The Pathos of Politics (86-1) Divisiveness


Whatever one may think about democratic government, it has rough and slatternly foundations. ~ Winston Churchill

In contrast to presidential systems, parliamentary democracies are more hardscrabble, as the national leader is chosen from the majority party or coalition, decided in numerous regional elections throughout the country. Certainly, money always matters, but parliamentary democracy is a practical improvement over the presidential system when it comes to outright purchase of elections.


Moral anarchy is the danger we currently face. ~ Israeli American sociologist Amitai Etzioni

Owing to growing economic and societal schisms, democratic politics have become more divisive throughout much of the world in the early 21st century. This trend is particularly pronounced in the governmental dynamics of European parliamentary democracies.

Across Europe, politics is becoming more fragmented, and governments harder to form. Smaller parties, among them populists and single-issue outfits, pop up and steal support from traditional powerhouses.

One reason for rising fragmentation is growing inequality. Between the mid-1980s and 2008, the income of Europe’s richest grew 10%, almost 3 times faster than the poorest 10%.

As wages became more dispersed, voters’ preferences fragment, with the rich supporting the status quo and the poor opposing it. Polarization among the public begets fragmentation in parliament.

Simultaneously, the concerns of urbanites increasingly diverged from those of rural folk, creating distinct pockets of voters to which smaller parties can appeal.

Another factor is plummeting partly loyalty. Dissatisfaction has been the impetus for abandoning traditional parties, which are often seen as representing the status quo.

Some electoral systems are designed to keep smaller parties out of power, thus ostensibly discouraging fragmentation. But such mechanisms have proven ineffective in the face of growing alienation.

One adaptive strategy has been to form “grand coalitions” that range across the political spectrum. Such coalitions governed Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands in the 2110s.

Wide-spectrum coalitions can reinforce the divisiveness dynamic, as voters become frustrated with the stagnation of colorless centrism. This furthers a drift toward extremes and issue-oriented parties.

Coalition governments tend to be short-lived and often unproductive. Coalitions comprised of widely disparate parties struggle to pass laws.

Because coalition governments promise largesse to a greater number of groups, they tend to be expensive. From 1970–1998, adding a party to a European coalition government meant an increase in governmental spending by 0.5% of GDP. For economically weak countries like Greece and Italy, this has been a significant fiscal problem. (GDP is “gross domestic product,” a ridiculously rough measure of economic activity.)