“The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise — with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.” – Abraham Lincoln, Annual Message to Congress, Concluding Remarks (1862)
The founding fathers are pictured in "Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States." Public Domain image by Howard Chandler Christy.
By Joshua Peters
What has been said thus far is that the Forward Party will embrace liberalism as it is the political philosophy most compatible with a pluralistic, pragmatic, and analytic worldview. Our ideology is pragmatism, in which we will commit ourselves to a dialectical process to consider different political dispositions (progressivism, conservatism, libertarianism, etc.) and the practical cash-value of ideas. We have stated that the Forward Party will be grounded in a fuzzy identity, meaning that we are committed to pluralism. Furthermore, we are dedicated to the political project of our Founding Fathers. Our constitutional republic, built around democratic institutions, is not a dogmatic political system but rather has, within its structure, the capacity to evolve with the times.
The American Revolution established the political system for which has been previously described. If we are to be so bold, our project is an attempt to capture the sentiments of our Founding Fathers but applied to the formation of a political party. In doing so, we seek to establish the foundation for how to build a plurality of parties within the American political system in order to compete for the pleasure of serving the American people and the honor of advancing their general well-being and political interest.
The United States succumbed to the establishment of a political party structure, a development that stood in stark contrast to the warnings issued by the Founding Fathers. In his farewell address, George Washington articulated a cautionary perspective on political parties, stating, “They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation, the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community.” He continued, “according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels and modified by mutual interests.”
John Adams shared Washington’s apprehensions, expressing his dread of a divided republic dominated by two major parties. He emphasized the potential dangers of such a scenario, warning, “There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.” The sentiments expressed by these Founding Fathers underscore the unintended divergence from their original ideals, as the nation grappled with the emergence and entrenchment of political parties.
Their assessment has proven accurate. In the aftermath of World War II, the United States witnessed a gradual increase in extreme partisanship, reaching a level of political polarization in the early 21st century unparalleled since the American Civil War. Present-day America finds itself ensnared in a political landscape dominated by two parties that prioritize their own interests over the collective well-being of the American people. This environment has, unfortunately, persuaded ardent supporters to abandon critical thinking, succumbing to a troubling trend that compromises the integrity of free and moral agency.
In the Federalist Papers, John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the United States, and James Madison, the proverbial father of the Constitution, despite warning against the political parties, believed they were an unavoidable outcome in a democratic society. Accordingly, the best hope was to avoid holding dogmatic loyalty to a political party.
Thomas Jefferson rejected blind allegiance to any political party. He asserted, “I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else where I was capable of thinking for myself.” Jefferson considered such a subservience to be the ultimate degradation of a free and moral agent, declaring, “If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.”
To that end, our Founding Fathers left us with no mechanism by which to avoid the formation of political parties in which dogmatic loyalty could erode the principles of compromise, bipartisanship, and open discourse essential for a thriving democratic society. They merely left us with the age-old idiom a parent often tells their child, “Do as I say, not as I do.” And, of course, the child inverts the idiom, “Doesn’t listen and does what the parent does.”
Not all Founding Fathers advocated against political parties. Some fully embraced the structure. For example, Alexander Hamilton accepted political parties as a means to organize and advocate for specific policy agendas. Hamilton, in particular, saw the Federalist Party as a mechanism to establish a strong central government, i.e., federalism.
The Federalist Party, led by Hamilton and Adams, supported a strong central government, a national bank, and close ties with Britain. They were opposed by the Democratic-Republicans. The Democratic-Republican Party, led by Jefferson and Madison, favored states’ rights, agrarian interests, and a strict interpretation of the Constitution.
In the early 1800s, the Federalist Party collapsed due to its opposition to the War of 1812 and the growing perception that it only represented the interests of New Englanders. The party failed to adapt to the evolving political landscape, which viewed the American people as a distinct culture rather than a continuation of English culture. With the fall of the Federalist Party, the United States entered a brief period of one-party rule until the emergence of the Whig Party in the 1830s. Formed in opposition to Andrew Jackson, the Whig Party advocated for a more active federal government and economic modernization. It was during this period that the Democratic-Republican Party began to be simply known as the Democratic Party.
In the mid-1850s, the Republican Party was formed to oppose the institution of slavery. Led by figures such as Abraham Lincoln and abolitionists like Frederick Douglass, the Republican Party quickly rose to prominence, becoming the major political competitor of the Democratic Party. Concurrently, the Whig Party disintegrated due to tensions that could no longer be sustained within the party.
