Essay on Political Parties

Historically, the emergence of political parties has accompanied the growth of the modem electorate. Indeed, it was the latter that made the former.

The more the right to vote became extended and multiplied, the more it became necessary for party organisations, which previously had been based upon legislative cliques, to organise the electors in order to make the candidates known and to canalize the votes in their direction.

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Parties, thus, acquired their new character. They became mass organisations, linking together a large body of citizens with their representatives in the legislative assemblies. They developed institutions of their own and with a view to fighting and winning elections, they collected financial contributions.

In this way the parties responded to the real need. Without them the millions of voters who composed the new electorate would have become a disorganized crowd unable to formulate their aims or debate the important and many issues they confronted. “By means of parties, the voters obtained a medium that, to state it in no stronger terms, afforded a chance of rational and coherent action.”

The Theory of Human Nature:

One main explanation of party divisions is that it is based on human nature. According to this theory some people are instinctively conservative and want to leave things as they are; others are instinctively progressive and want to make changes.

These inborn temperamental differences incline an individual towards one party or another. To these two natural or psychological party divisions are given the names of parties of the Left and Right.

These names take their origin from the custom followed in the legislatures of European Continental countries where the progressive members sit on the left of the President, and their opponents on the right—this custom dates as far back as the French National Assembly of 1789.

These innate temperamental differences are often modified by age as well as by circumstances. Advancing years are always accompanied by the cautious conservatism of age. Conservatism is the product of mature intellectual judgment whereas youth is radical.

Emotionalism and impulsiveness are regarded as the special attributes of youth. Young men are, as a rule, radical in their thoughts and actions and aim at introducing drastic and revolutionary changes in the existing social order.

There is, therefore, much truth in the slaying of a King of Sweden: “A young man, my dear Minister, who has not been a Socialist before he is five and twenty shows that he has no heart. But if he continues to be one after five and twenty he shows that he has no head,” the implication being that there is a tendency for political opinion to grow less progressive with age.

In the concluding Chapter of his Public Opinion in War and Peace, Lawrence Lowell presents a theory of political dispositions. Discarding an old classification of people into those desiring liberty and progress on one side and defence of the established order on the other, he suggests that people be divided into the contented and the discontented, and into those who are sanguine or not about possible changes.

By combining any of these two traits, one finds four groups of people: those who are discontented with present conditions and sanguine about improvement, the radicals; those who are contented and sanguine, the liberals; those who are contented, but not hopeful of improvement, the conservatives; and, finally, those who are not contented with existing conditions and at the same time see no prospects of better things to come, reactionaries.

Then, in considering the change from one of these dispositions to another, Lowell, following Rohmer, speaks of the tendency of men to run the cycle from radical to reactionary as they grow old.

He also points out “the rarity of persons changing from one disposition to another diagonally opposed, the reason being that two basic changes would be involved, that from content to discontent and from sanguinity to despondence, a combination which is not very likely to occur at the same time.”

Conflict of Economic Interests:

But the more realistic basis of division into parties is the conflict of economic interests. Arthur Halcombe has correctly said that “national parties cannot be maintained by transitory impulses or temporary needs. They must be founded upon permanent sectional interests, above all upon those of an economic character.”

Differences in possessions, economic outlook of the people and economic conditions are the vital forces behind the formation of political parties. Men of property are invariably inclined to caution, distrusting and dreading change because it threatens their economic security. Others, having no possessions, thrive upon the hope that change will improve their lot but is not likely to make it substantially worse.

Conflict of economic interests is such an important factor in the division of parties that even Lord Macaulay so linked together diversities of temper and diversities of interest as if they were of the same order.

Some people are repelled by the suggestion that human conduct is shaped by economic motives. There may be some force in their argument that politics is not all economics, but certainly without economics, politics is an utter mystery.

Environmental Effect:

It is often claimed that men inherit their politics and religion. Membership in a party, as in a church, is less a matter of man’s conviction and decision. It is the pressure of his environments and particularly of the groups to which he belongs, the family group exerting a potent influence.

The young man joins a particular party, because his father belonged to it. Party allegiance, like property, is often transmitted from generation to generation.

In the vast majority of cases the son enters politics on the same side as his father. Sometimes, also, there may be settled political traditions in a wider group. This may combine with the influence of group interests, but it may be largely independent of that.

In the United States, for instance, it used to be said that the people of Irish descent would traditionally incline to the Democrats and people of German descent to the Republicans. In Britain sometimes, though less than formerly, certain districts or regions have a traditional attachment to one particular party.

Religious and Communal Sentiments:

Political parties may also be based on religious affinities. In the Western countries religious and communal passions are excluded from the conduct of government. But in India political parties were unfortunately divided by her past rulers on religious grounds in order to defeat the nationalist forces and to strengthen their hold on the country.

Today, India is a secular State, yet communal parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Akalis, the Muslim League Party of India and many others still exist with their own communal labels. Political parties with communal colouring are bound to militate against the development of national spirit and the successful working of Parliamentary government.

For the building up of national unity secularization of politics and pursuit of a vigorous social and economic programme are absolutely necessary. “The wisest of leaders in all denominations,” says Beard, “have deplored the introduction of religious disputes into political discussions and campaigns.”

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