Political Parties: Old Concepts and New Challenges

By Richard Gunther; José Ramón Montero et al. | Go to book overview

11 Parties in Contemporary Democracies: Problems and Paradoxes

Juan J. Linz

At the turn of the century we face a paradoxical situation. In all societies where people are free to express their preferences there is broad consensus on the legitimacy of democracy as a form of government (Diamond 1999 : 24-31, 174-91). There is also considerable agreement, in both established and unconsolidated or unstable democracies, that political parties are essential to the working of democracy. At the same time, however, public opinion in most democratic systems is characterized by pervasive dissatisfaction with and distrust of political parties, and there is much debate in academic circles about the obsolescence or decline of parties—so well summarized by Hans Daalder in Chapter 2 above. Moreover, while critical attitudes are widespread among citizens, we find little echo in public opinion of the powerful anti-party ideologies, sentiments and movements of 'the short twentieth century', as historian Eric Hobsbawm has called the period between 1914 and the end of the Soviet era.

To some extent, these seeming contradictions may be a product of incompatibilities between the Schumpeterian and more participatory conceptions of democracy which many citizens may simultaneously hold. Indeed, those inconsistencies might, themselves, be a significant source of dissatisfaction with parties. Accordingly, a fully satisfactory explanation of these paradoxes would require a great deal more detailed empirical analysis than has been undertaken to date. We would need to know more about how the average voter perceives the need for and the functions of parties. Lacking such studies, we do not know what ideas about the proper functions and structures of parties people have in mind when they express distrust in, and dissatisfaction with, parties. We have not been able adequately to understand these attitudes and their implication—but see the findings analysed by Torcal, Gunther, and

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