The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Political Science

Authors: Bogdanor
Summary: In approximately 500 words, this entry defines consensus, explains its political significance, distinguishes the concept from consent, and discusses its relevance for democratic systems.
The entry defines consensus as a constellation of shared beliefs and values among individuals living within a particular geographical area at a particular point in time. Politically, consensus refers to beliefs associated with the political system. In the academic discipline of political science, the term is used generally in reference to the nation-state or one of its sub-units. At its most basic level, society is not possible without some elemental consensus about certain norms and beliefs.
Two elements essential to consensus arise out of classical political theory. One element is a shared collective sense of purpose, and the second is shared decision making procedures. Consensus is distinct from consent, which refers only to discrete acts like voting for particular political symbols or public policies.
Consensus is a concept most relevant to democratic politics because it emerges freely from citizens and legitimizes many political processes and outcomes.