A Criticism of Two-Party Politics

MARCH, 1911


AMERICANS have taken from Englishmen the opinion that two political parties, in contention for the power to make and administer law in a representative democracy, produce conditions that yield a better average of government than can be got from the strifes and differences of more numerous parties, with none among them able to command a majority of the popular vote.

For this conclusion the English have one important reason which loses weight in American thought. Their form of popular government is an evolutionary product of two-party conditions. It took its shaping from the fact that two political parties had been alternating in the control of the British House of Commons for a long period prior to the practical withdrawal of administrative prerogatives from the Crown by that House. This has been the fact, indeed, since English parties of a strictly political character began to exist, and it gave apparent assurance that a responsible ministerial administration of government erected on the support of a majority in the Commons would be unlikely ever to lack that majority, from one or the other party, for its base. It was an assurance that held good for about a century and a half. Latterly it has been weakened, and possibly it has expired, since British ministries have had to obtain their executive commission from a coalition of parties quite frequently in recent years.

In this country the conditions are very different. The architects of its government, not attempting, like the English, to join the facts and forces of a republican system to the theory and forms of an hereditary monarchy, discarded the latter, creating in its place a distinct and independent executive authority which passes from person to person at fixed times, and which issues from the people directly. By this, and by further provisions in our Federal Constitution relating to the election and succession of our presidents and vicepresidents, the continuity of executive authority in our government is made secure. No dead-lock of factions in Congress can cast doubt on the constitutional authority of the President to administer existing law, by depriving him of a supporting majority in either House, or in both; but a British ministry in the same situation would exercise a questionable and much weakened authority, though it acted under the commands of the King. Factious divisions may paralyze legislation as mischievously in Congress as in Parliament; but such paralysis cannot affect administrative government in the United States, as it may affect that side of British government in some conceivable situations.

The most important of English considerations in favor of two-party politics has, therefore, no weight for us. What others do we find to persuade us, as most of us seem to be persuaded, that a mêlée of parties, in the French and German manner of politics, would bring evils on us, which we must take care to avoid by keeping ourselves marshaled as entirely as possible in two great opposing hosts? We have had long experience of the bipartite organization of politics and its mighty dueling; and, in late years especially, we have been attentive observers of the more scrimmaging style of political warfare in other countries. We ought to be well prepared to draw evidence from both and weigh it in a fair-minded way. The present writing is an attempt and an invitation to treat the question thus, and learn perhaps in doing so how important it is.

One fact which stands indisputably to the credit of a bisected partisanship in politics is this: the whole business of government is simplified and made easier for those who conduct it, when all differences in the popular will, which they are expected to execute, are so nearly gathered up by two agencies of organization that one or the other of these must be able to confer full authority at any given time. It is needless to say that the ministry which takes such authority from a single dominant party has every advantage, of assured tenure, of defined policy, of confident and courageous feeling, over any ministry which acts in dependence on some precarious combination of separately powerless political groups. It has a distinctly mapped course to pursue. Its measures are substantially fore-planned for it. It knows what to expect, of support and opposition alike, and its measures are furthered almost as much by the concentred organization of antagonisms as by their support. These conditions are plainly the most favorable to an easy and effective working of the apparatus of government; and this fact is decisive of the question, no doubt, in the judgment of most people who take a practical part in political affairs.

Such a judgment, however, surely rests on inadequate grounds. Something more than ease and effectiveness in the working of government demands to be taken into account. The quality of the result has a prior claim to consideration; and results accomplished with least difficulty and most facility are quite likely to be not the best. For this reason I suspect that the school of practical ‘politics’ does not give the right training in judgment for a right decision of this question of parties in government; and I fear that prevailing views on the question have come mainly from that school.

It may be said that the assured support in measures of government, the confident feeling, the definite programme, are conducive to deliberate and judicious action, as well as to ease and facility in it, — which is true in theory, and ought to be true always in fact; but the same conditions are contributory also to influences on political action which work powerfully against its fidelity of service to the public good. Many motives, both noble and base, from the purest in altruism to the meanest in selfishness, may inspire the ambition for political authority and power; but it is certain that the lower promptings are more energetic than the higher, and prick men on to more arduous striving for the coveted prize. In our American political experience there has been no fact more glaringly manifested than this, unless it is the fact that our two-party system is stimulating and helpful to the sordid political ambitions and discouraging to the nobler aims.

