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Counting the Many
The Origins and Limits of Supermajority Rule

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Part of Cambridge Studies in the Theory of Democracy

  • Date Published: November 2013
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521124492

$ 29.99 (P)

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About the Authors
  • Supermajority rules govern many features of our lives in common: from the selection of textbooks for our children's schools to residential covenants, from the policy choices of state and federal legislatures to constitutional amendments. It is usually assumed that these rules are not only normatively unproblematic but necessary to achieve the goals of institutional stability, consensus, and minority protections. In this book, Melissa Schwartzberg challenges the logic underlying the use of supermajority rule as an alternative to majority decision making. She traces the hidden history of supermajority decision making, which originally emerged as an alternative to unanimous rule, and highlights the tensions in the contemporary use of supermajority rules as an alternative to majority rule. Although supermajority rules ostensibly aim to reduce the purported risks associated with majority decision making, they do so at the cost of introducing new liabilities associated with the biased judgments they generate and secure.

    • The first sustained and systematic examination of supermajority rules
    • Develops strong normative argument based on historical, empirical and formal analysis
    • Situates supermajority rule within larger questions of democratic decision-making, especially the logic of counting votes and consensus mechanisms
    Read more


    • Winner, 2016 David and Elaine Spitz Prize, International Conference for the Study of Political Thought

    Reviews & endorsements

    “As she did in her previous, remarkable book on entrenchment provisions, Democracy and Legal Change, Melissa Schwartzberg, in Counting the Many, shows us how little we really understand a widespread practice in modem constitutionalism, in this case supermajoritarianism. Combining sharp rational analysis and subtle historical research, Schwartzberg illuminates the origins of vote counting and the decision rules that developed along with it. Normatively, the book is courageous: Schwartzberg demonstrates in no uncertain terms that there is no justification compatible with democratic principles for supermajority requirements. Historically, the book is revelatory in several respects: for instance, Schwartzberg informs us that ‘one person, one vote’ was originally an aristocratic, not democratic, principle. Counting the Many is an excellent book that will enjoy an enormous scholarly and, hopefully, political impact.” – John P. McCormick, Professor of Political Science, University of Chicago

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    Product details

    • Date Published: November 2013
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521124492
    • length: 248 pages
    • dimensions: 215 x 139 x 14 mm
    • weight: 0.3kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Introduction
    Part I. A Remedy for the Problems of Unanimity:
    2. Prelude: acclamation and aggregation in the ancient world
    3. Unanimitas to a two-thirds vote: medieval origins of supermajority rule
    4. Unanimity and supermajority rule in eighteenth-century France
    Part II. A Remedy for the Problems of Majority Rule:
    5. Equality, majority rule, and supermajorities
    6. Constitutionalism without supermajorities
    7. Constitutionalism under complex majoritarianism
    8. Conclusion.

  • Author

    Melissa Schwartzberg, New York University
    Melissa Schwartzberg is an Associate Professor of Politics at New York University. She previously taught at George Washington University and Columbia University. She received her AB from Washington University, St Louis in 1996, and her PhD in 2002 from New York University. She is the author of Democracy and Legal Change (Cambridge, 2007) and of articles in leading journals including the American Political Science Review, the Journal of the History of Ideas, the Journal of Political Philosophy, and Political Theory. She is a 2013 recipient of the Mellon New Directions Fellowship. From 2010 to 2013, she served as the co-president of the Association for Political Theory.


    • Winner, 2016 David and Elaine Spitz Prize, International Conference for the Study of Political Thought

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