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Political Opposition in the Contemporary World

  • Jean Blondel


ALTHOUGH THE CLASSICAL WORK ON POLITICAL OPPOSITION IN Western Democracies, edited by Robert Dahl, was published decades ago, in 1966, the analysis of the characteristics of opposition, in democracies or elsewhere, has advanced rather less than other aspects of comparative politics. The word ‘opposition’ is used daily to account for a variety of developments; but its many meanings have not been systematically related to the differences among the political systems of the world. A number of comparative studies did appear after the 1966 seminal work, admittedly, including one by Dahl himself in 1973, as well as those by Ionescu and Madariaga in 1968, by Schapiro in 1972, by Tokes in 1979, by Kolinsky in 1988 and by Rodan in 1996; these volumes explore aspects of the concept which could not have been even referred to in the original study, since that study was confined to Western democracies and to the part played by political parties in the context of opposition. Yet the problem has still not been tackled truly comprehensively, as, with the exception of the 1973 Dahl volume, the works on the subject are comparative only in the sense that they deal with more than one country; but their scope remains limited to a region or to a particular type of political system. Meanwhile, many country analyses examine the nature of political opposition in each particular case, but the information which they provide has to be brought within a common framework before we can hope to obtain a general picture of the characteristics of opposition across the world.



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1 Dahl, R. A. (ed.), Political Opposition in Western Democracies, New Haven, Conn., Yale University Press, 1966.

2 Dahl, R. A. (ed.), Regimes and Opposition, New Haven, Conn., Yale University Press; Ionescu, G. and de Madariaga, I., Opposition, London, Watts, 1968; Schapiro, L. (ed.), Political Opposition in One‐Party States, London, Macmillan, 1972; Tokes, R. L. (ed.), Opposition in Eastern Europe, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1979; Kolinksy, E. (ed.), Opposition in Western Europe, London, Croom Helm, 1988; Rodan, G. (ed.), Political Oppositions in Industrialising Asia, Sydney, Routledge, 1996.

3 Linz, J. J. and Stepan, A., Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation, Baltimore and London, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996, pp. 1620.

4 Dahl, R. A. (ed.), op.cit, 1966, pp. 332–47.

5 ibid., p. 332.

6 ibid., p. 340.

7 Kolinsky, E., op.cit, p. 3.

8 Schapiro, L. (ed.), op.cit, 1972, p. 3.

9 R. Dahl, A. (ed.), op.cit, 1966, p. 342.

10 R. Dahl, A. (ed.), Regimes and Opposition, 1973, p. 13.

11 Dahl, R. A. (ed.), op.cit, 1966, pp. 336, 340, 345.

12 ibid., p. 340.

13 ibid., p. 345.

14 ibid., p. 342.

15 ibid., p. 342.

16 ibid., p. 348.

17 ibid., p. 348.

18 ibid., p. 367.

19 J. Linz, J. and Stepan, A., op.cit, 1996, pp. 3 and 38. On the need to draw a sharp analytical distinction between democracy and liberalism, see my Comparative Government, Hemel Hempstead, Prentice‐Hall, 1995, pp. 2931.

20 Dahl, R.A. (ed.), op.cit., 1966, pp. 3952.

21 ibid., p. 351.

22 A. Lijphart, Democracies, New Haven, Conn., Yale University Press, 1984; Shugart, M. S. and Carey, J. M., Presidents and Assemblies, New York, NY, Cambridge University Press, 1992.

23 Dahl, R. A. (ed.), op.cit, 1966, p. 348.

24 ibid., p. 370.

25 ibid., p. 355.

26 ibid., p. 359.

27 R. A. Dahl, Preface to Democratic Theory, Chicago, Ill., Chicago University Press, 1956.

28 Downs, A., An Economic Theory of Democracy, New York, NY, Harper, 1957.

29 See for instance Rae, D. W.and Taylor, , The Analysis of Political Cleavages, New Haven, Conn., Yale University Press, 1970 ; and Rabushka, M. and Shepsle, K. A., Politics in Plural Societies, Columbus, Ohio, Merrill, 1971.

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Political Opposition in the Contemporary World

  • Jean Blondel


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