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Pluralism and the Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy

  • Dominique Leydet

Carl Schmitt levels two kinds of criticism against liberal parliamentarism. First, Schmitt seeks to refute the liberal conception of politics (which assumes the possibility of rational will formation) on the basis of his own existential view of the political (which employs the distinction between friend and foe). Second, Schmitt attempts to show why and how the evolution of our political system, specifically the development of mass democracy, has made parliament an obsolete institution. This approach is both more dangerous and plausible, because it does not presuppose an acceptance of Schmitt's own controversial conception of politics, and relies on observations about the parliamentary system that are shared and deplored equally by many liberals. In The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, Schmitt does not confront directly what he considers to be fundamental principles of the parliamentary system—rational and public discussion—but rather shows that since these principles are unrealizable given the changes which the system has undergone, parliamentary institutions remain an empty shell, devoid of any justification and credibility.

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1. See Schmitt, Carl, The Concept of the Political, trans. Schwab, George (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1976).

2. Schmitt, Carl, Die geistesgeschichtliche Lage des heutigen Parlamentarismus, 7th ed. (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1991); Schmitt, Carl, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, trans. Kennedy, Ellen (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1985).

3. Schmitt, Carl, Der Hüter der Verfassung, 2nd ed. (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1931).

4. In “Staatsethik und pluralistischer Staat” (1930) XXXV Kant-Studien 28 at 31, Schmitt writes that: “Der Staat erscheint tatsächlich in weitem Maße von den verschiedenen sozialen Gruppen abhängig, bald als ein Opfer, bald als Ergebnis ihrer Abmachungen.” In Der Hüter der Verfassung, ibid. at 71, Schmitt defines pluralism in the following way: “Pluralismus dagegen bezeichnet eine Mehrheit festorganisierter, durch den Staat … sozialer Machtkomplexe, die sich als solche der staatlichen Willensbildung bemächtigen, ohne aufzuhören, nur soziale (nicht-staatliche) Gebilde zu sein.” Schmitt's definition here is clearly polemical. Pluralism entails, by definition, a situation in which social forces overtake the state.

5. In “Staatsethik und pluralistischer Staat,” ibid., Schmitt writes, for instance, that: “Vor allem entspricht die pluralistische Auffassung dem empirisch wirklichen Zustand, wie man ihn heute in den meisten industriellen Staaten beobachten kann.”

6. I use the notion of polarized pluralism as defined by Sartori, Giovanni in his book Parties and Party Systems. A Framework for Analysis, vol. I (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976) at 132ff. Sartori identifies two defining characteristics: first the presence of anti-system parties which undermine the legitimacy of the ruling regime; second the “existence of bilateral oppositions,” which are mutually exclusive, so ideologically distinct as to be unable to join in their opposition. This precludes the formation of a viable alternative to government parties. In his book, Sartori uses Weimar Germany as an illustration of polarized pluralism.

7. Schmitt describes this alternative in supra note 3 at 147-49.

8. The distinction I make here between principled and unprincipled compromises mirrors the distinction made by Jon Elster between the thin theory and broad theory of collective rationality. The former only requires formal consistency and goes no further than the aggregation of preferences, while the latter implies a normative requirement, that is that rational discussion be conducted in reference to the common good, which may entail the transformation of preferences. See Elster, Jon, Sour Grapes. Studies in the Subversion of Rationality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983) at 26-43 . As Bernard Manin notes, it is clear that “lorsque les fondateurs du gouvernement représentatif réfléchissaient sur le type d'échange auquel ce régime devait conférer un rôle crucial, ils avaient manifestement à l'esprit une communication faisant appel à la raison en un sens particulier et éminent.” Manin, Bernard, Les principes du gouvernement représentatif (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1995) at 254 fn. 8.

9. For this section see supra note 7 at 73-91.

10. Schmitt, Carl, Verfassungslehre (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1989). All references are taken from the French translation: Théorie de la Constitution, trans. Deroche, Lilyane (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1993).

