Wednesday, January 28, 2009

On the Side of Angels symposium
18. Nancy Rosenblum: Response to Farrell

Henry Farrell
invites me to jump right across the fuzzy boundary between theory and empirical social science and to join him on the other side. Angels is not a work in comparative politics, though I try to indicate the scope of my key arguments. Two things stand out at first blush when it comes to European party politics. One is the importance of parties for reconciling anti-democratic groups to constitutional democracy. Farrell points to social democratic parties insisting on the political efficacy of electoral politics and holding out the promise that their party can redeem democracy. This is a good illustration, though perhaps the key example is Christian Democratic parties, which had to contend with the anti-democratic force of the papacy and which successfully brought Catholics into the democratic fold. (In my final chapter I discuss Turkey in this context, and religious parties there.)

The second striking thing about European parties in contrast to the American case is the way in which party identity has been tied historically to claiming a location on a finely grained political spectrum, so that my norms of inclusiveness and comprehensiveness are enacted, where they are, at the level of government formation not within parties and among partisans. This has given rise to a continuation of one of the traditions of antipartyism that sees parties as fatally divisive – the instability of governments, the shifting coalitions, and the sheer paralysis of governments is more characteristic of European systems than the U.S.; it has produced a distinctive antiparty literature from Schmitt to contemporary constitutional attempts to circumscribe parties. But there is some evidence of the emergence of “umbrella” parties, of Green parties, say, expanding from original focus on ecology to more full-blown national agendas.

Farrell’s fascinating application of partisanship to the EU is worth fleshing out, and I am persuaded that there is an article waiting to be written that applies some of the defenses of partisanship to this case. The EU example also raises anew anti-party arguments of an anti-political stripe that value above all expert and judicial decision-making. A related set of questions, which I take up only briefly, is justification for “outside” support for national parties in this era of diasporae and boundary crossings.

All that said, my discussion of anti-partyism is rooted in political theory, and I’ll note one difference and one commonality between American and continental thought. The difference is this: the honorific “Independent” does seem to be peculiarly American. Antipartyism is widespread, and antipartisanship is a phenomenon in all advanced democracies, but as I show, “Independent” has roots in American political culture past and present and this distinctive political identity has no counterpart elsewhere. The commonality is also clear: a good deal of European political theory exhibits the same tendency as American theory to focus on deliberation as deracinated judgment that eschews interest, prejudice, and passion for public reason and disinterested consideration of the common good. The explicit divide between deliberation and partisanship is there, and should be contested. There is also a recurrent preference on the part of “left” theorists to focus on social movements, civil society groups, and other informal if agonistic modes of political contestation. Among theorists of multiculturalism, for example, the norms and avenues for accommodation explicitly eschew partisanship, and “a dialogically constituted multicultural society” (p. 455) is said to emerge from venues such as consultative councils, not from democratic party politics. It is the European right that has seized on parties, reviving the anti-party fears of the last generation.

Nancy Rosenblum

No comments: