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Germaine de Staël on partisan passions and political parties

  • Abstract

Informations and abstract

Keywords: Political Parties; Partisan Passions; Leadership; Representative Government; English Constitution.

The question of the role of parties within representative government is central to Staël's political reflection, though it has been generally overlooked by historians. The writer's experience in the early phases of the 1789 revolution convinced her that the absence of organised parties in the moderate camp was one of the main causes of the "dérapage" towards radicalisation and Terror. The incapacity of the «constitutional» majority to set aside their differences and to rally behind a leader, had paved the way for the victory of the more disciplined Jacobin minority. Staël - who was inspired by David Hume's writings on the subject - looked at English political parties as a model for modern representative systems. She described their essential role in mediating between public opinion and the expectations of electors on the one hand, and the action of government on the other. She also stressed the importance of parliamentary deliberation and of personal exchanges between electors and their deputies. In modern democracies, without the mediation exercised by parties, popular passions may easily spin out of control and destabilize political institutions.

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