Political Parties and Ideologies
People are different, and have different needs. In democratic societies, individuals with mutual needs join together in keeping with their interests. Political parties are such groups of people with common interests. People join, according to their beliefs and how they want society to develop.
The history of parties
The first political parties emerged in the US. It was here that the world's first democratic constitution was introduced. In the beginning the very idea of parties was met with great resistance. It was argued that parties would result in special interests and agendas. It could of course be said that this is exactly what has happened. In practice however, it simply proved impossible to have a working democracy without having people joining together and forming parties which could lead an election campaign based on some common interests.
The political parties in Europe originally formed in the context of specific social groups. In the 19th century the political struggle mainly concerned economics, and therefore various groups gathered around different economic ideologies. Workers fought for socialism, factory owners fought for capitalism, and farmers fought for ownership of the land and economic conditions that benefited agriculture.
After the Second World War people's attachment to these groups or "classes" diminished because of the development of new educational and job opportunities, and because prosperity and the middle class grew. Ideology gradually became detached from the various classes and came to play a more independent role.
Today, single issues play an increasing role in politics, and many issues are boiled down to a simple slogan. This development is probably due to the fact that in Europe there is no longer major disagreement about society's overall structure. Today, virtually all parties in the West are in favour of democracy, equality, private property, and a market economy as well as some government regulation and a degree of public welfare. What politics is about is how much market economy and government regulation society needs.
Market economy, capitalism and democracy
Market economy and capitalism are not identical but in www.democracy-handbook.org the two terms are used interchangeably. In this context it is also important to emphasize that democracy and capitalism are also not identical. Democracy is a form of government. Capitalism is an economic mechanism with an associated ideology.
Political parties are the basis of municipal as well as national democracy. Candidates for city councils and parliament are typically recruited through the local party associations.
In many democratic countries there are many parties - perhaps as many as 30-50 different parties - but it is only a portion of these that run for office and even fewer whose candidates are elected. In Denmark and Sweden there are typically 8 to 10 parties represented in the national parliament. In the UK, there are about 10 and in Germany around 6. In the U.S. there are officially five parties that vie for the presidency, but the real battle is only between two of them: the Democrats and the Republicans.
Next chapter: Private Property