Governing Diversity – Democratic Solutions in Multicultural Societies page – 4

Governing Diversity – Democratic Solutions in Multicultural Societies

Edited by Razmik Panossian, Bruce Berman and Anne Linscott

Framing the Debate: Integration versus Accommodation

– John McGarry and Brendan O’Leary

Executive Summary

Democracies have two broad choices for managing diversity. They may construct a single public identity through “integration,” the preferred approach of most democratic states and international organizations. Accommodation, by contrast, recognizes more than one public identity, has more support among large minority communities and is sometimes backed by states and international agents. Here we outline the main institutional repertoires of integrationists and accommodationists, and the debate between supporters of the two approaches. Of course, in the international political arena there is overlap between these approaches, making for “mixed” political systems.


They favour electoral systems that discourage the mobilization of cultural differences. They reject proportional electoral systems which facilitate segmental appeals, preferring winners to achieve majority or plurality broad-based support. Integrationists back executive systems that favour candidates who rise above religious, linguistic and ethnic “faction.” They frown on the delegation of public-policy functions to minorities, oppose publicly funded religious school systems, and any form of non-territorial or territorial group-based autonomy.

Integration is blind to differences in public and accepting of differences in the private sphere. Integrationists believe conflict results from group-based partisanship. A discriminatory state alienates the excluded. Integrationists frown on ethnic political parties or civic associations, and praise parties such as the Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. that stand for non-ethnic or cross-ethnic agendas.

There are, arguably, three types of integrationists:

  • Republicans

  • Liberals

  • Socialists

Republican integrationists value the nation and promote integration as a prelude to assimilation, as in contemporary France and Turkey. Republican integrationists have an expansive view of what should be publicly homogenized. For example, they maintain a strong secularism (laicism) in which religious symbols and dress are banned from state schools. Republicans favour a centralized unitary state, majoritarian or winner-takes-all political institutions, and a monistic conception of national sovereignty. They reject federalism because it splinters the sovereignty of the people, and champion a nation-building executive: either a president, directly elected by the nation, a unifying and decisive figure, or a prime minister with the same traits, backed by a legislature chosen through a majoritarian procedure. They favour “national,” meaning statewide, political parties over regional, ethnic or linguistic parties, and may legislate that parties be organized on a state-wide basis, as in Putin’s Russia.

The institutional toolbox of Republican integrationists:

  • A centralized unitary state

  • A widely homogenized public sphere (e.g. no Muslim headscarves in public buildings)

  • The pronounced use of schools and the military to promote a common identity

  • Majoritarian executive institutions

  • Mandatory statewide “national” political parties

Liberal integrationists champion the individual. They blame conflict in divided polities on partisan discrimination by the state, and on manipulative demagogues. They highlight individual equality and impartial meritocracy to prevent conflict. Liberals do not share republicans’ faith in the unrestrained sovereign people, and favour restricting legislative action with a bill of individual rights, enforced by an independent judiciary. The liberal tradition, particularly strong in the United States, seeks to prevent tyranny by dividing, separating and checking power. It champions federation for its divisive power, but it emphatically rejects ethno-federalism, i.e. the drawing of political boundaries to enable ethnic minorities to become local majorities in federative units. That supposedly leads to local tyrannies of the majority and encourages secession. Instead, national federations, which aim for mono nation-building, are championed. In the American paradigm no (minority) nationality, religious or linguistic community controls a federal unit. In a related variant, where demography or geography render such design impossible, each significant minority is divided across several federative units rather than concentrated in a single unit.

Liberal integrationism informs “centripetalism,” which advocates that national federations disperse power among as many federative units as possible, to prevent ethnic communities from becoming local majorities, and to divide ethnic communities across several units. The strategic goal is to weaken potentially hostile ethno-nationalisms by encouraging intra-group divisions, and to encourage inter-group and hence state-wide solidarities. Centripetalists claim potentially tyrannical majority-rule institutions may be tempered through “vote-pooling” systems, which facilitate – or mandate – the election of moderate politicians with electoral appeals that cut across ethnic and religious lines. Two electoral systems are advocated. One relies on territorial distributive requirements, and is considered especially useful for presidential elections where ethnic communities are territorially clustered. The second is the “alternative vote,” a preferential voting system. In a single-member district the winning candidate has to win an absolute majority of first-preference votes or a majority of votes after the transfer of lower-order preferences from eliminated candidates. It is held to encourage moderation and trans-ethnic voting as long as the constituencies are heterogeneous and no single group is in a majority.

