The Party System of Government Essay
The Party-System of Government is an integral and essential part of a democracy. Political parties are possible only in a democracy, and a constitution which does not allow the free formation of political parties by admitting either no party at all or only one party is not democratic. The principle that only one party is to be allowed in order to guarantee the work ability of the government is a common element of the anti-democratic ideologies of Fascism national Socialism, and communism Fascist. Italy and National Socialist Germany were, and Communist Russia still is a typical “one-party state”. A democracy cannot be a one-party state. A political party is a group or association of people, with some degree of organisation. It is a voluntary group people are, normally, free to choose whether to join this party or that or any party at all. Like all voluntary associations it has an object or purpose, and the test or condition of membership is the willingness to further the object or objects of the association. It is, however, possible for a party to exist and to hold together as one party while its members are deeply divided in opinion on some of the most fundamental political questions. but there is one point on which all members of a party must be agreed if they are to stay in the party and work together at all. That is in their desire to a political power for the party. Members of a party might differ on any or even all lines of policy, but anyone who definitely does not want a particular party to attain power, cannot possibly remain a member of the party. Thus a political party is a voluntary association of people for the purpose of attaining political power, of course, by constitutional means, because violence is.not permitted in a democratic set-up.
When a political party has attained political power, or a share of it, it has got to decide how to use it. In other words, it must have a policy. This means that at some point the members of the party will have to reach an agreement, not necessarily on what they would like, but at least on what they would be prepared to accept in the way of measures. It is possible, however, for a party to go on for a considerable time before arriving at such an agreement, particularly if it has no immediate prospect of attaining power. As a general rule, though there are, of course, many exceptions, differences of opinion are more noticeable in opposition than in government parties. Further, of course, a party is not committed for ever to any particular line of policy. It may change it in whole or in part while still remaining the same party. But while it is in power it must agree in general if it is to remain there. Regarding the motives which impel a person to attach himself to this party rather than that, they differ with different persons. Thus at one extreme we can imagine a man thinking our carefully what he would regard as most beneficial for the country as a whole and then deciding to attach himself to the party which seems to him, after full consideration, to represent most nearly his views in this matter. This would be an ideal case which would probably never be realised completely in practice. Nonetheless it would be foolish to deny that this process of rational thinking might be one among other influence which determine a particular person’s decisions, We may suspect that it has played a particularly large part some crises of people who have left one party, perhaps at some personal sacrifice, and joined another.
At the other extreme there is the possibility that a man may think out clearly which party seems likely to give most scope for his own personal interests and ambitions and then decide to join it. This also, is a possibility that is rarely realised in its completeness, few people are as clear-sighted or single-minded as that. But here again it may be among other influences to affect a person’s choice. It might be reasonable to suggest that it plays a part in certain other cases of change 0 party, particularly when a man leaves a party which seems to have little future before it in order to join one which appears to be on the up-grade. Of course, such a motive would work mostly on people with political ambitions, who hope to play an active part in politics. In between these two extreme people are influenced by the interests of the particular group, the trade class, or profession to which the person making the choice belongs. There are all the inborn temperamental differences which incline an individual towards one party or another. There is also the influence of family connections. There is a popular idea that children always tend to react against the opinions of their parents but generally the son enters politics on the same side as the father.
There are certain inherent defects in the party system of Government. The organisation of. political parties is certainly not in conformity with orthodox notions of democracy. Their internal structure essentially autocratic and oligarchie; their leaders are not really appointed by the members, in spite of appearances but co-opted or nominated by the central body, they tend to form a ruling class, isolated from militants, a caste that is more or less exclusive. In so far as they are elected, the party oligarchy is widened without ever becoming a democracy, for the election is carried out by the members, who are a minority in comparison with those who give their votes to the party in general elections. Parliamentary representatives are increasingly subject to the authority of the party inner circle: this means that the mass of electors is dominated by the small group of members and militants, itself sub-ordinate to the ruling bodies of the party. Moreover, even supposing .that parties were ruled by parliamentary representatives it would be an illusion to think them democratic. For elections themselves ill-interpret the true state of opinion Parties create opinion as much they represent it: they form it by propaganda; they impose a prefabricated mould upon it. The party system is less a photograph of opinion than opinion is a projection of the party system.
