Political Origins of Representative Democracy

The early work on party mobilization in relation to expanding representation stands in contrast with more recent explanations (Acemoglu & Robinson among others) that take the enfranchisement process to be forced upon the elite. Instead it becomes more clear that political entrepreneurs were zealous in recruiting new segments of the society and in the words of Sartori “outbid” each other into including them into their own fold.

On origins of suffrage extension and political regimes, between Sartori and Acemoglu, Sartori has my vote. Note the completely different explanation for the emergence of universal suffrage, compared to the one that is presented in Acemoglu and Robinson’s dominant explanation in the following:

This is a long quote from Sartori’s Party and Party Systems, p. 18 and 19 (emphasis mine):

“It is unnecessary to review the manifold forces that led to the first extension of the suffrage and, in England, to the 1832 Reform Act. There was, doubtlessly, growing pressure from below. As Daalder puts it: “The modern political party … can be described with little exaggeration as the child of the Industrial Revolution.” Yet the process was triggered, at the outset, from above. Probably the members of parliament felt that their voice would gain weight if their representativeness were less presumptive and more electoral. Above all, however, the electorate was involved as a result of mutual outbidding. A government faced by an intractable parliament would appeal, beyond parliament, to the vote of the constituencies — as William Pitt did. And a parliament is bound to retaliate on the same grounds. The process was triggered, then, by an endogenous development, by the internal dialectics between parliament and cabinet; but it gained momentum and was subsequently determined by exogenous forces.”

Also this important observation by Ostrogorsky on the 1867 reforms:

“Mortally wounded since 1846, living from hand to mouth, at one time on the expedients of parliamentary intrigue, at another on Palmerston’s credit, they both, Whigs first, and Tories afterwards, come to look on the extension of the suffrage as a means of retrieving their position. Their race for power.”

Posted in Uncategorized