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The goals of consociationalism are governmental stability, the survival of the power-sharing arrangements, the survival of democracy, and the avoidance of violence. When consociationalism is organised along religious confessional lines, it is known as confessionalism, as is the case in Lebanon.
Political scientists define a consociational state as a state which has major internal divisions along ethnic, religious, or linguistic lines, with none of the divisions large enough to form a majority group, yet nonetheless manages to remain stable, due to consultation among the elites of each of its major social groups. Consociational states are often contrasted with states with majoritarian electoral systems. Consociationalism was discussed in academic terms by the political scientist Arend Lijphart.
Indeed, Lijphart draws heavily on the experience of the Netherlands in developing his argument in favour of the consociational approach to ethnic conflict regulation. In their heyday, each comprised tightly-organised groups, schools, universities, hospitals and newspapers, all divided along a pillarised social structure.
The theory, according to Lijphart, focuses on the role of social elites, their agreement and co-operation, as the key to a stable democracy. Elites of each pillar come together to rule in the interests of society because they recognize the dangers of non-cooperation. Consensus among the groups is required to confirm the majority rule.