Icelandic politics in light of normative models of democracy

Vilhjálmur Árnason


Icelandic politics are analysed from the perspectives of three normative models of democracy: the liberal, republican and deliberative democratic theories. While the Icelandic constitution is rooted in classical liberal ideas, Icelandic politics can be harshly criticized from a liberal perspective, primarily because of the unclear separation of powers of government and for the extensive involvement of politics in other social sectors. Despite strong nationalist discourse which reflects republican characteristics, rooted in the struggle for independence from Denmark, republicanism has been marginal in Icelandic politics. In the years before the financial collapse, Icelandic society underwent a process of liberalization in which power shifted to the financial sector without disentangling the close ties that had prevailed between business and politics. The special commission set up by the Icelandic Parliament to investigate the causes of the financial collapse criticized Icelandic politics and governance for its flawed working practices and lack of professionalism. The appropriate lessons to draw from this criticism are to strengthen democratic practices and institutions. In the spirit of republicanism, however, the dominant discourse about Icelandic democracy after the financial collapse has been on increasing direct, vote-centric participation in opposition to the system of formal politics. While this development is understandable in light of the loss of trust in political institutions in the wake of the financial collapse, it has not contributed to trustworthy practices. In order to improve Icelandic politics, the analysis in this paper shows, it is important to work more in the spirit of deliberative democratic theory.


Deliberative democracy; financial collapse; liberalism; political culture; republicanism.

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