Bryce: Political Parties and Modern Democracies

JAMES BRYCE — “Must there then always be parties? No one has yet shown how such governments could get on without them.”; “Political philosophers have incessantly denounced party, but none seems to have shown how they can either be prevented from arising or eliminated when they exist. I could never extract from Mr. Goldwin Smith, with all his mastery of history and political acumen, any answer to the question how representative government could be carried on without them.”

Political parties are far older than democracy. They have existed in nearly all countries and under all forms of government, though less in monarchies than in oligarchies, in the latter of which they have been particularly frequent and fierce. The Guelfs and Ghibellines, after having for a time divided Germany, divided the feudal nobility and the cities of northern and middle Italy for three centuries.

In popular governments, however, parties have a wider extension if not a more strenuous life, for where every citizen has a vote, with the duty to use it at elections, each of the parties which strive for mastery must try to bring the largest possible number of voters into its ranks, organize them locally, appeal to them by the spoken and printed word, bring them up to the poll. Ballots having replaced bullets in political strife, every voter is supposed to belong to one of the partisan hosts and to render more or less obedience to its leaders.

He has, moreover, at least in theory, something to gain from its victory, because each party promises legislation of the kind he is supposed to desire, whereas most men who called themselves Guelfs and Ghibellines fought merely out of an attachment, usually hereditary, to a party name, and probably also to the cause of some particular leader, as in Mexico today if the member of a band is asked to what he belongs, he answers, “To my chief” (mi jefe).

Many have been the origins whence in time past parties have sprung. Religious or ecclesiastical differences have given birth to them, as in England and Scotland in the seventeenth century, or racial divisions, or loyalty to a dynasty, as in the case of the Stuarts in England after James II.’s expulsion, and the Bourbons in France after 1848. Even attachment to a particular leader who has gathered followers round him may keep them together long after he has passed away. In the republic of Uruguay there were, sixty years ago, two prominent generals, each with a band of adherents.

These Reds and Whites still divide the country. A party may in its first beginnings be built on any foundation — wood or stubble as well as rock — for it is not the origin that matters so much as the forces which, once created, a party can enlist. However, in more recent days, and especially in countries enjoying representative government, the normal source is found in the emergence of some type of political doctrine or some specific practical issue which divides the citizens, some taking one side, some another.

Though the professed reason for the existence of a party is the promotion of a particular set of doctrines and ideas, it has a concrete side as well as a set of abstract doctrines. It is abstract in so far as it represents the adhesion of many minds to the same opinions. It is concrete as consisting of a number of men who act together in respect of their holding, or professing to hold, such opinions. But being a living organism, it develops in ways not limited by its theory or its professions, and is affected by the constantly changing circumstances amid which it moves and to which it must adapt itself.

Whatever its origin, every party lives and thrives by the concurrent action of four tendencies or forces, which may be described as those of Sympathy, Imitation, Competition and Pugnacity. Even if intellectual conviction had much to do with its creation, emotion has more to do with its vitality and combative power. Men enjoy combat for its own sake, loving to outstrip others and carry their flag to victory. The same sort of passion as moves the crowd watching a boat race between Oxford and Cambridge or a football match between Yale and Harvard, is the steam which works the great English and American parties. Nothing holds men so close together as the presence of antagonists strong enough to be worth defeating, and not so strong as to be invincible. This is why a party can retain its continuity while forgetting or changing its doctrines and seeing its old leaders disappear.

New members and new leaders, as they come in, imbibe the spirit and are permeated by the traditions which the party has formed. It is pleasant to tread in the steps of those who have gone before and associate one’s self with their fame.

