Parties and Party Systems: A Framework for Analysis

By Giovanni Sartori | Go to book overview

Chapter
one
the party as part

1. FROM FACTION TO PARTY

The name 'party' came into use, gradually replacing the derogatory term 'faction', with the acceptance of the idea that a party is not necessarily a faction, that it is not necessarily an evil, and that it does not necessarily disrupt the bonum commune, the common weal. The transition from faction to party was indeed slow and tortuous – both in the domain of ideas and in fact. The second half of the eighteenth century had just begun when Voltaire concisely stated in the Encyclopédie: [The term party is not, in itself, loathsome; the term faction always is.]1 With his versatile genius for synthesis Voltaire epitomised in this sentence a debate opened by Bolingbroke in 1732 and after that pursued for about a century.2

That the name faction was loathsome was not, from Roman times until the nineteenth century, a statement in want of proof. In the whole tradition of Western political thought there is hardly an author who has not taken the same view. The interesting part of the sentence is, therefore, where Voltaire concedes that parties might be different, that the term party does not have by necessity a negative association. Voltaire himself can hardly be credited, however, for having sustained this difference. Faction, he wrote, is [un parti séditieux dans un état] ([a seditious party in a state]). The term party would thus seem applicable to the factions that are not seditious. But Voltaire went on to explain, instead, that a faction is [a seditious party when it is still feeble, when it does not rejoin [partager] the entire State.] Thus [the faction of Caesar shortly became a dominant party which swallowed the Republic.] And the distinction is further enfeebled, if not cancelled, by Voltaire's remark that [a head of a party is always a head of a faction.]

Adistinction with no difference, then? It would be unfair to address this criticism to Voltaire, for he only reflects the ambiguities and the perplexities of the entire eighteenth century. It is proper, therefore, to raise the question with respect to all the authors concerned: Bolingbroke, Hume, Burke, and the protagonists of the French and American revolutions. First, however, we must understand their terminology.

Etymologically and semantically speaking, 'faction' and 'party' do not convey the same meaning. Faction, which is by far the older and more established term,

-3-

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