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Monday 20 February 2023

Ban Factions

Image: Unsplash

I find it interesting that Machiavelli, who was a big proponent of the Republican form of government, calls into question the modern Australian political practice of basing elections around parties, rather than individual members. 

He says, it is vital that you do not allow your government to be overtaken by factions. Because it is in the nature of people to, despite all reason, support one side over the other and then become partisan. The creation of factions creates a culture of blind support for the team, like in football, or soccer, or some other sport. People, voters and members, become more loyal to the team than the parliament they are first called to represent. 

Machiavelli notes that this will exacerbate over time, causing increasing dissension and eventually threaten the liberty of your people, because these factions will focus more on vying for power than ruling your nation justly. Politics will become less about the "polis", the city, and the 'Populis' the people, and more about the various factions maintaining their positions of power. 

When you understand that what we call political parties are the essentially the factions that he describes, then you can observe that the increasing polarization in our society is partly due to the way we do politics. It is an inevitable result of creating teams that people can choose, and then barrack for. When important things like living standards, foreign policy, social services, economic management and more are on the table and debated about between the "teams", people take this as a serious form of sport, and start to see the other side as inherently the bad guys. It is understandable that this happens, because important issues are at stake that can really impact people lives. This is all just a natural result of allowing factions to control the most influential parts of the parliament. 

Note, political parties are not in the constitution, they are after the fact add-ons. They are private entities that vie for their faction to be represented in parliament. Machiavelli noted that if you allow factions to flourish, they will co-opt and take over your political system. That is exactly what has happened in Australia, the United Kingdom, United States and many more places. The political parties are now almost synonymous with the electoral system in people's minds even though our systems were intended to be managed this way. 

The positions of power have been gatekept by political parties that work hard to protect each other's hold on the reigns of power. This becomes especially clear when you consider how political parties start to represent their doners and lobbyists more rather than the general population. 

This is of course true in most modern Parliamentary and Republican systems around the world. And Machiavelli told us this would happen. His Discources really should be required reading for all high-school students. It is filled with brilliant insights into the strengths and weaknesses of democratic governments, and how to manage them. 

Parliamentary officials should serve the truth first, the constitution second, the electorate third, and political factions should be low down the list. Is there a way that future democracies could limit better the influence of factions? It is worth pondering. 

As long as factions exist and are allowed unchecked influence, they will redirect the political emphasis away from the people towards their ends. It is a natural human tendency. 

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