regulated by law if not by the constitution itself, accepted as necessary features of the political framework, and given special, publicly subsidized assistance to perform their roles.
The essential danger that is posed by this state of affairs, however, is that much more than most other formal political institutions, such as bureaucracies, security, and enforcement agencies, etc., parties almost certainly enjoy only a contingent legitimacy in the eyes of mass electorates. They are not part of the constitutional contract, and for them to be seen as public utilities with rights to monopolize the representative process may be dangerous, especially where parties are large-scale users of publicly rather than voluntarily raised resources. The dangers of corruption, internal factionalism, policy incompetence, and excessive oligarchy and rigidity among leaders and office-holders raised in this chapter are ever present, and where they are not addressed by parties that enjoy formidable mechanisms to retain power they can be deeply corrosive of a party system's long-term legitimacy.
If the main worry about the health of democracy is electoral instability, the operation of a cartel to guarantee the survival of democratically respectable parties may be an acceptable state of affairs. If the mass electorate came to view the role of the parties in this light, it would be much more dangerous. Some minimal level of clear policy differentiation, and certainly some minimal level of real competition for power, seem necessary to persuade voters that the modern party continues to grow out of civil society, and remains attached to it, and is not operating in a cartel looking suspiciously like a conspiracy against society. While there are no clear prescriptions about what form party government should take in any given European society, this does perhaps suggest at least certain limitations on post-war party developments. Parties should not, at least for long, operate broad and all-inclusive coalitions that admit of no alternatives; parties should not allow consensus politics to restrict political debate to high-level technical discussion suitable only to the initiated; and parties should not allow their mass organizations--particularly their membership and their policy- formulating mechanisms--to fall into desuetude.