Conceptions of Politics in Comparative Perspective

All political systems begin with heterogeneity of opinion and, if functioning properly, produce unique, concrete decisions and policy choices.  The different forms and practices of collective self-governance can usefully be conceived as different kinds of “treatment” for the “condition” of heterogeneity of opinion, and these different treatments can in turn produce substantially different kinds of politics.  This chapter examines the familiar choice between winner-take-all and proportional electoral systems.  It argues that these systems are not merely alternative and largely interchangeable systems of vote-counting.  Rather, they rest upon different and incompatible assumptions about the nature and epistemology of the common good, the obligations of citizens, and the nature of representation itself.  Moreover, the two systems produce very different kinds of politics: they make distinct choices about the institutional locus of dispute resolution and structure very different political experiences for both voters and representatives.