Costa Rican Democracy

Pluralism and Class Rule


  • John S. Peeler



The article argues that the emergence and maintenance of Costa Rican democracy cannot be attributed to unique economic or social circumstances, but rather to identifiable elite actions that changed the character of political life. The argument is supported by a review of recent political history and an analysis of the functioning of the contemporary political system. This runs counter to a very common argument that attributes Costa Rica's unique democracy to the relative equality of wealth and status that has characterized the country since colonial times. A second persuasion emphasizes the virtual powerlessness of the mass of the population, but sees the maintenance of democracy as an outgrowth of a pluralistic dispersion of power and divergence of interests among the powerful minority. A third viewpoint, essentially the opposite of the first, sees the democratic regime as a continuation of patterns of class domination with deep historical roots. This article stands between the second and third schools of thoughts, attributing the democratic regime to explicit accommodations of interests among rival elites, while emphasizing the persistence of class domination in Costa Rican politics.