a1 Florida State University
The idea that consensus on fundamental principles is essential to democracy is a recurrent proposition in political theory. Perhaps, because of its general acceptance, the proposition has never been formulated in very precise terms. When authoritative sources state, for example, that “a successful democracy requires the existence of a large measure of consensus in society,” exactly what is meant? We assume that the term “successful democracy,” although far from precise, carries a widely shared meaning among political scientists. But we are not told in this typical assertion on what issues or problems consensus must exist. Presumably they are the basic issues about how political power should be won. Nor are we told what degree of agreement democracy requires. Since the word “consensus” is used to refer to “general agreement or concord,” however, a “large measure of consensus” presumably falls somewhere close to 100 per cent.
James W. Prothro is Professor of Government and CHARLES M. GRIGG is Associate Professor of Sociology and Director of the Institute for Social Research at Florida State University. Their present article was made possible by grants from the Research Council of Florida State University.