The institutional toolbox of liberal integrationists (and centripetalists):

  • A Bill of Rights outlawing discrimination against individuals

  • A professional (impartial) judiciary and public sector

  • Promotion of meritocracy

  • Division of powers (within a non-ethnic federation)

  • Separation of powers at the level of the central government

  • Promotion of “vote-pooling” electoral systems, such as the Alternative Vote and Majority Vote, plus regional distributive requirements

Socialist integrationists advocate a strong welfare state, with redistribution and public investment in deprived areas to deal with the presumed “material basis” of ethnic and other collective identities. They are less likely than republicans to champion the “nation” as the key unit of social solidarity and less likely than liberals to value individualism. Distrusting the liberal emphasis on procedural or difference-blind approaches to inequalities, they have supported temporary affirmative-action programs, but most insist on universal programs that do not make any distinction along ethnic or racial lines. Leftist integrationists are sometimes distrustful of elites in general and believe bottom-up or mass-based collective action will solve national, ethnic, religious or linguistic conflicts. They call for ethnic, linguistic and religious elites to be challenged by civil society, particularly trade unions, civic associations, and political parties that cut across ethnic or religious communities. Socialist integrationists, like other integrationists, stress social mixing as a solution to conflict and for the promotion of solidarity.

The institutional toolbox of socialist integrationists:

  • Redistribution through a strong welfare state

  • Some socialists support affirmative action, others universal social programs

  • Support for mass collective action through progressive groups in civil society

  • Social mixing (though this is also supported by all integrationists)


Accommodation recognizes at least two public identities. Accommodationists see themselves as responsible realists, though some value diversity, per se, in the tradition of the German romantic philosopher Herder. While integrationists mostly believe that identities are malleable, fluid, soft or transformable, accommodationists think that – in certain contexts – they are resilient, durable and hard. Political prudence and morality requires considering the special interests, needs and fears of groups so that they regard the state as fit for them.

The main forms of accommodation are:

  • Credible multiculturalism

  • Consociation

  • Territorial pluralism

Credible Multiculturalism must be distinguished from “western” multiculturalism, the variety practised toward immigrants in countries like Canada and the United States. Western multiculturalism encourages the gentle integration of immigrants into a (more inclusive) mainstream public and liberal culture, and not the long-term maintenance of multiple and separate cultures.

Western multiculturalism encourages gentle integration not long-term multiple cultures: these might be attained through “credible” multiculturalism means such as self governance in areas such as religious schooling, marriage, divorce and inheritance.

Credible multiculturalism, by contrast, involves respect for a group’s self-government in matters the group defines as important, e.g. public funding for minority-controlled schools that promote its religion and/or language, or support for religious minorities to be governed according to their own traditions with respect to marriage, divorce and inheritance. It involves some broad appreciation of the principle of proportional representation of all groups in key public institutions (not necessarily quotas but certainly public targets to create a representative and broad public sector).

The institutional toolbox of credible multiculturalists

  • Self-government for the group in issues of importance (e.g. minority-controlled public schools)

  • Commitment to a proportionally representative public sector


Consociation addresses deep antagonisms with two additional distinct devices. The key consociational tool is a cross-community power-sharing executive, in which representative elites from different communities jointly hold office (e.g. in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Northern Ireland). The second instrument, used in rigid consociations, amid high historic mistrust or antagonism, endows each partner to the consociation with veto rights, enabling them to prevent legislative or constitutional changes that threaten fundamental interests. Consociation also mandates the two features of credible multiculturalism, namely proportionality and community autonomy. Proportionality is commended throughout the critical components of the public sector, including the police service and army. Proportional representation electoral systems are championed — or, where that is not practical, minority representation is assured through “set asides”. Consociation is strongly associated with corporate, or non-territorial autonomy (e.g. separate personal laws on marriage and inheritance, separate schooling and university systems, and separate publicly-funded media), but consociational autonomy may take a territorial form, though that is distinctly characteristic of territorial pluralism in federations or union states (discussed below). Consociation mandates public support for the maintenance of diverse communities, unlike western or pseudo-multiculturalism.

