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How Would You Account For Changes In Political Cleavage Structures And How Does This Impact On Party Systems?

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How would you account for changes in political cleavage structures and how does this impact on party systems?

The fundamental nature of this essay is to look at the different explanations of the emergence and development of political cleavage structures and its impact on party systems in Western Europe.

The party systems of the Western European states reflect both common lines of development of Western European history and country-specific characteristics of the progress of state and nation. Hence, I conclude that apart from social structure, institutional characteristics of the political system (e.g. the voting system) exercises influence on the configuration of party systems.

The most respected theory that clarifies the connection between social contrasts and its translation in politics comes from Stein Rokkan and is exemplarily described in the introduction to Lipset and Rokkan (1967). According to their theory current and also historical social conflicts, which successfully overcame a row of barriers at the time of the introduction of the general right to vote, successfully found its political representation in national parliaments. "Cleavage structures" - the clash of interests and value contrasts in the society - could thus assist in explaining "voter alignments" - the electoral behaviour of the citizens. The central cleavages were identified: the class conflict between capital and work and the religious conflict between church and state. The electoral connections of social groups seem to have hardened; the party systems of Europe appeared to Lipset and Rokkan in the middle of the 1960s as if they had "frozen" since the First World War. From the comparative politics point of view this is rather apolitical. Important variables like party connections, the attraction of candidates, and the confidence in the problem solution competence of the parties or their present role as a government party or opposition party do not seem to be considered at all. But, as a discussion by Russell J. Dalton, Scott Flanagan, and Paul Beck (1984) notes:

"Although the Lipset-Rokkan model emphasized the

institutionalization and freezing of cleavage alignments,

the model also has dynamic properties. It

views social alignments as emerging from the historical

process of social and economic developments.

New alignments develop in response to major

social transformations such as the National and Industrial

revolutions. While the structure of cleavages

is considered to be relatively fixed, the political salience

of the various cleavages and patterns of party

coalitions may fluctuate in reaction to contemporary


Table 1: social bases of parties

Wave 1

The national revolution Wave 2

The industrial revolution Wave 3

The post-industrial revolution

Centre vs. periphery Class Education

National and linguistic divisions Trade unions Affluence

Religion Social mobility Postmaterialism

Source: M. Harrop and W. Miller Elections and Voters: A Comparative introduction (London: Macmillan, 1987)

Therefore, Giovanni Sartori (1968) criticises this representation model (cf. figure 1, 1. box) as a result of "sociology of politics". Instead of this a

"Political sociology" is necessary which does not understand the connection between society and politics as a one-way street and also does not overlook political causes of social contrasts and political behaviour should be approached. In his interdependence model politics influences social contrasts as well as vice versa the society causes political contrasts (cf. figure 1, 2. box).

Nevertheless, modern societies are not static, but are understood to be in permanent change. The old conflict oppositions, which stamp the basic structure of the European party systems up to this day, have weakened. This already interprets itself in the changing relative importance of social conflict parties. The postindustrial society, from Huntington (1974) prophesied, has become a reality. The cohesion of social groups loosens, individualisation trends point "beyond class and condition" (Beck 1983).

Lifestyles (Hradil 1987) are bound less to class connections but rather the socialisation of individual generations (Mannheim 1964) and with it in - in the old concepts of the social structural analysis: heterogeneous - value communities (Inglehart 1977). This does not mean that the old structures have become completely obsolete (Wirth 1999); rather a coexistence of different and partly contradictory structure characteristics dominates society.

Also political structures are not static, but change accordingly with time. These changes reveal themselves in the political parties Ð'- the central connecting point between society and politics. Besides the notable middle-class parties, the early time of the mass democracy was strongly marked in Europe by proletarian "mass integration parties", namely by those democratic just as their totalitarian variation (Neumann 1956).

Figure 1

Source: Schmitt 1987:11

Then after the decline of Nazi Germany and the end of the Second World War, in a new and by radical change and departures marked social sphere, Kirchheimer (1965) elaborated the term "national parties" or "catch-all parties" which marked the political scene. Now, not the integration of socially homogeneous members (and voters) for the purpose of political mobilisation and emancipation stood in the foreground, but the competition of the parties around more or less unbound votes. This required from the parties new qualities - ideological mobility and organizational centralisation were not the most insignificant among them. Then at the end of the 20th century the type "national party" was removed from the professional perception and was transformed to cartel parties. "Cartel parties" in the language of Katz and Mair (1995) - are more concerned with itself and its equals, with gaining and



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