Political Parties and Party Systems

Political Parties and Party Systems

Political Parties and Party Systems

Political Parties and Party Systems

Synopsis

This is an introduction to the study of political parties and party systems. It focusses primarily on liberal deocracies and th eapproach is a comparative one. The book's aim is to explain to students of politics how and why parties and party systems differ from one country to another. However, it also seeks to provide a more detailed understanding of party politics in five particular countries. Most of the chapters are divided into two sections. In the first section general themes and arguments about a topic are introduced, and examples from a large number of countries are discussed in relation to it. In the second section, particular attention is paid to five of the largest liberal democracies - Britain, France, Germany, Japan, and the United States.

Excerpt

In contemporary states it is difficult to imagine there being politics without parties. Indeed, in only two kinds of states today are parties absent. First, there are a few small, traditional societies, especially in the Persian Gulf, that are still ruled by the families who were dominant in the regions they control long before the outside world recognized them as independent states. Then there are those regimes in which parties and party activities have been banned; these regimes are run either by the military or by authoritarian rulers who have the support of the military. While these interludes of party-less politics can last for some years, ultimately the suppression of parties has proved to be feasible only as a temporary measure. As the military authorities relax their grip on power, or as unpopular policies stir discontent, so parties start to re-emerge from 'underground' or from their headquarters abroad. The difficulty that regimes have in suppressing party politics is one indicator of just how central parties are to governing a modern state.

If the conduct of both politics and government in modern states seems to require that there be political parties, this does not mean that parties are always revered institutions. Far from it. In some countries there is a long-standing distrust of parties. This is especially true in the United States where anti-party sentiments are evident from the very founding of the state in the late eighteenth century. At times this anti-partism has manifested itself in moves to restrict the activities of parties. For example, at the beginning of the twentieth century, Progressive reformers in many of the American states introduced laws that prohibited parties from contesting local government elections. This did not prevent them from participating informally in these elections, but it did bring about a significant reduction of party activity at this level of politics. Moreover, even in countries where extensive party involvement in public life appeared to have a high degree of public acceptance, dissatisfaction with politics could rebound on all the major parties. For example, in Germany in 1993 a protest movement . . .

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