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Wrestling with Democracy

Wrestling with Democracy: Voting Systems as Politics in the 20th Century West

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 408
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  • Book Info
    Wrestling with Democracy
    Book Description:

    Using a comparative historical approach,Wrestling with Democracyexamines why voting systems have (or have not) changed in western industrialized countries over the past century.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-6273-5
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
  4. Chapter 1 Introduction
    (pp. 3-31)

    For most of political science,democracyis a word that seems to engender a degree of uneasiness, similar to the way economists respond to the wordcapitalism. Economists, it is said, prefer to talk about “market societies” rather than capitalist ones. The former term seems neutral and universal, whereas the latter seems historical, vaguely normative, and freighted with political connotations. In a similar way, and for arguably similar reasons, political scientists will often briefly mention democracy but spend most of their time talking about elections. In practice, most simply reduce democracy to elections. While there may be practical reasons for...

  5. Chapter 2 Contextualizing Democracy
    (pp. 32-54)

    For historians, sociologists, political theorists, and many others, democracy is recognized as a fundamentally contested concept.¹ Political scientists, by contrast, tend to treat democracy as fixed and unproblematic, equating it with regular elections, multiparty competition, and the existence of commercial media.² This is particularly true of academics studying voting systems.³ All this is surprising, given that elections themselves predate modern democracy, however defined, by many centuries.⁴ Indeed, for some, elections are less a means to democracy than a method to “delimit mass political activity, popular influence and access to power.”⁵ Beyond ignoring these larger debates, the pragmatic acceptance of elections...

  6. Chapter 3 Prologue to the Democratic Era
    (pp. 55-71)

    Historical studies of voting system reform invariably begin in the nineteenth century. Most start by reviewing the contributions of political theorists and voting system designers like Condorcet, Hare, Mill, and others, then shift attention to the emergence of organizations dedicated to electoral reform in the particular country or region under study, and finally recount important debates and campaigns.¹ Denmark’s shortlived experiment with a partially proportional voting system in 1856, the adoption of PR in a few Swiss cantons in the 1890s, and Belgium’s introduction of PR for national elections are all typically highlighted as the key examples of this early...

  7. Chapter 4 Facing the Democratic Challenge, 1900–1918
    (pp. 72-125)

    The period from 1900 to 1920 witnessed the inauguration of modern democratic government throughout all western countries. It was also the single most dynamic era of voting system reform. From the perspective of 1900, however, it was not at all clear that the democratic era was dawning. Conservatives throughout Europe were keen to resist democratic demands and appeared to be securely in power in most locales. In some places they conceded a mass franchise but denied the elected legislature any control over the government (e.g., Germany), while in others the legislature was in control but few were allowed to vote...

  8. Chapter 5 Struggling with Democracy, 1919–1939
    (pp. 126-154)

    The period immediately following the First World War offers a concentrated view of the conditions fuelling the consideration and adoption of new voting systems in western countries. All of Europe and most of the Anglo-American countries either changed their voting system or debated adopting a new one in the tumultuous years that followed the peace, offering an excellent opportunity for comparison. As will become clear, contrary to conventional accounts, voting system reform was not driven by consensus but by conflict. The war had altered the class composition of western countries and mobilized their populations to demand not just political inclusion...

  9. Chapter 6 The Cold War Democratic Compromise, 1940–1969
    (pp. 155-189)

    Though not as broad or sweeping as the democratic reforms that emerged from the First World War, the fifteen-year period following the Second World War produced intense debate and pitched struggles over voting system reform in the United States and Europe, particularly as concerned proportional representation. Surprisingly, these post-war voting system reforms have been largely overlooked in most accounts of western democratic institutions and their development.¹ In Italy and France the question of the proper choice of voting system remained in flux into the 1950s, while in Germany the possibility of change remained on the agenda to the end of...

  10. Chapter 7 The Neoliberal Democratic Realignment, 1970–2000
    (pp. 190-226)

    The 1990s witnessed an explosion of interest in electoral systems, multipartism and political institutions generally. This was hardly surprising, given the epoch-shifting events that marked the opening of the decade: the fall of the communist bloc in 1989–90, the reunification of Germany in 1990–1, the end of apartheid in South Africa in 1994, and the return to democratic rule in a host of Latin American countries. After all, new democracies would need to establish some means of electing their new representative chambers. But the focus on democratic institutions held the spotlight throughout the 1990s as the result of...

  11. Chapter 8 Conclusion
    (pp. 227-234)

    It had long been considered a truism of modern political science that voting systems in western industrialized countries were nearly impossible to change, barring severe political crisis. In fact, true to this conservative bias, a host of political scientists had predicted that the latest round of reforms in the 1990s would not succeed – just before they did.¹ Just as the changes in Eastern Europe, Germany, and South Africa had evaded the predictive capacities of contemporary political scientists, so too did the latest round of voting system reform catch the profession unaware and scrambling for some means to explain it. As...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 235-346)
  13. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 347-372)
  14. Author Index
    (pp. 373-388)
  15. Subject Index
    (pp. 389-392)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 393-394)