A Party versus a Collection of Factions

Yuval Levin has a good article on National Review Online called The Election and the Right.

Read the whole thing, but particularly (emphasis added):

The Democratic Party is mostly an incoherent amalgam of interest groups, most of which are vying for benefits for themselves and their members at the expense of other Americans. This kind of party is why America’s founders worried about partisanship and were, at least at first, eager to avoid a party system. It is a bunch of factions more than a party. The basic distinction between a faction and a proper party—a distinction proposed by Edmund Burke, among the first positive proponents of parties in the Anglo-American tradition—is that a faction seeks power over the whole for its own advantage while a party seeks power to advance its own vision of the good of the whole. “A party,” Burke wrote, “is a body of men united for promoting by their joint endeavor the national interest upon some principle in which they are all agreed.”

Some of today’s Democrats do advance such a view of the good of the whole—a progressive view by which the national interest is served by replacing traditional mediating institutions with the more rational and technocratic public institutions of the welfare state, replacing what they take to be a stifling combination of moral collectivism and economic individualism with what they take to be a liberating combination of moral individualism and economic collectivism. It is this view that conservatives call “the Left” and which we oppose and resist. But the Democrats are not united by this view and are by no means all agreed in it. The party’s electoral strength is not a function of its commitment to this view or of the public’s acceptance of it. Its electoral strength is a function of a coalition of special-interest groups that provide both voters and activists in return for the party protecting their interests at the expense of those of other Americans when it is in power.

The Republican Party has its own interest groups too, of course. It has often been too protective of big business, above all. But interest groups of this sort in Republican politics play nothing like the role they have in Democratic politics. The Republican Party, for good and bad, is much more of a real party—largely united and moved (and increasingly so) by a complicated and often contradictory but at bottom very coherent worldview we call conservatism which, to vastly overgeneralize, argues for traditional morality, free enterprise, and a robust national defense. The party’s electoral strength is without question a function of this view and of the public’s acceptance of it (or lack thereof). Its electoral fate therefore depends on its ability to lay out this vision of American life (at least in part translated into concrete policy) for voters in an appealing way and to persuade them of its virtues and its value to them and their country.

A quibble: Levin’s characterization of the Republican Party applies more accurately to the Tea Party Movement than to the Party as a whole.

The Republicans, especially in Washington, have too many who are content with the Special Interest State as long as they can direct the flow of the goodies, or fatten their campaign consultancy fees from the donations of the faithful. That is a major reason why elements of the Party are so willing to join the Democrats in their trashing of the Tea Parties and Sarah Palin, who want to restore the Party to Levin’s vision of it. This is anathema to the looters.

Of course, a reason for me to like Levin’s article so much is that it picks up the same themes as my book Ending ‘Big SIS’ (The Special Interest State) and Renewing the American Republic. Since I regard understanding these themes as essential to our political renaissance, I am delighted to have company.


(65 Posts)

Author: "Ending 'Big SIS' (The Special Interest State) and Renewing the American Republic" (2012) [www.SpecialInterestState.org] and "Property Matters--How Property Rights Are Under Assault and Why You Should Care" (1997). Some former jobs: Assistant Director of Consumer Protection in FTC; member of the Program Analysis Staff of the US Bureau of the Budget; Research Director of the Administrative Conference of the United States; Director of IPCentral at the Progress & Freedom Foundation; VP & GC of the National Legal Center for the Public Interest. Graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, former Book Review Editor of the Harvard Law Review.

Leave a Reply