Title

John C. Calhoun's consensus model of government

Document Type

Presentation

Publication Date

11-13-2009

Abstract

What do antebellum South Carolina, contemporary Northern Ireland, and the ill-fated former Yugoslavia have in common? Answer: they all instituted or advocated the kind of government recommended by John C. Calhoun of South Carolina (1782-1850).

Calhoun was the foremost advocate of the consensus model of government as an alternative to majority rule, which he equated with majority tyranny. Calhoun instead embraced the idea that the political community should be given constitutionally-guaranteed veto rights over collective decisions in order to force all groups and interests to cooperate for the common good.

Jim Read (Professor of Political Science and Joseph P. Farry Professor of Public Policy) will argue that Calhoun’s diagnosis of the potential pathologies of majority rule must be taken seriously, but that Calhoun’s proposed remedy is more likely to produce deadlock or minority domination than true consensus. Nevertheless his theory deserves attention because it is a window on the crisis that led to the American Civil War, and it is also a model of governing in a number of contemporary political orders including Northern Ireland, the former Yugoslavia, and South Africa.

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