Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Duverger's Law works, a response to Kunstler

This past January, Kunstler expressed his dissatisfaction with America's two-party system in The Disenchantment of American Politics — And the Coming Uproar, in which he posed what he thought was a rhetorical question.
The mature two-party system may prove to have been a transient product of America’s industrial heyday, which is now over despite the euphoria over stock bubbles, shale oil, computers and other new technology. If the two old parties dry up and blow away, will anyone shed a tear for them?
For me, it wasn't rhetorical, but one that needed not only an answer--yes, there will be people who will shed a tear for their disappearance, even if they aren't the majority of Americans--but refutation of sorts.
The current two-party system has lasted since the end of the Civil War, which predates the U.S.’s industrial heyday, but does coincide with the rise of American Industrialism. Before that, the country had other two-party systems, first the Democrats (then calling themselves the Republicans, but the party of Jefferson is still today’s Democratic Party) and the Federalists, then the Democrats and the Whigs. Now it’s the Democrats and the Republicans. As you can see, it’s always the Democrats, who are the oldest continuously active organized political party on the planet, and an economically conservative rival. The Democrats survived being on the wrong side of the Civil War, while the Whigs, as you pointed out, disintegrated over slavery, failing to renominate their own sitting President. The Federalists got on the wrong side of a war, too, supporting the British in the War of 1812. Unlike the Democrats, that killed them. Based on that history, I’d put my money on the current GOP disintegrating first. Hey, they’re vampires–throw them out into the sunlight and they’ll burn up by themselves.

The Democrats can be killed, but not as long as the current GOP is around to keep the members in line. Take away their opposition, and the party will splinter, just as it did during the time between the fall of the Federalists and the rise of the Whigs, and again between the fall of the Whigs and rise of the Republicans. Even then, the party survived enough to maintain continuity. Right now, that could happen, as the GOP is like the old Democratic Party when Will Rogers observed that he was “not a member of any organized political party; he was a Democrat” and “Democrats never agree on anything, that’s why they’re Democrats. If they agreed with each other, they’d be Republicans.” The GOP is fractious, while the Democrats are united.

As for what has kept the two-party system going, it’s called Duverger’s Law, which “asserts that plurality rule elections structured within single-member districts tend to favor a two-party system,” according to Wikipedia. One of the predictions that can be made by this is that if one of the major parties is ideologically out of step with an area, then one of the minor parties will step up to fill the void. I’ve observed that happening twice, first in Louisiana, where the Democratic Party only contested one seat out of six in the state’s congressional delegation and again in the City of Ann Arbor, where there were no Republican candidates in a city that elected a Republican Mayor 20 years ago.

So, who took over as the opposition? In Louisiana, it was the Libertarians, who were more in line with the state’s conservative leanings.

In Ann Arbor, a “Green Tea” party calling itself the Mixed-Use Party arose. It employed Libertarian means to Green ends. They were also more in line with that city’s environmentalist ethic than the current GOP.

Duverger’s Law works, which means that as long as the U.S. is a representative democracy operating within a republic, with first-past-the-post elections, there will be two major parties, and therefore a two-party system. Of course, that condition won’t last forever.
Mind you, the question really being asked by Kunstler is whether the two major parties as currently constituted deserve the support of the American people.  That's a question that Greer attempted to answer in Fascism and the Future, Part Two: The Totalitarian Center and I responded to in The Archdruid on Fascism, part 2.  Greer's answer is no, but also to be careful of the alternatives.  As I told Fabius Maximus, "When you wish for a “Radical Center,” be careful what you wish for. You might get it in ways you don’t want."

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