Return to: Search Page or to: Table of Contents Vol. 5, issue 3

Jan Teorell, "A Deliberative Defence of Intra-Party Democracy," Party Politics, 5 (July 1999), 363-382.

First Paragraph:
No modern democratic state has been able to do without political parties. Yet it is far from clear how parties fit into our theories of democracy. If this is a commonly asserted fact when it comes to parties in general, less has been said on the relationship between democratic theory and party organizations. Maybe the most intuitive response is to demand of political parties, as of the systems of which they form a part, that they be democratically ruled. This intuition was the premise of Michels's (1915/1962) pessimistic view on the prospects of democracy. Because the 'iron law of oligarchy' rendered intra-party democracy a mere chimera, Michels held democracy in the political system as a whole to be hopelessly unrealizable. He thus posited intra-parry democracy as a prerequisite of the democratic state. Was he right?

Figures and Tables:
None.

Last Paragraph:
In conclusion, to introduce and experiment with institutionalized intra-party deliberative polls, adapted to the special circumstances of different areas of decision-making, would be a first step towards a more full-scale implementation of deliberative practices within party organizations. Admittedly, being mere consultative bodies without authoritative decision-making powers, these deliberative institutions could never supplant the workings of the leading party representatives. At best, they could widen the scope of reason and narrow the range of illegitimate arguments. Moreover, when party leaders decide to diverge from the verdict of a deliberative poll, it calls for a declaration of the underlying reasons in order to be justifiable. Indirectly this would also work to promote the deliberative activities within the more informal networks of party members and supporters. For the future of deliberative democracy, this would constitute a significant beginning.