the dangers of political parties

9 08 2006

George Washington, our first U.S. President, was against political parties.  (You sure don’t hear that much!)  These days, most people don’t care much about history, but I think we should try to learn from it.  (Also, some people are trying to change the facts of what our country’s founding fathers believed and said.  We must be careful where we get our sources.)  Here’s a quote from Washington’s farewell address, which explains the dangers of political parties.  I think you’ll find it interesting.

I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the state, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations.  Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party, generally.  This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind.  It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.  The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism.  But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism.  The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.  Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind, (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight,) the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.  It serves always to distract the Public Councils, and enfeeble the Public Administration.  It agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection.  It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions.  Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another. ~ George Washington, from his farewell address on September 17, 1796

Was he right or what?  Can you see how his warnings apply to the current system?  These days, there seems to be such a divide between Republicans and Democrats, with many people choosing loyalty to their party over what’s best for our country.  And therein lies perhaps the greatest danger.  We, the voters, and the politicians we elect should work toward what is best for our country, not for gaining political power.  I realize there are different ways to look at situations and varying amounts of knowledge and wisdom among politicians, but that’s why a good logical debate should take place where the actual issues are discussed.  Instead, we often have one side (party) talking about how incompetent the other side is.  And that does nothing towards resolving the issue, only creating more division.  (That’s part of why I generally despise politics.)

The amount of permanent “blind” loyalty to one party is also a big problem these days, I think.  For one thing, each party does not represent the same things they did a few decades ago, yet sometimes this loyalty is passed down through generations.  And look at it this way — neither party is always best.  Whether you’re a Republican or Democrat, there are times when your party is not doing the right thing or does not have the best stance on a particular issue.  Would you feel like a traitor if you voted for someone of the other party if they were the best candidate for the position?  If so, it’s because we have this division caused by having political parties.  With full and permanent loyalty to only one party, we are not always doing what is best for our country (and thus the people).  I realize this point can get complicated because you don’t want to give too much “momentum” and influence to the other party, but again, this is because of the division and blind loyalty.

So what is the best solution?  That’s a good question.  I wish I knew the best answer.  But even if we can figure out what is better (like how to not have political parties), how could the current system change so drastically?  Is it even possible without a major revolution?  This quickly becomes a difficult discussion, but I think it’s one that should be attempted.  Our current system seems to be getting more and more divided, and as a very wise man once said, “A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.”

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7 responses

10 08 2006
Fab

You want people to comment, so here is my official statement on this issue: “I have no comment at this time.”

11 08 2006
Thomas Wayne

Fab, are you a politician? Is that why you’re refusing to take a stance on this issue? 🙂

11 08 2006
Fab

I cannot deny or confirm your assertion.

21 08 2006
Aaron

I am getting ready to write an essay for English Comp. and I agree with your argument. However, I am taking an opposite approach to the problem. I think the answer may be to have MORE political parties.

The constitution says nothing about how many parties our nation should have. We have two, both of which, in order to maintain power prevent/limit the establishment of other parties. This makes it easier for these parties to gain or keep power.

But it limits the scope of ideas people can choose. Your for or against one or the other. And the parties choose the topic of debate–not the people, the parties choose what platform they will run on.

By having more parties it increases the choice that citizens have, increases the power of their voices, and forces a dialogue on the issues that concern the populace of this nation–and not the limited ideas of the two party system.

22 08 2006
Fab

That is something to consider, A., but we already have multiple political parties. The thing is, only the Dems and Reps have risen to modern prominence. In decades and centuries past, we have had the WHIG party (which stands for We Hope In God), the Bull Moose Party, Federalists, Populists, and on and on I could go.

The two-party system that we now “enjoy” came to the forefront in the mid 1800’s. These two parties consolidated the two main schools of political thought: Conservativism and Liberalism. Prior to this, some parties agreed on 98% of their platform with another party, but neither could come to power and make a difference due to the fragmentation resulting from their being from different parties. Today, we still have more parties than just the Dems and Reps, but people realize, whether good or bad, that in order to pass an agenda, there is strength in numbers.

The Green Party, for example, agrees with the Democrats on many issues, but they have very little power because of the relatively few people who agree with the part of their agenda which is considered extreme and out of the mainstream.

The Libertarian Party, which believes in personal choice with limited governmental control is in harmony with the Republican Party on a large variety of issues, but parts of their platform are also considered extreme, such as favoring the legalization of illegal drugs, among others.

So, whether for our betterment or detriment, the two major parties have “cherry-picked” the more poplular issues and made them into their partys’ platforms.

As democracies age, their political parties (and thus their political power and influence) tend to consolidate. We have now evolved in the U.S. into two major political parties. The U.K., which has been around longer, but has been a democracy for less time, still has more than two. The modern version of Israel, which has only been around since 1948, has several parties. But, if the past is any indication, over the years, similar parties will consolidate so they can exert more political power. Let’s just hope that the U.S. never gets down to one party. Can you say “dictatorship”?

For fun, here is the website of a modern-day “third-party” in the U.K.:

http://www.freewebs.com/jedipartyuk/

23 08 2006
Beppo

So what is next in the “evolution” of a democracy? Is this the best it gets? I hope not, because I don’t think our current system of just two major political parties is very effective. It seems like much of what they do is to gain more political power. I realize you want your party to have influence, but what about actually accomplishing things that are good for our country? Instead, they fight over things like illegal immigration instead of doing anything about it. Both sides agree something needs to be done, but because of division between the parties, very little is getting done.

23 08 2006
Fab

It’s hard to predict what will happen next, because we are the oldest existing democracy on earth. We set the curve for democratic evolution, so we’ll just have to wait and see what happens next.

It is ridiculous how little gets accomplished these days and going backwards in the political evolution of our country would not be such a bad thing. For instance, there was a time in this country when we were at war and EVERYBODY of all political persuasions supported the President and few dared speak against him on issues of war and foreign policy out of respect for him as Commander-In-Chief of the military and to present a united front to the world. Doing otherwise was nearly considered treasonous.

Now, no matter how justifiable the cause, if you’re on the other side of the aisle from the Pres. and his party, it is very unpopular for you to stand in agreement with him, even on foreign policy and war.

In the “good old days”, this country was like a family–we could argue among ourselves, but if another nation or group came against us, we linked arms and kicked butt TOGETHER, not being concerned with world opinion and what France and Germany said or wanted. I mean what was France going to do to us anyway, surrender us to death?

Today, it’s expected that you toe the party line (especially on the liberal left) or risk loss of campaign money from your base. So, you can see, the love of money is still the root of all evil since it can cause a man to become disloyal to his Commander-In-Chief and his country, all in the name of politics. Hate Bush first, serve my country patriotically, second.

Things aren’t totally hopeless yet, though. We just need to teach the next generation that being in politics doesn’t have to be a negative thing and you can serve without compromising your beliefs. Change will come if we teach our kids that being in politics is to serve your country, not the other way around. We also need to continually try and persuade good people to run for office. There are few out there and we need a lot more.

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