Institutions and Institutional Change in the Federal Republic of Germany

By Ludger Helms | Go to book overview

9
Parties and the Party System: Pluralisation and Functional Change within Limits

Oskar Niedermayer

When studying institutional change in the party sphere one has to distinguish two levels of analysis, the party and the party system level, as well as two dimensions of analysis, the structural and the functional dimension. This chapter will first concentrate on the party level, discussing the structural development of the German parties and how they perform the functions assigned to them. The second part of the chapter then deals with the core characteristics of the party system and their stability or change.


The four faces of party

It is widely agreed among party scholars that structural change at the party level cannot be studied taking the party as a whole as the unit of analysis. However, there is a lack of consensus regarding the number and type of sub-units that have to be distinguished: Michels' famous law of oligarchy is based on a simple leaders-followers dichotomy. 1 Sorauf supplements the extra-parliamentary party (in his words: the organisation proper) by the party in office and the party-in-the-electorate. 2 Katz and Mair suggest distinguishing three faces of party: the party in public office, the party central office and the party on the ground. 3 The party in public office is dominated by those occupying public office in parliament and government, the party central office consists of the national executive committee(s) and the central party staff. According to Katz and Mair, 'in the case of parties with formal mass membership, the members are the basis of the party on the ground, but more loosely it can be taken to include the core of regular activists,

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