Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)




Alan J. Ward

Committee Member

David Gordon

Committee Member

Margaret Hamilton


This study seeks to examine and refine the concept of consociational democracy, a political system in which political leaders of socially and politically distinct groups interact with one another in an atmosphere of moderation and mutual accommodation.

A discussion of the explanations, suggested by various political theorists, of the political behavior and relationships in a consociational democracy produced a list of the basic characteristics of the system. Characteristics which were either ambiguous or ascribable to other political systems were eliminated.

The Benelux countries— Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg— are three countries which have moderate political systems similar to the general definition of a consociational democracy. Using the Benelux countries as test cases made it possible to refine further those characteristics isolated in the theoretical discussion, and to synthesize a model of the political activity of a consociational democracy. This model, in turn, provided the basis for a theory as to why elites of distinct social groups are able to interact in a moderate, mutually accommodative fashion.

The results of this study suggest, in broad terms, that consociational democracy exists because most individuals within the system see this type of interaction to be the normal and proper approach to politics. In actual political practice, relations between different groups or leaders are based upon mutual recognition of legitimacy. Distinct social groups and their political leaders recognize the right of other social groups to participate in the political system, and the individual groups recognise the right of their political leaders to act as spokesmen for the group and to interact freely with the leaders of other groups. Finally, there is-the common recognition that the political system, represented by the sovereign authority of the State, is the legitimate forum for political activity.

As an afterword, there is a brief discussion as to the possible impact of the domestic practice of consociational politics on a country's approach to foreign affairs.



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