A common phrase in our political talk and writing explains why this is so. One or the other of our two contending parties is always subject to description as ‘the party in power.’ The power of government is always the power of a party, shifted to and fro between the two organizations of political rivalry as the prize of a lottery, which has its annual, biennial, and quadrennial drawings at the polls. For a given term, the one party or the other ordinarily receives complete possession of that tremendous power, to the utmost of its range. It is power to make and administer law, to levy, collect, and expend public revenues, to undertake and carry on public works, to hold the stewardship of public property, to grant public franchises, to fill public offices, to distribute public employments, — to be, in fact, for a given term, the public of cities, of states, and of the great nation, in all the handling of their stupendous corporate affairs. To obtain a realizing conception of the immensity of power which this involves, and of the diabolical temptations and invitations it offers, not only to conscious dishonesty, but to selfishness in all forms, is to know why our politics are corrupted as they are.

By giving these awful masses of corrupting opportunity always into the possession of one or the other of two party organizations, we draw what is corrupt and corruptible in the country into almost irresistible leagues for the controlling of both. Men of one sort are induced to devote their lives to the practice of thearts of political engineering which have produced the‘machine’ organization of party and brought it to a marvelous perfection. Men of another sort are made willing to be cogged wheels in the machine, some as congressmen, some as state legislators, some as aldermen, some as executive officials, but all, on their appointed axes, going round and round in obedient responsiveness to the hand which turns the mandatory crank, making law, enforcing law, or stifling law, as the ‘boss’ commands. The construction, the maintenance, and the operation of the machine are attended by heavy cost; and this brings a third order of men into the wide circle of corruption which it spreads. These are its patrons, — the liberal subscribers for such profitable products, of legislation from one hopper, of chloroformed law from another, and of public jobs from a third, as it is prepared to turn out on demand. They finance the expensive ‘plants’ of the two parties, with all their advertising shows and stageplays for the captivation of weakminded voters, and they receive in return friendly statutes and tariffs, and public franchises and contracts, and official connivances and negligences, which accomplish public pocket-picking on the biggest conceivable scale. The total result is a state of rottenness in American politics which has become a stench in the nostrils of the world.

If our two parties represented a natural bisection of political opinion in the country, such effects might seem curable; but they do so no longer, although there was that spontaneous cleavage in their origin, both in England and with us. Parties in English politics had their rise in the struggle between a disfranchised class and a ruling class, and that was fought to its practical finish forty years ago. In our own case, when the Federal Union took form, a single wide cleft in political public opinion was opened by the conflict between national and provincial trends of feeling, producing the Federal and Anti-Federal parties of early American politics. In the next generation that contention between nationalizing policies and provincial exaggerations of ‘state rights’ ran into and was reinforced by the sectional slavery question, prolonging and embittering the duel of parties until it culminated in the sectional Civil War. Both of the questions at issue having then been settled by a judgment beyond appeal, a decade or so sufficed for the practical clearing from our politics of all that was residual from the old state of things, and we entered on new conditions, which brought new problems and new diversities of mind into our political life.

There has been nothing of conflict since, in actual belief or opinion, that could carry forward the old division of parties on one continuous line, as it has been carried to the present day. On the first large general question that arose, which was the question of the monetary standard, — the ‘silver question,’ — there was so little intellectual sincerity in the final championship of the gold standard by the party which carried it into law that the stand of that party on the question was in doubt almost till the opening of the decisive campaign of 1896. On each side of the question there was a considerable body of genuine opinion; but neither side of that opinion was coincident with either side of the old two-party division of voters in the nation. Both of the old parties were ruptured temporarily by the new issue, which carried a few companies of recalcitrant Democrats into independent revolt or into the Republican ranks, and vice versa ; but the greater mass of the combatants in that fight had the banner that they fought under determined for them, primarily by the cold tactical calculations of party leaders, and finally by the sweep of that blind partisan spirit, — that unreasoning vis inertiœ of human temper which keeps men running, like other animals, in herds.

