Parties Don’t Have Ideologies

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Mark of New Jersey

Mark is a Founding Editor of The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, the predecessor of Ordinary Times.

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7 Responses

  1. Avatar MFarmer
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    says:

    The two parties are in service of maintaining a powerful State and enjoying the power and control that brings for exploitation of public wealth. The parties do have an agenda, but the agenda always circles around to maintaing a powerful State and excercising power and control. We live in a managed society – the parties fight for management rights.Report

  2. Avatar Plinko
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    says:

    I think you’re one-step short on this. I think the parties exist to advance the agenda of the interest group coalitions that are their raison d’être . Electing candidates to office is merely the main, but not only, way they do this.
    Partisanship is the expression of commitment to the interests of their component groups. I don’t want to use the word ‘support’ because the interest groups themselves make the party, they don’t happen to ‘support’ the party because of ideology or any reason other than it is the one they perceive the best odds for the advancement of their interests.
    This is why real libertarianism is not possible in our political system, all players play to advance interests. They are naturally only interested in limitations in as much as they prevent opposing interests from being advanced.Report

  3. Avatar Trumwill
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    says:

    I think the parties exist to advance the agenda of the interest group coalitions that are their raison d’être

    I think it depends mostly on how you look at it. This is sort of like saying that a gadget retailer exists to sell clothes. Well, it sort of does. But it mostly exists to make money, which they do by selling gadgets. Political parties are much the same way. In the same way that a gadget retailer exists to sell gadgets, parties exist to win elections. They do so by motivating, expanding, and satisfying their constituencies. As soon as their constituencies no longer allow them to meet their primary aim (just as a company that can no longer sell gadgets might start selling widgets instead).Report

  4. Avatar Christopher Carr
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    says:

    I think it would more appropriate to say that political parties have no obligation or necessity to adopt a consistent ideology, but they do when the electoral situation calls for it.

    Usually prevailing geopolitics cause these ideological positions to be somewhat consistent; what we call “liberal” and “conservative” don’t really refer to any consistent philosophical positions so much as they refer to the respective congealments of our two dominant factions, and for this reason they’re largely incoherent.Report

  5. Avatar Michael Drew
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    says:

    The core groups that make up the bread-and-butter of those coalitions, meaning the grassroots movement activists and the elite party leadership, far from being the purveyors of a consistent ideology that they claim to be, are instead simply naked partisans whose ideology amounts to little more than opposition to whatever someone in the other coalition might wish to do or not do.

    This seems to be a tautological definition. Since the phrase “the core groups that make up the bread-and-butter of those coalitions,” even with the qualifier, “meaning the grassroots movement activists and the elite party leadership,” has no inherent parameters other than the ones you’re about to set in the blog post, you can then define the group according to whatever predicate makes your point (“naked partisans whose ideology amounts to little more than opposition to whatever someone in the other coalition might wish to do or not do”). Obviously, some party organizers and elite leaders likely have no substantive ideological commitments, but as just certainly, others do. Surely the only way we could have enough information to be confident in this equation is for these categories to be co-defined, i.e., How can you tell if a given person out knocking on doors for Ron Johnson is part of the “core groups that make up the bread-and-butter of [party] coalitions, meaning the grassroots movement activists and the elite party leadership”? Well, “far from being the purveyors of a consistent ideology that they [may] claim to be, [they] are instead simply naked partisans whose ideology amounts to little more than opposition to whatever someone in the other coalition might wish to do or not do.” And that’s fair enough, but it’s solipsistic. And if the further point is that anyone out there knocking on those doors who isn’t part of that group but instead is doing it out of some substantive ideological commitment is ipso facto not doing as a function of partisanship, then that too is solipsistic.

    The fact is that all these categories coincide in many individuals. Lots of people are both ideologically committed to consistent political values, and organizationally integrated into a political party, at anywhere from grassroots to elite leadership levels. (Many of these people additionally seek to reconcile tension between these commitments by engaging in the interest group politics that determine whose ideological priorities win out from year to year.) Are we saying that individuals like these don’t exist within parties? Do we doubt their ideological commitment merely for their allegiance to a political party? At the same time, do we doubt their place at the core of their parties’ coalitions, merely for their ideological commitments? Above all, with all of this going on, does it make sense to dismiss ideology when it comes to discussing parties? It seems to me that ideology is right at the core of intra-party politics, along with other kinds of interests.

    Since a party is a collection of loyalists with ideological and other agendas fighting for primacy, and since the outcome of that fight is indeterminate and changing and therefore not of one consistent ideology, and further since in any case the point of engaging in this infighting with other groups within this larger body is that the larger body gives each group a greater chance at being able to advance its aims than it would have on its own, it may be technically true that “parties do not have ideologies” unto themselves. But this observation merely obscures the place of ideology in party politics, and hence in our politics generally. What do we gain analytically by insisting on the formal point that our parties are not ideological in their composition, when we can see them behaving as a function of ideologies and interests doing battle within them, and when they tend to take positions on issues at a given time that we understand as politically consistent with a certain ideology? They are far from uniform in that behavior (but how could they be, given their fractious internal politics, and the fact that our parties are all-purpose political vehicles, so they have to deal with all issues that come before the public), but that is no reason to pretend that one can’t discern rough ideological orientations that emerge from the parties’ positions and platforms.

    I tend to disagree with Mark’s evidence-free assertion that parties’ core activists are without ideological commitments. Indeed I think it’s fairly safe to say that most of the people who are most involved with the major parties are also committed to particular ideological propositions, and indeed see the former as something worth doing because of the latter (elsewhere I say that it doesn’t invalidate an ideological commitment as such merely because it is coincident to and motivated by an interest, eg. for public school teachers having a commitment to strong public education funding can still be an ideological commitment even though it is plainly also an interest). Ultimately, if what Mark wants to say is that because our parties do not have charters that say essentially “The Republican Party is committed to conservative values which are defined as X, Y, and Z, and the Republican Party will cease to be the Republican Party at such time as it is no longer fully committed in word and in political action to the ideology of a conservatism of X, Y, and Z,” then, okay, we don’t have formally ideological parties. But we do have ideological parties. They are ideological, and also interest-serving and power-seeking, as a function of their members’ and constituent groups’ ideological, interest-based, and power-seeking motives. To roll one’s eyes at this notion of ideology is comparable to rolling one’s eyes at the notion that Microsoft is in the business of selling software because of course its real reason for existing is to make money.Report

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