Democracy, For Most Of The People, By Most Of People Essay, Research Paper
In his speech at Bayeux, General Charles De Gaulle spoke of how “the Greeks in earlier times used to ask the sage Solon, What is the best constitution?’ He used to reply: Tell me for what people and at what epoch (Suleiman, 137).’” Can simply the organization of government help to stabilize democracy in a given country? “While no one particular constitutional arrangement ensures democratic stability and effective government, an institutional form of governance may exercise a strong influence on the whole political process (Suleiman, 137).” It is especially difficult to chose one specific institutional arrangement, given the broad differences that exist between different countries. However, in choosing the single most important factor that stabilizes democracy in Western European nations, the institution of the political party merits just as much attention as any constitutional arrangement.
A democracy is a government “for the people,” run “by the people.” In representative governments, which all practical democracies are, political parties have become the primary forces in nominating, supporting, and electing candidates for office, drawing many to the conclusion that governments are for the parties, run by the parties. How can this system affect a nations democratic stability though? One needs only to look at Germany’s through the twentieth century in order to see just how a nation’s party system can stabilize and de-stabilize democracy. Hitler’s rise to power was a result of the Weimar Republic’s political parties becoming decentralized. Anywhere from ten to fifteen parties were represented under the Reichstag, leading to the prevail of extreme views. After World War II, much was done to ensure that democracy would not break down again, as it had done under Hitler. The concentrated party system that Germany has today, with only three or four parties, can be traced to the military governments licensing of political parties in 1945-1946. “In the long run the German contribution to the concentration of the party system proved more effective than the short lived influence of the occupying powers (Niclauss, 52).” Germany’s three to four party system has brought more than fifty years of stable democracy to a people who were once thought of as not being capable of running their own democracy. Germany does use an electoral law as a way of ensuring that this system does not change significantly, however. Today, only parties obtaining five percent of the vote (or representatives elected from three of Germany’s electoral districts) can be represented in parliament. “The party system has supplied the foundation for a well functioning and stable governmental system (Niclauss, 53).”
Great Britain maintains its democracy in much the same way. With only two parties, Britain has long been one of the most democratic states in the world. These two parties, though bitter rivals, are successfully able to hand over almost complete control of the government election after election. Britain’s political parties do receive help from their electoral system just as Germany’s do. Britain’s plurality system makes it virtually impossible for other parties to succeed. With voters realizing that a vote for a third party is basically a wasted vote, other parties are doomed before they began.
The stability that parties bring to democracy is illustrated in France as well. Finally, France appears to have a government that will work for the ages. France’s government differs from Germany in that it uses a presidential system, with a powerful executive ruling independently from the legislature. France also has essentially a multi-party system, however extreme views have not reached dangerous levels. It is a system “subdivided into bilateral two-headed poles,” which has served to “considerably reduce the weight of the center and of the extremist parties (Suleiman, 147).” Though De Gaulle and his supporter’s may have set out to eliminate parties from the Fifth Republic, “it was the first to recognize their existence and their importance (Suleiman, 146).” France uses its presidential system as a check on its party system, however. “The political system of the Fifth Republic is characterized by an interplay of three distinct majorities: presidential, parliamentary, and governmental (Suleiman, 148).” No president can exercise power effectively unless all three majorities coincide. This stabilizes democracy through the fact that it would be nearly impossible for a non-democratic group to attain power on all three levels, thus encouraging leaders to remain democratic. The presidential system is especially necessary in France, due to its proportional appropriation of seats to the National Assembly. Without the presidential system, the Fifth Republic could be divided by innumerable parties, putting democracy in grave danger.
Political parties are the primary institutions to maintain democracy in nations. However, they walk a fine line between order and chaos. Although ideally, there would be a political party to represent the views of every human being, this can not happen. Unless parties remain centralized and consequently generic, they will not be able to draw enough supporters to ensure that a small, ill-willed group, if determined can not overtake the masses an election day. Democracy becomes jeopardized without the large number of votes brought in by large parties. This was seen in Germany, and is evident today in many of the dictatorial regimes of the world.
This is why constitutional arrangements are necessary to strengthen political party systems, such as in Germany, Great Britain, and France. They ensure that political parties remain centralized. However political parties form the foundations of democracy, and even though they require limits on themselves to ensure democracy, they make sure that governments at least remain for most of the people, by most of the people.