Consociations can be undemocratic or democratic, formal or informal, liberal or corporate. Communist Yugoslavia was an undemocratic consociation. A communist elite from each group controlled the government but was not democratically representative of the respective nationalities. A democratic consociation has open elections among competing elites but permits some elites from each sizable community representation in the executive. A formal consociation is entrenched by way of constitutional or statutory law (e.g. Northern Ireland’s executive after 1998), while an informal consociation is a matter of convention (e.g. Switzerland’s collective presidency). A corporate consociation accommodates groups according to fixed criteria, such as ethnicity or religion or mother tongue (e.g. Lebanon), whereas a liberal consociation rewards whatever salient political identities emerge in democratic elections (e.g. South Africa, 1994-96).

The institutional toolbox of consociationalists:

  • Executive power-sharing among all sizable communities

  • Proportionality throughout the public sector

  • Community self-government (corporate or territorial)

  • Minority vetoes (in some cases)


Applications of integration

Integration is the dominant conflict-regulation strategy in the longer established democracies. It is more likely to be supported by dominant communities (e.g. the Arabs of Iraq), or rather small minorities, such as immigrant communities or minorities that have left their ancestral territory for a new homeland (e.g. the Turkomen of Iraq), or indigenous members of communities living on their ancestral homeland but interspersed among the majority population (e.g. the Christians of Iraq). In the United States, African Americans broadly support integration because of their previous status as slaves and their current status as a dispersed minority historically subject to racial mistreat ment. Conspicuously absent from the list of groups that support integration are normally large minorities, especially territorially concentrated and nationally mobilized communities.

Territorial pluralism. Compact communities (in which a minority is located within a single geographical area) may be managed through territorial pluralism, either in a pluralist federation or in a pluralist union state. A pluralist federation has internal boundaries which respect minority communities’ self-determination. A federation in which all, or virtually all, of a minority is converted into a self-governing majority within its own single federal unit, as in Canada or Belgium, is unambiguously pluralist. Federations may also be pluralist, even if minorities are divided across several units, provided that they are majorities in some of these units and that this pattern developed organically (as in the case of Switzerland) rather than being imposed without the minority’s consent (as in Nigeria).

Internal boundaries such as a federal unit (e.g. the province of Quebec in Canada) allow minorities to be self-governing within a geographical territory — territorial pluralism.

Full pluralist federation would mean that this self-governance was constitutionally recognized and entrenched, and that there is significant consensual decision-making at the federal level.

Full pluralist federations have three complementary arrangements: (i) significant and constitutionally entrenched autonomy for the federative entities; (ii) consensual, indeed consociational, rather than majoritarian decision-making within the federal government; and (iii) constitutional recognition of each of the multi-national partners. A plurinational federation may also permit asymmetric institutional arrangements, where the federal unit belonging to the minority nation has more autonomy than units representing regional components of the majority nation. There are few fully pluralist federations in existence. Iraq is one on paper, but its future is decidedly uncertain.

“Union states” (e.g. the UK, Spain and Denmark) recognize historic nationalities and their boundaries, but jurist and constitutional tradition privilege a centralized sovereignty and treat autonomy as a rescindable gift of the central political institutions. Yet, the state is a composite which respects historically incorporated territories and grants them extensive autonomy and, indeed, national recognition. India, arguably, is similar: it officially calls itself a union state rather than a federation. In federations, institutions of self-government exist across the whole state. In union states, they may exist across only part of the state, parts inhabited by national minorities. The United Kingdom has home-rule parliaments in Northern Ireland and Scotland, but the Westminster parliament is the sole parliament for England and the sole parliament entitled to pass primary statutes for Wales. When the autonomy of such asymmetrically self-governing regions is constitutionally entrenched in a union-state, we have “a federacy”.

The institutional toolbox of territorial pluralists:

  • Extensive and collective territorial self-government for minorities within a federation or union state

  • Power-sharing within federal or central governments in the case of sizable minorities

  • Plurinational recognition within the state’s constitution

  • In some cases, a more extensive (asymmetrical) self-governance for minority regions

The Debate between Accomodation and Integration

The vigorous debate that has waged between the two approaches of accommodation and integration has focused on three fundamental sets of values — stability, justice, and democracy.

