The Nature of Party Government: A Comparative European Perspective

By Jean Blondel; Maurizio Cotta | Go to book overview
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The Normative Foundations of
Party Government


Party government and the return to the principle of concentration of powers

The emergence of party government in democracies had the effect of enabling parties to exert their influence over both the executive and the legislature, as well as, occasionally at least, over the judiciary. Thus, two or even all three of the powers which, on the basis of the principle of the separation of powers, should remain distinct, came to be united. This evolution has occurred in contemporary parliamentary polities, but no similar trend has taken place in the United States: the parliamentary system ensures that the same majority rules in both parliament and cabinet, whereas the direct election of the US President makes it possible for different majorities to control the executive and the legislature. 2

Should one therefore refer, in relation to contemporary parliamentary democracies, to a ‘return’ to the concentration of power which characterised absolutist regimes, as was the case when in most Western European countries monarchs took over the prerogatives of the parliaments of the Middle Ages? All power was then concentrated in one of the organs of government. Both the notion of representation which parliaments embodied and that of leadership which was the function of the monarch were in the same hands; the distinction between legislative and executive action disappeared.

The French Revolution stopped this development. It dissociated representation from leadership and strongly emphasised the predominance of the legislature over the executive. The former was regarded as expressing the will of the Nation (and, later, the will of the People), while the executive was described in negative terms: it should not legislate, as it did in absolute monarchies. The details of the arrangement were not


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The Nature of Party Government: A Comparative European Perspective


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