Life becomes more interesting when each talks to each of how the opposite party must be outgeneralled, and more exciting when the day of an electoral contest arrives. Though a certain set of views may have been the old basis of a party, and be still inscribed on its banner, the views count for less than do the fighting traditions, the attachment to its name, the inextinguishable pleasure in working together, even if the object sought be little more than the maintenance of the organization itself. In England, sixty years ago, few indeed of the crowds that at an election flaimted their blue or yellow colours could have explained why they were Blues or Yellows. They had always been Blues or Yellows; probably their fathers were. It was irrational, but it expressed a sentiment of loyalty to a cause. If the bulk were not fighting for principles, they were fighting unselfishly for something outside themselves, expecting from victory nothing but the pleasure of victory(1).

It was in English-speaking countries that party first became a force in free political life. Whigs and Tories in England date from the days of Charles II., parties in America from the presidential election of 1796. In the former case party appeared first in Parliament. In the latter it appeared simultaneously in Congress and in the people at large. The influence and working of a party system need to be considered separately in each of these two fields. Let us begin with the people.

In countries which enjoy representative government parties have two main functions, the promotion by argument of their principles and the carrying of elections. These provide constant occupation, and success in either contributes to success in the other. The business of winning elections involves the choice of candidates. In every election area, the local members of the party must agree upon a candidate for whom their united vote will be cast. While constituencies were small, because electoral districts were small and the suffrage was restricted by a property qualification, men either put themselves forward as candidates, or induced a small group of influential electors to nominate them. A person of local prominence as landowner in a county or merchant in a borough was known to many of the electors, and accepted on the score of his position or personal abilities or popularity. This still happens in parts of France and of Switzerland, and formerly happened in America. But when constituencies became large and the feeling of democratic equality pervaded all classes, the principle of popular sovereignty required the choice of a party candidate to be made by those of the electors who belonged to the party. So local party Committees grew up, and local party meetings were convoked to select the candidate. This custom was, many years later, adopted in England where, however, the Central Office (i.e. the national party managers) may tactfully suggest to the local association the name of a particular aspirant. Without some party authority recognized as entitled to recommend a candidate, the voting strength of the party might be dispersed among competing party candidates, many electors not knowing for whom they ought to vote. In large constituencies, guidance is essential(2), so when in the United States it is desired to put forward as candidates for city offices better men than those whom the party organization is nominating, a Citizens’ Committee or Good Government Organization, formed for the occasion, issues a list of candidates whom a bevy of respected inhabitants join in recommending.

Another branch of political work formerly left to private initiative has now become recognized as incumbent on a party. It is the conduct of elections and the defraying, where the candidate is a poor man, of part at least of the expenses of a contest, expenses which have grown with the increased size of constituencies due to universal suffrage. Every party has now funds available for helping candidates, a practice liable to be abused, yet unavoidable, for without help capable men might be excluded, and the candidate with the longest purse would have an unfair advantage.

Another and not less important function of a party is that of holding together the members of a representative assembly who profess the political opinions for which the party stands, so as to concentrate their efforts on the advocacy of its principles and the attainment of its ends. This is especially needed in countries living under what is called Parliamentary Government, where the Executive is virtually chosen and dismissible by the majority of the legislature. Under such a system the majority, called the Party in Power, carries on the government of the country through some of its leaders, the executive ministers, whom it keeps in office so long as they retain its confidence. Such a scheme cannot work without some sort of discipline to keep the members of the majority solid, reminding them of their responsibility to their supporters in the constituencies. From Great Britain, which has been governed in this way for about two centuries, this scheme spread to such countries as Canada, Australia, France, Belgium, Holland and the three Scandinavian kingdoms, in all of which a “Party in Power” carries on the government, while the rest of the legislature constitute the Opposition or Oppositions.

In other countries, such as the United States, the majority in the legislature, though it controls legislation, does not choose the Executive, that function being reserved to the people voting at the polls; so that the expression “Party in Power” describes the party which holds the Executive. But this difference reduces but little the need for party organization and discipline in the legislative chambers. In both cases the party must hold together in order to pursue its purposes.

