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On the Side of the Angels

On the Side of the Angels: An Appreciation of Parties and Partisanship

Nancy L. Rosenblum
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 600
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  • Book Info
    On the Side of the Angels
    Book Description:

    Political parties are the defining institutions of representative democracy and the darlings of political science. Their governing and electoral functions are among the chief concerns of the field. Yet most political theorists--including democratic theorists--ignore or disparage parties as grubby arenas of ambition, obstacles to meaningful political participation and deliberation.On the Side of the Angelsis a vigorous defense of the virtues of parties and partisanship, and their worth as a subject for political theory.

    Nancy Rosenblum's account moves between political theory and political science, and she uses resources from both fields to outline an appreciation of parties and the moral distinctiveness of partisanship. She draws from the history of political thought and identifies the main lines of opposition to parties, as well as the rare but significant moments of appreciation. Rosenblum then sets forth her own theoretical appreciation of parties and partisanship. She discusses the achievement of parties in regulating rivalries, channeling political energies, and creating the lines of division that make pluralist politics meaningful. She defends "partisan" as a political identity over the much-vaunted status of "independent," and she considers where contemporary democracies should draw the line in banning parties.

    On the Side of the Angelsoffers an ethics of partisanship that speaks to questions of centrism, extremism, and polarization in American party politics. By rescuing parties from their status as orphans of political philosophy, Rosenblum fills a significant void in political and democratic theory.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2897-5
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: An Appreciation of Parties and Partisanship
    (pp. 1-22)

    Antipartyism and its partner in negativity, antipartisanship, have a distinguished, even brilliant pedigree.On the Side of the Angelsis my assessment of antipartyism, designed to map the field, to facilitate comparison among enduring aversions to political parties, to see whether contemporary antiparty thinkers echo orthodox arguments or are creative in their loathing. The materials I draw on to represent antipartyism are scholarly and literary, with added dollops of political commentary. From the furious railings of what I call the “glorious traditions of antipartyism” before democracy to the “postparty depression” that stretches to the present and shows few signs of...

  5. PART I Glorious Traditions of Antipartyism and Moments of Appreciation

    • CHAPTER 1 Glorious Traditions of Antipartyism: Holism
      (pp. 25-59)

      While the character, organization, and purpose of parties vary over history and in local political context, the negative content of the label “party”—the reference to despised groups—is surprisingly steady. The coherence of my subject is supplied not by any expectation that “party” is a distinct and well-defined concept or singular institution, then, but by identifiable streams of antipartyism. It is less the object of loathing that provides unity to my discussion than the reasons why “party” and its counterparts, faction and sect, have been accusatory terms. “Party” may not have coherence, but aversions do.

      In this chapter and...

    • CHAPTER 2 Glorious Traditions of Antipartyism: Fatal Divisiveness
      (pp. 60-107)

      In this chapter I continue mapping the terrain of antipartyism up to the time when parties became governing and then electoral parties in a regular party system. The first glorious tradition of antipartyism despises parties as parts. The second tradition does not adhere to an ideal of a coherent and indivisible political whole. Instead, it recognizes social and political parts as legitimate, and incorporates them into the frame of government. In this second tradition, and in contrast to holism, not all parts are parties. The objection to parties—what earns a group the accusatory label—is not that they are...

    • CHAPTER 3 Moments of Appreciation
      (pp. 108-162)

      The antiparty tradition that views parties as divisive endures because it is correct. Parties have to be divisive; they are by definition. Parties are doubly partial: they represent a particular part of the political community and they favor that part, even if partiality takes the form of a judgment about the common good. A reluctant acceptance of the divisions that parties create and the trouble that partisanship causes appears in initial, tenuous moments of appreciation. So I want to flag points in the glorious traditions of antipartyism where thinkers paused in their castigation.

      True, there is not an iota of...

