Democracy has become buzzword in contemporary political and social research. Political parties have come to represent a valuable feature of political freedom, fairness, justice, and decision making in the western world. The extent of political freedoms enjoyed by different countries is often determined by the number of political parties, their relative importance and power of political influence, as well as the role they enjoy in the political and social decisions made by states. However, the number of parties competing for power is not the only criterion for analyzing the state of democracy, stability, and justice. Other factors such as economic wellbeing, social inequality, military involvement, and so on could be helpful in analyzing the degree of political instability in countries that position themselves as democracies.
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Any analysis of the party systems in democracies should begin with a brief definition of political party. "Political parties are organizations that put forward proposed leaders whom they support for official positions in government". In other words, in democratic countries, political parties assume one of the primary roles and functions in nominating candidates for office positions. The underlying intent is to have a political representative in a high political position to promote the interests of this political party. Looking even deeper, such interests are expected to coincide with those of the electoral majority that supports the party and has political needs, which need to be satisfied. This being said, a political party is a voice of the electorate and an instrument for achieving the desired political outcomes. Although this is not always the case, political parties enjoy sustained popularity in democracies as the key source of influence on political decision making.
The example of U.S. parties demonstrates that they do not always reach the desired standard of political representation. On the one hand, they welcome anyone who supports their platforms to join their ranks. On the other hand, U.S. parties are preoccupied more with meeting their election needs than ensuring that their official platforms translate into political action. Thus, it is not uncommon for a U.S. party to nominate a candidate for office, who does not completely support its platform. What is meaningful is the rating and chance to win the tough political competition in a society as democratic as the U.S. Not surprisingly, U.S. parties spend a great deal of time and money on finding a charismatic candidate that will easily outperform his or her political opponent. They engage in a sophisticated analysis of their potential electorate and develop strategies that are tailored to the unique needs and expectations of their voters.
Historically, the U.S. has existed in the realm of two major parties – the Republican and the Democratic. Today, it is difficult to imagine that a third major party player would enter the political landscape. In this sense, the U.S. displays the features of a majoritarian system, in which only two parties take the lead in politics. In majoritarian democracies, minor parties are severely limited in their capacity to compete with major parties. Meanwhile, the major parties represent two distinct ideologies, leaving no room for a political consensus. However, as the Republican and Democratic parties keep dominating the world of U.S. politics, other democracies favor the emergence of new political entities. Multiparty systems represent another form of political decision making, in which multiple major and minor parties coexist and enjoy equal rights in a political competition. In multiparty systems, minor parties face few to no barriers in their desire to join the political struggle. Simultaneously, no single party can legally or literally gain legislative control in the country. As a result, major and minor political parties should come together and create coalitions to promote their interests. Such systems are not uncommon in the countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet bloc.
One of the key impressions about multiparty systems is that they contribute to instability. The view is particularly popular in the U.S., where the two major parties symbolize the historical commitment of the American democracy to stability and predictability. To put it simply, American voters almost always know what they are to expect from the next elections. They also see the effectiveness and transparency of their political process, which is why they may misunderstand the need for choosing among dozens of parties that stand on a diversity of political platforms. However, it is wrong to believe that multiparty systems symbolize instability. Nor is it right to associate multiparty systems with the periods of political transition. Not all transitional democracies welcome the creation of new political parties. Likewise, not all countries with only two political parties are stable enough to become a role model for other democracies. Apparently, the number of political parties cannot serve as the only criterion for judging the level of stability in a particular country. Other factors such as economic and social wellbeing, military controversies, and the laws governing the political process should be considered to create a full and objective picture of stability in democracies.
Summary of the Reading
The Union as a Safeguard against Domestic Faction and Insurrection from the New York Packet. Friday, November 23, 1787
The focus of the reading is on how the Union can moderate the power of political factions without discriminating against the fundamental rights and liberties of citizens. Madison (1787) asserts that republican structures are unique in their power to undermine and monitor the political influence of factions.
"By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community." (Madison)
Madison suggests two means for moderating the violence of factions. First, the union can remove their causes. This, however, will also require eliminating the basic liberties, which is incompatible with the very essence of a democratic state. Second, the union can control the effects of faction violence; this, in the view of Madison is the best a democracy can do to bring political relief to people.
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If a faction does not represent the majority, then regular vote is enough to overcome its sinister threat. In other instances, the principles of representation and delegation will do their job. Madison (1787) stands on a position that small republics are more suited for electing the worthiest candidates to politics. With a greater number of citizens living in the republic, it opens better opportunities for promoting distinguished candidates and limiting their unworthy rivals in power. This being said, a proper structure of the Union with States that decide to join it is crucial for remedying the most threatening political diseases of the republican government. A large republic will become the best strategy for limiting the power of factions, by dispersing their influences across the States and minimizing the risks of their subsequent transformation into a major party.