Ethnic Identity and Democratic Institutions: A Dynamic Perspective
Richard H. Pildes
New York University School of Law
August 5, 2008
CONSTITUTIONAL DESIGN FOR DESIGN FOR DIVIDED SOCIETIES: INTEGRATION OR ACCOMODATION?, Oxford University Press, 2008
NYU School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 08-45
The most urgent problem in the design of democratic institutions today is the appropriate structure of such institutions in the midst of seemingly profound internal heterogeneity, conflict, and group differences. In different parts of the world, the relevant differences can be religious, racial, linguistic, tribal, cultural, regional, or perhaps of other forms (as a shorthand, "ethnic differences"). This problem is central, not only to newly forming democracies over the last generation but also to more established democracies, as various groups more assertively press claims for political recognition, representation, and influence.
This article argues that we ought to understand this issue, better than we have thus far, as lying at the intersection of democratic theory and democratic institutional design on the one hand, and questions about the nature of individual rationality and rational choice concerning ethnic group "identities," on the other. Academic thought and practical institutional design has thus far taken too static an approach to this fundamental problem. Theorists and institutional designers have been overwhelmed with the problem as it appears at particularly critical political moments: the moment of state formation; or the moment at which societies emerge from conflict; or the moment at which group demands for inclusion, recognition, and power first become powerfully enough expressed to require an institutional response. These are the moments at which ethnic identities are likely to seem most fixed, most entrenched, most essential to conceptions of self, and most potentially divisive or explosive. Dominated by the urgency of these tensions at the moment of institutional formation, constitutional framers often respond by taking for granted the nature of these ethnic identities and conflicts as they exist at the moment a state's democratic institutions are forged. Democratic structures often attempt to accommodate these ethnic differences, then, through explicit devices, that range from guaranteed minority political representation, to minority vetoes, to consociational executive branches, to other similar structures.
Bringing together empirical and theoretical work in ethnic-identity development, this article has three main themes that follow from better recognition of the fluidity and contingency of ethnic identities: (1) to provide an account of the extent to which the design of democratic institutions can both shape the ways ethnic identities are expressed and the extent to which these institutions, if not well designed, can entrench these identities; (2) to offer a partial taxonomy of the different devices and structures by which democratic institutions can mediate the tension between majoritarianism and minority interest; (3) to assess which of these devices enable protection of minority interests while retaining as much flexibility as possible for democratic systems to remain responsive to the ways ethnic identities can shift over time.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 32
Keywords: Democratic Institutions, Pluralism, Political Theory, Group Conflict, Ethnicity, Race, Constituitonal TheoryAccepted Paper Series
Date posted: August 6, 2008 ; Last revised: November 18, 2008
© 2013 Social Science Electronic Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
This page was processed by apollo3 in 0.422 seconds