While America converged on a duopolistic party system, other industrialized nations took a different path insofar as party structures are concerned. Europe formed a plurality of parties while China and Russia centered their governments on single party rule, which were the byproduct of their historical development. So, it seems, despite the Founding Fathers’ wisdom against political parties, a party system seems to have been a natural byproduct of Enlightenment political values. Thus, unavoidable.
The political party structure is here to stay, and it seems unproductive to sit back and wish it didn’t exist. At this juncture, the most productive action is to critically examine what a political party structure entails and what type of structure aligns with the American political system to best serve the interest of the people. Here, we consciously deviate from the Founding Fathers’ view on political parties.
A political party structure, encompassing various components and organizational elements, aims to serve as a mechanism for identifying political issues and executing the political objectives of its members through coalition building and the election of representatives in various government functions.
It functions not only as a mechanism for shaping and realizing the party’s political ideals but also as a reflection of the party’s broader commitment to democratic principles. The hierarchical leadership, inclusive membership engagement, and formulation of policies and platforms collectively underscore the party’s vision for effective and responsive governance, with the underlying objective of defending our constitutional republic and maintaining our democratic institutions. Thus, the party structure, in its essence, becomes a manifestation of the political interests derived from diverse voices and viewpoints with the aim of realizing mutual political ideals within the American political system.
So, the question becomes, “What type of political party structure is best suited for our political system?” I will submit there are three types of political party structures: monopolistic, duopolistic, and pluralistic.
Analyzing the outcomes in Russia and China underscores the suboptimal nature of a monopolistic party structure. This form of governance concentrates power at the apex of the party hierarchy, fostering a trend toward policy alignment that prioritizes the party’s interests over those of the people. This centralization of power not only stifles dissent but also inhibits the diversity of perspectives necessary for effective governance.
In Russia, the dominance of a single party has led to a lack of political competition, resulting in limited accountability and an erosion of geopolitical norms. Vladimir Putin’s assertive use of unilateral policymaking played a pivotal role in the lead-up to the conflict in Ukraine. Putin’s decision to annex Crimea in 2014, support separatist movements in eastern Ukraine, and the ultimate invasion into Ukraine in 2022 demonstrated the unchecked power that can be wielded in a system where there is limited opposition and dissent. The lack of robust competition in a monopolistic party structure allows leaders to make decisions unilaterally, often without adequate scrutiny.
Similarly, in China, the monopoly of power within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has often translated into policies geared towards sustaining the party’s supremacy. In 2018, China’s National People’s Congress voted to abolish presidential term limits, effectively allowing Xi Jinping to potentially remain in power indefinitely. The move towards consolidating power at the top of the CCP reinforces a trend in China towards totalitarianism. By dismantling the safeguard of term limits, Xi’s administration demonstrated how a monopolistic party structure can undermine the principles of democratic governance when there are no competing party viewpoints.
Moreover, a monopolistic party structure not only concentrates power at the top of the politico echelon but also exerts a coercive influence on the cultural mindset, fostering a conformist attitude towards the world. Within such environments, the prevailing narrative is tightly controlled, leaving scant space for divergent perspectives, and dissenting voices are frequently suppressed. This lack of tolerance for pluralism and free speech represents a formidable barrier to the flourishing of innovation and obstructs the evolution of a vibrant and dynamic political landscape within a monopolistic party structure.
Illustrating this point, consider the cases of China and Russia, where the ruling party regimes have maintained an iron grip on power for decades. The state-sponsored narrative of these administrations is carefully curated to align with the ideology of the ruling party, leaving minimal room for alternative viewpoints. Dissent is not only discouraged but also actively suppressed, resulting in a homogeneous cultural outlook that stifles creativity and inhibits the emergence of alternative political ideologies.
The existing duopolistic party structure in America has proven to be suboptimal over time, with historical events such as the American Civil War and the present-day “cold civil war” serving as examples of deterioration and the ultimate collapse of civility and political norms. The inherent flaws in this structure are manifested through a cyclical pattern of partisan division, polarized politics, and the erosion of a bipartisan middle ground.
