A Bicameral Solution for Lebanon

Pretty much everyone agrees that Lebanon could stand to move to a less sectarian basis for its politics. But at the same time, those who benefit from current arrangements don’t want to change them. What’s needed is a moderate proposal, a compromise that would let confessional elites preserve a lot of their power while also acting to make the country better-governed, thus making their power more worth having. Elias Muhanna offers up the sensible notion of bicameralism as possibly fitting the bill:

It is a system that would seem tailor-made to address the confessional deadlock that has paralysed governance in Lebanon. In Beirut’s bicameral legislature, the Chamber of Deputies would be elected without confessional quotas, while the Senate — with seats divided along confessional lines — would serve as the explicit guarantor of minority rights. Sequestering confessional interests in a dedicated institution would allow the Chamber of Deputies to be transformed from a marketplace of sectarian bartering into the primary locus of political authority whose constituent was the citizen, irrespective of his or her religion.

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This seems like a good idea to me. It also casts our own Senate in stark relief. Like Muhanna’s proposed Lebanese Senate, the American Senate was, at the time, a politically useful compromise that allowed something useful to be accomplished. The lack of a workable federal decision-making process was creating a lot of practical problems. At the same time, the absence of a workable federal decision-making process was beneficial to political leaders from small states. Bicameralism, with the people represented in the House and the states-as-such represented in the Senate solved the problem and allowed the country to govern itself better. It did not, however, allow the country to govern itself better than it could have been governed had not the small states blocked a better system. But given the level of sentimental attachment people had to their states at that time, and the states’ tradition of autonomy, and the background of the Revolution and the Articles of Confederation, a better system wasn’t possible.

That, however, was over 200 years ago.