Skip to main content Accessibility help

The 1938 Elections and the American Party System

  • F. A. Hermas

Political parties have been subjected to more vigorous criticism than any other institution of modern democracy. It is charged that their divisions split a country artificially. It is further contended that the line-up into the two camps of government and opposition makes it impossible for a country to avail itself of all its political talent, since those belonging to the opposition party are, temporarily at least, unavailable for constructive work, and are instead making every effort to obstruct the government in power. In the United States the point has frequently been made that the two major parties are no longer justified because neither of them contains anything which it could consider characteristic of itself. “The party term Republican isn't definitive any more. It isn't even descriptive. No more so is the party term Democrat. They are labels on empty bottles, signs on untenanted houses, cloaks that cover but do not conceal the skeletons beneath them.” More recently a similar charge has been made by Dr. Mortimer Adler, a writer who brilliantly combines his analysis of the present with a knowledge of the past. He directs attention to the fact that parties, instead of responding to issues, tend to create them. According to Dr. Adler, parties would be justified if they served only the purpose for which they have been created and then dissolved; of course, in reality, they perpetuate their existence. On somewhat similar lines the famous biographer of the modern party organization, Ostrogorski, proceeded from theoretical criticism to practical suggestions. His plan was to replace existing parties by “leagues,” which were to respond to one issue only, and be dissolved as soon as that issue should be settled.

Hide All

1 Blythe, S., “Why Not Scrap Them Both,” The Saturday Evening Post, 03 25, 1922.

2 “Parties and the Common Good,” The Review of Politics, 03, 1939.

3 Democracy and the Organization of Political Parties, Vol. II, New York 1922, pp. 658 ff.

4 Wirlschaft und Cesellschaft, Tübingen, 1922, p. 167.

5 Friedrich, C. J., Constitutional Government and Politics, New York 1937, p. 298.

6 Maurras, Ch., Enquête sur la Monarchic, Paris, 1925, p. 119.

7 The theory of political parlies, which this definition implies, is similar to the one given by Lowell, L., The Government of England. Vol. II, London 1921, p. 96. Bryce, James, Modern Democracies, vol. I, New York 1931, pp. 11 ff., makes some remarks on this subject which reveal his deep wisdom as well as his comprehensive knowledge at their best. Yet, in this instance as in others, Bryce fails to be thoroughly systematic. Both Ostrogorski (Democracy and the Organization of Political Parties, loc. cit.) and Michels, Robert, Political Parties, A Sociological Study of Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracy, New York, 1915, confine their attention to the organization of political parties, instead of basing their analyses on an understanding of the function which has called these organizations into being.

8 Constitutional Government in the Untied States, p. 220.

9 Loc. cit., p. 52.

10 Hermens, F. A., “The Meaning of Democracy,” Centralblatt and Social Justice, 06, 1937.

11 “Lehman Plurality Officially 64,004,” New York Times, 12 8, 1938.

12 For the figures see “35 Write in Votes cast for Governor,” New York Times, 11 30, 1938.

13 “Public Jobs for Reds are Banned in Both Lehman and Dewey Pledges,” New York Times, 11 5, 1938.

14 Waltman, F., in his column of 11 13, 1938, here quoted from the Chicago Sunday Times of the same date.

15 For further details of the problem see Marx, F. Morstein, “Bureaucracy and Consultation,” The Review of Politics, 03 1939.

16 The deficiencies of bureaucracy have often been discussed by English writers. For a convenient summary see Laski, H. J., The Limitations of the Expert, London 1930.

17 Bismarck complained emphatically about this feature in the outlook of his Prussian bureaucracy; once he spoke of the ministerial departments as “the eight confederate ministerial states.” (“Gedanken und Erinnerungen,” edition for the Deutsche Buchgemeinschaft, Stuttgart, p. 547.)

18 This happened during the world war, when Winston Churchill prevailed upon the British military leaders to undertake the expedition of Gallipoli. This enterprise was to a certain extent sabotaged by the naval authorities, but the historians of the war now more or less agree that if it had been carried out as suggested Constantinople could easily have been taken and the war might have ended in 1915. Also, it might be mentioned that when later the collapse of the armies of the Central powers was brought about, this was not done in France, where the German forces, although retreating, were kept intact until the armistice. The disintegration came on the minor fronts, in particular in Serbia and in Italy, and the attacks which led to this result had been forced upon the military leaders by Mr. Lloyd George.