In both the motive and regulative force that keeps them united together, consists in the common wish to give effect to their doctrines by legislation, and in both, moreover, the party leaders have a prospect of winning authority, distinction, and emoluments, the rank and file of the party sharing, when their turn comes, in getting or securing for their friends whatever patronage may be going. Thus the impulse to hold together is strong: thus a party may maintain unity and vigour even if it has ceased to care for the principles for whose sake it professes to exist.

This system, under which the fortunes of a nation are entrusted to one set of persons who represent the majority, possibly only a bare majority, of the voters, has been much censured, especially by theorists unfamiliar with the actual working of representative institutions. Why, it is urged, should administrative officers, most of whose work has nothing to do with their party opinions, be they Whig or Tory in England, Republican or Democratic in America, be taken entirely from those who profess one set of political views and belong to one organization? The man with the fullest knowledge of foreign relations, or the man who best understands educational problems, may belong to the minority. Why should his abilities be lost to the public service? Why make so many public questions controversial that need not be so? What is the sense of setting up one group of men, A, B, C and D, to introduce legislation and handle administrative problems, and of setting up a second set, W, X, Y, Z, to harass and trip up the former, opposing their proposals and hampering their execjative action? Yet this is understood to be, under the British system, the especial business of a parliamentary opposition, for the men who compose it find a motive for their attacks in the hope of turning their antagonists out of office to install themselves therein. Thus a parliament becomes a battlefield, and its deliberations a perpetual struggle of the Ins and the Outs, in which the interests of the country are forgotten.

Other charges brought against the party system may be enumerated, because they indicate dangers which threaten the working of democratic government.

It is alleged to encourage the hollowness and insincerity. The two great American parties have been compared to empty bottles, into which any liquor might be poured, so long as the labels were retained. Party divides not only the legislature but the nation into hostile camps, and presents it to foreign states as so divided. It substitutes passion and bitterness for a common patriotism, prejudices men’s minds, makes each side suspect the proposals of the other, prevents a fair consideration of each issue upon its merits, enslaves representatives and discourages independent thought in the party as a whole, because the “solidity” or “regularity” which casts a straight ballot is enforced as the first of duties. It prompts each party to make promises and put forward plans whose aim is not to benefit the country but to attract popular support. When one party plays this game, the other party has to follow suit with another and, if possible, more attractive programme.

Another perversion is the extension of national party issues to local elections, with which they have, as a rule, nothing to do. To run a candidate for a county or city office in an American state, or for a county or borough council in England, as a Republican or Democrat, as a Tory or Liberal, diverts attention from the personal merits of the candidates to their party affiliations, obscures the local issues of policy by putting loyalty to the national party into the foreground, and tends to divide the members of a deliberative local authority into sections drawn together by their political affinities, so that these affinities determine their action in questions purely local.

A further dereliction from principle is found in countries where posts in the public service are reserved for persons who belong to the dominant party. This practice, known as the Spoils System, though reduced of late years, is not yet extinct in the United States, nor France, Canada, and Australia. In Britain, where it was formerly general, it can be still discovered in odd comers, such as some legal, and more rarely, some educational, posts. Here, however, it is only a secondary force, sometimes giving one candidate a slight advantage over another, but seldom installing an incompetent man. Retained as a means of rewarding supporters, it is excused on the ground that as the other side have practised it, “our fellows must have their chance”- Neither party desires to run ahead of the other in the practice of austere virtue.

Lastly, party spirit is accused of debasing the moral standards, because it judges every question from the standpoint of party interest. It acclaims a successful leader as a hero and secures forgiveness for his faults. If the leaders of a party in power embark in an unwise foreign policy, or if some ardent spirits among the Opposition resort to questionable methods of resistance to what they think unjust, the voice of temperate criticism within the party is overborne, because party spirit either blinds men to the truth or fears to admit errors which the other party will use against it(3). Even if the heads of a party organization are discovered to have been using their power for selfish — perhaps for sordid — purposes, the party tries to shield them from exposure; and it may accept the tainted aid of rich men seeking their own private gains. In one way or another, the sentiment of party solidarity supersedes the duty which the citizen owes to the State, and becomes a weapon in the hands of an unscrupulous chief who can lead the party to victory. Party spirit will always be an instrument on which personal ambition can play. In the republics of antiquity a party might help its leader to make himself a Tyrant because it hated the other faction more than it loved freedom. Similar phenomena were seen in mediaeval Italy, and their pale reflex has been sometimes visible in modern states.

