Dynamics of the Party System: Alignment and Realignment of Political Parties in the United States

By James L. Sundquist | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
Some Hypothetical Scenarios

A COMPANY OF SETTLERS arrives in a new land. It is an isolated land, shielded from outside influence. The families occupy tracts of land exactly equal in size and fertility. By chance, the adults of the community are identical in all the respects (except sex, of course) that political and social analysts have found significant in differentiating people--age, religion, ethnic background, wealth, education, family size, and all the rest. They are all also without previous political affiliation or identification.

A classless, partyless, ungrouped, atomized society, they set up a democratic government, choose council members by districts in an election devoid of issues, levy a tax on each settler--in equal amounts, of course-- and open a public school. But when the first season's crops have been gathered and the community has assembled to celebrate the harvest, one of the settlers rises to address his fellows. Let us, he says, double the tax rate and use the new revenues to build an irrigation system to increase our yields. Let us lower our scale of living slightly in the short run in order to realize a greater income in future years.


Formation of a Party System

The proposal splits the community. The undifferentiated society suddenly differentiates. Some of the settlers hail the suggested irrigation system as the road to untold prosperity for the whole community. Others see in it unmitigated folly--it has never been tried, it would cost far more than anybody expects, it would not work even if it were built, and it contravenes the very laws of nature. At most, they contend, it should be attempted on an experimental scale and the tests carefully evaluated.

The advocates of the irrigation system are undaunted by the opposition. They meet to nominate for office a slate of candidates who will, if elected, move at once to levy the tax and build the dam and the accompanying canals. Opponents then meet to nominate another slate of candidates. The election that fall revolves around the irrigation issue. The proponents win by a narrow margin and proceed to carry out their program.

-19-

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