Friday, January 30, 2009

On the Side of Angels symposium
22. Nadia Urbinati: Pluralism and Parties continued

In comments here, Paul Gowder asks

“On your final point, can you say more about how you get from pluralism to parties? Can one have pluralism that is not merely a "social given," but is also not instantiated in political parties as such? Perhaps, say, citizens could come to the table with ideologies (drawn from their Rawlsish comprehensive doctrines), and those ideologies could permit them to be understood as bodies of interest and permit a representative to say that she stands in a certain relation to those bodies ("I'm sympathetic to the Catholics"), but without the voters being organized into parties?”
(See also his post here.)

My answer:

Cultural and social pluralism is not the same as party pluralism, and this distinction is very important.

John Rawls described the “depth” and “breadth” of overlapping consensus – what Hegel would call the “constitutional ethos” -- in the following terms:

“…once a constitutional consensus is in place, political groups must enter the public forum of political discussion and appeal to other groups who do not share their comprehensive doctrine. This fact makes it rational for them to move out of the narrower circle of their own views and to develop political conceptions in terms of which they can explain and justify their preferred policies to a wider public so as to put together a majority.”
Political groups (parties) articulate the “general” view from peripheral or civil association kinds of viewpoints. Parties are partial-yet-communal associations and essential points of reference that allow citizens and representatives to recognize one another (and the others,) form alliances, and moreover situate ideologically the compromises they are ready to make. As Pitkin wrote, “But in fact, one of the most important features of representative government is its capacity for resolving the conflicting claims of the parts, on the basis of their common interest in the welfare of the whole.” Representation is the institution that allows civil society (in all its components) to identify itself politically and to influence the political direction of the country. Its ambivalent nature –social and political, particular and general-- determines its inevitable link to participation.

Political representation transforms and expands politics insofar as it does not simply allow the social to be translated into the political; it also facilitates the formation of political groups and identities. Hence Hegel could write that representation brings dissent into politics because in politicizing the social sphere it brings plurality and difference into the public, and Weber could accentuate that the political aspect of voting lies in the chance the citizens have to transcend their social being by their own doing, that is to say to act independently of their social identity and become themselves representatives of their political community.

It might be useful to recall Tocqueville’s prescient diagnosis of the two forms of associations democratic citizens tend to create: civil associations that bind (and divide) individuals according to their specific and most of the time uni-dimensional interests or opinions; and party associations that bind (and divide) citizens along the lines of their evaluative interpretations of matters that are general, or of “equal importance for all parts of the country.” The former produce fragmentation “ad infinitum about questions of detail” that can hardly have a general breadth since the life of civil associations depends on the relative closure of their borders. The latter interrupts fragmentation, not however by imposing homogeneity or concealing difference (making the whole society in the image of one party), but by creating new forms of “difference” between citizens. Political partisanship both brings people together and separates them on issues that are general in their rich and implications. The function of parties goes well beyond the instrumental one of providing organization and resources for political personnel rotation and the peaceful resolution of succession claims. Their function is above all that of “integrating the multitude” by unifying people’s ideas and interests and of making the sovereign permanently present as an agent of extra-state influence and oversight.

Cited Texts:

Hegel, George Wilhelm Friedrich. “The English Reform Bill,” in Political Writings, Trans. T.M. Knox, 295-330. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964.

Pitkin, Hanna Fenichel. The Concept of Representation, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967.

Rawls, John. Political Liberalism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.

Tocqueville, Alexis de. Democracy in America. Trans. J.P. Mayer. New York: Harper Perennial, 1969.

Nadia Urbinati

Thursday, January 29, 2009

On the Side of Angels symposium
23. Jacob T. Levy: Exclusions from government

Our symposium was scheduled to end yesterday, and Nancy Rosenblum is hereby released if she wants-- she's been writing full responses to every set of comments all week. But I've heard from a few commentators that they have things they'd still like to say, and I do too, so I'll keep the shop open for a while.

I had meant to make a few substantive posts in response to On the Side of Angels, but the time spent juggling the postings and so on took away from planned commenting time. So, even recognizing the possibility that Rosenblum may not have time to keep responding, here's the first of the leftover points I had meant to develop.

The final full chapter of the book examines, sceptically, arguments for "banning parties, outlawing political practices, and disqualifying certain partisans from participation in elections and government." Those last two words led me to expect something that I didn't find in the chapter. Rosenblum offers a careful examination of arguments about parties associated with political violence; parties that aren't really parties but are masks for some other kind of political organization; parties that incite hatred; parties that threaten the existential identity of the state, e.g. by supporting separatism or minority rights; and parties that are controlled from outside the polity. As always, both in this book and in Membership and Morals, Rosenblum is suspicious of the quick urge to suppress pluralism and dissent, and she offers good arguments as to why the boundaries around democratic contestation should not be drawn so narrowly as many in the "militant democracy" literature have thought.

I especially value this chapter because it both recognizes that many political parties aren't the parties of political theories (liberal, socialist, communist) but rather the parties of a religious or ethnocultural group, and argues against the delegitimation of such parties that's common in both majoritarian politics and democratic theory. (I once wrote in a symposium on Membership and Morals that I wished it had paid more attention to specifically cultural pluralism; Angels does so, and I'm glad to see it.)

But the chapter is centrally an argument against banning parties and prohibiting participation. It's the political-theory equivalent of a First Amendment argument. And I wonder what Rosenblum thinks about the alternative, the option I was waiting to see her examine: legally permitting parties to campaign, compete, win elections, and hold seats, but creating a taboo around their participation in government.

In parliamentary systems this means a taboo around forming a coalition government with them, or perhaps even a coalition government dependent on their passive support. Arab parties are normally allowed to contest elections and hold seats in the Israeli Knesset; but there is a powerful political norm that a legitimate government must command a Jewish majority, a majority of seats in the Knesset without depending on the Arab parties. The Bloc Quebecois has never entered into a coalition government in Canada, and during our recent constitutional crisis when there was a chance of a Liberal-NDP coalition displacing the ruling Conservatives, the Conservatives made great political hay out of the fact that the coalition would have been dependent on the votes of the Bloc (which nonetheless would not have been a partner in it). Post-totalitarian parties in Europe, sometimes post-Communist and sometimes post-Fascist, have often taboo in some countries and at some times.

On the one hand, such taboos might inhibit the important and beneficial process Rosenblum describes in the case of Christian Democrats: the normalization and liberalization and reconciliation to a constitutional order of a bloc that otherwise stands outside of it. On the other hand: voluntary isolation and rejection and shunning is the appropriate liberal response to things that should not be banned but nonetheless are beyond the pale. When a center-right party cedes power rather than join a coalition with fascists, or a center-left party does so rather than join with communists, are they acting as good partisans on Rosenblum's understanding, or bad ones? What about taboos around ethnic and religious parties?

I can think of prudential arguments on both sides. On the one hand, a taboo provides an incentive for reform in a particular direction; when a communist party breaks with Moscow and reorganizes itself as a democratic socialist party, when a separatist party becomes just an ethnic-regionalist party, when a fascist party becomes just a party of the right, the taboo could be relaxed. On the other hand, the isolation could itself discourage such reform because the party leadership never acquires the discipline of responsible party government. A taboo could provide voters with an incentive to support a more moderate party, one within the acceptable boundaries; or it could contribute to their further alienation from the system.

