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The Party in Time

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 July 2015


Trends of falling membership and support spell a time of crisis for political parties, possibly of transformation. Dilemmas of principle arise: should partisans revise their normative commitments in whatever way garners new supporters, or would that be to sell their party’s soul? This article investigates this as a problem of intergenerational obligation, examining what consideration (if any) partisans owe their party’s past and future. It seeks to show the limits of conceiving partisanship as a ‘presentist’ activity that is legitimately governed exclusively by the concerns of the present generation, and argues that it must include some notion of showing loyalty to the actions of predecessors and advancing the prospects of those to come. Two corresponding norms of ethical partisanship – fidelity and sustainability – are outlined and discussed. The article’s goal is to refine our concept of what a party is, and in so doing contribute to a broader ethics of activism.

© Cambridge University Press 2015 

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European Institute, London School of Economics and Political Science (email: The article significantly benefitted from the feedback of Geoff Brennan, John Dryzek, Dimitris Efthymiou, Nic Southwood, Fabio Wolkenstein and Lea Ypi, as well as participants of the Moral, Social and Political Theory Seminar at the Australian National University (ANU), four referees of this journal and its editor. The research was facilitated by a visiting fellowship at ANU’s School of Philosophy and a fellowship at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin funded by the EURIAS programme.


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