On the Freezing of Party Systems

Peter Mair

in Party System Change

Published in print October 1998 | ISBN: 9780198295495
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191599804 | DOI:
 On the Freezing of Party Systems

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This chapter results from a presentation made by the author in late 1995 at an occasional seminar series in the University of Bergen, with the overall theme of ‘Law and Structure’. The author’s task was to review the background and development, and discuss the question of the current validity and viability of the ‘classic law’ on ‘the freezing of party systems’, which had first been promulgated by S. M. Lipset and Stein Rokkan almost thirty years before, and which, even now, continues to be one of the most familiar and most frequently cited theses within the field of comparative party studies in western Europe: ‘The party systems of the 1960s,’ wrote Lipset and Rokkan in 1967, ‘reflect, with few but significant exceptions, the cleavage structures of the 1920s … [T]he party alternatives, and in remarkably many cases the party organizations, are older than the majorities of the national electorates.’ This thesis also recurs frequently in the subsequent chapters of this book, with the burden of most of the chapters in Part II being devoted to its defence. It is contended particularly in those first chapters that the freezing hypothesis remains largely valid, with the evidence of long-term continuities in party systems far outweighing the ostensibly more striking and more immediate evidence of change; in other words, and some three decades later, the long-standing party alternatives that had been instanced by Lipset and Rokkan are now even older. The discussion in this introductory chapter is presented in two sections: Laws and Structures; and Constraints, Control, and Adaptation.

Keywords: adaptation; constraints; control; freezing of party systems; laws; party alternatives; party organization; party systems; political parties; S. M. Lipset; stability; Stein Rokkan; structures; western Europe; western party systems

Chapter.  6084 words. 

Subjects: Comparative Politics

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