Consensus and the Constitution
Gerard posted an interesting perspective yesterday on the ways in which the Constitution magnifies the power of the majority, but I’m not sure they serve the consensus-building role that Gerard suggests. As Arend Lijphart has argued, and I do as well in my forthcoming book (Two Presidents Are Better Than One), our winner-take-all elections and other majority-centric policies encourage partisan conflict and gridlock. For consensual government, I would look to Switzerland and its system of power sharing rather than our system of majoritarian government. What I like about Switzerland is the principle that the major parties share the executive power, and the executive branch operates by consensus rather than by majority vote.
Of course, proportional representation systems can break down too, but all that tells us is that constitutional drafters have to be careful how they arrange power sharing in their political systems. For example, setting the threshold too low for representation in the government can give small parties too much leverage. The U.S. may have done reasonably well with presidential government, but as the Latin American experience reflects, the worldwide experience is not so good.