Stability: Integrationists believe accommodation increases instability. They think minority group leaders have an interest in maintaining division, and also that the accommodation of some groups will exclude others. Lebanon’s civil war between 1975 and 1989 is blamed by some on the exclusion of the Shia and Druze, and the privileged treatment of Maronite Christians and Sunni, while the break-up of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia, is blamed on pluralist territorial design. Integrationists claim that consociation is based on the implausible assumption that elites, including radical elites, will cooperate. Proportional electoral systems are thought to facilitate the “outbidding” of moderate politicians by hardliners within ethnic communities because they allow multiple ethnic parties to compete without threatening the community’s share of seats. Integrationists maintain successful consociations are “as rare as the arctic rose” and that pluralist federations, likewise, have a terrible track record with many failing to remain democratic or stay together. Integration is seen as more feasible because they believe that ethnic identities are seldom as long-standing or as deep as supporters of accommodation suggest. Even when ethnic identities are deep, some integrationists argue that integration can still be promoted with outside help.

Accommodationists respond by arguing that promoting integration amid deep diversity provokes conflict. Minority communities in response to integration will seek public redress, subsidies, the institutionalization of their culture in the curriculum, political autonomy or power-sharing. Accommodationists believe leaders in polarized polities may agree to consociational or pluralist territorial settlements but not to integrative (or centripetal) institutions, precisely because consociations and territorial pluralist arrangements guarantee such leaders – and their peoples – a share in power. Radical ethnic elites are particularly likely to resist integrationist impositions. Supporters of accommodation or consociation argue, in our view correctly, that proportionality norms enhance stability because they better match the rival parties’ respective bargaining strengths and their conceptions of distributive justice. As a result, there is less need for external actors to play a coercive role in maintaining accommodation. Accommodationists believe that voters in deeply divided places will be reluctant to place their faith in moderate political parties even if the electoral system is rigged in such a way that only such parties can win office. They are likely to prefer their authentic ethnic representatives, including radicals.

Fairness/Justice: Integrationists claim that recognition and public power for a group may lead it to repress its own members, as happens among religious communities that discriminate against women. They argue such arrangements privilege the identity of members of some groups over other groups, either other ethnic groups, bridging groups that stress class or gender or those who belong to no group. Critics of consociation point to arrangements in which certain communities are privileged, i.e. to corporate consociations, such as in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Lebanon. Critics of territorial pluralism claim that such arrangements lead to the unfair treatment of regional minorities. Americans are particularly likely to make such arguments, recalling how southern whites used federal institutions to maintain slavery and then the “Jim Crow” segregationist regime. Since group rights promote privilege, integrationists argue that individual rights provide sufficient protection to all.

Accommodationists respond that integrationist rhetoric frequently hides dominant interests beneath veneers of neutrality or impartiality. It is no accident that dominant communities generally champion integration while minorities generally prefer accommodation.

Privatizing culture, accommodationists argue, is inherently biased against weaker cultures. A single official language and single national identity usually favour the language and identity of the state’s dominant community. The same holds for integrationist prescriptions for state design. Unitary states and national federations will favour dominant communities, as will majoritarian executives and public sectors with difference-blind composition rules. In other words, integration is often merely assimilation with good manners. Some multiculturalists insist integrationism is a form of western liberal colonialism.

Applications of accommodation

Accommodation is less popular with state elites than integration, but is becoming more widespread. Spain, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Italy and even France have moved toward systems that accommodate minorities through autonomy, through pluralist federations, devolution within union states and federacies. States, and international organizations like NATO, the UN and OSCE have been prepared to back, or impose, consociation, pluralist federations, and federacies in situations of conflict and ethnic polarization, including in Northern Ireland, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iraq, Burundi, and, abortively, in Cyprus.

Liberal accommodationists argue that properly constructed pluralist territories or consociations do not require the privileging of particular communities. Many minority communities have civic rather than ethnic national identities, which they are more likely to develop when in secure possession of their own territorial units of government. Quebec, Catalonia, Scotland and Kurdistan are examples. Liberal consociationalists insist that consociational institutions may be liberal: i.e., they may reward any party with electoral support, rather than entrenched groups.