To illustrate, the American Civil War, a conflict deeply rooted in political and ideological differences between the Northern and Southern states, exemplifies the extreme consequences of a rigid two-party system. The inability of the existing parties to find common ground on crucial issues, particularly the divisive matter of slavery, ultimately led to a violent and destructive war that claimed countless lives. This historical episode underscores the dangers of an inflexible duopolistic structure when faced with deeply entrenched societal issues.
In the contemporary context, the cold civil war in America, driven by what is often referred to as culture wars, reflects the persistent challenges posed by the duopoly. The polarization between the two major parties has reached unprecedented levels, with simple, everyday issues becoming the arena for engaging in ideological warfare. This polarization not only stifles meaningful bipartisan cooperation but also contributes to the erosion of public trust in democratic institutions due to partisan gridlock, unproductive rhetoric, and contrarianism, which represents the most blatant deployment of unapologetic double standards and hypocrisy seen in the history of America.
The duopolistic structure tends to undermine the functionality of government and its agencies. When political parties view governmental institutions solely as tools to advance their partisan agendas, the efficacy of these institutions is compromised. Agencies that should serve the public interest may instead become pawns in a political chess game, with appointments, policies, and decisions made more to appease a party’s base than to address the interest of the broader population.
The absence of a strong partisan middle ground exacerbates these issues. A healthy democracy benefits from a diversity of ideas and perspectives, fostering pluralism, compromise, and consensus. However, the duopoly structure often marginalizes moderate voices, leading to a binary, winner-takes-all mentality that neglects the nuances of complex issues.
By process of elimination, in the absence of not having political parties, a pluralistic party structure is optimal. A pluralistic party structure refers to a political system where multiple parties coexist and participate in the democratic process, allowing for diverse perspectives and interests to be represented. This approach is often considered optimal as it fosters compromise, cooperation, and a more comprehensive representation of the people. In Europe, the advantages of a pluralistic party structure are evident as it cultivates a political ethos of liberty, equality, and dignity for all citizens.
Germany operates within a dynamic multi-party structure where coalitions are a prevalent feature. The Bundestag, Germany’s federal parliament, frequently necessitates coalition governments owing to its proportional representation electoral system. This electoral framework has given rise to coalitions between ideologically diverse parties, such as the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the Social Democratic Party (SPD), and Free Democratic Party (FDP). Despite their differences, these coalitions have proven effective in brokering compromises on policies that simultaneously advocate for economic liberty and social equality. The German pluralistic structure underscores the significance of identifying common ground and fostering collaborative efforts to address the diverse needs of the population.
Likewise, Netherlands is renowned for its consociational democracy, a model centered on power-sharing among distinct social groups. This approach enables the representation of various interests and the accommodation of a spectrum of political parties. Notably, the Dutch political landscape has witnessed the formation of coalitions involving parties like the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), and the Labour Party (PvdA), exemplifying an adept balancing act between economic liberalism and social welfare measures that contributes to a societal ethos that values both individual liberties and social cohesion.
So, we have evidence that a pluralistic party structure not only works but is superior to the alternative insofar as cultivating a political ethos of liberty, equality, and dignity for all citizens is concerned. Furthermore, it is adaptable to the political system within which it operates—that is, it fits within a political system and does not undermine its unique historical development. We must take the next step in our political development to move our country forward and transcend the uncritical dogmas of the past.
The Forward Party is not just a political party—it’s a movement. We recognize the inherent strength that a pluralistic party structure can offer in terms of diverse viewpoints, seeking to amplify a wide range of voices within the political discourse and manifest political ideals built on consensus. Our commitment extends beyond traditional party boundaries, which is why we advocate for Forward-Democrats, Forward-Republicans, Forward-Libertarians, and so on. We aim to reform the current political party structure, uniting people under common values of communication, cooperation, and compromise. By advocating for a pluralistic party structure, the Forward Party strives to transcend the divisive duopolistic structure and reposition the Overton Window to where consensus is a virtue. This is what a pluralistic party structure can offer the American people.
Supported by evidence, a pluralistic party structure is demonstrated to be the optimal approach within our political system, representing the next stage in our political development. However, dogmatic views persist, posing a significant challenge to this ideal. Nevertheless, we will not yield to the forces that would have us fall silent and accept the status quo.
During this time of divisive partisanship resulting from the duopoly structure, let’s recall the words of Lincoln and remember his monumental situation, from which he ultimately prevailed: “The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise — with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”