And I can think of other reasons on both sides, too: the argument from the right of the voters to be represented, and the argument that we'll likely get fewer bans and more respect for free speech precisely insofar as the threatening parties are sure not to govern. But I can't think of a general way to balance these considerations, even though the case seems to call for a general norm, and I wonder whether Rosenblum can.
On the Side of Angels symposium: contents so far

Jacob Levy, Prologue
Jacob Levy, Introduction (and introductions)
1. Nancy Rosenblum, Glorious Traditions of Anti-Partyism and Moments of Appreciation, Part I
2. Nancy Rosenblum, Glorious Traditions of Anti-Partyism and Moments of Appreciation, Part II
3. Nancy Rosenblum, The Moral Distinctiveness of ‘Party ID’, Part I: Independence
4. Nancy Rosenblum, The Moral Distinctiveness of ‘Party ID’, Part II: Moments of Appreciation of Partisanship
5. Nadia Urbinati, A third tradition of anti-partyism
6. Nadia Urbinati, Parties are not an option in representative democracy
7. Melissa Schwartzberg, The development of parties' programs
8. Mara Marin, Holism and the Public Interest
9. Henry Farrell, Comparative questions
10. Patrick Deneen, Progressivism and Partisans
11. Nancy Rosenblum, Response to Schwartzberg
12. Nancy Rosenblum, Response to Marin
13. Nancy Rosenblum, Response to Urbinati
14. Andrew Rehfeld, What About Interest Groups?
15. Andrew Rehfeld, Regulated Conflict and a “proto-Millian” defense of parties or “Vote for me, I’ve probably got the right answers.”
16. Andrew Rehfeld, Institutional responses
17. Nancy Rosenblum, Response to Deneen
18. Nancy Rosenblum, Response to Farrell
19. Jacob T. Levy, Anti-partyism and presidentialism
20. Nancy Rosenblum, Response to Levy
21. Nancy Rosenblum, Response to Rehfeld
On the Side of Angels symposium
21. Nancy Rosenblum: Response to Rehfeld

Prof. Rehfeld’s exuberant self-description as a die-hard antipartisan echoes the “divine right to bolt” from parties often touted as the right path for sensible citizens. I have failed to convert him, not surprisingly given his avowed contempt for partisans (“politically detached ignoramuses”) and his attraction to impartiality. I can’t quite tell whether his response is partly playful or entirely sober; in any case, I have enjoyed grappling with it.

Consider a moderate position that antiparty theorists might take. If we understand the value of parties in a proto-Millian sense of shaping lines of political division and staging the battle we can assign partisans a modest role. We could reluctantly concede that democracy needs just enough partisans to “man” the parties. Ardent partisans may not be deliberative personally but at the level of the polity they are the agents of “trial by discussion”. For the rest and for the most part, on this view, democracy needs open-minded Independents to adjudicate among them. Even this grudging, truncated view concedes something important to party leaders and to activists in the electorate. It is, however, more than Rehfeld would allow. He admits (for reasons not entirely clear) that citizens will be and should be partisan -- by which he means they will have conflicting interests and opinions, they will be partisans of a cause, say, but he concedes nothing to real partisans ((“party id”; attachment to others in a party that contests elections and takes responsibility for governing).

Rehfeld’s diffuse notion of partisanship does not accept my case for real partisanship as the distinctive political identity of representative democracy. He certainly does not accept the moral claims I make for partisans who try to make parties comprehensive, inclusive, and compromising. I won’t repeat my assessment of the minimal case for real partisanship: the comparative knowledgability and engagement of partisans (Rehfeld rejects – or ignores -- empirical work on party id).

His witty characterization of Millian partisan officials who do not claim to be on the side of the angels but rather present themselves as only “probably right” is not what I commend. I assess with care the Humean notion that partisans can be injected with “a small tincture of Pyrrhonism” and hesitation – instants in which they appreciate that the other side is sometimes in the right and assume the pose of the impartial observer. Hume’s prescriptions are too stringent and phenomenologically alien to partisanship. My modest ethic of partisanship suffices. It stands opposed to Rehfeld’s independent, impartial, “professional” legislator. (I leave aside the question who elects these types?)

Rehfeld’s chief concern is to dispose altogether of any role for parties and partisans in organizing legislatures and in representation – it is a frontal challenge to Prof. Urbinati’s argument in this blog. He would divorce partisanship from the business of decision-making. What about all these interest and advocacy groups that are allowed, even encouraged, to lobby legislators? The problem of differential resources and organization arises in earnest here. It is not clear that Rehfeld wants to empower these advocates, these partisans without party – only that his professional legislators are an audience for their more or less organized voices.

In any case, it seems to me that what Rehfeld does is extend the institutional ambition of deliberative democratic theorists. They have typically focused on “deliberative polls” or “citizen juries” that do not make binding decisions, where the force of their judgments comes solely from the moral authority of popular deliberation based on full information. Or, deliberative institutionalists propose courts or nonpartisan expert commissions to substitute for decision-making by elected representatives in certain areas (districting, say). Or, like Philip Pettit, they propose nonpartisan popular mechanisms to review, contest, and emend egregious democratic political decisions. Rehfeld would bring impartial deliberation into the heart of government decision-making tout court.

Think about his legislature. Rehfeld does not address the question of how interests and opinions are consolidated, if only temporarily, into coherent, principles or consistent policy positions. From early on, parties have served that purpose; their importance in government for setting agendas and regulating rivalry (in contrast to party in the electorate) has gone largely undisputed. The profusion of interest and advocacy groups lobbying legislators (can we call them representatives?) he proposes is a recipe for chaos and for much more short-term and strategic alliances than presently exist. It is bound, I would argue, to result in the formation of parties – though this time caucuses within legislatures rather than large-scale comprehensive ones tied to the electorate.

Rehfeld assumes, I assume, that his model would produce better decisions – better in the sense of untainted by special pleading and directed impartially at the common good. This assumption even on his own terms is dubious, and as a theoretical matter goes to the heart of long-standing debates in political philosophy that I cannot review here. In “Correcting the System” I try to systematically distinguish nonpartisanship and types of impartiality. One problem with impartiality as a regulative ideal is, again, that we do not have standards for the relevant universe of alternative proposals and reasons. It is still less clear what “professional” adds to the characterization of legislators as nonpartisan or impartial. In any case, it does not seem that Rehfeld holds a strong epistemic view of democracy; rather, he aims to correct for the worst prejudices and naked self-serving. The attempt to draw a bright line between interests and passions on the one hand and reasonable or impartial evaluation on the other is one of the heroic endeavors of contemporary political theory. Angels is an extended answer to this antipolitical ideal.

Under what circumstances are Rehfeld’s concerns proportionate to extra-party correctives? One is when parties and their partisan officials are systemically corrupt so that all legislation is rightly understood as log-rolling for purposes of re-election or group self-serving, that is, when deliberation within and among parties about burdens, benefits, and the general interest does not occur or cannot explain any outcomes. The other is when parties are entrenched, so that the possibility of accountability and of change among parties (including new party-building) is impossible. These circumstances call for the intervention of nonpartisan commissions or courts, perhaps. But that is a far cry from Rehfeld’s legislature. I would have said his legislature of saints, but he is modest and calls it a legislature of professionals.

Nancy Rosenblum
On the Side of Angels symposium
20. Nancy Rosenblum: Response to Levy

Jacob offers an interesting speculation: that presidentialism with its promise of representing the nation as a whole expresses and fuels anti-partyism even if does not cause it. I think that whether and when the president-above-party exists (or is proffered as an ideal) is contingent and not a systemic constant. Historically, American presidents have been among the great party-builders (Jefferson and Van Buren, for starters). Institutionally, presidents are the heads of their parties and whether government is unified or divided their agendas are typically identified as partisan. In fact, it is the failure to enact the periodic rhetoric of standing above partisanship (except occasionally in matters of foreign policy and national security) that is striking, and expected. Inaugural addresses are momentarily anti-political in that they mark an instant in which – despite the presumptive wounds of political contest – citizens acknowledge their unity. This is an important ritual but it is less peculiarly anti-partisan than a reminder that political divisions do not entail a fatally divided nation. Again, presidential self-presentation, policy, and public reaction are variable and I would not tie anti-partyism to this institutional arrangement.

The roots of anti-partyism, as my first essay suggests, are deeper philosophically and culturally. The element of holist anti-partyism that interests me most in the American context is the tendency of majoritarianism to slip over into the majority as the nation. I discuss this dynamic in some detail in Chapter 1 of Angels. Majoritarianism by definition acknowledges pluralism and is anti-holist, but often enough the majority is taken temporarily as the whole – legally and rhetorically. That seems to me to be what presidents do: claim a majoritarian mandate for their admittedly partisan agendas. This is something short of true plebiscitarian democracy. It is not anti-party.