Democracy: Integrationists believe that accommodationists undermine democracy. Republicans think that federations, national or pluralist, are “demos-constraining,” that they interfere with the general will and regard consociations as the surrender of public power to interest groups. Liberals condemn the anti-competitive nature of consociational politics. Their position is one that asks if everyone is in government how can governing parties be held to account at election time, and how can government be changed? Other critics focus on the consociational practice of negotiations and accommodation among elites. They see such “summit diplomacy” as inconsistent with the development of a modern participatory democracy.

Accommodationists respond that majority rule in divided places is partisan rule, even when padded with integrationist safety mechanisms. Integrationist institutions, in any case, often produce plurality or minority rule rather than majority rule, something which cannot happen when elections and government composition are based on proportionality. Consociations do not require all parties to be in government, just parties that represent at least a plurality of each sizable community, and therefore they are compatible with opposition politics. Voters are free in democratic consociations to change the composition of government (consistent with the maintenance of power-sharing), and consociational institutions can foster a competitive politics, with incentives for all parties to compete, within or across ethnic groups, to increase their share of legislative and executive positions.


The fact that integration and accommodation are more feasible in some contexts but not in others helps to explain why both strategies are adopted by democratic states, acting singly or jointly and indeed why states may combine one approach to one group, with another approach to another group. States are more pragmatic than academics. Many states follow integrationist policies for immigrants and accommodationist policies toward nationally mobilized communities. The international community, which usually preaches integration, has sometimes backed accommodation where that has been demanded, if only, unfortunately, after rebellion.

States are by disposition integrationist or assimilationist. While we agree that integration may be appropriate in some contexts, it is likely to fail in other contexts where accommodation should be the preferred option. Governments sometimes come to the same conclusion, but because of realpolitik rather than from a commitment to the flowering of diversity — though one can expect that language to flourish after a realistic breakthrough.

Policy Implications

Both integration and accommodation have empirical and normative merit in particular demographic and historic contexts.

Integration may be a feasible and desirable strategy when:

  • Minorities are numerically small, interspersed among others and well disposed to the strategy. Usually, small minorities can not realistically aspire to public recognition through territorial autonomy or consociation; and dispersed groups find it more difficult to mobilize to defend their culture.

  • The minorities involved are not “homeland peoples,” i.e. they are not living on what they regard as their ancestral territories. Such immigrant minorities, especially if dispersed, are less likely to see themselves as national communi ties entitled to some form of autonomy.

  • Social divisions within a state are cross-cutting rather than reinforcing, assuming that each division is of roughly equal potential salience. Differently put, integration is more likely to take place when societies are not deeply polarized along national, ethnic, religious or linguistic lines, and when ethnicity, class and other social cleavages are incongruent (i.e. when there is already extensive heterogeneity, hybridity and mixing). This logic explains why integration has had some success in places like India and Switzerland where linguistic and religious divisions (and in the former case, tribal and caste) divisions have overlapped and cross-cut each other.

  • The state is comprised of many ethnic communities, with none dominant. In these circumstances, a genuinely composite public identity then becomes possible, as has arguably happened in mainland Tanzania.

Integration is less feasible or desirable when:

  • Immigrants have a religion which mandates sacralizing the public domain, and have difficulty accepting an allegedly neutral (secular) public domain or one associated with another religious community.

  • The immigrants are diasporas, which by definition maintain links with their homeland, and therefore resist both assimilation and integration.

  • The immigrants in question possess advanced levels of education. “High” cultures make it easier for immigrants to maintain their culture of origin.

  • The state and its dominant community are not willing to accept the partial privatization of the dominant culture or to accept new members into the political community.

Accommodation strategies are feasible and desirable where:

  • Minorities are large and territorially concentrated, and particularly when they are mobilized as national communities. Even small territorially compact minorities may aspire to territorial self-government, as is true of some native Corsicans, Canada’s native communities and Moldova’s Gagauz.

  • Politics are deeply polarized along national, ethnic or communal lines, i.e when divisions are congruent rather than cross-cutting, or when one division is significantly more salient than others.

  • Minorities possess the political resources to resist integration. Large territorially concentrated minorities may demand consociation as well as territorial pluralism — and cross-border relations with their co-nationals or co-ethnics in other states. Small interspersed minorities may be able to insist on consociation if they have bargaining power. Burundi’s Tutsi community, which fears retribution by the sizable Hutu majority, and has disproportionate strength in the armed forces, rejects a majoritarian government based on equal citizenship.