It must be remembered that what we mean when we speak of the ‘ party spirit’ has no reference to any motive that is inspired by an object — a belief, a social interest, a social right or a social wrong — which a party may be formed to promote or resist, but is the fanatic devotion which seems to be so easily diverted to the party itself, as an object of attachment distinct from its instrumental use. There have been times and occasions when this motiveless zealotry had a naked exhibition, divested of everything in the nature of a rational cause, — originating, even, in no more than a color or a name. A famous instance is that of the factions of the Roman circus, which Gibbon describes in the fortieth chapter of the Decline and Fall. Rightly considered, the lesson to be taken from the story of those factions, which arose in connection with the colors (white, red, green, and blue) of the liveries worn by drivers in the Roman chariot-races, is one of the most important that history affords.

In the party spirit which made that exhibition (and other exhibitions hardly less puerile and revolting, in other times and places) the fundamental quality is the senselessness, the objectless inanity, of the association that inspired it. That, in fact, is what constitutes a party spirit, whenever and however it becomes generated in a party with no inspiration from a cause which the party is made use of to support. Acting, as it does, with the weight and momentum of a mass of people, and with utter unreason, this motiveless zealotry is the most mischievous of all the mischief-makings that have come from empty or idle human brains. Its malign influence in history has actually been unequaled by any other. More or less it has perverted all human association, especially in those spheres of it which passion can most easily invade. Its worst workings have not been in politics, but in the religious organizations of the world. It may be doubtful whether religious or political divisions have been most creative of this senseless party spirit which perverts the rational uses of party; but it is certain that religious contentions have enraged it most, and produced the most revolting examples of its malignant power. By an easy degradation the religious spirit has always been prone to lapse into partisanship, and then religious and political partisanships have sought unions which begot a demonism in humanity that reveled in savage tyrannies and horrible wars.

Those fiendishly passionate developments of the party spirit belong, perhaps, to the past, and illustrate a danger which cannot seem imminent at the present day. We may reasonably hope that our social growth has left them behind. But no human disposition so insensate can be tolerated and cultivated, as this continues to be, without immense mischiefs of some nature to the race. If mischiefs from its primitive violence are disappearing, the very narcotizing of it has produced equally bad if not worse ones, of paralysis, to replace them. Now it is threatening, not to our social peace, but to the vital energies in our social life. So far as a sectarian party spirit enters the churches it deadens the religious spirit; and so far as a political organization is held together and actuated by something else in the feeling of its members than an earnestness of opinion on questions of the public good, it is infected with a party spirit that is sure death to the public spirit on which democracies depend as the breath of their life. Who can doubt that such an infection is rank in both of the alternative parties that control American politics to-day? Look at the facts of their history since the close of the Civil War!

One of these two parties came out of that war much injured in credit and character; the other with an immense prestige. While the war lasted, the supporting of the government was a duty so imperious to large majorities of the people that it forbade any obstinacy of opposition to measures taken in the conduct of the war. By this cause the Republican party, having control of the government, acquired a great number of adherents who agreed in little but their common determination to keep the Union intact, with no concession to the doctrines that had set secession and rebellion afoot. By the same cause the Democratic party, in critical opposition to the government, drew into its membership every shade of opinion that was weaker in Unionism or sympathetic with the secessionist attack.

Many Republicans of that period were intensely opposed to the greenback issue of legal-tender paper money, which eased the financing of the war and doubled its cost, while enriching a few by inflated prices and distressing the many. Other Republicans were forced to grit their teeth with anxiety and anger as they watched the tariffmaking of the war years, and sawpilfering protective duties stealing in under cover of the great revenue needs of the time, and the industries of the country being captured by monopolists who have fattened on them ever since. In the last year of the war, when reconstruction questions were rising, a probable majority in the Republican party was with President Lincoln in opinions opposed to the entire immediate incorporation of the whole body of recent slaves in the voting constituency of the states to be reconstructed. On all these points of public policy, especially on the latter, there were thousands in the Democratic party who held precisely the same views. The ending of the war raised these matters at once to an importance above everything else in national affairs, and every rational consideration in politics made attention to the treatment of them the foremost duty of the time.

