Partisanship as Vice and Patriotism as Virtue

By Cotton, Michael | Texas Review of Law & Politics, Spring 2019 | Go to article overview

Partisanship as Vice and Patriotism as Virtue


Cotton, Michael, Texas Review of Law & Politics


Introduction

This Note is not about law or policy. It is about politics-how we do politics, how we consume politics, and how we view ourselves as citizens of the American polity. It is essentially an exploration of what James Madison called "faction" from the viewpoint of virtue ethics and the classical tradition (as embodied by thinkers like Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas). I do not argue that Americans should be more moderate in their policy goals or that we should advocate for those goals with more meekness. There is a time for fierce and spirited advocacy. Rather, this Note proposes that character matters-that we must not lose our souls as we fight our political battles. This should be especially important to conservatives. American conservatives have long celebrated the Founding tradition, and in our judicial wars, conservatives take the side of honoring the Constitution as it was written. The constitution was designed, in large part, to combat weakness in human character. And, perhaps paradoxically, the Founders also believed that the Constitution created a system of government that relied on a virtuous citizenry. For the Framers who drafted and ratified the American Constitution, virtue had everything to do with the health of our political institutions. National character was, and still is, national destiny.

Part I of this Note examines trends in political polarization and their impacts on partisanship. Part II shows how the worry of faction was a principle impetus in the structure of the Constitution. Part Ill lays out how, according to the classical tradition, character is formed or warped by our actions and inactions. Part IV shows that factionalism degrades the character of the partisan, leading to moral and intellectual blindness. Part V argues that patriotism is a virtue and that it ought to be pursued to remedy the ill-effects of faction. The Note concludes with a discussion of the importance of virtue in the citizenry of a democracy.

I.Polarization and Its Effects on Partisanship

Today, the Republican and Democratic parties are more ideologically pure and further apart from one another than they have been since the end of Reconstruction.1 From around 1930 to 1980, the two major parties were much more centrist than they were before or have been since.2 During that period, there were also conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans.3 After 1980, conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans began to disappear along with most of the centrists in both parties.4 Before 1980, if someone said they were a Democrat or a Republican, you could not be completely sure where they would fall on the ideological spectrum. That is changing. The correlation coefficient between party identification and ideology has doubled since 1980.5

Ideology is not the only way in which Americans are sorting themselves. Research shows that liberals and conservatives "dress differently, decorate their rooms differently, read different books, take different vacations and drink different alcoholic beverages."6 As the two major parties become more ideologically distinct, the left-right dimension also increasingly maps onto an urban-rural dimension.7 The Democratic Party began as an agrarian party with roots, and most of its support, in the South.8 Over the last century, Democrats have become an urban party-focusing on issues that concern secular, cosmopolitan progressives.9 At the same time, rural areas have shifted to the Republican Party, and the GOP has become more welcoming of rural values, "which tend to be more religious, patriotic and family-oriented."10 As the differences between the two major parties has become more pervasive and more visually apparent, it has also become "easier to spot members of the other team and then dislike them for the way they live."11

American political parties have traditionally represented coalitions of different classes, regions, and industries. Those different groups inevitably have divergent interests, and intraparty elements must negotiate to find compromises. …

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