19 On the selective functions of the British House of Commons see Low, S., The Governance of England, London 1915, pp. 95 ff.

20 We must be careful, of course, not to expect perfection. What an institution really accomplishes can be seen only by comparison with a possible alternative. A good example is offered by the conditions prevailing during the war. In Germany typical bureaucrats, such as v. Bethmann Hollweg and Michaelis, became Chancellors. In England and France, however, the respective parliaments did not come to a rest until Mr. Lloyd George and Clemenceau were in power. Who would deny that these “political lawyers” did a job which was superior to that of their bureaucratic opponents in Berlin?

21 Enquête sur la Monarchie, loc. cit., p. 119.

22 Congressional Government, Boston 1890, p. 215.

23 On this matter see, for example, Disraeli, Coningsby, bk II, ch. 1.

24 It may be asked why these attempts were not more successful than they proved to be. To this question an answer must be given which has a bearing on most of the problems discussed in the course of this article: The reason is that power is not vested in the majority party as such, but in an executive independent from it. On this matter see Woodrow Wilson, Congressional Government, loc. cit., and on its more immediate aspects, see “President vs. Congress,” editorial in the New York Times, 02 17, 1939.

25 Such as Bruce Barton. See “Republican Unity Urged by Barton. Offer Better Government for 1940, but Do Not ‘Out-Promise’ New Deal, He Warns,” New York Times, 12 20, 1938.

26 Quoted from “National Unity,” editorial in the New York Times, 11 26, 1938.

27 Dorothy Thompson in her column of November 10, 1938, here quoted from the South Bend Tribune of the same date.

29 Pettengill, S. B., Jefferson, The Forgotten Man, New York 1938, p. 101.

30 Tableau Politique de la France de l'Ouest sous la Troisième République, Paris 1913, pp. 497 and IX.

31 On the history of the attempts to create “real” parties in this country see Commager, H. St., “Can Roosevelt Draw New Party Lines? His aim to separate Liberal and Conservative, a Historian holds, runs counter to traditions.” New York Times Magazine, 09 4, 1938.

32 Cardinal Amette of Paris declared in a letter addressed to his people in 1921: “It is your duty to vote wisely, that is to say, in such a way as not to waste your votes. It would be better to cast them for candidates who, although not giving complete satisfaction to all our legitimate demands, would lead us to expect from them a line of conduct useful to the country, rather than to keep your votes for others whose program would indeed be more perfect, but whose almost certain defeat might open the door to the enemies of religion and the social order.” (Quoted from Ryan, J. A. and Millar, Moorhouse F. X., The State and the Church, New York 1936, p. 274.) The fact that this admonition to practice a policy of the lesser evil was given in France is of particular interest. French Catholics had often acted contrary to such advice, and had sometimes preferred an alliance with Rightists whose moral principles were of a questionable character (For details see Gurian, W., Die politischen und sozialen Ideen des francösischen Katholizismus, 1789–1914, München-Gladbach 1928, pp. 268 ff.) to cooperation with moderate Republicans. After the War this policy was reversed by those Catholics who were most active politically, and the result was that in a comparatively short time most of the conflicts existing between Church and State could be removed.

33 “Cases of conscience do no doubt arise, and are sometimes perplexing, but twenty-seven years in the British House of Commons have led me to believe that they are less frequent than one would, looking at the matter a priori, have expected them to be.” (Modern Democracies, loc. cit., p. 120.)

34 See The Works of Aristotle, Vol. X, ch. 8. par. 8, “Constitution of Athens,” translated by Jowett, B., Forster, E. S., and SirKenyon, F. G., Oxford 1921.

35 Hermens, F. A., “The Corporative Idea and the Crisis of Democracy,” Centralblatt and Social Justice, 03 1939.

36 Brecht, A., “Constitutions and Leadership,” Social Research, 08 1934.

37 “Hash by the Billion,” The Saturday Evening Post, 08 29, 1936.

38 In his message on the budget for 1938–39.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The Review of Politics
  • ISSN: 0034-6705
  • EISSN: 1748-6858
  • URL: /core/journals/review-of-politics
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed