Chapter

The Problem of Political Parties in Western Liberalism, 1868–1968

Paolo Pombeni

in Liberalism as Ideology

Published in print February 2012 | ISBN: 9780199600670
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191738203 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199600670.003.0007
The Problem of Political Parties in Western Liberalism, 1868–1968

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Are political parties an unavoidable component of liberal constitutionalism? A historical enquiry shows us how troubled was the perception of political parties among Western European liberals. In the mid nineteenth century, the understanding of them as inheritors of classical ‘demagogy’ was still competing with the Burkeian idea of parties as ‘honourable connexions’. What changed in subsequent years was the expansion of the franchise and the realization that what counted in politics was numbers not brains. A realistic approach then prevailed, which understood a constitution as a means of organized access to power based on popular consent. This raised the problems of ‘disciplining’ the popular vote, and parties became seen as a tool to organize democracy. After the Second World War, a party-based democracy became the accepted norm in Western Europe, but parties now transformed themselves from ‘Weltanschaaung’ into ‘catch-all’ parties.

Keywords: liberal constitutionalism; demagogy; honourable connexions; politics; popular vote; Weltanschaaung; catch-all parties

Chapter.  8410 words. 

Subjects: Political Theory

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