Why, then, were not agreeing citizens brought together, from what had been the Republican party and the Democratic party, to form new combinations for dealing with the issues of the new situation, — the questions of reconstruction, of protective duties, and of money? A simply rational and natural instinct in politics would have drawn voters who had real opinions into such combinations, in order to represent themselves effectively in Congress on one or more of the issues which appealed to them most strongly; and the result would undoubtedly have saved the country from two decades or more of drifting, blundering, unrighteous legislation, which enriched a class at the expense of the mass and demoralized American life in a hundred ways. What prevented, of course, was the bondage of the Anglo-American mind to the inherited two-party idea of practical politics, and the antagonism of party spirit which that idea promotes and excites. Even the few Republicans and Democrats who broke away from their respective parties, to do battle for Lincoln’s reconstruction policy, or for sound money, or against protective tariffism, — even those few made their fight as guerrillas, — ‘mugwumps,’— independents, and attempted no party organization. The general body of their fellow believers stayed with the old banners, expostulating loudly from time to time against the roadways of their march, and suffering a succession of disgusts as they arrived at such achievements as carpet-bag government in the Southern States, Bland and Sherman silver bills, McKinley and Dingley tariffs, and the like. And still, to this day, the columns of our two-party campaigning are substantially unbroken, and men who agree in opinion on the greater matters of public concern are facing one another in antagonistic organizations, instead of standing shoulder to shoulder for some effective promotion of their beliefs.

Of course, no effective expression of public opinion on any question of public policy, or any principle of right, is possible under conditions like these; and what must be the effect on the political attitude of the citizen-mind, — on its thoughtful interest in public questions, and on the intelligent sincerity of action inspired by it, — when the expression of political opinion is so hampered or suppressed? Unquestionably the effect has been and is, increasingly, to deaden public opinion as a political force, and to engender the senseless party spirit in its place.

In the last presidential election the pronouncements of purpose and promised policy by the two chief parties, on all questions brought forward in the canvass, were substantially and practically the same. On the regulation of interstate railway traffic and of so-called trusts; on tariff revision; on currency reform; on questions between labor and capital; on the conservation of natural resources and the improvement of the waterways of the country, — there was no difference of material import in what was proposed. Both parties contemplated some prolongation of American rule in the Philippines, with ultimate independence of the islands in view, and disagreed only as to making or not making their ultimate independence the subject of an immediate pledge. Actually nothing of conflict in the principles or projects of policy set forth by these two parties could make the choice between them a matter of grave importance to any citizen when he cast his vote. It was manifest that they existed no longer as organizations of opposing opinion, but had degenerated into competing syndicates for the capture of political power. Thus the citizen who exercised a thoughtful judgment on the public questions of the day was actually driven to determine his vote, as between these parties (one or the other of which would inevitably be ‘the party in power’), by something else than that judgment; by something of a feeling that grows easily into the mischievous spirit that finally cares for nothing in politics but the party and the party’s success.

The minor parties in our politics, — Prohibitionist, Socialist, Populist,— which justify their existence by special aims, are respectable as parties because consistently formed and coherent by the force of real motives of union; but they promise no disturbance of the demoralizing certainty, in every election, that undivided power, of legislation or administration or both, will go to one or the other team of the professional players in the two-party game.

What, then, could be thinner and poorer than the exhibition that we make now in our politics? Our parties mean so little; represent so faintly and vaguely the public mind; offer so little invitation or stimulation to thought on public questions and to well-considered action in politics; furnish so perverted an agency for receiving and executing any mandate from the people! Is it not time to reconsider our traditional belief in the two-party organization of politics, and question whether something that would be better in the whole effect might not, after all, be obtained from a structure of parties more flexible than in the pattern that England gave us?

The natural cleavage between conservative and progressive, or liberal, opinion, which originated the twoparty division in English and American politics, gave origin, likewise, to the more numerous political parties of the European continent. But, while Englishmen and Americans have made one mixture of all tinctures of conservative political opinion, and another mixture of all degrees of progressive liberality, the French, German, and other Europeans, have not been satisfied with so crude and careless a lumping of their differences of judgment on public questions, but have subdivided their main divisions of party in a rational and, we may say, a scientific way. After entering upon an experience of representative government, they soon discovered that moderate and extreme dispositions, whether conservative or progressive, may separate men by wider differences of view than arise between the moderately conservative and the moderately progressive man; and that there is a considerable breadth of ground within the range of the latter’s differences, on which men from both sides can act together more effectively for what they desire in government than by action on either side of the prime division. Recognition of this fact tends naturally to the formation of at least three parties of a comprehensive character (not limited, that is, to single specific objects), namely: one on the conservative slope of opinion, one on the progressive, and a third on an area between these.

