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First Republics Revisited: Consociational Democracy in Interwar Austria and Czechoslovakia in Comparative Perspective

Thursday, February 21, 2019, 1:30 pm

Consociationalism is a model developed by political scientists to explain stable democracy in Europe’s deeply divided societies in the 1950s and 1960s, and more recently to promote it in such countries as Bosnia, Northern Ireland, and South Africa. Recently, Howe, Lorman and Miller have shown that consociationalism has even deeper historical roots in Central Europe, arguing that the Western half of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, though never fully democratic, had many proto-consociational characteristics. This legacy was adopted by interwar Czechoslovak politicians, helping explain the success of democracy in that country relative to its neighbors. However, the question remains as to why interwar Austria did not successfully build on that same legacy, even though it was to become a model consociational democracy after WWII. This paper addresses that question through a synchronic comparison of the Austrian First Republic (1919-1933) with the Czechoslovak First Republic (1918-1938). This analysis includes an assessment of the two cases in terms of Lijphart’s list of conditions favorable to consociationalism. In particular, it argues that the continuity of political elites between empire and republics, combined with the discontinuity of political geography, played a defining role in determining democracy’s prospects in each case. In doing so, it suggests new directions for consociational research, based on specific findings from these two cases.