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Name: Luis Tobon
Class: National Government
Teacher: Kenneth Quinnell

Political Parties and Democracy

Political partiescan either be good or bad for democracy. The word democracy comes from two Latin words: demos (people), and kratein, (to rule). (Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia, 2001).

Democracy is government of the people. In order to analyze the causes that originated political parties and their influence in a democratic government the definition of political party should be understood first. A political party is “A group of voters, office-holders and candidates who label themselves a political party” (Penna, 2001, p.51).

However, there is a different point of view that should also be taken in consideration when analyzing political parties,      “the major political party is the creature of the politicians, the ambitious office seeker and officeholder. They have created and maintained, used or abuse, reformed or ignored the political party when doing so has furthered their goals and ambitions” (Aldrich, 1995, p.4).


So it can be said that political parties are not only independent entities formed to fulfill the interests of its partisans, but that it is the way for democracies to solve the problems of the whole nation. Solving the problems of the whole embraces the interest of the people, making political parties good for democracy. It is very important not to view political parties as independent entities, we should considerate their political surroundings and what they represent for the people. World history gives rise to different party systems and human nature always seeks association as the ultimate political good. "All associations have ends: the political association has the highest; but the principle of association expresses itself in different forms and through different modes of government " (Aristotle, 1998, p7).


At the beginning of the American republic, the framers main purpose was to create a Constitution that maintains security and continuity of the nation. They were afraid that political parties will divide the government, as well as they feared that the interests of the world would be forgotten. They wanted to try democracy under a Constitution that will embrace its ideology, and that will bring prosperity for the future (Aldrich, 1995, p.17).


Even though the framers were against parties, the framers themselves created parties in the U.S. The first party System in America comes from a policy conflict between Hamilton and Jefferson. Congress in the 1780’s was not able to solve the place of the capital, the federal government's funding and the balance between federal government and states was not clear. Disagreement in political issues provoked both Congressmen to look for support and form coalitions in Congress. Therefore, Hamilton’s Federalists where formed by Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans and the first party system.

Instability in political issues pressured the first Congresses to look for rapid solutions. Their urge to bring a better solution for the nation, and their trouble passing bills with the majority rule pressured them to form coalitions. It was in the Congress' mentality to represent and achieve the good that they thought would bring the best outcome. During U. S. history it has been observed that any time political parties fail to represent certain ideology of people, new political parties form, usually in times of socio-economic crisis or political instability.

During the Third Party System (1856-1896) the slavery issue and the differences in economic resources created crisis between North and South. Sectional sentiments decreased the Whigs electoral support, but gave opportunity for the rise of a new party. The Republican Party was soon established by Democrats northern areas as well as abolitionists and dissidents from the Whigs.


The Democrats were mainly slavery supporters, farmers and people whose economy was based in agriculture. In this case the slavery issues importance in the Americans lives quickly divided the country into North and South, abolitionists and supporters. As the Northern abolitionist sentiment grew stronger the need of support and their needs gave birth to the Republican Party. They viewed this party as the solution to their needs and it included Americans and slaves. "(Pridham 1981, p.16)


The American party system proved that great things can be done for democracy by transforming slaves into U.S. citizens. It’s important to observe different sentiments during the history of humanity, and how they cause the rise of political parties like Nazism and Socialism. "political parties should not be analyzed too exclusively as autonomous entities...consideration should also be given to the political environment and to their political roles and strategies" (Pridham 1981, p.13).


It is possible to observe that, when a country faces severe political injustice and economic crisis, it can lead to the rise of radical parties like fascism. During the unification of Italy, the country was controlled by a political class called the 'historic Right' (later liberals). This political party dominated a centralized state and enjoyed of the lack of political opposition. This class was made by political elites, which came from the land and the commercial bourgeoisie. By the beginning of the 1900s religious sentiment and new ideologies caused the rise of two more parties: the Christian Democracy party and the Italian Communist Party. After the First World War Italian politics changed dramatically, the sentiments of nationality and political union gave rise to the fascist state. People under crisis welcomed Fascism and people that wanted radical change from a radical party. They never envisioned that the fascist party would later form to be a menace to the European community. Being a democratic nation Italy formed into a dictatorship and under this conditions a political party is destructive. After the Second World War, Italians learned from their mistake and the party system became much more important in their lives. The political communication of the nation was the competitive political parties. After the postwar period they gained support from different groups. "a system in which the political parties are not only the controlling power in the decision making processes of the state, but also permeate the activities of public life in general"(Pridham 1981, p.4).


