A blupete Essay

Party System, Part 3 to blupete's Essay
"Politics and The Lie of Legitimacy"

Edmund Burke:
"Men thinking freely will, in particular instances, think differently. But still, as the greater Part of the measures which arise in the course of public business are related to, or dependent on, some great leading general principles in Government, a man must be peculiarly unfortunate in the choice of his political company if he does not agree with them at least nine times in ten. If he does not concur in these general principles upon which the party is founded, and which necessarily draw on a concurrence in their application, he ought from the beginning to have chosen some other, more conformable to his opinions. ... How men can proceed without any connection at all is to me utterly incomprehensible."17
The two-party system, indeed the cabinet form of government, evolved in England during the reigns of the first two Georges (1714-60).18 George the First was a German prince, who, through a political arrangement, so as to shut out the Stuarts in England, was invited to sit on the English throne. George Macaulay Trevelyan, professor of History at Cambridge:
"The outstanding fact in political history under the first two Georges is the obeyance of the Tory party as an effective force in Parliament. The two-party system did not die but it slept. There were always avowed Tories in Parliament, but they were not numerous enough either to take over the government when a change was needed, or to act alone as an Opposition. They usually worked with the section of the Whigs who happened to be opposed in the Whig Government of the day. Since there was no rival party which the Whig aristocracy as a whole had cause to fear, it grew negligent of public opinion, and relied more and more on perfecting the corrupt machinery of elections, instead of appealing on points of principle to the electorate. Where there are no effective Tories there can be no proper Whigs. As the struggle for power ceased to be political it became personal, a scuffle of the rival 'great houses' for the power to distribute the good things of Church and State."19
In his autobiography, Trevelyan returned to this history of the subject:
"While the principles of a single party united the Cabinet as a homogeneous body, capable of common action, the divergent principles of two parties divided Parliament into supporters of government and adherents of opposition. Thereby was secured steady support and steady criticism of the executive power, instead of irresponsible action prompted by the selfish impulses of individual members, or the mob psychology of undisciplined assemblies."20
The two party system, the most convenient for the cabinet form of government, as Balfour observed, works only if there is a sufficient political difference between the two21 such that "a change of Administration would in fact be a revolution disguised under a constitutional change."22 It was Balfour, Arthur James Balfour (1848-1930), Britain's Prime Minister through the years 1902-06, who, in 1927, described politics as "a game played between opponents who call themselves by different names but, so far as the average elector can see, do very much the same kind of thing in very much the same kind of way whenever they have the chance."23

A distinction is to be made between a "faction" and a "political party." Let me turn to Henry Brougham and then Walter Bagehot, first Brougham:

"... a dupery of sixty or seventy people who don't reflect, for the benefit of two or three sly characters who go about earwigging the powerful ones for their own purposes."24
An now, Bagehot:
"The feeling of a constituency is elicited, stimulated, sometimes even manufactured by the local political agent. Such an opinion could not be moderate; could not be subject to effectual discussion; could not be in close contact with pressing facts; could not be framed under a chastening sense of near responsibility; could not be formed as those form their opinions who have to act upon them. Constituency government is the precise opposite of parliamentary government. It is the government of immoderate persons far from the moderate scene of action, instead of the government of moderate persons close to the scene of action; it is the judgement of persons judging in the last resort and without a penalty, in lieu of persons judging in fear of a dissolution, and ever conscious that they are subject to an appeal."25
The motivation to join political parties, at least those at the centre and for those who have come into power, does not usually arise because of a particular belief which is passionately held. Sir James Fitzjames Stephen, lawyer, professor and judge:
"All religions [movements] whatever, the professors of which aspire to rule mankind, have the same problem to grapple with. Each has an ideal of human nature to which its professors wish mankind in general to conform, or which they wish them, at all events, to admit to be entitled to reverence, whether they conform to it or not. Each of these religions finds a number of earnest and disinterested supporters, who are so much struck with its moral beauty and its inherent essential attractions that they become converts to it ... The loving, trusting, believing spirit wants neither reward nor punishment. He falls in love with his creed as a man might fall in love with a woman, without hope, but beyond the possibility of recovery. Persons like these are the core and heart of every great religion.
They form, however, a very small minority of the human race. The great mass of men is not capable of this kind of disinterested passion for anything whatever. On the other hand, they are open to offers. They can be threatened or bribed into more or less nominal adherence to almost any creed which does not demand too much of them."
Those with a passionate belief in a cause do not join a political party, they join with others who espouse the same cause, they become a member (more often informal than formal) of an "interest group."


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[Essays, First Series]
[Essays, Second Series]
[Essays, Third Series]
[Essays, Fourth Series]
[Subject Index]
Peter Landry

2011 (2019)