ARENA Tuesday seminar: Jan Rovny

Jan Rovny presents his book Circumstantial Liberals: Ethnic Minorities, Political Competition, and Democracy at the Tuesday Seminar on 14 March 2023.


Ethnic minorities make contemporary Europe increasingly diverse. The prevailing wisdom in research on ethnic politics is that ethnicity is a trouble-maker disrupting programmatic politics -- it tends to prioritize group identity over ideology, polity over policy, principle over compromise. In short, ethnicity is expected to be a source of particularistic tension. This book takes a theoretical step back. Approaching ethnic politics as a component of normal politics, it investigates the ideological potential of ethnicity, and examines the conditions that determine the formation of diverse preferences and behavior among ethnic minorities and their representatives. The book seeks to answer central questions: What are the political preferences of ethnic minorities and their representatives? How are ethnic preferences translated into political representation, how does this representation shape political competition, and with what systemic effects?

The book proceeds from the expectation that ethnic minorities seek group preservation. While group preservation is best ensured via self-government, the possibility of attaining self-government is uncertain. Ethnic minorities with higher chances of self-government see themselves as provisional minorities, and are likely to strive for separation, irredenta, or asymmetric rights. Most ethnic minorities, however, face low chances of achieving self-government, and, consequently, they remain as permanent minorities in societies dominated by other groups. This book hypothesizes that permanent minorities in the search for group preservation champion rights and liberties protecting them form the tyranny of the majority. This translates into broader ideological preferences and political behavior, inducing the formation of liberal political poles on the one hand, and illiberal opposition on the other. This dynamic is system forming, as it configures political cleavages, shapes party systems, and informs the absorption of new political issues. Ultimately, the presence of ethnic minorities can be a force for liberal democracy. Simultaneously, conditional factors cross-pressure ethnic minority search for rights and liberties, potentially attenuating ethnic liberalism and inducing exclusionary particularism. The book thus argues that ethnic minorities and their representatives are circumstantial liberals. The book combines the study of ethnic politics with research on electoral behavior and party competition, while studying both minorities in eastern Europe in comparison with dominant majorities. The book utilizes existing data, and collects new evidence, which it analyses using mixed quantitative and qualitative methods. Its empirical chapters are divided into two parts, one focusing on large-N comparative analyses, and one carrying out three in-depth case studies on interwar Czechoslovakia, and contemporary Slovakia and Estonia.

Chapters will be published shortly.

Published Nov. 17, 2022 10:37 AM - Last modified Nov. 18, 2022 2:45 PM