Imagine a democracy without political parties! Imagine the empowerment to both individual and society that would ensue if needless political division is eliminated, and real differences of opinion concerning institutional and public policy become the norm of a society, a nation and even of a world's free political expression. Is an independent, non-party system desirable and/or feasible?
The inherent dangers of the political party were forewarned by George Washington (in his Farewell Address) and by James Madison (in Federalist No. 10). In our era the prescience of these men is being borne out. Moisei Ostrogorski proposed the de-institutionalization of the political party in 1902, and in the current day "nonpartisan blanket primaries" that put Democratic, Republican and all other candidates on a single primary ballot without stated party affiliation (often entailing a runoff election between the top two finishers) are gaining ground in California and other states.
Consider the recent shutdown of the federal government that was spurred by Republican opposition to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare"). Would a hypothetical non-party democracy have reacted differently? I believe it would have! Consider the nature of political coalescence or the coming together of diverse interests. It has been argued that political parties act as a safeguard against despotism and dictatorship, however, it is worthwhile noting that Stalin and Hitler rode to power on the backs of their respective parties. On the contrary, is it not reasonable to imagine that without the pressures to align with political parties politicians and individuals alike would more easily and freely resist the efforts by political leaders to impose unwanted policies? With the free flowing of opinion unimpeded by divisive political parties, policies could be thoughtfully considered by individual reflection while at the same time the natural coalescence of opinion could interfere with ill-advised implementations before they take root by means of the artificial mobilization of opinion marshaled by party apparatus and knee-jerk political allegiances.
The independent, non-party system that I recommend in my book would require and depend upon the formation of a broad spectrum public financing of elections. One of the keys to the existence of institutionalized political parties is the dependency of candidates on parties for fundraising. Public financing is in some respects a separate issue, however, as with political parties, unequal private financing disharmonically skews and imbalances the free flowing of political opinion. Legitimate entitlements are routinely rejected by Libertarians, followers of Ayn Rand (and others) at the expense of true flourishing and individual freedom. And there is little doubt that the entitlement to democratic elections unimpeded by divisive party influences would also be rejected by them, especially if public financing in involved. But entitlements will be the topic of the next edition of this series.
This blog post is also the script for this video/podcast: