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Problematic Feelings about Parties: Excerpts from the Staats-Lexikon: "Parties" (1845-1848)

The author of the following entry in Staats-Lexikon (1845-1848), a twelve-volume encyclopedia of political terms and concepts, argued that political parties should be differentiated according to the concrete interests they serve, and not merely positioned on a static left-to-right continuum.

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[ . . . ]

Therefore, before I proceed to my account, I shall look more closely at Rohmer's* theory for a few moments. Rohmer deduces as follows:

At first he attacks the prevailing concepts about parties, which, operating under the well-known headings "radical," "liberal," "conservative" (also "aristocratic"), "absolutist" (or "reactionary"), and "juste milieu,"** originate in the view that we "live in a period of transition from an old to new era"; one party wants the new era – the party of "progress" (liberal), the other clings to the old, the "retrograde" (conservative) party. In between are those who want to mediate – the "juste milieu," loved by the one side as a tendency toward reconciliation, hated or despised by the other as a tendency toward weakness. These two major parties, however, contain gradations and varieties. What clings to the old can either stand still (conservative in the narrow sense) or move backwards (reactionary or absolutist). The friends of the new either want progress with the preservation of existing conditions (liberals in the narrow sense), or progress without regard for them – unsparing and from the ground up (radicals). Liberals and radicals are the same in terms of principle, but different in terms of execution. Radicalism is for some a mistaken extreme, for others the loftiest implication of the liberal principle. One is radical, according to the former, if one applies the principles of "progress" imprudently and without knowledge of conditions, and according to the latter if one knows how to implement them bluntly and energetically. These are the prevailing concepts, Rohmer says [ . . . ].

[ . . . ]

The only way for us to acquire a standard for the proper assessment of parties is to answer the question: What is the immediate aim of partisan struggles, and what, in the first place, does each party want to achieve? Certainly nothing more than the chance to organize the state according to its concepts and wishes. And when this chance has been won, what axiom, what principle, what guiding thought determines this organization? Simply, nothing other than interests. Every party wants to organize the state in its interest, every party, once it has seized power, gives society a form that corresponds most closely to its own interests — It is interests, the different interests around which parties revolve, that form the focal point for all impulses and movements in the realm of the state. The nature of these interests also determines the nature of the parties, gives them their content, their principle, stamps them into what they are, determines their characteristic features, distinguishes them from each other.

* Friedrich Rohmer was a contemporary journalist – ed.
** Literally: "proper center" or golden mean, i.e. moderate, associated with the compromise-oriented policy of France's Orleanist king Louis-Philippe – trans.

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