That these are among the dangers to which the system of party government exposes a State is practically admitted by each party when it is denouncing the action of a rival party. They describe those rivals as actuated by the “spirit of faction”. They exhort the wiser and more moderate members to shake off that spirit, rid themselves of prejudice, and consider all proposals, even those of opponents, with an open mind, while in the 6ame breath they exhort their own followers to close their ranks and go to the polls cherishing the traditions of their party, grateful for its services, mindful that it emancipated the slave or bestowed old-age pensions upon working men. They must sometimes wish that it was possible for them to address their own followers in one tongue, and their opponents in another, each uncomprehended by the other, as shepherds in the Scottish Highlands are said to shout their orders to one dog in English and to another in Gaelic.

History is full of the mischiefs wrought by party spirit. Yet there is another side to the matter. If parties cause some evils, they avert or mitigate others.

To begin with, parties are inevitable. No free large country has been without them. No one has shown how representative government could be worked without them. They bring order out of the chaos of a multitude of voters. If in such vast populations as those of the United States, France, or England, there were no party organizations, by whom would public opinion be roused and educated and directed to certain specific purposes ? Each party, no doubt, tries to present its own side of the case for or against any doctrine or proposal, but the public cannot help learning something about the other side also, for even party spirit cannot separate the nation into water-tight compartments; and the most artful or prejudiced party spell-binder or newspaper has to recognize the existence of the arguments he is trying to refute. Thus Party strife is a sort of education for those willing to receive instruction, and something soaks through even into the less interested or thoughtful electors. The parties keep a nation’s mind alive, as the rise and fall of the sweeping tide freshens the water of long ocean inlets. Discussion within each party, culminating before elections in the adoption of a platform, brings certain issues to the front, defines them, expresses them in formulas which, even if tricky or delusive, fix men’s minds on certain points, concentrating attention and inviting criticism. So few people think seriously and steadily upon any subject outside the range of their own business interests that public opinion might be vague and ineffective if the party searchlight were not constantly turned on. And it may be added that the power of the press to influence the average voter by one-sided statements of fact, incessantly repeated, would be still greater than it is were there not party organizations whose business it is to secure a hearing for their own views.

Of nominations and elections I have already spoken. But a vast deal of preparatory work is needed beyond that which the State does when it makes up a register of voters and provides machinery for taking the votes. Who is to do this? Who is to get literature to the voters, stir them out of their apathy, arrange public meetings, remind the citizens of their duty to vote? Only a permanent party. Temporary organizations formed to promote a particular cause, such as were (in England) the Anti-Corn Law League of 1838 and the Eastern Question Association of 1876, may effect much for the time being, but die out when the crisis has passed; and it becomes increasingly difficult and costly to find means for reaching the enormous voting masses of our time.

Political philosophers have been wont to deplore the existence of party in legislative assemblies and to accuse it of leading to dishonesty. They observe that, in the words of the comic opera, a member who has “always voted at his party’s call” cannot but be demoralized. But if there were no party voting, and everybody gave his vote in accordance with his own perhaps crude and ill-informed opinions, Parliamentary government of the English type could not go on.

Ministers would not know from hour to hour whether they could count on carrying some provision of a Bill which might in appearance be trifling, but would destroy its coherency, many of those who would have supported it might be absent, while others might give an unconsidered vote. Perpetual uncertainty and the weakness of the Executive which uncertainty involves would be a greater public evil than the subordination to his party of a member’s personal view in minor matters. Where he has a strong conviction, he must of course obey it, even at the risk of turning out a ministry, but when, dismissing any thought of his own personal interest, he honestly applies the general principle that party government requires some subordination of individual views, his conscience will not suffer (4).

