People love to talk about being libertarian, progressive or constitutionalist, but when it comes time to vote in the USA, the two federally recognized parties are the only ones that seem to count. No third-party candidate has ever won a presidential election in the modern era of American politics.
That doesn’t mean nothing has ever changed, though. Roughly 200 years ago, the political groups that started our multi-party system were the elitist Federalists and the Democratic-Republican Party.
That might sound like a long time, but around the world, other countries have explored many different approaches to the problem of how to organize politically. Some have six or more different parties, while others use a one-party system.
Why Is “Two” the Magic Number?
Before we examine other governments, it’s helpful to understand the history of the two-party system. The founding fathers felt it was an excellent alternative to a one-party arrangement that could give a single despot too much power and the multi-party, parliamentary systems that other nations were using at the time.
Think back to your high school political science class and you might remember that Gen. George Washington was very skeptical of too many factions. He wanted to design a government that would be stable, and that would continue to move forward with the business of nationhood rather than being pulled in many different directions.
Hence, the two-party American government was born — but it is still the minority worldwide. Even our North American neighbors use the multi-party system.
The Potential of the Multi-Party System
Canada and Great Britain are examples of multi-party systems you’re probably somewhat familiar with. In these types of governments, there are several parties that influence the political conversation. Within the multiple parties, a single party might be the most prominent at any given time or might vie with a smaller group of popular parties to control the general political dialog.
Another example of this is the British Labor party, Liberal Democrats and Tories. All three parties are major political players, larger than parties such as the Scott’s National Party, for example. However, the fact that other parties exist means that even a leading party needs to listen to the ideas of a minority party and craft deals to remain in power.
A Little Note on One-Party Systems
We often associate the single-party system with Lenin, who believed that only the Communist party could bring the proletariat to realize its full potential. This system can look attractive on paper.
Ideally, it eliminates the potential for a partisan divide because everyone is, essentially, supposed to be in the same party. Unfortunately, when the ruling party makes choices for you, the constitutional right to vote that we enjoy in a democracy inherently goes away.
The former Soviet Union is no more, but dominant-party government does still exist. Many African nations still practice it. About 30 years ago, inhabitants felt they were too poor to indulge in the luxuries of political pluralism. Now, however, a new understanding of corruption is fueling an uprising among Africa’s youth.
For many poor African countries, one-party rule was nothing more than tribal warlords running slipshod governments. Transition of power only came during bloody coups. Now, however, places like Ghana and Ethiopia are demonstrating what can be accomplished when power is peacefully transitioned between administrations.
North Korea is another example of a one-party system, one that is less threatened by its people than the one-party systems in Africa. The small number of ruling autocrats demand a level of devotion that borders on the religious in exchange for living conditions that have frequently been questioned. With no one from Korea empowered to challenge the regime, the challenge must come from outside.
Should the USA Give Pluralism a Chance?
Partisan politics have come to define America’s political dialog lately. Many Americans believe their views are not accurately represented by either the Democratic or Republican party. Is the era of American pluralism upon us?
It might be. If it’s not, we are certainly witnessing a transformative moment in our duopoly government. Both sides are showing signs of fatigue — both are failing to appeal to anyone but their existing base. Reinventing the party might last for a short while, but what about a reinvention of the system? It might seem far-fetched, but it could be just what we need.
Latest posts by Kate Harveston (see all)
- If We Want True Gender Equality, This Isn’t How We Get There - March 22, 2018
- How to Celebrate Women’s History Month Like a Pro - March 20, 2018
- We’re Only Beginning to Grasp the Negative Effects of Social Media on Politics - March 15, 2018