Bipartisanship of the sort touted during the 2008 presidential campaign and repeated by President Obama today is something else again. Senators Obama and McCain promised to govern in a bipartisan fashion. Both offered a track record of bucking their own party as a qualification for leadership. What should we make of this improbable self-distancing of our national leaders from their own parties? Again, I think it is explained by the moment and not by political structures. Antiparty sentiments have been fired up by several decades during which parties appeared to want to destroy one another as an effective and legitimate opposition, were hubristic in their claim to represent the nation as a whole rather than just a part, and where intransigence had become a virtue. Bipartisanship does not erase divides but promises compromisingness as partisans give up something of their principle or pay some material cost in order to get the public business done. Bipartisanship is different, or so it seems, from consensus or nation-as-a-whole, which is appropriately rare. At its best, compromise within and across party lines is the heart of democratic politics; it is not raw opportunism and is not morally compromising. It would be better if President Obama articulated and abided by an ethic of partisanship rather than implicitly conceding the moral high ground to Independents.

Nancy Rosenblum

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

On the Side of Angels symposium
19. Jacob T. Levy: Anti-partyism and presidentialism

I have already paid my compliments to On the Side of Angels and praised its methodological contributions in particular; I think it has set an excellent new example for political theory’s engagement with political science. Just as the “moments” of moral-psychology realism in her last book, Membership and Morals, made an important contribution understanding freedom of association as a theme in social theory, not just in abstract rights-theory, so does her serious and extended treatment of the political science of elections and parties in On the Side of Angels promise to improve the way we do democratic theory. And one thing worth noting early on is that Angels is an outgrowth of Membership, though she makes little of this in the book. Having written on the liberal theory of intermediate associations in civil society, Rosenblum seems to have noticed how little political parties figured in that literature; and she rapidly staked out the striking and provocative position that “among the associations of civil society, political parties are primus inter parus.” And Angels bring the same spirit of appreciation for real pluralism and disagreement to the special case of political parties that Membership brought to the general case of associations.

(Disclosure: as noted in the comments section of this post, it’s probably no accident that I’m a fan of Rosenblum’s methods and approaches, as she was my advisor and most important teacher as an undergraduate at Brown. On the other hand, not only do I not think that our areas of substantive or methodological agreement were things that she taught in the classroom back then; it’s not clear to me that she had yet worked out the methodology that she would go on to develop for Membership back in 1990-92.)

So much for throat-clearing. Angels brought the following questions to my mind.

1) In the developed west., how distinctively American is anti-partyism today, and might it be related to presidentialism? I noted in a prologue to the symposium that some descendant of anti-partyism seemed to be an especially strong trope in presidential inaugural addresses. (I think that it’s primarily the second “Glorious Tradition” of anti-partyism, that which accepts pluralism while disdaining zealotry; but I think that it partakes of the first as well. It’s not just “We Republicans respect you Federalists and will treat with you fairly rather than in a spirit of enmity;” it’s “We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.”) It seems to me that this is in part the appropriate transition from candidate to official, from party leader to head of government.

But it’s in part also about the ascension to being head of state the figure who is supposed to rise about political divisions in order to symbolize a unified nation, as a constitutional monarch in a parliamentary democracy is supposed to do. (The neutral head of state set above responsible party government was developed in fits and starts in England in the 18th century but was, I think, first fully theorized by Constant in France in the 19th. As it happens, France is now unusually among European democracies not to have a head-of-state who set apart from ordinary politics, whether a constitutional monarch or, as in Germany, a President who is not part of government.) And it’s a way for the President who is both head of state and head of government to contrast himself with the legislature, which in its nature is divided on party lines.

The attempt by the executive to reach around the supposed grandees of legislatures and courts to a putatively-unified People against is a worrisome feature in constitutional states. When the one offers the many an alliance against the few, he does not do so for the benefit of the many. And anti-partyism is an important weapon in the hands of plebiscitary executives who seek to do away with constitutional and legislative checks on their power. (Hugo Chavez is the obvious case.) In a more limited way, it seems to me that American presidential-antipartyism typically tends toward the delegitimation of Congress, and sometimes of the states as well—only the President speaks for the unified whole of society. But of course, qua head of government, he doesn’t; he just holds power over the whole of society.

I speculate that anti-partyism can be institutionally-specific, and is often strongest in an independent executive. Constitutionalists and liberals have good reason to be wary of an especially powerful independent executive; the founding core values of constitutionalism included checking that kind of executive power with habeas corpus and related rights against arbitrary imprisonment and punishment. But, if Jeremy Waldron is right that the legislature is the core institution of democracy, then democrats also have a strong reason to be concerned; antipartyism will typically be a means by which legislatures are delegitimated.

So for this post, I’ll offer these three hunches: the special link of antipartyism with presidential systems, its differential impact on the perceived legitimacy of the legislature, or the special problem that impact would have for constitutional democracies.

Jacob T. Levy
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
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
On the Side of Angels symposium
16. Andrew Rehfeld: Institutional responses

Rosenblum’s defense of parties and partisanship leads us to figure out how representatives can be both advocates and deliberators at the same time. What really emerges is an endorsement of a juridical system applied to politics in which advocacy and deliberative judgment are separated in different locations rather than collapsed. The question then becomes what institutional structures can create a robust deliberative sphere that gives rise to many points of view, but that allows each member also to be independent enough to listen and change their mind. I think this is in the spirit of Rosenblum’s suggestions, but it is not clear to me that stronger partisanship alone is the solution. Instead, I think the solution is to separate the advocacy from the decision making itself in different kinds of ways.

In my last posting I mentioned one way to do this: create a professional legislature that was not based on parties, and let political parties be really big collections of interest groups that stay out of government. This is not a fully worked out view but it hints at what’s needed. Interestingly, both Mill and in our own day, Thomas Christiano have institutional fixes generally along these lines. Indeed, they point to what I would say was the biggest disappointment to me about Rosenblum’s work: it oversimplifies the role of institutional design.

Mill envisioned that in close votes in Parliament there would be enough members with sufficient judgment and independence who could decide the merits of the issue absent prior partisan commitments. Relying on the Hare system also meant that candidates would run on personal platforms rather than be mired in partisan politics. As Rosenblum well explains in more length in the book, Mill did not foresee the kind of robust partisanship that Rosenblum is promoting and what she properly terms “proto-Millian”. Rather, the electoral system would permit non-partisans running on the strength of their character, or intellect (or any other feature) to enter politics and temper the whole.

But I think by relying primarily on the logic of Liberty rather than the institutionalism of Considerations on Representative Government, Rosenblum missed Mill’s important solution to the problems of parties and partisanship within a legislature: representatives, in Mill’s view, would not be the authors of legislation. Instead, representatives were to debate on the issues, set agendas and vote up and down on legislation written by professionals serving on a “commission on legislation.” This commission, filled by experts, would craft the best solution to the problems that the members of parliament identified. There are all sorts of reasons to question whether such a solution would actually remain independent. But the point is, Mill had envisioned a far more robust institutional response to the problems of parties, by separating the battle of principles from the business of legislation.

Tom Christiano, in his terrific Rule of the Many, institutionally separates the set of general principles from actual policy. Parties would take fixed positions on general principles, what he calls “the aims of society” that citizens would debate and express their preferences for. Once elected, legislators would not be expected to compromise or deliberate about these aims, but rather deliberate and are flexible about the means by which they are achieved. In such a case they might have to give up their first best way of achieving the aims for which their parties stand, but as advocates for those aims (rather than particular policies) they would be in the best position to do that. They are thus “mandated” to follow their principles for which they are advocates, but fully independent (as proper deliberators must be) to decide what is the best way to achieve them given the constraints of other partisans with different, non-flexible aims in the legislature as well.

Whether or not either of these or some other institutional fix is practicable, they are ways of providing “voice without earplugs” because they involve separating out the advocacy from the deliberative and decision-making function. Without such a separation, I don’t see how a defense of partisanship can stand, except as a defense of a principle that participants themselves cannot endorse.