The general development of parties tends to emphasis their deviation from the democratic regime. Growing centralization is increasingly diminishing the influence of members over leaders, while on the other hand strengthening the influence of leaders upon members. Discipline among members is tightened by propaganda and persuasion which leads them to venerate the Party and its leaders and to believe in their infallibility,. the critical attitude gives way to attitude of adoration. But in spite of these defects, the Party System Government has certain definite advantages, on account of which it has come to stay in all the democratic countries of the world. In the first place it obviously stimulates interest in politics. For party-warfare is necessarily carried on, to a great extent; by argument, and it is very difficult to get on using arguments for long without beginning to pay some attention to their value as arguments. Connected with this is the fact that the party system secures constant discussion and argument. It always provides some one to put the opposite point of view, and, moreover, some one who cannot be ignored, as an individual critic. The government must listen to the opposition and must consider their argument as least sufficiently to find an answer to them. To party system is thus a way of stimulating these discussions and ensuring that they receive attention, and it is difficult to see what better way could be found. In general it acts as a constant reminder that there are other points of view, which have to be tolerated and, in the long run, given serious consideration.
There is another point of view on which the existence of political parties may have an effect which on the whole is beneficial. That is through their relation to particular sectional interests. Certain people who represent some particular interest will often incline to one party rather . than another. But the party itself is a body with an interest of its own, which is never, or hardly ever, exactly the same as the interest of other groups or sections. It may be concerned with the interests of his particular trade and thinks that one party is more likely to favour them than another. But if he becomes an active member of a party he will never think in precisely the same way when he is thinking as a member of the party as he will when he is thing as a member of a particular trade or the interest. At the least, as a member of a party he will have to think about winning votes, and exclusive concern for the interests of his particular trade is not likely to be successful in that aim. No doubt in some countries at sometimes the political party may become little more than a company formed for the purpose of sharing out the spoils of office, though even there it may be concerned to prevent exploitation by rival interests. But where a higher standard rules, the party and its interest always provide some sort of counter weight to the influence of other special interests.
Another great advantage of the party System from the democratic point of view is that it always provides a possible alternative government and gives the electorate a choice between them. Under the one-party system there is no alternative government and no genuine choice before the electors, so that the influence of the mass of the people on political decision is reduced to a minimum. Discussing the merits and demerits of the party system and its place in the machinery of democratic government, Prof. M.A. Pink has rightly observed in his brilliant book, The Challenge to Democracy: “The working of the party system is apt to generate a certain amount of impatience, especially among the more intelligent member of the community who find the trammels of a party programme irksome. With the growth of the scientific habit of mind and the application of scientific methods to the study of social problems there has grown up a natural desire to see the great political questions handled by the best men according to their expert judgment of the needs of the particular situations and not according to preconceived party ideas. It is also felt desirable that the parliamentary debates should exhibit less vain repetition, and the members should.be free to yield to argument and vote according to their private conviction without constant fear of the party Whips. The party system has indeed obvious drawbacks. But it has the inestimable merit of providing for the bloodness revolution by which a government that ceases to enjoy public confidence can be turned out of office and replaced by a new one. ‘Thus until some better device is invented it remains indispensable to the working of democratic government.
“At the same time, however, we must recognise that the old, limited conception of party politics is ·out of date. As we move towards a planned society it is no longer possible to treat the art of government a sconsidering solely in securing the programme and the interests of the party in power. Any intelligent and comprehensive plan in the social and economic spheres must be made on the assumption that there will be continuity of policy over a period of time. Such continuity can be secured, of course, by a revolutionary dictatorship that suppresses all opposition but so long as conflict of opinion is tolerated, long-term plans for industry, for transport, for social security, for education must be based on a programmer representing the widest measure of agreement between the parties obtainable at the moment, It follows that those who represent the parties and mould national policy must be prepared at some point to sink partnership in cooperation. The point has been well put by Karl Mannheim: “Planned democratic society needs a new type of party system, in which the right to criticism is as strongly developed as the duty to be responsible to the whole. That means that the liberal education for intelligent partisanship, which is mainly defending the interests of your faction and party and leaves the final integration to a large extent to the natural harmony of interests, must gradually be replaced by a new education for responsible criticism, wherein consciousness of the whole is at least as important as awareness of your own interests. In the planned society it is not the national inter-play of interests which gradually leads to a total scheme of action•.but plan intelligently conceived and accepted by all parties. It is obvious that such a new morality can only be achieved if the deepest sources of human regeneration assist the rebirth of society”. “Democratic government will continue to work through the conflict of parties: but both politicians and ordinary citizens must reach out to a conception beyond party. Above all, the party in power must realise its full responsibilities to the community as a whole”. They will need to be considered in the light of the existing situation and the best expert advice. when no real cleavage of opinion is involved, would it not be possible to take the problem out of the arena of party conflict?”