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William Safran, "The Catch-all Party Revisited: Reflections of a Kirchheimer Student," Party Politics, 15 (September 2009), 543-554.

First paragraph:
Otto Kirchheimer's name is prominently associated with the study of modern political parties, notably in Western democracies. Many of his numerous writings, to be sure, focus on parties, but that subject does not do full justice to his thought and work. Like most German-educated political scientists of the first half of the 20th century, he was trained in the law and concerned with the state, in particular the constitutional state (Rechtsstaat). He fled his country in 1933 when Hitler came to power - first to France and subsequently to the United States. Like several of his fellow Jewish refugee intellectuals, he was associated with the Institute for Social Research (the 'Frankfurt School'), at first in Paris and then in New York. After World War II he taught at the New School for Social Research before coming to Columbia University.1 He maintained personal contact with fellow émigré scholars, including former Frankfurt School associates, but he did not share the abstruse idealism and the 'critical theory' that informed the thinking of some of the latter. After the death of Franz Neumann, he was the only remaining political scientist of the Frankfurt School contingent at Columbia University. Most of his earlier work had been focused on Germany, but his interest broadened to comparative politics. His Columbia seminar was on West European politics, rather than specifically on political parties, and dealt, inter alia, with constitutional changes and a variety of institutional developments. This was reflected in his frequent references to public-law (including constitutional texts) and history, in particular pertaining to the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

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Last Paragraph:
One cannot predict future developments. It is possible that if the welfare state is seriously undermined, perhaps in response to the pressures of globalization, one or another party with catch-all ambitions may revert to a class party, or it may move from loyal opposition to a new kind of catch-all party behaviour reflecting an 'opposition in principle' that would imply a call for a new political system. In any case, the study of such developments will continue to be influenced by Kirchheimer's writings.

Last updated October 2009