Andrew Rehfeld
On the Side of Angels symposium
15. Andrew Rehfeld: Regulated Conflict and a “proto-Millian” defense of parties or “Vote for me, I’ve probably got the right answers.”

In my first post I argued that we might get more of Rosenblum’s beneifts of partisanship without the costs, by thinking about “interest groups” as the proper outlet for partisanship, and then structuring government to be an independent, non-partisan body. This view contrasts with the practical fact that many, perhaps most, interest groups align very closely with existing political parties. In this post I want to make clear why I don’t think Rosenblum’s argument is ultimately successful at the level of legislative political parties. In my final post, I’ll offer some ideas about what we might do to counteract the problems.

In her defesnse of parties, Rosenblum counters the anti-party argument that parties aim at partial good. Rosenblum does not reject this, but rather notes that from these partial views can emerge a whole, if debate is structured in a proto-Millian way to make sure a trial of ideas alighting on a better solution emerges from this conflict. Further, parties bring real advocates to debate their position, not just those of the devil. As she quotes Mill, “objections have force when they come “from persons who actually believe them, who defend them in earnest, and do their utmost for them.” The “contestation,” she writes, “corrects error…Without party rivalry, ‘trial by discussion’ cannot be meaningful.”

Thus for contestation to happen in the right way we need parties that have these two features to them: a) their members believe their view is best for all; and b) they must be open to changing their minds about what is best for all.

Now if “partyism” means that parties are partial, only hubristically saying they are promoting the common good, then it is unclear how a Millian clash of ideas is happening at all. Such parties are compromising and trading off to get as much as they can for their own group. Participants do not come ready to engage in a principled discourse about the whole, they come ready to seek their own goods for their own members. And this is very much the character of contemporary political deliberation, no less so than in the United States. Indeed, it describes the logic of classic pluralism as articulated by Dahl and Truman.

But this is not Rosenblum’s defense, and for good reason. Parties themselves are not actually partial in the sense of advocating for a part of the whole; they are by and large committed to a view of what would be best for the whole. And this is not just a “hubristic” posturing as Rosenblum describes in her first posting (although it can be that too). All partisanship is based on a clash between different views about what would be good for all that organize the political party itself: Green principles; Labour principles; Democratic, and Republican party ideals. The Democrats in the United States, believe we would all be better if we followed their programs, as does the Labour party in Israel believe that country would do better if it followed theirs. (I thus must also disagree with her contention in her first post that it is individual partisans who try to proselytize and seek new recruits. In my own experience, my very partisan neighbors are least likely to try to get new recruits to believe as they do. Far more likely are the Democrats and Republicans as parties going to cast about seeking new converts by framing their arguments in the broadest possible way.)

But if partyism is defended on the lines of a Millian debate arising between parties who advocate for what they believe is best for all (a), the second problem emerges that is at odds with (b), the view that party members should be open to changing their mind. For if they were open to changing their minds, they would not be the kinds of strong advocates that Rosenblum is envisioning necessary for a Millian outcom. Rather, party members would have to hold this far more tepid view: “well, before the clash of ideas happens within the legislature, we Republicans believe that taxes should go down; but of course we can’t really endorse that until we hear what the other side has to say.”

Now I think that’s a perfectly reasonable position to take, but no politician is likely to be relected on such a platform “Vote for Us, we’ve probably got the best ideas, but we’ll just have to wait and see!” But that position is what’s at the core of Mill’s view that Rosenblum plays on—it is no longer quite the pro-party, rough-and-tumble, clash-of-ideas-by-true-believers-to-see-which-one-actually-emerges-as-best. Or if that’s what Rosenblum means, it is not clear it connects with any parties of which I am aware.

In my final posting I will turn to institutional solutions that might achieve Rosenblum’s goals of deliberative advocacy and partisanship.

Andrew Rehfeld
On the Side of Angels symposium
14. Andrew Rehfeld: What about interest groups?

Nancy Rosenblum’s book is a welcome counter-weight to recent trends in deliberative theory and the resurgence of republicanism (ala Pettit) that have tended to minimize the role of political parties. The emergence of Barack Obama as possibly a “post-partisan” president continues that trend in the real world. What Rosenblum’s work has done is renew arguments that offer a stronger version and defense of party’s and partisanship. It is a work of political theory in its synthetic best: sensitive to history, philosophically interesting, empirically aware and with implications for political action. It is a subtle work, brimming with insight and I’m delighted to engage this rewarding work.

My delight stems in large part because I’m kind of a diehard anti-party, and anti-partisan, kind of guy. My loathing to both strands comes from the kind of cognitive shut down I see among partisans. Rather than exhibit some ideal point of Millian advocacy that Rosenblum describes, these partisans are unable to listen to other arguments at all. In fact, it is not so much that they believe what they do that I think is the problem, but rather that their beliefs about politics are fixed to a party leadership that then shapes and in no small part determines what they ought to be. The Yellow Dog Democrat is the perfect example.

In more theoretical terms, partisanship and partyism as Rosenblum has defended it here is self-contradictory, for it relies on a value for the system that none of the participants themselves can endorse. Further, what Rosenblum’s defense, based on Millian principles of contestation, would require is not what now exists, but what I have elsewhere called “voice without earplugs,” that is a way to structure the legislature so that many views can be promoted even as those expressing them are open to changing their own minds. Finally, I think Rosenblum has ignored the role of institutions to help channel and develop the proper role of parties and partisanship within the system. What emerges in her treatment is a defense of a system in which advocacy of partial views is the governing principle in order that partiality not be the governing principle!

Parties and partisans, but what about interest groups?

Rosenblum’s distinction between partisanship and partyism is really helpful. As Rosenblum demonstrates, the view that independents are ideal observers weighing carefully each side of the argument is bogus: they are rather “politically detached” ignoramuses (my term) who would prefer to watch TV than engage their fellow citizen in debate, and this should alone should temper our enthusiasm for them. But it is not clear to me whether partisan engagement by citizens on the issues is based on reasoned judgment which later turns into advocacy (the Millian model perhaps) as much as it is determined by family or cultural upbringing. In any case, being a partisan is likely to cause citizens to connect with others and engage with the issues and that alone is a good thing.

But here, I think I would advocate partisanship (“identification with others in a political association”) without parties (which is exactly what Madison’s ideal was). In large part, this is because partisanship among citizens appears far more like religious belief than it does reasoned civic discourse generating community and a commitment to the life of the polis. So we might say that partisanship is inevitable among citizens in a large representative government, and it does have some nice political consequences in terms of building community, etc. But it does not follow that the community it fosters or the views it generates among its partisans are worth channeling into the legislature. In which case, we might endorse partisanship as a check on abuses of government (since engaged citizens on either side are more likely to resist abuse) than a non-partisan citizenry. But at the same time we’d want to structure the legislature and government itself to resist the underlying partisanship. (I’ll return to that theme in another posting.)

What this raises is whether the very helpful analytic distinction between “partisanship” and “partyism,” is sufficient to get the benefits without the costs. I think it would be helpful to consider “interest groups” as a third location of partisanship, in way that would give the benefits of partisanship an outlet (by having citizens involved in issues about which they care) and to have them possibly managed by an independent, non-partisan legislature. Ideally, individuals interested in politics and policy would have to make a choice: are they committed to policy ideals as represented by their supported interest groups, or are they interested in impartial governing? Indeed, the recent “ethics” rules issued in Obama’s first days as President that restrict lobbying by former members of his staff have much of this flavor to it. It is not that Obama objects in principles to lobbying and interest group partisanship, per se. Rather, it is that his role in government is to be the adjudicator and not a partisan. This is rough—obviously Obama is a Democrat. But it hints at a way we might get the benefits of partisanship without the negatives of party in government.

Partisanship, as Rosenblum has set it out, thus depends on governing party’s, rather than merely organized interest groups. I would encourage us to think about this differently, that the benefits that Rosenblum defends for partisanship might be gotten without legislative political parties. What we need—for reasons I’ll pursue in my next post—is a way to separate the legislative effects of parties (which I think contra Rosenblum may only be a second best solution) from the positive citizen effects of partisanship.