This was so natural an organization of politics that the continental Europeans, coming into the enjoyment of representative institutions much later than the English, fell into it as though there was nothing else to be done; and in the seating of their legislatures they found a natural name for the natural parties that took form. According to the places in which the parties became grouped, at the right or the left of the presiding officer’s chair, or in front of it, they came to be known as the party of the Right, the party of the Left, the party of the Centre; or simply the Right, the Left, and the Centre. Generally, at the outset of the introduction of parliamentary institutions on the Continent, conservative opinion had the strongest representation in the legislative bodies, and its deputies took the seats which gave them the name of the Right. The naming then established became fixed in European use.

For the simple politics of the Swiss Republic the three parties of this most natural division — Right, Left, and Centre— have sufficed for many years. In most countries of Europe, however, the Right and Left parties, especially the latter, are subject to fissures that produce Right Centre and Left Centre parties, and frequently others, taking different names, with branchings, moreover, on the Left, of parties like the Socialist, which acknowledge no fundamental relationship with parties on that side, but stand on ground of their own. No doubt this segmentation of parties has been practiced excessively in Latin and German countries, and has been often troublesome in the conduct of government; but the question to be considered is whether the transient difficulties so caused have ever been comparable in seriousness with the deep-seated evils that arise in our politics from the hard and fast crystallization of our two historic parties, and the fixed fact that one or the other will always win the corrupting prize of power.

Experience of a systematically representative government was opened in France in 1876, when the Constitution of the Third Republic went into effect. The first elections to the Chamber of Deputies gave the supporters of this republican Constitution, against hostile Bonapartists, Bourbon monarchists, and anarchists, great majorities; but the presidency had been filled by previous election in the National Assembly, and Marshal MacMahon, who occupied it, was extremely anti-republican in his views. Discord between the majority in the Chamber and the ministries selected by the President was inevitable, and it resulted in the resignation of MacMahon at the end of January, 1879. The Republicans, however, were far from forming a compact political party. Their deputies were divided into so many groups or varieties that Dr. Lowell, in his account of Governments and Parties in Continental Europe, mentions only five of ‘ the most important,’ which bore the following names: Left Centre, Republican Left, Republican Union, Radical Left, and Extreme Left. The group which called itself Republican Union, headed by Gambetta, though it was not a majority of the Chamber in its own numbers, yet exercised a practical dominance, which it maintained for a number of years.

Nobody can think of denying that government in France was distressingly weakened and troubled for a period by the financial particularity of opinion, or other motive, which this division among the Republicans exhibits. In the ten years immediately following MacMahon’s resignation there were fourteen changes of ministry. But in the next ten years, ending in 1899, the ministries numbered but eight; and the eleven years since then have seen but four. The ministry now conducting the government is substantially the one that received the reins, under M. Sarrien, in March, 1906. M. Clemenceau took M. Sarrien’s place as premier a few months later, and was replaced in turn by M. Briand in July, 1909; but the government as a whole underwent no change in character, and not much in its personnel. It is distinctly radical in its composition; M. Briand is a Socialist, and manifestly a statesman of intellectual breadth and power, under whose prime ministry France seems to be favored with the most capable government it has yet secured. The divisions and subdivisions of party continue to be numerous, but workable combinations among them have become more and more practicable, and steady progress in legislative and administrative efficiency is plainly to be seen.

Considering the formidable difficulties that attended the establishing of republican government in France, from royalist and imperialist antagonisms, from the originally open hostility of Rome, from the discouraging memory of two failures in the past, from the recent loss of national prestige, and from ever-impending dangers in the feeling between Germany and France, — have we any good reason for supposing that a two-party organization in the conflicts involved would have brought the country through them with better success? The same generation which suffered the crushing downfall of the Second Empire, and had reason for wellnigh despairing of France, has been able to found and build on that great ruin a well-ordered radical democracy, and make it one of the substantial political powers of the world. At the same time, however, these people have not hesitated to take up and apparently to give a lasting treatment to such hazardous undertakings as the secularizing of public education, the separation of the State from an anciently established Church, and the subjection of its religious orders and societies to civil law.

