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Counter-Majoritarian Democracy: Persistent Minorities, Federalism, and the Power of Numbers

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 April 2021

McGill University
Arash Abizadeh, Professor, Department of Political Science, McGill University,


The majoritarian conception of democracy implies that counter-majoritarian institutions such as federalism—and even representative institutions—are derogations from democracy. The majoritarian conception is mistaken for two reasons. First, it is incoherent: majoritarianism ultimately stands against one of democracy’s core normative commitments—namely, political equality. Second, majoritarianism is premised on a mistaken view of power, which fails to account for the power of numbers and thereby fails to explain the inequality faced by members of persistent minorities. Although strict majority rule serves the democratic values of political agency and equality as interpreted by a set of formal conditions, an adequate conception of power shows why in real-world conditions formal-procedural inequalities, instantiated by counter-majoritarian institutions such as federalism, are sometimes required to serve democratic equality.

Research Article
© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the American Political Science Association

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