Separation of Powers--Does it Still Work?

By Robert A. Goldwin; Art Kaufman | Go to book overview

2
Political Parties and the Separation of Powers

James Q. Wilson

The chief criticism of the separation of powers is that it inhibits the capacity of the government, especially the president, to enact policies that are bold, timely, and comprehensive and reduces the ability of the citizenry to hold the government--again, especially the president --accountable for those policies. Among the possible remedies for these difficulties is a party system that can overcome the separation of powers by bringing together under informal arrangements what the founders were at pains to divide by formal ones. James MacGregor Burns has argued that the constitutional system has given rise to a four-party system--Democratic and Republican presidential parties and Democratic and Republican congressional parties. The solution, he suggested, is to consolidate the presidential and congressional wings of each party:

The presidential parties must singly and jointly overcome the arrangements that thwart political competition, that prevent them from broadening their electoral support, and keep them from dealing with way-of-life issues that increasingly dominate the nation's future. This means that each presidential party must convert its congressional party into a party wing exerting a proper, but not controlling or crippling hold on party policy. 1

Neither the diagnosis nor the remedy is new. In the nineteenth century Lord Bryce quoted the lament of a critic of the American separation of powers:

Will not a scheme, in which the executive officers are all independent of one another, yet not subject to the legislature, want every condition needed for harmonious and effective action? They obey nobody. They are responsible to nobody. . . . Such a system seems the negation of a system, and more akin to chaos. 2

-18-

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