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Quotations about Liberty and Power

About this Quotation:

As a new year begins with a new political party seizing control of Congress and a new President taking office, one natually asks about the true nature of political parties and the interest groups they represent. Gustave de Molinari, the laissez-faire Belgian economist, provides a succinct answer: they are like armies which train to take office, seize the “spoils” of office (a term actually and unashamedly used in American politics), and distribute them to their friends and supporters. According to Molinari, there is enormous pressure on any ruling party to increase the number of government jobs in order to increase the spoils which they have to distribute to their favoured friends and supporters. As the system grows in size and power there is in turn a heightening of the competition between different parties to win office and win this prize.

Other quotes about Parties & Elections:

12 January, 2009

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Gustave de Molinari argues that political parties are like “actual armies” who are trained to seize power and reward their supporters with jobs and special privileges (1904)

Read the full quote in context here.

The French economist Gustave de Molinari (1819-1912) compared political parties to "armies" whose sole aim is to win office, distribute spoils and jobs, all at the expence of taxpayers

These associations, or political parties, are actual armies which have been trained to pursue power; their immediate objective is to so increase the number of their adherents as to control an electoral majority. Influential electors are for this purpose promised such or such share in the profits which will follow success, but such promises—generally place or privilege—are redeemable only by a multiplication of "places," which involves a corresponding increase of national enterprises, whether of war or of peace. It is nothing to a politician that the result is increased charges and heavier drains on the vital energy of the people. The unceasing competition under which they labour, first in their efforts to secure office, and next to maintain their position, compels them to make party interest their sole care, and they are in no position to consider whether this personal and immediate interest is in harmony with the general and permanent good of the nation.

The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):

This method of dividing the sovereign power among various executive agencies was capable of many variations. In a constitutional monarchy the chief office in the State remained subject to hereditary transmission, but its occupant was declared irresponsible and his action was limited to the sole function of nominating, as responsible minister, the man chosen by the majority of the national representatives. These representatives are nominally chosen by the nation, by those members of the nation who possess political rights, but in point of fact they are no more than the nominees of associations, or parties, who contend for the position of "State-conductors" on account of the material and moral benefits which accompany the position.

These associations, or political parties, are actual armies which have been trained to pursue power; their immediate objective is to so increase the number of their adherents as to control an electoral majority. Influential electors are for this purpose promised such or such share in the profits which will follow success, but such promises—generally place or privilege—are redeemable only by a multiplication of "places," which involves a corresponding increase of national enterprises, whether of war or of peace. It is nothing to a politician that the result is increased charges and heavier drains on the vital energy of the people. The unceasing competition under which they labour, first in their efforts to secure office, and next to maintain their position, compels them to make party interest their sole care, and they are in no position to consider whether this personal and immediate interest is in harmony with the general and permanent good of the nation. Thus the theorists of the new order, by substituting temporary for permanent attribution of the sovereign power, aggravated the opposition of interests which it was their pretended purpose to co-ordinate. They also weakened, if they did not actually destroy, the sole agency which has any real power to restrain governments, in their capacity of producers of public services, from an abuse of the sovereign power to the detriment of those who consume those services.

The constitutions were, nevertheless, lavish in their promise of guarantees against this possibility, the most notable of which has, perhaps, been the power of censure vested in the press—a right which has too often proved quite barren of result. For the press has found it more profitable to place its voice at the disposal of class or party interests and to echo the passions of the moment rather than to sound the voice of reason. Nowhere has it been known to act as a curb on the governmental tendency to increase national expenditure.

[More works by Gustave de Molinari (1819 – 1912)]