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Populism, Heresthetics and Political Stability: Richard Seddon and the Art of Majority Rule

Jack H. Nagel
British Journal of Political Science
Vol. 23, No. 2 (Apr., 1993), pp. 139-174
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/194246
Page Count: 36
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Populism, Heresthetics and Political Stability: Richard Seddon and the Art of Majority Rule
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Abstract

Because New Zealand's majoritarian political system presents few institutional barriers to change, social choice theory would predict that it should experience frequent change in governments and policies. Although some periods in New Zealand history confirm this expectation, a striking exception is the Liberal era of 1890-1912. To explain the anomaly, this article applies Riker's concept of heresthetics, the strategic manipulation of decision processes and alternatives. The Liberal leader, Richard Seddon, masterfully exploited four main heresthetic devices that offer enduring insight about how to sustain a popular majority. While extending the scope of heresthetics as an explanatory principle, the article rebuts Riker's normative dismissal of populism. In terms compatible with social choice theory itself, Seddon's strategies can be interpreted as having enabled the will of the majority to prevail.

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