Dahl: Is Minority Domination Inevitable?

In most of the sciences – whether human, social or natural – there is a symbiotic relationship between theoretical and quantitative approaches. Einstein would not have formulated the theory of special relativity had the Michelson-Morley experiment confirmed the existence of the aether wind. The academic study of politics, however, bucks this trend as theorists and political scientists rarely talk to each other. This is primarily because the term ‘political theory’ is generally preceded by the adjective ‘normative’, so a conversation between theorists and polsci professors might well be seen as a contravention of the naturalistic fallacy.

This is self-evidently the case in the field of social theory, dominated by the long shadow of Rawls and still dedicated to the study of ‘57 varieties of luck egalitarianism’ (Waldron, 2013, p. 21). But why should it apply to democratic theory? – common-sense would dictate this should be a combination of normative and descriptive work, as most modern poleis claim to be democracies. Yet the upgrade panel for my own PhD (on representation and sortition) advised me to choose between the theoretical and empirical literature and not to seek to reconcile the two. The recent thread on this blog discussing Gilens and Page’s claim to have disproved the median voter theorem is a good indication of the sharp divide between the two literatures.
Continue reading