What greater achievements in the workmanship of politics has our time produced? And what other country in our generation has suffered tribulations so many and so distracting as the workers at these formidable tasks have been tormented by meanwhile? When I call to mind the Boulanger intoxication, the Panama Canal failure and its scandals, the madness of the Dreyfus iniquity, the Morocco trouble, and the almost paralyzing strike of postal and telegraph employees, the safe passing of the French democracy through all these merciless testings, in the period of its organization and schooling, claims my wondering admiration.

In the corresponding period what do we show of political achievement that will make good any boast of a better working of government under the twoparty organization of our democracy? A few years prior to the undertaking of republican government in France we passed, as a nation, through the greatest of our trials, when, at stupendous cost of life and suffering, we rescued our Federal Union from rupture, and then applied ourselves to the reconstruction of society and government in eleven shattered states. I have alluded already to the fact that a probable majority of the party then all-powerful in possession of the government was favorable to the policy of reconstruction which President Lincoln had begun to carry out before his death. By the loss of his sane influence and by the passions which his murder excited, an ascendency in the party was transferred suddenly to its radical and vindictive minds and tempers, and the party as a whole (or nearly so), with its whole irresistible power, was swept by them into their recklessness of dealing with these gravest problems of our history. It was so swept by the habit of solidified party action (dignified in our talk of it as ‘loyalty’ to party) which is cultivated and educated in us by the two-party prejudice of our minds.

Suppose that we had been habituated in that period to the more natural threeparty division of opinion and disposition, — with or without subdivisions, — and accustomed to the organized occupation of a middle ground in our politics, — the ground for a ‘Right Centre’ and a ‘Left Centre,’ —where moderate Republicans and moderate Democrats would be in readiness at all times to throw the weight of their moderation against extremes of action on either side! Can any one doubt that a much saner and more effective reconstruction would have been given to the states disordered by rebellion? that they would have been spared the abominations of the ‘carpet-bag’ régime, and the nation spared the shame of it? that race antagonism in those states would not have been what it is, and that the condition and prospects of their colored population would have been infinitely better to-day?

Apply the surmise, again, to the treatment in our politics of those most vital of economic questions, the questions of tariff! There have always been three attitudes of people on this subject: one proceeding from opinion formed intelligently, by study and thought; another from opinion adopted carelessly, without knowledge; the third from dictation of self-interests, considered alone. As these have been mixed and lumped in both of our parties, by strains of party influence which obscured the subject, no fair opportunity has been afforded for the instructing of ignorance or for the combating of selfishness in dealing with the matter. Is it not more than probable that such subsidiary groupings in party organization as European constituencies have found practicable would have given many more openings to such opportunity, and would have saved us from some, at least, of the oppressive tribute which protected greed, helped by ignorance and thoughtlessness, has been able to levy on us for scores of years ?

To my mind it appears more than probable that, in the treatment of all serious situations and all questions of high importance, we should fare better if no single organization of party could always, as a rule, control the determination of them. Ordinary legislation need not be rendered more difficult by some articulation of our political parties in the European manner, requiring majorities in legislative bodies to be made up and handled in two or three sections, and not in a ready-made, unchangeable mass. If agreement on the graver matters became slower of attainment and less easy, it could not often fail to be made wiser and more just by the disputation through which it came. Admit everything of hindrance and inconvenience in government that can be charged against that rational articulation of parties, and what force can we feel in it, as against the intolerable evils which our contrary practice has brought upon us? That the worst of those evils are not curable without some loosening of the rigidity of our two-party organizations is the conclusion to which I am driven. Briefly, let me rehearse the reasons for this conclusion: —

