The Multiparty Model Versus The American Model

     Events in Britain and France these past few days have emphasized one of the critical differences between the European, “parliamentary” scheme for forming a government and that which prevails in the United States. In Britain and France, the aggregated Left may rise to power over the parties of the Right, despite the Rightist parties actually having earned more votes. The Leftist parties won fewer votes than the Rightists, but in aggregate they won more seats in their nations’ parliaments. By negotiation and coalition-building, they may succeed in outflanking their conservative adversaries. The executive administrations of those nations will be determined by which coalition has the greatest number of seats. In consequence, the administration is always ideologically compatible with the largest coalition in Parliament.

     That makes possible rapid changes in the law, with little regard for previous law or customs. It also makes possible equally rapid reversals of the law. The destabilizing effect upon the lives and enterprises of private citizens can be quite serious.

     America is nominally a multiparty republic, yet it’s rare that anyone not affiliated with one of the major parties ever wins an election even at the state or local level. It has happened, but it’s uncommon. Moreover, such non-major-party officials are put under heavy pressure to “caucus” with one of the major parties… and, of course, to vote in concert with their selection. Note the behavior of the so-called “independents” in our Congress. Thus, the dominance of the major parties continues.

     Which system is the better one? The answer depends too much on opinion and preference. The American system, buttressed by a Constitution and the federal division of powers between Washington and the states, tends toward better protection of individuals’ rights, but it also suppresses the influence of minority opinions. The European system, whether or not backed by a written constitution, tends toward swifter government action, but also less respect for rights and more behind-the-scenes purchasing of support.

     It’s worth some reflection, especially as politicians and activists loudly and perennially exhort Americans to look to Europe as a model for “better” government. My own preferences are already on record.