Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Weingast, countermajoritarian institutions and Spain

In his recent paper on countermajoritarian institutions, Stanford's scholar Barry R. Weingast explains the advantages of limits to majority rule to facilitate democratic stability. I agree with the view that the dynamics of democracy are important and that institutions that limit what majorities can do are necessary. Weingast illustrates most of the benefits of these institutions with the Constitutional history of the United States, which he knows very well as shown in much of his previous work and also in this recent article. He also mentions some other examples from other countries. In pages 17 and 18 of the paper, he mentions Spain, and how some countermajoritarian constitutional provisions made it possible the consolidation of democracy after the Franco dictatorship in the 1970s. He mentions in particular the malapportionment of seats in Congress (even more in the Senate, the other Chamber in Parliament) giving rural voters an advantage, the privileges granted to the Catholic Church, and the establishment of a quasi-federal system of decentralized regional autonomies. I agree that countermajoritarian institutions were important in Spain, but I also believe there is room for improvement in the list of Prof. Weingast. Privileges for rural voters and the Catholic Church certainly contributed to facilitate the support of the Spanish right to democracy. I see however the quasi-federal system more as a concession to new regional majorities that had been discriminated in the Franco period than a concession to the right, although combined with the privileges to rural voters, quasi-federalism might have contributed to the creation of new conservative elites in the regions, which probably helped to consolidate democracy. In general, however, the concession to powerful minorities was more in the "quasi" rather than in "federalism," something that many are now trying to correct on occasion of the debate about secessionism vs federalism in Catalonia. Finally, I believe that Prof. Weingast should incorporate in his Spanish list of countermajoritarian institutions the role of the monarchy. The restablishment of the Spanish monarchy (something that had been carefully planned by Franco himself) and the constitutional provision that the king would be the supreme leader of the army, was a concession that the left and most democrats had to accept to gain the support of many conservatives to democracy. There is a lively debate now on the need to adapt the Spanish Constitution and reform it that surely would benefit from a better knowledge in Spain of the work of scholars of the calibre of Barry Weingast.

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