Wednesday, January 28, 2009

On the Side of Angels symposium
17. Nancy Rosenblum: Response to Deneen

Patrick Deneen
and I share the view that the roots of many contemporary antiparty arguments in the U.S. are found in the Progressive era. It seems that we understand and evaluate the origins differently. Deneen sets up a contest between ethnic party politics (or, by implication, any from of solidaristic or identity-based partisanship) on the one hand and liberal individualism (“unemcumbered, monadic, rational individuals) with its notion of partisanship based on national interests. I’m not sure who is caught up in this schematic? Was Dewey a proponent of monadic individuals? Opponents of parties were often motivated not by a liberal ideal (as defined by Deneen) but by prejudice and sheer moral revulsion (“male suffrage meant “an invasion of peasants…an ignorant proletariat”, or “a nightmare of domination by Irish, black, and Chinese immigrants” (p. 181). Class and race were at work and contests among elites and the reduction to competing ideologies is a truncated view. Progressives typically subscribed neither to a “monadic” view of citizens nor to a politics of interest. Good progressives like Jane Addams had a sympathetic understanding of “Why the Ward Boss Rules”, and her account of neighborhood organization, patronage, and spoils is crucial to understanding this era. Or take Mary Follett, whose notion of group formation and group opinion fits neither Deneen’s “tribal” nor “liberal” category, and whose work I discuss as a crucial antecedent to the sort of antipartyism that looks to civil society groups as an antidote. I do not see what is gained by representing anti-partyism as a defense of some set of liberal assumptions.

Deneen asks what side I would be on in the Progressive charge against parties and partisanship? I have something to say in defense of corrupt, ethnic and community based parties the Progressives despised, and I draw on recent historical scholarship here. Among other things, parties as membership groups incorporated whole sections of the population into democratic politics and the system of patronage and spoils was important in the evolution of the national party system Deneen points to. We should not take charges of “backwardness”and “recidivism” at face value. In response I would also say that Angels is a critical challenge to progressive notions of “good government” and defining institutions -- with special attention to the most important on-going antiparty reform: open primary elections.

More generally, I explore in Angels the relation between party identity as a potentially profound form of political identity and other, social (“tribal” in Deneen’s terms) identities. This is a fascinating business – partisanship is not a simple reflection of some other deeper identity, I argue, but it is only sometimes an original one. Again, the group/individual, solidarity/interest schema does not do justice to what is most interesting about partisanship.

My praise of party and elements of an ethic of partisanship, Deneen writes, is made within the comfort of the liberal paradigm. It is made within the comfort of a stable constitutional democracy, yes. It is liberal insofar as liberalism is defined by an appreciation of pluralism and is friendly to freedom of association and its political expressions. That said, Angels has a lot to say about third parties, ideological and regional and religious parties, and about partisanship rooted in identity groups. I defend these against attempts to ban them or to legislate (as we have in the U.S.) a system that makes the formation of multiple parties and fusion parties a practical impossibility. I discuss at some length parties that challenge both liberal and democratic norms. My arguments for an ethic of partisanship today do not ignore the dynamics of party development and party-building, and they are not intended to “hollow out” devotions to the local and particular.

Nancy Rosenblum

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