PS on Consensus

One additional comment about the nature of consensus.  Consensus is sometimes offered as a sign of a respectful political system – one that respects every stakeholder so much that each is given the possibility of a true hold-up.  It would be more accurate to say that consensus only works where the community of stakeholders has sufficient common interests that holdups will be rare, and more often a set a informal process rules – sometimes nearly invisible to outsiders – that structure when it is legitimate to invoke a hold up and when it is not.  In that regard, consensus requires a level of social trust that goes far beyond the requirements of majoritarian democracy.

But there is a flip side to this as well.  Consensus also takes root in circumstances where trust is far lower than it would be in a majoritarian system.  Consensus – as a system of each having a holdup – also develops in circumstances in which participants do not trust what the majority would do, and fear that the majority would help themselves with regard to the minority and that they might also change the process rules so that things cannot (easily or practicably) get changed back.  One vote, one time is the extreme example.  In those circumstances, consensus develops because it gives each stakeholder a veto because they have no trust in the longer run operations of a majoritarian system.

Consensus can reflect, in other words, an extraordinarily high trust society or an extremely low trust one.  Majoritarian processes tend to operate somewhere in the middle – and are both more dynamic for that reason, but also, strikingly, more fragile.

(Update:  Actually, the correct answer might well be … a majoritarian democracy is the privilege of a very high trust society but which has at least the possibility of sharply different policies that can only be settled by a majoritarian process leading down one path or the other, but in which high trust enables the currently losing side to hold out the possibility of, if not total revision, serious revision down the road.  The combination of high trust and possibly high dissensus around policy is potentially unstable and hence fragile.  Cue Edmund Burke.)