What cartelisation means for parties, and party systems


Peter Mair and Richard S. Katz

New in the OUP / ECPR Comparative Politics series is Democracy and the Cartelization of Political Parties by Richard S. Katz and the late Peter Mair.

Political parties have long been recognised as essential institutions of democratic governance. The organisation of parties and their relationships with citizens, the state, and each other have evolved since the rise of liberal democracy in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Going into the 21st century, it appears that parties are losing popular support, putting both parties, and potentially democracy, in peril. 

This book traces the evolution of parties from the model of the mass party, through the catch-all party model, to argue that by the late 20th century the principal governing parties and (and their allied smaller parties – collectively the political 'mainstream') were effectively forming a cartel, in which the form of competition might remain, and indeed even appear to intensify, while its substance was increasingly hollowed out.

The spoils of office were increasingly shared rather than restricted to the temporary winners; contentious policy questions were kept off the political agenda, and competition shifted from large questions of policy to minor questions of managerial competence. To support this cartel, the internal arrangements of parties changed to privilege the party in public office over the party on the ground. The unintended consequence has been to stimulate the rise of extra-cartel challengers to these cosy arrangements in the form of anti-party-system parties and populist oppositions on the left, but especially on the right.

Democracy and the Cartelisation of Political PartiesSpeaking to us about his book, co-author Richard Katz told us: 

'Although this book is primarily a study about the organisation and competition of the political parties that have dominated democratic politics for the last 60 years, it also advances a framework for understanding the rise of populist challengers to those parties.

While we suggested the rise of anti-party-system-parties in our original (1995) cartel party article, this book should lay to rest the idea that we ever saw the cartel party as an end state that would be universally realized, rather than as an ideal type that parties might approximate.

More generally, it shows how the rise of these anti-party-system parties can be seen as one more step in a continuing process in which each party type, including the cartel party, stimulates the development of a new challenger. And that reforms to encourage “more democracy” are not the cure, but contributors to the problem of populist challenges to liberal democracy.'

Oxford University Press Comparative Politics Series 

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Keywords: Democracy, Political Parties

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