Party discipline in a legislature imposes a needed check on self-seeking and on the greater mischief of corruption.

The absence of discipline, far from helping conscience to have free scope, may result in leaving the field open for selfish ambitions. Some years ago a group of strong men who had practically controlled the party majority in the United States Senate was broken up, and party discipline vanished. Ingenuous persons expected an improvement. But the first result was that a few pushing men came to the front, each playing for popularity, and things fell into confusion, the legislative machine working in so irregular and unpredictable a fashion that a call soon came for the restoration of discipline. In every governing body there must be some responsibility, some persons on whom blame can be fixed if bad advice be given and bad results follow. How a ruling body can suffer by the want of permanent parties was illustrated by the Athenian Assembly, a crowd of citizens largely guided by brilliant speakers holding no office, owning no allegiance to any party, each using his talents for his own advancement.

When the multitude had been misled by such an orator there was nobody to be blamed except the orator, and his discredit was only a passing incident, for which he might have had secret compensation in a corrupt payment. An organized party with recognized leaders has a character to lose or to gain; and this applies to an Opposition as well as to a Ministerialist party, for every minority hopes to be some day a majority. In Great Britain during the war of 1914-19 party warfare was suspended, and two successive Coalition Ministries formed, so that for a time there was no regular Opposition to keep the Ministry up to the mark, inasmuch as those party chiefs who stood outside were unwilling to be charged with embarrassing their former opponents. The result was that a number of members, who, like the Athenian orators, were not sufficiently important to feel the bridle of responsibility, carried on, each for himself, a sort of guerilla warfare, which had not force enough to impose an effective check on ministerial errors. An administration formed by a coalition of parties is usually weak, not merely because the combination is unstable, but because men whose professed principles differ are likely to be entangled in inconsistencies or driven to unsatisfactory compromises. So a well-compacted party in Opposition which stands on its own feet, having had power before and hoping to have power again, is steadied by the fact that it has a character to lose. Inspiring confidence because it is known to be responsible, it can follow a definite policy and expect a loyal obedience.

In countries where the few large parties of former times have dissolved into small groups, no one of which is large enough to command a majority of the legislature, and in few of which is there any party discipline, other inconveniences are added. The leaders of a large and strong party have an opinion of their followers to regard, as well as the public opinion of the nation outside. That opinion within the party keeps them straight, for if they are seen to be playing for their own hand the party ceases to be trusted.

Where there are small groups, each becomes a focus of intrigue, in which personal ambitions have scope. The groups make bargains with one another and by their combinations, perhaps secretly and suddenly formed, successive ministries may be overturned, with injury to the progress of legislation and to the continuity of national policy. Since there must be parties, the fewer and stronger they are, the better.

Must there then always be parties? No one has yet shown how such governments could get on without them(5). Statesmen of exceptional force, such as Peel, Disraeli, Gladstone, while fully aware of their faults most clearly recognized their value. One can imagine a small community in which the citizens know one another so well that they select men for legislative and executive posts on the score of personal merit, and where the legislators are of a virtue so pure that they debate every question with a sole regard to truth and to the advantage of the State. If any such community has existed, its records have not been preserved for our instruction. One can also imagine that in some far distant future when all experiments have been tried, and nations, weary of politics, wish to settle down to a quiet life, a plan may be devised by which each small community, trusting its locals concerns to its most honest and capable men, shall empower them to choose others who will go to some centre where they can deliberate on matters of common concern with other such delegates, party being eliminated, because the questions out of which the old parties arose have become obsolete. But the wings of fancy do not support our flight in a thin air so far above the surface of this planet.

We have so far been considering political parties of the old type, coextensive with the nation and trying to draw adherents from all sections and classes within it. There are, however, three other kinds of party which ought to be noticed, and which may be either within or outside of a large non- sectional political party covering the whole country.

