Sunday, March 28, 2010

Comments On Political Parties (1)

"When I began this work I took for granted nothing but what could be observed as readily by others as by myself ..."
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile, 1762

OVERVIEW
Political parties are quasi-official institutions designed to acquire the reins of government. They sponsor candidates for public office by providing the resources needed to conduct a campaign for election. As a condition of their sponsorship, they require that the candidates support the party, thus giving the party ultimate control of the elected officials.

In the United States, our governmental system is defined by our Constitution, and nothing in our Constitution expresses or implies the need for political parties. They are an extra-Constitutional invention, devised to advance partisan interest. The problem of partisanship was well understood by the framers of our Constitution:
"When the Founders of the American Republic wrote the U.S. Constitution in 1787, they did not envision a role for political parties in the governmental order. Indeed, they sought through various constitutional arrangements such as separation of powers, checks and balances, federalism, and indirect election of the president by an electoral college to insulate the new republic from political parties and factions."

A "party system" developed in our nation because our early leaders used their standing to consolidate their power. Politicians in a position to do so institutionalized their advantage by forming political parties and creating rules to preserve them and aid their operation:
"The Democratic-Republicans and Federalists invented the modern political party -- with party names, voter loyalty, newspapers, state and local organizations, campaign managers, candidates, tickets, slogans, platforms, linkages across state lines, and patronage." (Wikipedia)

These features advance party interest at the expense of the public interest. They show how political parties are an embodiment of human nature; they put self-interest above all other considerations. They function precisely as a thoughtful person would expect them to function.

PARTISANSHIP
Political parties are grounded in partisanship. Partisanship is natural for humans. We seek out and align ourselves with others who share our views. Through them, we hone our ideas and gain courage from the knowledge that we are not alone in our beliefs. Partisanship gives breadth, depth and volume to our voice. In and of itself, partisanship is not only inevitable, it is healthy.

On the other hand, partisans have a penchant for denigrating those who think differently, often without considering the salient parts of opposing points of view. They seek the power to impose their views on those who don't share them, while overlooking their own shortcomings. Communism and National Socialism showed these tendencies. Both had features that attracted broad public support throughout a national expanse and both degenerated into destructive forces because their partisans gained control of their governments.

The danger in Communism and National Socialism was not that they attracted partisan support; it was that the partisans gained control of government. In general, partisanship is healthy when it helps us give voice to our views. It is destructive when it achieves power. All ideologies, whether of the right or the left, differ from Communism and National Socialism only in the extent to which their partisans are able to impose their biases on the public.

Partisanship is a vital part of society ... provided it is always a voice and never a power. The danger is not in partisanship, it is in allowing partisans to control government.

Fred

6 comments:

Urbano dela Cruz said...

fred,

I'm not quite sure I totally agree with your analysis of the nature and intent of political parties.

Yes, they are committed to capturing and maintaining their hold on power -but it would be simplistic to say that that is all they do, per se.

Political parties (at least in other democracies) represent ideological lines - which at their very core hold defined views on the goal of human society and the role of government vs. the individual. c.f. -the christian democrats, vs. the liberal democrats, vs. the social democrats, vs. the socialists, vs. the greens -in most european parliaments.

The existence and role of parties, per se, is value neutral. You need the parties to mobilize majorities -to enact policies that implement the concepts of their political world view.

Again, as a designer, I would have to ask -what are the driving forces? What causes the metamorphosis from idealogical coalitions to power cliques?

koikaze said...

Good Morning, Urbano

What causes the metamorphosis from idealogical coalitions to power cliques?

I think the driving force is self-interest; the self-interest of the party leaders. Ideology is significant for large groups of people. It is considered foolish in individuals. Among small groups of people, employment situations and social gatherings for example, those who maintain an ideological attitude are more apt to be shunned than heeded.

However high-minded the foundation of a party may be, those who achieve power by espousing its principles become cynical when they achieve power. One of the reasons is that most of the decisions they are called upon to make have nothing to do with the ideology they proclaim. They continue to pay lip-service to the ideology while they make laws about water supply, agriculture, war, economic issues and a multitude of matters unrelated to their ideology. Since the matters do not affect their ideology directly, they vote as they please ... or as directed by their party. I doubt this tendency is less prevalent in multi-party environments, although the effects may be less organized.

You need the parties to mobilize majorities -to enact policies that implement the concepts of their political world view.

Mobilizing majorities is fine, giving them power seems foolish to me. Mobilizing a majority is more a function of demagogic, rabble-rousing than a triumph of reason. Not all world views should be implemented ... but all should be heard.

Perhaps we need to look at the meaning of "representative". I've heard the opinion that representatives should carry out the wishes of their constituency. I don't believe that is possible or practical. As mentioned above, representatives are faced with a broad array of issues. It is inevitable that some constituents will favor one side of some issues and others a different side.

To imagine that representatives can carry out the wishes of their constituency is ludicrous. The best they can do is use their judgment to advance the interests of their constituents ... provided their judgment has not been compromised by commitments to vested interests.

If that is valid, as I believe it to be, our task is to select representatives with good judgment who are not beholden to any vested interest. They must be free is examine issues that come before them with an open mind and exercise their judgment in the public interest.

Is this a watershed question?

Fred

Urbano dela Cruz said...

Fred,

"Ideology is significant for large groups of people. It is considered foolish in individuals. Among small groups of people, employment situations and social gatherings for example, those who maintain an ideological attitude are more apt to be shunned than heeded"

I'm not sure I quite agree with that statement. You'll have to show me more proof than inference. It might be said that ideologies -and the ideologically driven attract their own groups of followers.

"However high-minded the foundation of a party may be, those who achieve power by espousing its principles become cynical when they achieve power. One of the reasons is that most of the decisions they are called upon to make have nothing to do with the ideology they proclaim. "

again, those is a value-judgement laden statements. you already judge that the cart comes before the horse (i.e. -espouse principles -to achieve power) and then judge the effect (become cynical) based on another judgement call ('the decisions..have nothing to do...")

You may very well be right in your analysis, but I would ask for more proof that that is how things operate. (I find it very perilous to begin ascribing motives.)

koikaze said...

Hi, Urbano

I copied your post to what I consider the "upper" level and answered it there.

It's at http://whither-democracy.blogspot.com/2007/03/urbano.html

I plan to do the same with the questions you asked. They are too important to be buried as "comments".

Would you consider letting me add you as an author so our discussion can take place in the "foreground"?

Fred

Urbano dela Cruz said...

fred,

i am honored by your offer and I would gladly accept it except I find it tough enough to keep up my own blog and I'm afraid I might fail at keeping up my end of the discussion.

udc

koikaze said...

Thanks, udc

I understand, very well. Frankly, I thought as much but felt it worthwhile to ask.

The points you raise are vital and need exposition. I hope they encourage others to critique the notion, as well.

I will continue to cite your posts at the "upper" level and respond to them there (if you have no objection).

Fred