisive tendencies during election campaigns. The recent US imbroglio was not exactly an exercise in consensus, but it did present a clearer choice than what has often been the case when a populace is called to the polls.

It is understandable that many observers regret the emergence of populist movements jeopardizing that peaceful consensus, but it doesn’t make sense to denounce them as undemocratic.

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