One of these is an ecclesiastical or anti-ecclesiastical organization. Where the interests of a religious body are supposed to need advocacy or protection, or where, on the other hand, a Church is deemed to be unduly powerful in political affairs, an organization may be formed either to defend it in the former case or to resist it in the latter (6). There are in France and Belgium Catholic or so-called “Clerical” parties.

Examples have been seen in the United States, where an apprehension that the Roman Catholic Church was acquiring undue power gave birth to the “Know Nothings” in 1853, and long afterwards created what was almost an Anti-Catholic party, under the title of American Protective Association (A. P. A.). Both rose suddenly into prominence, but died out after a few years. The chief instance of an organization acting as an anti-ecclesiastical force, all the stronger for being secret, is to be found in the Freemasons of Continental Europe. This society with its branches exists in England and the United States for purposes purely social and charitable, but the Masonic Lodges have in France and Italy an ardently anti-clerical, even indeed anti-Christian, colour. They are believed to exert an influence before which candidates and deputies quail.

The second class has grown out of the Trade or Labour Unions which sprang up during last century among the industrial populations of Europe, North America, and Australasia. Formed originally for the purpose of mutual charitable help, they became effective in planning and carrying on strikes, and thereafter, realizing the voting power which an extended suffrage had given them, passed into the field of political action. Out of them and the congresses which they hold there have arisen in many countries what are called Labour Parties, putting forward programmes of legislation intended to benefit the wage-earning class, and to throw more of the burden of taxation upon the wealthier part of the community. Such platforms, while commanding sympathy from those among the richer who think that the wage-earners have not yet received a sufficient share in what their toil produces, make their most direct appeal to the labouring class itself and draw most of their strength from the prospect they open of improving its material condition. Though extending over the whole country, they are in so far contrasted with the older parties that they create a cleavage in the nation which is not, as formerly, vertical, but horizontal, having a social as well as a political character. In England the Whig and Tory parties were each of them composed of persons of all degrees of rank and wealth, poor as well as rich. In both the ruling section belonged to the richer class, and was apt to legislate in its own interest, but between the two sections there was no social antagonism. So also in the United States, both the Republican and the Democratic party have been composed, in almost equal proportions, of the poorer and the richer citizens. Now, however, there is a tendency for the community to be divided, as the Greek republics were already in Plato’s time, into a party of the poor and a party of the rich, a state of things unfavourable to the formation of a truly national opinion and to some extent to national unity in general.

A third species is the Local or Racial party, familiar examples of which are furnished by the Nationalists and the Sinn Feiners of Ireland and the Regionalists of Catalonia, and were furnished in the Austrian Reichsrath before 1914 by the Polish and Czech parties. These, like the ecclesiastical organizations, are apt to suffer by undue preoccupation with their own particular aims and tenets. But what they lose in this way they may gain in the power of purchasing, by the solid vote they can deliver, the help of one or other of the great national parties.

Other new parties which have appeared in recent years are those called Socialist or Communist. They are not, strictly speaking, class parties, for although they have many aims in common with the Labour parties, they base themselves not on proposals for the benefit of the working class as such, but upon theoretic systems of economic doctrine which are held by many persons in all classes. Their emergence, coupled with that of Labour parties, has had the effect of drawing away from each of the old established parties many of its adherents. This has brought these old parties nearer together, for those who dislike the new doctrines or scent danger in the new proposals, begin to find the familiar differences between the old parties less important than is the coincidence of their opposition to the new parties(7). In some cases accordingly the old parties have been fused into one; in others they have agreed to make common cause at elections with one another. Questions relating to the distribution of political power having been everywhere largely disposed of, the dividing lines between parties tend to be economic. The result has been to accentuate class sentiment, making a sharper division than previously existed between the richer and more conservative element in every country and that which is poorer and more disposed to experimental legislation.

