The first and foremost aim of each political party is to prevail over the other in order to get into power or to stay in it. But, no leadership is absolute. Political leadership exerted according to the democratic method is even less so than are others because of that competitive element which is of the essence of democracy.
Joseph Schumpeter was the chair of the Department of Economics at the University of Bonn from 1925 to 1932. He fled to the United States in 1932 to escape Nazi rule, and became a professor of economics at Harvard. He taught there until his death in 1950. His book Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy is his best known work, but his other works about the economic dynamics of capitalism are widely read in universities all over the world.
Schumpeter talks about the political structure of a democracy in his book, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. He said the primary function of the elector’s vote is to produce a government in a democracy, but the only democracy that actually achieves that goal is the United States. In all other democracies the electorate’s vote only produces an intermediate organ called a parliament. The parliament actually produces a direct government.
Theoretically every follower has the right of displacing his leadership, but only a chosen few have a chance of doing that in our hybrid form of democracy. The leader usually responds to political threats by taking a middle course, which includes subtly insisting on discipline, and allowing himself to be thwarted. He tempers pressure using judicial concessions, frowns with compliments, and punishments with benefits. These tactics usually result in a considerable amount of freedom in terms of political give and take. Minor issues of sectional importance are accepted by the leader, and other issues are left in a boiling pot of political rhetoric.
The two-party system that is in place now has changed over the years. Our elected party officials don’t necessarily intend to promote public welfare based on principles they believe in and agree on. The system functions with one arm tied behind its back. Both parties create flexible principles that promote the success of their party, but those principles may not enhance the success of the democracy.
Schumpeter explains the process this way:
For all parties will of course, at any given time, provide themselves with a stock of principles or planks and these principles or planks may be characteristic of the party that adopts them and they are as important for its success as the brands of goods a department store sells that are characteristic of it and important for its success. But the department store cannot be defined in terms of its brands and party cannot be defined in terms of its principles.
A party is a group whose members propose to act in concert in the competitive struggle for political power. If that were not so it would be impossible for different parties to adapt exactly or almost exactly the same program. Yet this happens as everyone knows. Party and machine politicians are simply the response to the fact that the electoral mass is incapable of action other than a stampede, and they constitute an attempt to regulate political competition. Their acts are similar to the corresponding practices of a trade association. The psycho-technics of party management and party advertising, slogans and other political rhetoric are not accessories. They are of the essence of politics.
The light of awareness has been turned to the on position, and we now see that the word democracy does not mean the people actually rule. The democracy we are experiencing means the people only have an opportunity of accepting or rejecting the men who rule them. Those men decide the fate of the people, and they may use undemocratic ways to achieve that goal. Our current democracy can be defined as the rule of the politician not the people.
Through the years political office has become a career for the professionals and lawyers that agreed to serve for a specific term. Once elected, the power of rule takes over, and these businessmen and lawyers are absorbed by pseudo-political success. They proclaim themselves the saviors of the system― a system that is broken by their quest for entitlements. They deal in votes rather than in the real issues. In our modern democracy, government office has become a long term career not a limited service.
Schumpeter forecasted the breakdown of our democratic system back in 1938. He said:
The efficiency of democratic government is inevitably impaired because of the tremendous loss of energy which the incessant battle in Congress and outside of it imposes upon the leading men. It is further impaired by the necessity of bending policies to the exigencies of political warfare. Neither proposition is open to doubt. The democratic method produces legislation and administration as by-products of the struggle for political office.
It seems the argument that Edmund Burke made when he addressed the English Parliament with respect to the American colonies has been forgotten or ignored. Burke bluntly told the Parliament that it must impose limits on itself. Our system has expanded to a point where the intellectual and moral level of the constituents is overlooked in order to promote an individual party― not our democracy. Individual proposals that are set forth by congressmen and senators must resist the temptation to embarrass or upset the leadership in order to gain a political victory. Negative political gestures that are constructed to destroy differences in political opinions are not the seeds for a fruitful democracy.
Victor Frankl the Austrian psychiatrist, Holocaust survivor, and one of the key figures in existential therapy reminded us how to plant fruitful political seeds when he said:
When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.
We must change our thoughts about politics. We must adapt a national character and national habits that will reestablish the basic moral principles that are innately rooted in the human psyche. Our national voice is fragmented and then divided by two hostile political camps, and the result is an eroding democracy. Democracy rests on a rational scheme of positive human actions, and the values that are set in motion by a healthy dose of moral character..