The Bolshevik Revolution and the First World War gave birth to Communist and Nazi parties through Europe. The First World War brought strong political and economic crisis to countries like France and Germany. Extreme pressure from the people gave extreme decisions form the political masses. Communism, Fascism and Nazism were thought to be better choices than a Democratic solution. The First World War impacted the Germans so much that resentment and hatred embraced the nation. The war gave rise to a national sentiment, a suspension of domestic conflicts, and a respect for high social classes and military discipline. Conservatives issues were strong in Germany; the National Socialist Party represented the needs and interests of the defeated German people. Finally, the economic crisis in 1927 to 1932 brought a lot of turmoil in Germany. Democracy was thought to be weak and Conservatives saw this as an opportunity to gain power. (Historia Bolchevique, 2002)


"The crisis as a unique opportunity to turn the garmented right into a truly cohesive, reactionary bloc capable of transforming the political order along more auto critic lines" (Kreuzer 2001 p.117). In Germany, Prime Minister Hindenburg finally gave power to Hitler and Nazi party due to political pressures. Hitler was a leader who raised the German's esteem in a very difficult moment. His charismatic oratory and the ability to excite the masses soon left the German people under his control. Stressing issues of superior race, nationalism, loyalty and by claiming that the Democrats betrayed Germany in the First World War, Hitler was their beloved leader. It is only at this time, with this people and under this political environment that a party like Nazism could gain support and power. I have proven how the politics and the conditions of the time give birth to parties like Nazism which was to change the shape of Europe forever. During the 1930s the Nazi represented the Germans solution for their problems, it represented their resentment toward the Allies who defeated, and it was needed for their own self-esteem. (Holocaust and Adolf Hitler, 2000)

Obviously political party’s pressure can change the fate of millions. The Bolshevik party and Russian Revolution or the Nazi party and World War II are just a couple of examples of how political parties affect everybody’s life.


The same thing happened with the Germans and the Italians. Once a party becomes autonomous and becomes a dictatorship, the people needs will be left alone, personal ambition increases leading to repression and injustice. The Nazis ended up killing many people and destroying German cities by searching for their own needs, without caring about either democracy or the people. Therefore, a party becomes destructive when it opposes democracy, but it is very prosperous under a democratic government.


The Unites States remains until today the example of Democracy in the world. Being the world's super power many countries have imitated the American government to bring stability to their own governments. Political Parties have been the major influence for the positive changes in the country, like the women's right to vote, abolition of slavery and the protection of minorities. It is incredible how the parties have balanced the power between themselves and how American politicians have respected the desires of the framers and the Constitution. It is easy to think that political parties are coalitions that only benefit partisans, and exclude minorities or people with other interests. It is impossible to deny that each party struggles to maintain power in Congress and that it competes with its opposition to get their candidates elected. The party also helps the office seeker and the office holder to keep representing their ideals and to achieve goals convenient to the party.


Democracy generally can be seen as an extremely positive characteristic: “ambitious politicians, seeking to have a long and successful career, are all led by the necessity of winning broad support in the face of stiff competition to reflect the desires of those citizens that support them" (Aldrich, 1995, p13). This is why political parties are good for a democracy; all the politicians in the United States are directly or indirectly chosen by the people. For example, the president may select justices for the Supreme Court, but it was the people who elected him and gave him the power and trust to make those decisions.


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Kreuzer, Marcus. (2001). “Institutions and Innovation: Voters, Interest Groups and  

Parties in the Consolidation of Democracy. France and Germany, 1870-1939". Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Penna, David. (Ed.) (2002) Political Parties: Definition and Evolution.

Perkin, Doug. (1994) “Some Causes and Consequences of Party Formation in Western and Eastern Europe.” Ohio State University.

Pridham, Geoffrey., & Pridham, Pippa. (1981) “Transnational Party Cooperation and European Integration.” London:

George Allen., & Unwin. (2000). The American Presidency. Political Parties. Grolier Incorporated.

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