11. Supra note 7 at 73.

12. In his reply to Schmitt, Hans Kelsen correctly notes that the ideas of the total state and pluralism are contradictory. “Wie kann dieser Zustand sozusagen einen Gipfelpunkt des «Pluralismus» und zugleich eine «Wendung zum totalen Staat» darstellen, wenn Pluralismus nur möglich ist, sofern die staatliche Willensbildung aus einer sozialen, nicht-staatlichen Sphäre her beeinflußt wird, in deren Aufhebung und Verstaatlichung gerade die «Wendung zum totalen Staat» besteht?”. Furthermore, as Kelsen notes, Schmitt's claim that the contemporary state and society have merged is a crude overstatement. See Kelsen, Hans, “Wer soil der Hüter der Verfassung sein?” (1931/32) Die Justiz at 603-05.

13. “Staatsethik und pluralistischer Staat,” supra note 4 at 41.

14. Théorie de la Constitution, supra note 10 at 473.

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid. at 470. According to Schmitt, although the constitution of an Irish nationalist party, for the first time, did politically express a true heterogeneity, it did not have lasting consequences for two reasons. First, it did not have the strength to break the bipartisan system; and, second, the creation of a free Irish state diffused the problem.

17. Théorie de la Constitution, supra note 10 at 470.

18. Ibid.

19. Supra note 7 at 85-87.

20. Heller, Hermann , “Politische Demokratie und soziale Homogenität” in Jacobson, Arthur & Schlinck, Bernhard, eds., Weimar: The Jurisprudence of Crisis, trans. Dyzenhaus, David (Berkeley: University of California Press, forthcoming). Originally in Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. II (Leiden: A. W. Sijthoff, 1971) at 428.

21. “Staatsethik und pluralistischer Staat,” supra note 4 at 35.

22. These two consequences are spelled out by Schmitt, in Schmitt, Carl, Théorie de la Constitution, supra note 10 at 466.

23. Kelsen, Hans, Wesen und Wert der Demokratie (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1929). All references to this work are taken from the French translation: La démocratie: sa nature, sa valeur, trans. Eisenmann, C. (Paris: Economica, 1988) at 54.

24. La démocratic: sa nature, sa valeur, supra note 22 at 55.

25. See Cohen, Joshua, “Deliberation and Democratic Legitimacy” in Hamlin, Alan & Pettit, Philip, eds., The Good Polity (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989) at 31-32.

26. It is worthwhile to note that Schmitt himself resorts to this alternative. He posits that the will of the majority is equivalent to that of the whole group as a fundamental axiom of democratic theory. Unless one accepts this axiom, the majority principle then appears as the principle of majority domination. See for instance supra note 7 at 145.

27. Proportional representation is the best electoral system, according to Kelsen, precisely because it allows even minority interests to be represented in Parliament and be subjected to the integrative effect of the majority principle. See La démocratic: sa nature, sa valeur, supra note 22 at 60-63. Concerning minority rights, it is difficult to see how the majority principle could, in itself, provide a satisfactory guarantee. See Koller, Peter, “Zu einigen Problemen der Rechtfertigung der Demokratie” in Krawietz, Werner, Topitsch, Ernst & Koller, Peter, eds., Ideologiekritik und Demokratiekritik bei Hans Kelsen (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1982) at 324-25.

28. See Schmitt, Carl, Legalität und Legitimität (München, Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot, 1932).

29. The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, supra note 2 at 5.

30. Ibid. at 4.

31. See, for instance, supra note 24 at 22-23.

32. See The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, supra note 2 at 6 and Habermas, Jürgen, L'Espace Public (Paris: Payot, 1988) at 215.

33. See supra note 6 at 21.

34. Manin, , supra note 8 at 234ff. For a similar understanding of deliberation, see Sunstein, Cass, “Beyond the Republican Revival” (1988) 97 Yale, L. J. 1539.

35. Manin, , supra note 8 at 245.

36. Of course, it is not at all clear that such retrospective judgement is what actually motivates the electors' choice.

37. See Kennedy's, Ellen introduction to The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, supra note 2.

38. Ibid. at 5.

39. Ibid. at 6.

40. Ibid. at 5-6.

41. Elster, Jon, “Argumenter et négocier dans deux Assemblées constituantes” (1994) 44 Revue Française de Science Politique 187. See especially section 6, 241ff.

42. Ibid. at 241.

43. Ibid. at 248.

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