by Frank Muller
The Dangers of Political Parties
Alexander Hamilton, the founder of the Federalist Party
In his farewell address, Washington advances his idea of the dangers of sectionalism and expands his warning to include the dangers of political parties to the government and country as a whole. His warnings took on added significance with the recent creation of the Democratic-Republican Party by Jefferson, to oppose Hamilton’s Federalist Party, which had been created a year earlier in 1791, which in many ways promoted the interest of certain regions and groups of Americans over others. A more pressing concern for Washington, which he makes reference to in this portion of the address, was the Democratic-Republican efforts to align with France and the Federalist efforts to ally the nation with Great Britain in an ongoing conflict between the two European nations brought about by the French Revolution.
While Washington accepts the fact that it is natural for people to organize and operate within groups like political parties, he also argues that every government has recognized political parties as an enemy and has sought to repress them because of their tendency to seek more power than other groups and take revenge on political opponents.
Moreover, Washington makes the case that “the alternate domination” of one party over another and coinciding efforts to exact revenge upon their opponents have led to horrible atrocities, and “is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism.” From Washington’s perspective and judgment, the tendency of political parties toward permanent despotism is because they eventually and “gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual.”
Washington goes on to acknowledge the fact that parties are sometimes beneficial in promoting liberty in monarchies, but argues that political parties must be restrained in a popularly elected government because of their tendency to distract the government from their duties, create unfounded jealousies amongst groups and regions, raise false alarms amongst the people, promote riots and insurrection, and provide foreign nations and interests access to the government where they can impose their will upon the country.
Can we imagine a political environment devoid of parties? What a novel concept that citizens motivated out of a specific concern or cause run on the merits of an issue or idea rather than the label of a team or party?
The base human instinct to categorize and align itself into groups is manipulated in political discourse for purposes of power. The Founders recognized this issue and vainly tried to limit the influence or even existence of political parties. Obviously, this effort failed and with it the idealistic notion that men and women of conscience and principal would run for political office to advance an idea with the mandate of the people. Once that goal is accomplished they would retire once again to private life to pursue the liberties and happiness a free society provides.
Contemplate a world where there are no Republicans or Democrats. Each politician is stripped of that label, that infrastructure and that money and they can only run on the merit of their ideas. The blessings of a spirited debate on the issues between politicians who have taken upon themselves to become experts in an idea and to advocate it strongly in the public forum.
Giving our society the freedom to hear only ideas and not labels will bring us together as the Founders intended with a profound sense and understanding of our political system. An informed populace on our structure educated with the best of competing ideas creates a society that benefits exponentially from that diversity and strength.
The path to resolving our current issues is to break down groups, build up ideas manifested through the best and brightest in our society and unite us and our brothers/sisters around the planet with these common values through our example and our vision of human expansion beyond this beautiful oasis in space.
In later blogs, I will expand upon the idea of neutrality and my suggestion that all foreign entanglements eventually facilitate the conflict we seek to avoid.
One thought on “The Cancer of Political Parties”
Great post. Political parties, not political beliefs are anti-democratic as a team win always comes before the needs of the country.
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