The Nature of Party Government: A Comparative European Perspective

By Jean Blondel; Maurizio Cotta | Go to book overview

4
Defining Party and Government 1

MaurizioCotta


Conceptualising party and government

An examination of the relationship between government and party implies that the meaning of the two concepts and the two phenomena is made clear. It also means that we must have the instruments enabling us to discover variations across countries and over time with respect to these phenomena. We are still far from having reached this point. Most discussions which take place in this respect are based on oversimplifications. There is a strong temptation for instance to use holistic interpretations: both phenomena are commonly analysed as if they were unitary actors – values, perceptions, goals, actions are ascribed to them. While this view may be close to reality in some cases, though probably for only one of the two phenomena at a time, this is not true in most cases. Party and government are more likely to be either arenas where a variety of actors compete or cooperate among themselves or systems, that is to say composite entities, which result from interactions among their components. Which view best fits reality cannot be decided in advance: it is, rather, an empirical matter.

Moreover, the viewpoint adopted in the discussion of the relationship between party and government tends to be tilted in favour of one of the two terms: and there is indeed a pendulum movement over time in the choice of the dominant viewpoint. In the past the focal point was generally the government, though exactly how far back depends to some extent on cultural differences among countries, as well as on differences in disciplinary traditions within the same country (for instance between the tradition of constitutional law and of political science). In this perspective the government was conceived as a part of the state, in fact as the top institution of the state, its ‘head’. The main

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