Political Parties: Old Concepts and New Challenges

By Richard Gunther; Jose Ramon Montero et al. | Go to book overview
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1 Introduction: Reviewing and Reassessing Parties

José Ramón Montero and Richard Gunther

Students of democratic politics may have mixed feelings about the value of yet another book on political parties. Some scholars may have concluded that the existing literature on parties is sufficient, and that there is little more that can be learned through additional study in the aftermath of a century of scholarly research on the topic. Others may be led to dismiss further empirical study of parties on the grounds that parties are becoming increasingly irrelevant, since they are failing to respond successfully to a series of challenges, and many of their functions are performed better by less formally organized social movements, by direct contact between politicians and citizens through the broadcast media or the internet, or by innovations in direct democracy. In the view of this group of scholars, parties may be seen as in an inexorable process of 'decline'. Finally, there may be some who have concluded that scholarly research on parties has failed to advance the task of developing rigorous and persuasive theory, and that further efforts along these lines are doomed to fail. Such an assertion might be especially appealing to those scholars who have embraced analytical approaches that place little value on the study of complex organizations or political institutions and who may simply dismiss the study of parties as irrelevant to the development of a more universalistic theory of politics.

We shall begin this introductory chapter by reviewing each of these assertions. It should not surprise the reader to find that we conclude that such negative views are unwarranted. We shall argue that political parties in the early twenty-first century are confronting a number of new challenges, many of which had neither been anticipated nor adequately addressed by the existing literature on parties. And while we acknowledge the general weakness of theory-building efforts regarding political parties, we believe that the continuing importance of parties in all democratic systems, in combination with the extent to which challenges facing contemporary parties have raised a wide

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