Andrew Rehfeld

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

On the Side of Angels symposium
13. Nancy Rosenblum: response to Urbinati

Nadia Urbinati has offered two wonderfully reflective responses to Angels. Representative government, she insists, makes parties essential. I trace philosophical accounts of this insistence in the history of political thought in “Moments of Appreciation”. I’m grateful for Urbinati’s extension of the idea in her reconstruction of contemporary representation. She reinforces the point that modern parties are more than convenient vehicles for conducting elections or for organizing governments; they are creative in constructing lines of political division. Urbinati adds that ideally parties are stable institutions that create on-going connections between partisans and representatives. They are communicative forums. They are unique institutions for insuring that representatives are responsive to citizens. Urbinati rightly sees parties as deflating notions of accountability that focus on principal/agent mechanisms or contractual formalism. Parties create and sustain political relations apart from electoral moments. Of course, this sensitive rendering of political partisanship depends on parties that are not ephemeral, or short-term alliances among officials. It emphasizes civilian partisans – parties as in a sense membership groups.

Urbinati notices the enduring tension between the partisan and partial character of representation and acting in the national interest. In some systems like the U.S. this is further complicated by the fact that representatives are bound to serve their districts as a whole, including nonpartisans and supporters of the opposition. This results in tortuous accounts of representation as seen in Supreme Court opinions, which I discuss. Urbinati makes the important point that “partisanship is a process of unification not an act of unity”. Partisan representation suspends these elements; it is the unique institution of representative democracy and partisanship the distinctive democratic political identity.

I want to respond as well to Urbinati’s sensitive discussion of anti-politics. She rightly points out that I identify two “glorious traditions” of antipartyism in the history of political thought: holism, which is anti-political (or an exploitation of party designed to put an end to parties and politics) and another which accepts pluralism and political conflict but rejects parties as the institutional form in which divisions are played out. To these she adds a post-democratic form of anti-partyism that like holism is anti-political, but without holism’s philosophic foundations. This is less an additional category, I think, than an episodic feature of democratic anti-partyism overall. Urbinati focuses on contemporary deliberative democratic theory, which identifies good citizenship with judgment rather than passion or interest, or partisanship. This is of course one of the main themes of Angels, and I probe it in detail in the chapter “Correcting the System”. Like Urbinati, I argue that this rejection of partisanship is a recipe for disempowerment. My only quibble with her treatment is her suggestion that apathy is the outcome of antipartyism. True, partisanship is linked to political engagement and excitation. But other forms of participation – advocacy groups or social movements – are equally engaging, if short-lived. The characteristic outcome of this form of antipartyism is less apathy than revulsion at politics tout court. It results in the view that pragmatic problem-solving can replace politics. Its familiar expression is a “just fix it” state of mind that takes the prosaic popular form of impatience with government but is also articulated in expert and elite theory. Putting political decision-making in partisan arenas off onto courts and agencies is a self-protective move on the part of elected officials in the face of public revulsion. It is also an ineliminable part of advanced political economy where problems seem politically intractable; John Dunn’s The Cunning of Unreason captures this moment. All this makes parties and partisanship more, not less, imperative, and it makes a defense of political, partisan democracy both necessary and difficult.

Nancy Rosenblum
On the Side of Angels symposium
12. Nancy Rosenblum: Response to Marin

I take just one exception to Prof. Marin’s probing comments: at the outset she seems to assign to parties attributes that I assign to partisans – and then only to partisans who fit my account of ethical partisanship. Many institutional features of parties are a response to the formal and political requirements of specific electoral systems – a point to which I return in answer to Prof. Marin’s question about proportional representation. Within those constraints, whether parties are inclusive, comprehensive, and compromising is the result of decisions by party leaders, activists, and “civilian” partisans. I try to take care not to animate the institution!

Prof. Marin’s argument is that in appreciating partisans who aim at inclusiveness and comprehensiveness I invoke a “public, collective `we`”. That is correct: partisanship, I suggest at some length, is a shared political identity that can be usefully understood in terms of identity politics. It is also true that one reason for valuing partisanship is its potential for articulating a general conception of the public interest. Of course, partisans do not always attempt this, and may fail when they do. And the connection between political identity and articulating an account of the general interest is important: partisans situate themselves in a system of political opposition, and their programs and candidates serve a notion of the public interest (when they do) that is contested. The important point for me is that only partisans active in party politics make this attempt because it is in the context of elections and partisan governing that open, conscious appeals are made to the great body of citizens. Other forms of political action fall short on this account, and although individual Independents may conceive a comprehensive account of the public agenda they are scattered elements who have neither means nor intention to articulate their ideas as part of a program of political action. Prof. Marin concludes that there is a tension between the value I place on parties play as carriers of comparatively comprehensive accounts of the public interest and my criticism of the anti-party tradition I call “holism”.

My first response is to say that we should take holism seriously as a philosophical and political position. If we do, it is not hard to see “what about holism is responsible for its antiparty tendencies”. Partisan advocates for a contested conception of the public interest are anathema to holism. Properly understood holism is anti-political. It is typically utopian in its vision of perfect unity. Every strain of philosophical and political holism shares a rejection of pluralism and of political partiality and parts. All social and political groups threaten the unity and integrity of political order, on the holist view, but because parties have partiality and opposition as their aim, they stand out as the most morally and politically unabidable. Holists cast parties as parts against rather than parts of the whole. That parties may contest notion of the public interest rather than partial interests makes them no less particularist. For holists, the common good cannot be identified or instituted by means of a dialectic of party conflict. Nothing is more antithetical to holism than James Bryce’s observation that a party system “stimulates the political interest of the people, which is kept alive by this perpetual agitation.”

My second response is to say that in any political society that accepts pluralism, parties and partisans are the indispensable, committed agents of responsible democratic pluralism. They are unique in this, which is why I refer to partisanship as the morally distinctive political identity of representative democracy. The most important and defining characteristic of partisanship – more important than the ethical elements of inclusiveness, comprehensiveness, and compromisingness – is that even though partisans speak to the public at large and often wish they could claim to speak for everyone, they know they do not represent the whole. Divisions and partiality are not lost sight of. The chastening knowledge is always there. To say the obvious, yes, partisans want to win “the moral ascendancy that comes from earning the approval of the great body of the people”. But it is a defining characteristic of parties in democracy and the heart of the moral distinctiveness of partisanship that any majority, or supermajority, or consensual mandate is temporary and revocable. Partisanship is imbued with this truth about democratic politics as the inseparable from the act of drawing significant lines of division, and with an acceptance of the vicissitudes of pluralism. This is the discipline and the creativity of partisanship.

Prof. Marin ends with an institutional challenge. Do the elements of my ethic of partisanship argue against proportional representation, where parties are less likely to be inclusive and their objectives comprehensive. I have no simple answer to this fair question. Proportional systems with many small parties that are effectively single interest or identity groups or that occupy a tiny piece of the ideological spectrum obstruct the sort of democratic deliberation that can arise in party politics. Their partisans speak to narrow constituencies, their agendas are typically truncated, and inclusiveness and compromise take place at the level of government formation and ministerial decisions, and are often fragile and temporary. But within the constraints of electoral systems, often enough parties that begin as narrowly sectarian become more inclusive – consider European Christian Democratic parties. In short, the applicability of the elements of my ethic of partisanship to PR is variable and depends in part on the specifics of electoral systems that are beyond the scope of this project. That said, I do suggest that inclusive umbrella parties (or electoral districts that require segmented religious or ethnic parties to appeal beyond their group) are more likely to develop comprehensive agendas and to broadcast reasons to wide swaths of the voting population. Even so, there is no assurance: “narrow-casting” is a regrettable feature of the national electoral behavior of American umbrella parties, for example. The impetus must come from partisans themselves, hence my attention the ethical dimension to partisanship.