This, however, has been compatible with a tendency for the large parties to split up into smaller sections. There are shades in Conservatism, and even more shades in Radicalism and in Socialism, for the activity of thought and the disappearance of respect for authority multiply new doctrines, helping them to spread fast. Such a tendency makes for definiteness and sincerity in the views of each section or group, but it increases the difficulty of working the machinery of government. This difficulty is in some countries aggravated by the rise of parties founded in the interests of a particular set of producers, such as is the Farmers’ party in Canada, and the party of Peasants (i.e. small land-owning agriculturists and pastoralists) in Switzerland.

Two other features characteristic of party in democratic countries deserve mention. The increase in the number of voting citizens and the disappearance of those distinctions of social rank which made the rich landowner the obvious leader in a rural district, as was the rich merchant in a city, have made organization more needful. Those parties which have behind them either an ecclesiastical or a labour organization are in this respect stronger than parties with no religious or class basis. The latter are therefore obliged to find funds to conduct propaganda and to pay their agents. The smaller parties, or the groups which appear in representative assemblies, suffer from want of funds, having few adherents over the country at large, nor are they aided by contributions from capitalists, though the latter readily support a strong party capable of serving their commercial or financial interests. Poverty shortens the life of many groups or drives them to fusion, for “Publicity”, i.e. the advertising, in a direct or indirect form, now deemed essential to success, is so costly that money tends to become the sinews of politics as well as of war.

In every party — and this is especially true of the United States and Britain — one may distinguish three sets of men. There are the national leaders, eminent persons who associate their own fortunes with those of the party and desire by it to obtain office and power. There is the mass of moderate men who have a general sympathy with the party aims, and have been accustomed to vote with it. The third class are zealots and care more for the principles or aims of the party than for its immediate victory. These are the men who do unpaid work in the constituencies and keep the local party machinery going. They summon the meetings of associations, and generally carry their resolutions in the local meetings of the party which are attended by its more ardent members. Their enthusiasm, often coupled with inexperience, makes them eager to go full steam ahead, and their activity often enables them to commit the party, at its larger gatherings, to a policy more extreme than is pleasing to the bulk of the members. The more prudent chiefs sometimes try to slow down the pace, but are not always able to do so in time, so it may befall that the party is officially pledged to proposals in advance not only of public opinion generally but even of the average opinion of its own members. The result is that the moderate members drop away, and may possibly drift into the opposite camp. This phenomenon is of course more frequent in the parties of movement than in those of resistance, but even in the latter the formally declared attitude of a party may not truly represent its general sentiment, for the moderate men, because less keenly interested, usually take least part in the deliberations at which the attitude of the party is proclaimed and its course determined. Thus party spirit often appears to be hotter, and party antagonisms more pronounced, than is really the case, for in a large nation the mass of the electors take their politics more coolly than is realized by those who derive their impressions from newspaper reports of party meetings.

The power of Party Organization and the power of Party spirit are of course very different things, and not necessarily found together. If either should assume undue proportions, what remedies can be found for checking the undue power of an organization over its own members, and what can be done to soften the antagonisms which party spirit creates in a nation, disturbing its internal concord and weakening it in its relations with foreign powers?

Law can do little or nothing. Though many countries have tried to repress by penal legislation factions from which the ruling power apprehended danger, only two seem to have attempted to regulate them. Czarist Russia in the earlier days of the Duma allowed certain parties to apply for and obtain legalization. Many States in the American Union have created administrative Boards on which provision is made for the representation of both the great political parties, and nearly all have passed laws for regulating the nomination of party candidates by the members of the parties or by the voters at large. The rather disappointing results of these expedients are described in later chapters(8).

Party spirit as a Force working for good or evil in public life is a matter which must be left to the citizens themselves. Upon them it must depend whether it is reasonable and temperate or violent and bitter. It is no greater a danger in democracies than elsewhere. So, too, experience seems to show that it is only the members of a party who can control the action of organizations and can keep them from being either perverted by astute party managers for their own selfish purposes, or used by honest extremists to launch proposals which the party as a whole does not approve. The more a party lives by the principles for which it stands, the more it subordinates its own aims to the strength and unity of the whole people, and the more it is guided by men who can recognize whatever may be sound in the views of their opponents and prevent opposition from passing into enmity, the better will it serve the common interests of its country.

 *James Bryce (1838-1922), Modern Democracies. New York: MacMillan, 1921 (Vol. 1: Chapter XI)
James Bryce (1st Viscount Bryce; 1838-1922), britannico, docente universitario, giurista, storico e politico di cultura liberale, nel 1921 pubblicò Modern democracies (ed. Macmillan, in due volumi; prima trad. in francese: Paris, Payot, 1924; in italiano: Milano, Hoepli, 1930), un po’ la summa dei suoi sessant’anni di esperienze dirette, riflessioni e studi comparativi, sincronici e diacronici. Parlamentare dal 1885 al 1907, fu poi nel periodo 1907-1913 Ambasciatore negli USA. Sebbene non sempre la cosa sia evidente ed esplicita nella saggistica politica, l’opera di Bryce ha tuttavia molto influito anche su numerosi studiosi di politica del secondo Novecento (un esempio tra molti può essere considerato Giovanni Sartori, 1924-2017). effe

  1. I knew a Scottish constituency in which a party had from personal dissensions become cleft into two sections where there was no political difference between the sections, but each held together and, during a long series of years, tried to carry a candidate of its own merely because each desired to be the ruling force in the town. This used to happen in the Italian republics of the Middle Ages, the personal rivalries of leaders becoming the basis for factions.[]
  2. When in 1897 the whole of London was divided into ten boroughs, each with an elected Council, few residents in a borough had any means of judging the merits of the candidates offering themselves for election. The nominators were not known to the vast majority of the voters, and as the elections were not fought on party lines one could not, even if one had wished to do so, vote for a man as a Tory or a Liberal. I remember at such an election (in a borough of 300,000 inhabitants) to have scanned the lists of candidates, and found no clue to guide my choice till in one I discovered the name of a learned Homeric scholar. For him I promptly voted, and, assuming that a man of his distinction would choose his company well, voted for most of those on the list in which his name appeared.[]
  3. Thus in 1899-1901 many persons in England who disapproved the South African War kept silence, because they belonged to the party which had led the country into what they thought a needless conflict, and in 1903 many who disapproved what was called the policy of “passive resistance” to the levying of a local tax, part of whose proceeds went to support denominational schools, abstained from expressing their disapproval of that policy, though they privately admitted that those prominent men in their own party who had advised it were setting a dangerous precedent. One expects this from the more ignorant or thoughtless members of a party, but in both these and other similar cases the same phenomenon was visible among the ”wise and good” also.[]
  4. Cases of conscience do no doubt arise, and are sometimes perplexing, but twenty-seven years’ experience in the British House of Commons have led me to believe that they are less frequent than one would, looking at the matter a priori, have expected them to be. Old members have often told me that they had more often regretted votes given against their party under what they thought a sense of duty than those which they had, though with some doubt, given to support it. I have discussed the limits of party obligation in a little volume entitled Hindrances to Good Citizenship, published in 1909.[]
  5. Political philosophers have incessantly denounced party, but none seems to have shown how they can either be prevented from arising or eliminated when they exist. I could never extract from Mr. Goldwin Smith, with all his mastery of history and political acumen, any answer to the question how representative government could be carried on without them.[]
  6. Neither the Primrose League in England nor the Carbonari of Italy can properly be referred to this category. The latter is now virtually extinct. As to the former, see in the Démocratie et Partis politiques of Mr. Ostrogorski, p. 250 of French edition of 1912, an instructive treatment of the whole subject.[]
  7. See the Chapter on Australia in Part II., post.[]
  8. See Chapters on the United States in Part II., post.[]

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