Party ‘Reform’ in Retrospect

In Political Parties in the Eighties, Robert A. Goldwin, ed. (Washington: The AEI Press, 1980), pp. 20-33. Reprinted in Edward C. Banfield, Here the People Rule: Selected Essays (Washington, DC: AEI, 1991).


In a paper written almost twenty years ago, I maintained that a political system is an accident, and that to meddle with one that works well is the greatest foolishness of which men are capable. Nevertheless, I said, a democracy will always meddle, because its logic legitimates only such power as arises from reasonable discussion about the common good in which all participate. A democracy will therefore try to reform away all power from other sources and—since power arising from reasonable discussion is never enough to govern—democracy must eventually reform itself out of existence. My argument referred especially to the American party system, which had produced good results precisely because of its alleged defects, that is, its lack of correspondence to the democratic ideal. Eliminating these “defects,” I concluded, might “set off changes that will ramify throughout the political system, changing its character completely.”

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