Nancy Rosenblum
On the Side of Angels symposium
11. Nancy Rosenblum: Response to Melissa Schwartzberg

Professor Schwartzberg rightly observes that parties (I would add party systems) do not necessarily operate in a way that enhances deliberation or political participation. The extreme case of course is charlatan parties -- parties that do not intend to respect election results or that intend if successful to subvert democratic norms. I devote one chapter of On the Side of the Angels to the subject of banning parties. I look at parties that are avowedly anti-democratic or that challenge the secular or egalitarian character of democratic society. The orthodox justifications for “militant democracy” and the criminalization of parties with antidemocratic ideologies are only part of the story. The challenges posed by parties have changed since World War II; the justifications that can reasonably be offered for outlawing religious or ethnic parties, for example, are an increasingly important theme in modern constitutionalism and a neglected aspect of democratic theory.

Prof. Schwartzberg’s concern is parties that respect democratic norms and institutions but that in the course of formulating issues, creating lines of division, staging the battle, selecting and simplifying agendas and arguments are insufficiently responsive to groups that desire a hearing and influence. Of course, the important reductivist business of parties is matched on the other side by the business of adding new issues and partisan voices – a quick look at changes in both the constituencies and issues identified with Democratic and Republican parties over the last few decades is a simple case in point. We have been more attentive to exclusion than we have been to the difficult business of creating political order out of the mass of ideas, programs, and personalities that flood political life and demand attention. Prof. Schwartzberg’s concern is the opposite: the perils of reductivism, the fact that parties may obstruct popular “civilian” partisan in-put in the construction of platforms, policies, and agendas, and in the selection of candidates. (They may also, of course, narrow the range of arguments that are brought to bear in advancing agreed-on agendas and candidacies.)

I don’t see a contradiction between Schwartzberg’s best-case scenario and her concern that agendas and candidates are generated by internal conflicts among leaders and activists. For one thing, this seems to me to be a matter of degree. Party activists are typically members of interest and advocacy groups, and bring these perspectives to bear on internal party politics, so that by itself the amount of “grass-root” participation does not determine the breadth of considerations that go into programs and priorities. Mass participation is not the only way to insure that the common recognizable interests of ordinary citizens are taken into account. Besides, there are practical limits to just how inclusive party organizations should be during the different stages of the electoral process and in the party-building stages in between elections. (I assess legal requirements for democratic decision-making within parties, and attempts to mandate open or non-partisan primaries to enhance participation.) That said, in many democracies and certainly in the U.S., parties organize not only national elections but also elections and governing at the state and sometimes local levels so that even if we count just party activists, that adds up to a considerable number of citizens, and a manifestly diverse group as any caucus-goer knows. Moreover, large-scale partisan participation (and recruitment of partisans) is typically episodic – as we know, events and candidates can open the gates to activism. The most important thing to say in response to Prof. Schwartzberg’s reasonable concern is that only partisans are motivated to take part in the business of shaping political lines of division and the arguments that explain those divisions; the push for inclusive deliberation must come from them.

There are two cases where Prof. Schwartzberg’s concerns about reducing the voices in party deliberations point to more serious challenges to my appreciation of parties and partisanship. One is when parties or a segment of a party is captured by a particular set of donors or moneyed interests. This was Ostrogorski’s preoccupation: “organization reached its climax: from a broker in offices it rose to a trafficker in political influence….”. Where there is systemic corruption, the formal and informal activities of partisans are not decisive in shaping critical aspects of the party agenda, choosing specific candidates, or directing the actions of partisans in office. I discuss this complex subject in “The Anxiety of Influence”.

The other way in which parties can obstruct best-case deliberation is when particular groups are excluded from the ambit of every party; whether on account of prejudice or because their electoral influence is judged insignificant and not worth mobilizing. Prof. Schwartzberg proposes that this exclusion is a source of disaffected independence, and that I should take this into account in my severe criticism of Independents. The causes of disaffection and political detachment are not well known, and have more important sources than inhospitable political parties. In any case, that is an empirical question I am not equipped to answer here. But I can that the Independents that concern me (and that have the solicitude of most political theorists) are not non-voting sufferers of anomie, but proud anti-partisans who look down on partisans for moral reasons and who identify Independence with epistemic high ground. Of course, the response to exclusion from party life does not have to be political detachment. Historically, third parties and fusion parties in the U.S. have been formed to represent regional or ideological or identity groups, and they have often been taken up and absorbed by major parties over time. Robust parties are remarkably changeable institutions.

As this suggests, the problem that interests me in Prof. Schwartberg’s remarks is whether the response to captured parties or exclusionary parties is an attempt to create another party or a resort to other forms of political influence and agitation. My appreciation of parties entails a double contrast: first, partisanship in contrast to vaunted Independence, and second, partisanship in contrast to activism via interest and advocacy groups, social movements, and so on. All sorts of political organizations serve important democratic purposes, of course. But if we value these other forms over parties and partisanship, we are liable to misunderstand and even detract from the distinctive purposes (including the deliberative purposes) that are served if they are served at all only by parties and electoral politics.

One last observation. Both Profs. Schwartzberg and Marin focused on my brief for the potential of parties as deliberative agents and arenas. True, one of my concerns has been to bring parties and partisanship into the ambit of the dominant deliberative strain of democratic theory, where they have been ignored or depreciated. But that is just one of my objectives. The elements of an ethic of partisanship I propose serve other democratic purposes besides deliberation. And the overarching reason for appreciating parties and partisanship has to do with acceptance of political pluralism and contestation. Partisanship, to repeat, is the only political identity that does not see pluralism and political conflict as a bow to necessity, a pragmatic recognition of the inevitability of disagreement. It requires severe self-discipline to acknowledge that my party’s status is just one part of a permanently pluralist politics, and the provisional nature of being in the majority, or governing, or for that matter being in the minority. In short, partisanship accepts the regulated rivalry that defines democratic politics.

Nancy Rosenblum
On the Side of Angels symposium
10. Patrick Deneen: Progressivism and Partisans

Nancy Rosenblum has done a great service in seeking to rehabilitate the place of parties and partisanship in the discourse of political philosophy. Her effort to categorize the sources of “anti-party” sentiment is admirable – divided into categories of “the luster of independence,” “escape from the deadly groove,” and “weightlessness.” A bit of historical flesh on these theoretical bones might add both some complexity and robustness to her categories, and further pose a challenge to her categorizations of what is praiseworthy about parties and partisanship – namely, “inclusiveness,” “comprehensiveness,” and “compromisingness.”

I wish, in particular, to focus on the second of the grounds for philosophical opposition to parties and partisanship: the desire or imperative to “escape from the deadly groove.” Rosenblum stresses the Progressive-era sources of this particular suspiciousness, and rightly so: it was during the Progressive era that an increasingly dim view of the role of Parties in electoral politics and governance reached a modern apogee. Suspicions toward Party gave rise to reforms such as the Direct Primary, the Initiative and Referendum, and perhaps most importantly (in terms of eviscerating the practical force of Parties), civil service reform leading to a massive decrease of political appointments.

While many of the criticisms of Party were couched in recognizable terms that decried the role of the “partisan hack” or the absence of expertise in government (this was the same period that witnessed the rise of Political Science as an ascendant discipline), at a more fundamental level many of the criticisms of partisanship partook of a deep suspicion toward “the deadly groove” of ethnic or “tribal” solidarity. In particular, once-ascendant Protestant leaders had witnessed the rise of a new form of Party government – the urban machine – one that rested deeply upon the communal coherence of immigrant communities. These communities – often Irish, but also Italian, German, and Jewish – represented not only a different set of ruling personalities, but more often than not a fundamental challenge to the liberal idea of Party that resolved itself around interests. Instead, there was a fear that Parties were increasingly defined in terms that were less grounded ultimately in the individual and instead coalesced around shared communal and social features based in common ethnicity, religion, and history. This changed landscape represented a basic challenge to the liberal assumptions that had permitted the flourishing of Party – namely, that all Parties are reducible to individuals who possess interests, and thus that are manageable in accordance with the systemic assumptions of the liberal constitutional order. By contrast, Parties based in identification of blood, race, history, religion and ethnicity were a different beast: this form of identification represented a deep and fundamental challenge to liberal democracy, and thus had to be combated with determined ferocity.

