Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Book Review: the idea of a party system


Very good study of the development of the two party system in American politics. Very little on the federalism debate. Focuses mainly on the Jeffersonian republican split from the federalist party, and the subsequent strengthening of the republicans under Madison and Monroe. The last part of the book deals less with Jackson himself, then king maker Martin Van Buren and the New York machine's transformation of what it meant to be a politician.

Interesting how quickly the notion of "party" changed in American political life. Even through Monroe, the republicans tended to view party as synonymous with 'faction'. A potentially inevitable, but always unfortunate fact of politics that should be controlled, never encourage. (as an aside, Monroe, that expositor of American exceptionalism did NOT believe that parties were an inevitable part of the American system...why? because it was perfect, that's why). With the rise of the NY machine and the Jacksonian democrats, party became something to be proud of and to promote, not something to be hidden behind cognitive dissonance and speeches full of equivocation.

There is not a tremendous amount of new information in this book, although I imagine it is as good a place as any to start for the reader specifically interested in this somewhat narrow topic. The real appeal (as always for the contemporary reader), is in Hofstadter's prose

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