Piero Ignazi

The impossible challenge. Parties facing a legitimacy crisis

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This article examines the critiques and challenges that political parties face in contemporary liberal democracies. Some of the arguments against parties have a long-standing and distinguished pedigree in the history of political thought and practice and have travelled consistently across the centuries into our present; others have emerged more recently, stemming from the unprecedented transformations of Western democratic societies. Among the former ones, the most enduring source of anti-partyism is rooted in an «ontological» disdain for partiality: healthy political communities long for unity, harmony, and concord, while conflicts among and within parties tear that unity apart. Among the latter, more recent anti-party arguments, parties have been the target of increasing criticism for no longer fulfilling the tasks assigned to party organizations ever since the 1950s. The folk theory of parties and democracy, and of party democracy in general, developed in the immediate aftermath of World War II. However – the article argues – political parties inhabit today a completely different world and thus cannot meet outdated and anachronistic expectations. The gap between what parties used to be and what they are powerfully, and negatively, affects their reputation among democratic citizens, especially in Europe; acknowledging, contextualizing, and addressing this gap is a key premise for saving parties’ stand in the public debate and re-energizing their presence and functions as democratic institutions.


  • political party
  • confidence
  • acceptance
  • legitimacy
  • anti-party


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