Progressives – most often liberal Protestants – increasingly decried Parties in general, and couched their criticisms in terms of an aspiration to a new universalism that resembled… liberal Protestantism writ large. Thinkers such as Herbert Croly, Walter Lippmann, and John Dewey urged a transcendence of “partisan” particularity in the name of a new form of national unity. Such thinkers aimed to hollow out devotions to local and particular associations and identifications, at once reducing identity to that of the individual and the nation (the temporary, even Hegelian locus of the “universal”). The partial or mediated identifications of the new immigrant classes represented a threat to the liberal order; indeed, it can be argued that the religious (often Catholic) sources of commitment to various forms of local mediation (e.g., the parish) were seen by many as the greatest obstacle to the assimilation of these new immigrant communities into the liberal individualist and universalist order. Concurrent with attacks on Party and partisanship were similar efforts to “universalize” a new form of national, liberal education (represented best in the efforts of Horace Mann and John Dewey) and the embrace of a new science of politics (i.e., a universal and replicable form of “political science.”).

That is: what was precisely objectionable about the form of Party that so perturbed the liberal elite was that these parties were noteworthy for being: 1. exclusive; 2. particular; and 3. uncompromising. They were parties based upon strong local communities with longstanding shared traditions and beliefs. They rejected many of the fundamental premises of liberalism, including most fundamentally a self-understanding that begins by conceiving humans to unencumbered, monadic, rational individuals. Reading the arguments of the Progressive opponents to Party during the early years of the twentieth-century, one encounters over and over a condemnation of their irrationality, their “tribal” quality, their backwardness, their recidivism, their very threat to the American way of life. Opponents to such threats couched their alternative vision in the name of the universal, the rational, the scientific, the national and transcendent. If parties were to survive, it was only by basing a new form of Party upon these latter, liberal characteristics. By means of a variety of Progressive-era reforms, the “organic,” communal and local form of partisanship was largely routed in favor of our current form of Parties that are predominantly national, interest-based, shifting alliances.

If Rosenblum is today able to praise parties at best for being “inclusive,” “comprehensive” and “compromising,” it is only because one major and challenging alternative to the liberal conception of partisanship was almost wholly defeated in the early part of the 20th-century. Her praise of Party is made within the comfort of the liberal paradigm – seemingly challenging the “independent” or “rationalist” extremes of liberalism, albeit well within the comfort zone of liberal presuppositions of the role and status of Parties within the contemporary polity. One wonders on what side Rosenblum would have found herself during the Progressive era, when Parties were proudly exclusive and liberalism believed itself under assault by a very different set of anthropological assumptions lodged under the banner of Party?

Patrick Deneen

Monday, January 26, 2009

On the Side of Angels symposium
9. Henry Farrell: Comparative questions

On the Side of the Angels is more than a good book; it’s a necessary one. The lack of sympathetic accounts of partisanship in political theory, and in our wider public discourse, is extraordinary, and Rosenblum provides a nuanced, well-argued and exciting account of why we should think about partisanship as having benign consequences for politics.

That said, a seminar like this is supposed to provoke critical debate, not gushing encomia, if it’s going to have value. So here’s my criticism. I would have liked to have seen more comparative analysis of parties, and the debates around parties, in different countries. Such analysis is present in Rosenblum’s book, but mostly around the margins – her main interest (with the exception of the final chapter on banning parties) is very clearly the US debate on partisanship and parties, and the various streams of thought that have flowed into it. I think that a lot could be learned from applying her arguments to different contexts. Since I’m most familiar with European political parties, here are two examples.

First – Rosenblum’s fascinating account of the modern American critique of partisanship situates it in large part in the historical context of the Progressive movement. The Progressives saw party machines as intrinsically bad for American politics, and sought to encourage reforms that would weaken political parties in various ways. Many Progressives believed that politics in the ideal would not involve partisanship at all, instead relying on various forms of civil society mobilization to tackle political problems. The ideal political actor was not the partisan (who was supposedly dependent on bosses to tell him what to do) but the independent. Rosenblum’s account of how this implicit set of biases feeds into contemporary debates about the virtues of deliberation, the benefits of civil society, the need to reform fundraising practices and so on is quite convincing. While (as she acknowledges), other strains of thought are implicated, there is an apparent connection between Progressive critiques of parties, and the assumptions of latter-day civic reformers.

This spurs an interesting (at least to me) question – can some of the differences between left-of-center European critiques of parties and left-of-center American critiques be traced back to cross-Atlantic differences in historical situation at the beginning of the last century? The argument might go as thus: those who were most influential in the US debate were indeed Progressives, who, as Rosenblum observes, believed that parties were intrinsically problematic. Those who were most influential in the European debate were Social Democrats and their intellectual heirs, who had quarreled with Communists (the Kautsky-Bernstein debates), and who held that the best way to achieve socialist equality was through the ‘paper stones’ of the ballot box rather than revolution.

Thus, not only were the European reformers not opposed to parties, but they saw one party (the Social Democratic party) as having the capacity to redeem politics. While American reformers worried about party politics as such, European reformers worried that the party (and especially its leaders) would be corrupted by its engagement with traditional politics. The perceived problem was the opposite of the American one – not that politics would be debased by parties, but that parties (and left parties in particular) would be debased by politics. Thus, in part, a very particular European tradition of critique, ranging from Michels through Pizzorno to this recent piece for the New Left Review by Peter Mair, all focus on the ways in which parties may be corrupted by an overly close engagement with hierarchy and the state.

Now, to be clear, one should not construct an overly idealist account of how this debate has developed – differences between European and American debates are at least as much the product of different objective situations as of different historical traditions of debate. But Rosenblum’s fascinating historical account of Progressivism at the least raises the question of whether debates about parties from early in the era of mass-mobilization continue to resonate in Europe too.

A second comparative angle is suggested by Rosenblum herself in an aside. When writing about mixed constitutions (which seek to address social divisions by assigning different institutions to different parts of society, rather than allowing parties to organize themselves), Rosenblum suggests that the European Union is a good modern example of what a mixed constitution looks like. This – combined with her later arguments about the salutary consequences of partisanship for politics – has some interesting possible implications that could be developed further.

Political theoretic debates about the European Union typically focus on its ‘democratic deficit’ and its lack of a ‘demos.’ Here, the problem is two-fold. First, the European Union has serious problems of democratic legitimacy, because of the quite attenuated links between EU decision making and democratic choice. Not all agree that this attenuation is a problem (some, like Andrew Moravcsik, perceive it in quite benign terms), but the perceived democratic illegitimacy of the European Union has haunted debates over reform, and helped spur various initiatives (greatly improving the decision making clout of the European Parliament, seeking to provide greater involvement for national parliaments and the like).

There is still controversy over the extent to which supranational arrangements can have direct democratic legitimacy in the absence of a self-conscious European demos, but perhaps more pertinently, none of these reforms seem to have worked. The European Union is suffering a continuing legitimation crisis, which appears to have worsened dramatically over the period of reforms, rather than getting better. EU publics, in contrast to elites, seem indifferent towards the EU and disengaged from it when they are not actively hostile toward it.

Here, Rosenblum’s arguments perhaps provide a different perspective on the problem and the possible locus of a solution. By treating the EU as a mixed constitution, we can see how the EU’s legitimacy problem has similarities with the more general question of how different sets of interests should be balanced in mixed arrangements. But more importantly perhaps, we can also see how further constitutional reforms may not on their own be sufficient to engage publics with the EU. We may need partisan contention (or some close equivalent) too. Some of the EU’s legitimacy problem may not rest with the institutions but with Europe’s political parties.

Most particularly, there is a nearly complete absence of partisanship at the European level. This is not to say that there are not European parties. The European Parliament groups together Socialists, Christian Democrats, Liberals and others in broad party organizations which do have an important role in organizing debate at the European level. Furthermore, national level parties have created some limited umbrella groupings, so that Christian Democratic leaders from different countries meet together regularly. But these are parties without partisanship. Voters, to the extent that they know these groupings exist, don’t care about them (for example, voting for European Parliament candidates usually turns on purely domestic issues, punishing the government etc).

