In 1796, as President George Washington was preparing to depart the Presidency, he wrote a farewell address. In many ways, the topics he addressed in this document are eerily prophetic as we look around our world today.
One topic was the subject of political parties. It’s very easy to check the news and see the damage that polarization around party is doing to our country today. Since President Washington had a lot to say, I’ll cover his thoughts across several posts. This is the third post in the series. You can read the first part here and the second part here.
The final paragraph of President Washington’s argument against political parties reads:
“There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the government and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in governments of a monarchical cast, patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.”
I think in some ways parties today attempt to paint themselves as checks on the government. If you actually examine their arguments, however, you’ll find that they are usually arguing against the policies of the current government (usually the one run by the opposing party) versus being a check on government as a whole. Both parties fight to continuously expand government – they just use different reasoning to support their expansion. The Republicans argue for government expansion in the name of national security and safety (bigger military and national security apparatus), whereas the Democrats argue for government expansion in the name of social justice and security (larger welfare/medical programs and government regulation of supposedy abusive corporations). Both want to be further in your pockets and your business, they’re just giving you the option of how they’re going to get there.
So where do we go from here? Unfortunately, the two-party system is so ingrained in our culture at this point that it will be incredibly difficult to extricate ourselves. The only true way to destroy the two-party system is to reliably run third or fourth-party candidates that can convince people to vote for them. This will be a long, uphill battle. The government, both state and national, is so deeply involved in our day to day lives that educating voters enough on the myriad of issues to have them realize the damage that parties have done will probably take decades (or some sort of cataclysm). Reversing the constant growth of government will take even longer.
We, as a people, must start this journey. We are well past the point at which the spirit of party has started to consume us.
If this interested you, take a minute to subscribe to or follow our blog. President Washington had a lot more to say about political parties, as well as other modern concerns, and I hope to give them a solid treatment in upcoming posts. Thanks!