Bicameralism and the Claim to Political Legitimacy

von Jelena Von Achenbach

To constitute a democratic order based on freedom and equality, the political system of a society needs to reflect its complexity. Processes of collective decision-making need to allow for the political expression of societal differentiation and diversity. Bicameralism is a crucial mechanism in this regard. Most basically, bicameralism means a diversification of political institutions. It establishes yet another layer of structural complexity within the legislative branch and the actual law-making procedure. It diffuses and decentres legislative power. Bicameral decision-making tends to articulate conflict rather than consensus. It allows for expressing certain aspects of political pluralism and disagreement. Although or maybe because bicameralism aims for legislation to be grounded in a more inclusive, comprehensive political consensus, bicameral decision-making tends to articulate conflict rather than accord. It therefore is of some intrinsic value and justification in societies that are internally heterogeneous and organized in politically self-governing sub-entities.

By creating an institutional antagonist to the unitary representation of a political subject that is the first chamber, bicameralism empowers, most commonly, regional entities that exercise limited forms of political self-government, or less typical, the estates, corporatist organisations or other civil society groups, or independent actors that are to embody honour, integrity and/or some kind of common sense. As this symposium shows, second chambers vary widely in their membership and appointment or electoral procedures. But they are usually attributed the same constitutional function – that of a mechanism of checks and balances with regard to both legislative and executive powers. As such, the involvement of a second chamber in collective decision-making is thought to promote and serve certain substantive values ...

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