Saturday, March 28, 2009

Why Parties? by John Aldrich

In his book, Why Parties?, John H. Aldrich attempts to explain why parties formed, and what good they did in a historical context. I found this writing to be interesting, because it examined the actual happenings of the government, and proposed a framework for what happened based on what happened. In many ways, this book suffers from the same flaw that a case study would suffer from. Mainly, there is nothing to compare it to, and that the case study itself is self-selecting the outcome of the hypothesis. In this situation that means that the pick of the formation of the parties in a historical context, must provide the accurate background for the hypothesis or it would not have been chosen as the case study.

However, many of the points made in this book are interesting. One of the points that I find most interesting in this book is that the parties formed, historically, in order to prevent disorganization and the failing of the Constitution. This would imply, that contrary to the belief of the author, all of the people involved did have at least one similar goal in mind – the stability of the Constitution and the organizations associated therewith. This is an interesting note in his book because the people involved had already been through a lot of tough times with instability. There was the Revolutionary War – which provided much instability, and then there were the Articles of the Confederation – which folded like a paper in the wind when tested. So it makes sense that these particular people wanted a sense of stability. That parties were organized to provide this stability seems a little strong, however, there was a lot of evidence provided to make his point.

Namely the evidence regarding the association of parties and voting in the First, Second and Third Congresses. This evidence was structured in such a way as to provide support for the theory that parties were not in existence at the First Congress, but that as issues became more complex and the desire of people was to solve the issues to create stability, parties came into existence. One of the most potent lines in the book was that an unorganized majority can be split, but an organized majority is harder to split.

It is true that the statement above hold over to today. If you look at the US Senate, for example, you will see that it is harder to split the majority because they are organized. They owe something to the organization and the higher coalition of values that it presents. Therefore, you will get voting patterns based more on overall values than personal preferences. This was a point in the book that was made very well. That when you have a party or something to which you owe allegiance, you are more likely to set aside matters of personal preference in order to vote with the allegiance.

Overall, this book was well supported and well documented. The assertions that were made are still relevant to understanding why the two party system in the US exists and functions the way it functions today. This book was particularly well supported with data and used existing resources and studies that had been around for a while, and so are commonly understood and accepted by scholars of that area, to back-up various assertions that were made. In law this is called using precedent – I would imagine the same principle applies in political theory. If you base your study around something that is commonly excepted you will have less problems with the acceptance of your study.

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