The Perils of Political Moderation:
Our Self-Defeating Party System
AMERICANS, particularly those of conservative inclination, invariably draw a sharp contrast between the stability and continuity of their domestic political institutions and the turmoil and endless experimentalism of continental European politics. The structure of American government, they point out, was established by the Constitution at the end of the 18th century and has endured ever since. Our two parties are almost as venerable, whereas even Britain, whose institutions are rock-like in their stability, has witnessed the rise of a new major party in the present century. In the United States, movements, causes, third and fourth parties come and go, but the Republicans and Democrats go on forever. Continental Europe, on the other hand, has in the past two centuries experienced a succession of revolutions, restorations, the scrapping and rewriting of constitutions, and the rise, triumph, and decline of parties and regimes. The image of a fickle Europe continually lusting after new “isms” and ideological absolutes, always prepared to pull down the foundations of civil society in order to build new ones conforming to the latest abstract blueprint, has recently become a staple of American conservative thinking. It has largely replaced that older and more naive version of American “exceptionalism” which saw Europe as a continent wracked by ancient and incomprehensible quarrels that had no relevance to the New World.
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