  6. PART II Post-Party Depression

    • CHAPTER 4 Progressive Antipartyism
      (pp. 165-209)

      Max Weber traced the change from parties as “an association of notables” within government to modern forms he called “the children of democracy.” “In order to win the masses it became necessary to call into being a tremendous apparatus of apparently democratic associations” of which the American party organization was “an especially early and especially pure expression.”¹ This “apparently democratic” party system, well established in the United States by the 1860s, did not stanch antipartyism.² The terms of attack changed, though, creating a third high point on the terrain I am mapping.

      “Glorious traditions” of antipartyism focused on division and...

    • CHAPTER 5 The Anxiety of Influence
      (pp. 210-253)

      Today, as in the past, progressive antipartyism and reformism are indignant responses to real political grievances, though typically untempered by appreciation of the positive achievements, actual and possible, of parties and partisanship. In the preceding chapter I traced the threads of loathing. Parties are “perverters of the democratic spirit.”¹ Parties are corrupt and corrupting, rooted in the root of all evil: money. Parties exercise undue influence, doling out contracts, favors, and benefits. Parties call public opinion into being, and shape it. They make partisanship a meaningful political identity and undermine independence. Parties are the active agents of what is wrong...

    • CHAPTER 6 Correcting the System: Association, Participation, and Deliberation
      (pp. 254-316)

      “Anxiety of influence” encompasses nothing less than the question “who rules”? In the framework of progressive antipartyism, the question is truncated, concentrated on undue influence that makes itself felt through parties and electoral politics. What can break the cycle of democratic perversion by parties or their “unseen principals”? Can the system be corrected? It must be, if we accept the notion fundamental to progressivism and echoed in contemporary democratic theory, that “the function of democracy has been to provide the public with a second power system, an alternative power system, which can be used to counterbalance the economic power.”¹ It...

  7. PART III The Moral Distinctiveness of “Party ID”

    • CHAPTER 7 Partisanship and Independence
      (pp. 319-368)

      All political partisans think they are “on the side of the angels,” and political Independents think no partisan is. Partisan voters are mistrusted as lackeys or craven hacks, blind loyalists or rational calculators out for spoils. At moments of party polarization like the one in which I write, in contests over the nomination of a Supreme Court Justice or the competence of a political appointee to head the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the barb “partisan” comes out of improbable mouths, a virtual reflex. It is no virtue to cultivate the sentiment that your party is “on the side of the...

    • CHAPTER 8 Centrism and Extremism and an Ethic of Partisanship
      (pp. 369-411)

      In chapter 7 I made a case for the moral distinctiveness of “party ID.”* My subject was the political identity of civilians, partisan voters. Here, I turn to the regulated rivalry of party officials, activists, and partisan representatives. I have said all along that parties create lines of division. They define themselves in terms of opposition. Besides this simple fact that parties are rivalrous and at least minimally divergent, how do we think about parties and partisans in relation to one another?

      Social scientists measure parties’ relative electoral strength and capacity to govern: parties are hegemonic or dominant, weak or...

    • CHAPTER 9 Militant Democracy: Banning Parties
      (pp. 412-455)

      When Gus Hall died in October 2000, theNew York Timesobituary described him as “the zealous lifelong Communist who led the American branch of the party from the cold war through political oblivion in the post-Soviet era.”¹ The cold war’s virulent anticommunism with its repressive federal and state legislation forced members underground and left the party in hopeless disarray. When vestigial branches began to run candidates again in state elections, and Indiana refused to allow the Communist Party (CP) to enter the 1972 race (for failure to submit a loyalty oath affirming that the party does not advocate the...

  8. Conclusion: “We Partisans”
    (pp. 456-460)

    Contemporary antipartyism is easy to document: parties depress participation; parties “turn voters off;” parties are captured by special interest groups or rich donors; party positions are too centrist or too extremist; parties do not contribute to public understanding of men or measures; they are unresponsive to public opinion or to the public interest. These (and many other) discontents with parties and partisans are expressed by pundits, on the one hand, by philosophers, on the other, and often enough by partisans themselves. “We partisans” are always on the side of the angels, but not even partisans defend parties or partisanship beyond...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 461-576)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 577-588)