This lack of partisanship in turn means that European political parties have not constructed the kinds of divisions that (as Rosenblum argues), usefully organize political contention, transforming it from a potentially inchoate mass of quarreling interests and groupuscules into a comprehensible and relatively organized system where politics is organized around one or a few key differences of policy and/or philosophy. Instead of being presented with clearly different approaches to governing Europe, voters are typically presented either with party consensus (that Europe is a ‘good’ thing) or with a battle between this consensus (as presented by mainstream parties) and a variety of arguments from those on left and right who argue that the European Union is fundamentally ill-advised or illegitimate.

The pro- and anti-Europe divide may, or may not, itself be a useful division. But what it surely means that voters are not presented with choices about which Europe (whether social-democratic, free market or whatever). Instead, they are faced with a choice (to the extent that they have a choice at all) over whether Europe – e.g. whether to affirm or reject the decisions made by a coalition of left-wing and right-wing elites about the direction of European integration.

The lesson that I’d like to draw (which goes somewhat further than Rosenblum’s own argument about the benefits of partisanship) is as follows. The European Union would likely have more legitimacy in the eyes of voters if it were organized as a space of partisan contention. The lack of real argument between different partisan forces as to how Europe should be organized contributes to voters’ disengagement.

Henry Farrell
On the Side of Angels symposium
8. Mara Marin: Holism and the public interest

In her On the Side of Angels Nancy Rosenblum offers us reasons to reject a long tradition in the history of political thought according to which “partisan” is an invective and “Independents” are “portrayed as partisans undisputed moral superiors.” She proposes “an ethic of partisanship” as the ground for appreciating parties.

Parties have three features, she argues, that are as many reasons for us to appreciate them. Parties aim, first, to be inclusive, secondly, to offer “a comprehensive story about the economic, social and moral changes of the time, and about national security” and, thirdly, partisans are inclined to compromise.

This is a refreshing and complex view that I appreciate not only for establishing parties and partisanship as legitimate and central subjects for political theory, but for being an excellent example of how work in political theory can be developed in dialogue with both empirical political science and the history of political thought.

But what strikes me about these features is that they invoke a public, collective “we” (beyond that of the party membership) and an idea of the public interest. (This is true of at least the first two features, but arguably also about the third, given that the justification of this last feature is linked to the other two features). For the inclusiveness feature of parties does not simply mean that party identification is shared by diverse groups (people from different states, of different religions, etc.). Rather, it means that partisans want to be in the majority because they “want the moral ascendancy that comes from earning the approval of ‘the great body of the people.’” Parties are comprehensive in the sense that even as partisans pursue partial interests, they “share a complex of concerns and connect particular interests to a more general conception of the public interest” (my emphasis). Parties make possible what Rawls calls “public reason” by situating particular issues “in what we consider the most reasonable and “complete” conception of political justice we can advance” and by speaking “to all citizens as citizens and not view them only as situated in some interest group or social class” (On the Side of the Angels, 359).

But if the value of parties is given by the moral value that comes from being approved by the people, and from offering a conception of the public interest, then it seems that ultimately what matters is the whole, the country, not the parts, the parties (even when they are inclusive and comprehensive). To put it differently, there is, at least at first sight, a tension between justifying parties by invoking the public interest and rejecting holism as a tradition of antipartyism. Or is there a difference between the conceptions of “we” and of “public interest” invoked by the ethic of partisanship and those at work in holism? What are these differences, if any?

I think that we need to know more about these differences not only to have a more complete picture of the ethic of partisanship, but also to understand what about holism is responsible for its antipartyism tendencies. Is it simply the idea of a body politic, or is it a particular way of conceiving it (for example, as an organic entity to whom all parts should be subordinate) that is responsible for antipartyism? Is it possible to distinguish the general ideas of the political “we” and of “public interest” from the particular ways of understanding them that constitute holism as a tradition of antipartyism, and thus maintain a more widely acceptable conception of holism? More importantly, does the ethic of partisanship depend on a such version of holism - a conception of what constitutes the body politic and the general interest - that is not inimical to parties? If so, what is that conception?

Finally, is the ethic of partisanship a normative standard to be used to assess and criticize particular parties and particular party systems? Should we commend parties for their sincere attempts to link particular proposals to a general conception of the public interest? Should we reject parties that do not make that attempt (or are - in our view - insincere when making it)? Does the ethic of partisanship give us a reason to reject proportional representation systems because they make parties less likely to be comprehensive (On the Side of the Angels, 359)? Does it give us reason to prefer systems with fewer parties because having “fewer parties enables coherent and comprehensive narratives” (On the Side of the Angels, 359)?

Mara Marin
On the Side of Angels symposium
7. Melissa Schwartzberg: The development of parties' programs

On the Side of the Angels is, in my view, an exemplary work of political theory: it demonstrates the value of classical works of political thought as source material by which to challenge conventional views, and the richness that comes from drawing on the findings of empirical political science to construct normative arguments. Rosenblum’s discussion of the role of parties in fostering deliberation is illustrative of her general methodological approach, as she draws on classical political theory, contemporary normative work, and empirical research in developing her claims. Against much of deliberative theory, Rosenblum suggests that parties have a pivotal role to play in enabling deliberation. On her account, parties serve (attractively) to reduce the multidimensional nature of disagreement: parties bring interests and opinions into sharp opposition so as to subject them to Millian “trial by discussion.” Freeform deliberation is doomed to fail, she rightly holds, and to the extent that parties clarify points of disagreement and thereby enable deliberation to occur more robustly prior to voting, they perform a critical democratic activity. Yet it doesn’t strike me as obvious that the reductive process generated by the party system will necessarily operate in a way that enhances deliberation or democracy more generally, and so I’d like briefly to consider the circumstances under which it is likely to be beneficial and the conditions under which this process could do real harm.

The best-case scenario for parties and deliberation might run as follows: Parties’ agendas emerge from a substantially less constrained deliberative process; it is relatively easy for civilian partisans to participate in this process, and there is a forum in which outlying or extreme positions can be heard and debated. Through this deliberative process, candidates are identified and platforms developed. Civilian partisans then can take up the banner, helping to construct arguments on behalf of the proposed policies and responding to criticisms of opposing parties, which have generated their own policies and platforms through a dynamic process that responds to the choices of the other parties. In this world, independents would, as Rosenblum argues, miss out on the fundamental activity of framing, defending, and criticizing issues in response to others’ arguments. Further, given the expansive nature of the deliberative process ex ante, the independent might rightly be charged with epistemic or moral hubris insofar as they fail to listen to or learn from others’ positions.

Unfortunately, there is little reason to believe that policy agendas and candidates do actually emerge in such an inclusively deliberative fashion – programs and candidates typically result from internal conflicts among party leaders and activists at various levels. Now, Rosenblum would probably argue that this isn’t a problem: she holds, I think, that the real work of citizenship comes after the construction of parties and their agendas, of deliberating in the context of preexisting alternatives. But without such a role for citizen partisans in the construction of these alternatives, I fear that the beneficial reduction in the dimensionality of debates generated by internal party politics may have as a side effect an unappealing parochialism. Further, since would-be civilian partisans may not view the party as reflecting their divergent perspectives – that is, they may feel it is insufficiently inclusive – their identification with the party may be gravely attenuated, thereby pushing more partisans into the ranks of the disaffected independents. The argument, in this case, that independents are “weightless” may be unfair if, while partisans, they felt that their weight – their distinct perspectives and their solidarity within a deliberative process – had gone unnoticed. The creativity and moral salience of partisanship so elegantly defended by Rosenblum depends, it seems to me, upon offering civilian partisans a genuine opportunity to participate in the development of their parties’ programs.

[On the role of deliberation in reducing the dimensions of disagreement and thus helping to generate single-peaked preferences (and avoid cycling), see also Jack Knight and James Johnson, “Aggregation and Deliberation: On the Possibility of Democratic Legitimacy,” Political Theory 22:2 (May 1994), pp. 277-296)]