1. A serviceable expression of public opinion in politics through no more than two organs of its collected utterance is possible only when some single question, or group of related questions, is overriding all others in the general mind. In common circumstances the citizen who tries to exercise an intelligent and useful judgment in his political action needs more latitude of choice than between the two categories of collective opinion, on everything in public affairs, which two rival parties put forth. By voting with one or the other of these parties he represents himself in government as a full indorser of all that its category declares, and he is fortunate, indeed, if his vote does not falsify half of his judgments and beliefs. Of course there is no practicable organization of political opinion, for collective expression, that will avoid some considerable compromise and sacrifice of personal judgments by every citizen; but our system imposes the maximum of falsification on our suffrages, instead of the least. How much this causes of depression and weakening in the political working of large classes of minds — on the activity of their interest in public matters, on the earnestness of their convictions, and on the vigor of the expression given to them — cannot be known; but there can be no doubt that the effect goes seriously deep.

2. By so organizing our political action that the whole power of government, with all that it carries of stupendous opportunity for nefarious private gain at public expense, must go undividedly to one or the other of two lastingly established parties, we make it inevitable that irresistible leagues of self-seekers will acquire control of those parties, with nefarious designs. Such control is always made visible to us in the perfected machination of our party organizations. We shall never make them otherwise than machines until the corrupting opportunities they offer for exploitation are minimized by some disintegration of the power now solidified in them.

3. Nothing effective to this end is accomplished by simply independent voting, because the weight of the independent vote has to go, just as the partisan vote goes, to the tipping, one way or the other, of the two-party beam. The better motive in it can often improve immediate results. It can menace, admonish, rebuke, one or the other of the oligarchies of party at a given election. In this way it is of excellent occasional service, in improving nominations for office and in securing an election of the better; but it can never advance us by a step toward escape from that which makes machines of our political parties, to hold them down to two in number, with the guaranteed prize of all governmental power to be striven for between them, and with every possible motive for the selfish and unscrupulous use of that power invited into combinations for handling it.

4. As the focal points of political organization are necessarily in cities, it is there, naturally, in American municipal government, that our two-party system of politics shows its working most flagrantly to our shame. Municipal government is, therefore, the present subject of our most earnest undertakings of political reform. We are making great endeavors to create something in the nature of municipal politics, distinct from and independent of the two-party national politics, in order that some degree of home rule may be realized, and local interests may have some measure of consideration in the treatment of local affairs. But what reasonable hope can we entertain of success in this endeavor, so long as the two-party organization is what it is, and the cities are the inevitable seats of its management; where its mastery of the agencies of political action are most easily exercised, and where the interested influences that work for it and with it have likewise their principal seats?

In England, the showing of effects in municipal government from these causes is becoming the same as in the United States. Ever since Parliament became democratized by successive extensions of the popular suffrage, in 1867 and 1884, the organizations of the two dominating parties have been growing steadily machine-like, taking on the structure and character of our own; and with equal steadiness the municipalities have been falling under their control. M. Ostrogorsky bears witness to these facts, in his remarkably thorough study of Democracy and the Organization of Political Parties, published in 1902. He wrote then of English municipal politics: ‘There already appears a general phenomenon, . . . the indifference to municipal matters which is growing up among the citizens. They inevitably leave the burden of their duty to the common weal to be borne by the political parties who have monopolized local public life. . . . The first effect of this state of things is strikingly manifested in the decline of the intellectual and, to some extent, moral standard of the personnel of the town councils. . . . Devotion to the party being, under the Birmingham system [of party organization], the first qualification for admission to honors, it inevitably became before long the principal condition of such admission. . . . On the occasion of my first tour in the provinces [in 1889] I pretty often heard it said that “good men” (the Tories said “gentlemen”) would not stand for the town council; but on visiting the same towns after an interval of six years I was much struck by the tone of melancholy and sometimes of exasperation in which the effects of the introduction of politics into municipal affairs were spoken of.’

5. Through every influence it exerts, the two-party system is weakening or vitiating the public opinion and the public spirit which are the vitalizing forces in democracy, and lending itself powerfully to a substitution of the purely partisan spirit which all history has proved to be the most pestilent by which human society can be infected.

Our bondage to the inexorable old system has been relentless for so many generations that release from it had seemed impossible until a little time ago, when Western ‘insurgency’ showed its head. Now there appear some glimmerings of encouragement to the hope that our politics may yet develop a Centre, with its Right and Left wings, disjointable from necessary connection with the extremes of Right and Left.