The Political Class in Advanced Democracies

The Political Class in Advanced Democracies

The Political Class in Advanced Democracies

The Political Class in Advanced Democracies

Synopsis

Professional politicians have increasingly come under public attack in most democratic countries. Yet they have received surprisingly little systematic attention in political science. This book demonstrates that there are both striking similarities between professional politicians in different countries and notable national peculiarities.

The introduction develops a common conceptual framework for the chapters to follow. Using Mosca's term and Weber's seminal insights it reconstructs the concept of political class to grasp the degree of common interests shared by politicians of different parties and in different institutions. Thereby, it presents an innovative perspective on politicians. The twenty country chapters written by scholars from sixteen countries both provide up-to-date information on professional politics in their countries and discuss the merits of the theoretical approach. In doing so, they follow a common format thus facilitating a comparative reading of particular aspects. Each chapter looks at the historical process of professionalization, the institutional context of professional politics, the size of the political class in each country, typical career paths, the renumeration of politicians, and recent reform debates.

Excerpt

ian mcallister

Perhaps more than in any of the other established democracies, professional politics in Australia is linked to political parties. The hallmark of Australian politics is the predominance of the political party: the vast majority of voters identify with and vote for one of the major political parties; gaining state or federal election to the lower house is next to impossible without the benefit of one of three party labels—Liberal, National, or Labor; and minor parties or independents have played little part in shaping the development of the party system. Within the legislature, party government operates in every sense of the word, with the enforcement of rigid discipline among elected representatives. Not least, the party political elites have been highly effective in adapting political rules and institutions to serve their collective interest. Placed against this backdrop, it is perhaps hardly surprising that the political class in Australia—the elected representatives in the federal, state, and territory parliaments—has roots which are firmly within the major political parties.

Strong party control of the political system has its origins in the country's political culture, and this also serves to reinforce both support for and the role of the political class. Louis Hartz (1964) has argued that the cultural development of Anglo-American colonial societies is determined by the values and beliefs that were dominant during the period in which they “split” from the host society, Britain. Since Australia split from Britain in the nineteenth century, the colonial “fragment” that emerged was imbued with the utilitarian ideas of Jeremy Bentham and his followers. As a result, Australian political culture has been avowedly utilitarian in its orientation, and utilitarian values have infused all aspects of the political system and its institutions (Collins 1985 ; Hancock 1930).

The expression of utilitarianism in politics has been seen as “the reliance on an instrumental view of the political process” (Hughes 1973 : 142), so that the state exists primarily in order to resolve problems and disputes, not to preserve individual liberty. In Hancock's (1930 : 69) famous words, “Australian democracy has come to look upon the state as a vast public utility, whose duty it is to provide the greatest happiness for the greatest number.” Examples include the extensive use of the law to regulate society and ensure proper social conduct, from industrial relations to minor aspects of

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