Stasiology and the Two-Party State

'Stasiology' is likely one of the least known terms in contemporary political science.  Indeed, the term does not appear anywhere on Wikipedia, and a Google web search returns less than 6,000 hits.  And no, it does not refer to the study of the old East German Ministry of State Security.  Stasiology is the study of political parties.  According to an article in the Journal of Politics from 1957, the term was coined in 1951 by the influential French sociologist Maurice Duverger in his early work Political Parties.  One of the few online dictionaries that contains the word, the Free Dictionary, defines 'analytical stasiology' as "an attempt, through the construction of conceptual frameworks, to develop a science of political parties."

The etymology of the term is worthy of consideration.  It is derived from the ancient Greek word for faction, 'στάσις' [i.e. stasis], which denoted "a standing still."  The Greek στάσις is also the origin of the English word 'stasis,' which is defined as a state of inactivity or of equilibrium in which opposing forces cancel one another out.  For the ancient Greeks, the term did not have a positive connotation.  In his History of the Peloponesian War, Thucydides identifies stasis as a severe internal disturbance in both individuals and states.  Wikipedia defines the term as it was used in the context of ancient Greek political history.
Stasis is a term in Greek political history. It refers to the constant feuds between aristocrats in archaic Greece, struggling about who is the best (aristos is Greek for "the best") both in terms of prestige and property. It led to various civil wars and the establishment of tyrannies in many cities of ancient Greece, most notably the Tyranny of Peisistratos in Athens.
In Of Myth, Life and War in Plato's Republic, Claudia Baracchi emphasizes the term's negative valence.  She writes in a footnote:
Notice that the Greek word for faction στάσις [i.e. stasis] suggests that sedition is a matter of taking a stand, of a position that comes to be rigidly, statically maintained.  Faction thus constitutes a block in the moving order of the πόλις [i.e. polis], an obstruction of the movement of gravitation around the πόλις [i.e. polis] . . . Socrates uses the word στάσις [i.e. stasis] also to indicate division, disorder, and conflict . . .
Given this etymology, it becomes easier to understand why the founding fathers, who were steeped in the classics, were so profoundly suspicious and skeptical of parties and faction.  At the same time, it may also shed light on the fact that the term appears not to be in wide usage despite the many studies of the history, structure and organization of political parties that have been published in the last sixty years: the term reflects poorly on the very notion of party, which does not jive especially well with the deep intellectual and ideological investment in the maintenance and reproduction of the two-party state common among American political scientists.

Despite the almost universal consensus that the party organization is an integral component of modern politics and government, it is surprising to learn that this sub-field of political science is not particularly well-developed.  Indeed, it did not even have a name until the middle of the 20th century!  Scholars have yet to even agree on a working definition of stasiology's primary object of study, the political party.  In Comparative Politics, published in 1982 by J.C. Johari, the author writes:
The progress that has been made in the study of political parties has been attained despite continued inability to resolve a number of key conceptual problems.  Most prominent among these are – how to define a party, how to classify or categorize parties and party systems, how to conceptualize the environment or context within which a party functions including the operation and impact of a party and the interaction between it and its environment.  The surprising development in this regard is that, despite all these difficulties, students are engaged in making an empirical study of party politics with the aim of refining the discipline of stasiology.
Over the last thirty years, the students of political science do not appear to have made much progress in resolving these key conceptual problems despite their empirical efforts.  Consider the following course description for a graduate seminar on American Political Parties which begins this week at the University of Georgia School of Public and International Affairs.  Professor Audrey Haynes writes:
Because political parties have played a central role in American politics since shortly after the beginnings of the Republic, the study of political parties has long been a key sub-field of American politics.  The exact specification of what should be encompassed in this sub-field, though, is a subject of dispute because of alternative conceptions of what political parties are . . . [Emphasis added.]
Haynes proposes an ad hoc definition for the course itself:
While we will discuss the many conceptualizations of political party, for organizational and pedagogical purposes, in this course, we will consider the party a tripartite entity – a coalition of voters (party in the electorate), a coalition of political leaders (party in government), and an organization of activists (party organization) separated from its other parts.  And at times we will think of political party as the sum of all its parts.
Needless to say, the course places great emphasis on the American Political Science Association's "Report of the Committee on Political Parties," which has served to indoctrinate generations of political scientists into the ideology of the two-party state since the document was originally published in 1950.  The syllabus also contains an extensive bibliography if you are interested in checking out any of the scholarly literature in the field.  

Though researchers in the field of stasiology have yet to agree even on a definition of the object of their study, Thucydides provided us with a thick description of the most extreme effects of faction and stasis almost 2500 years ago.  A lengthy excerpt from the discourse on stasis in Book III of The History of the Pelopennesian War:

"Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them. Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal ally; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question, inaptness to act on any. Frantic violence became the attribute of manliness; cautious plotting, a justifiable means of self-defence. The advocate of extreme measures was always trustworthy; his opponent a man to be suspected. To succeed in a plot was to have a shrewd head, to divine a plot a still shrewder; but to try to provide against having to do either was to break up your party and to be afraid of your adversaries. In fine, to forestall an intending criminal, or to suggest the idea of a crime where it was wanting, was equally commended until even blood became a weaker tie than party, from the superior readiness of those united by the latter to dare everything without reserve; for such associations had not in view the blessings derivable from established institutions but were formed by ambition for their overthrow; and the confidence of their members in each other rested less on any religious sanction than upon complicity in crime.

"The fair proposals of an adversary were met with jealous precautions by the stronger of the two, and not with a generous confidence. Revenge also was held of more account than self-preservation. Oaths of reconciliation, being only proffered on either side to meet an immediate difficulty, only held good so long as no other weapon was at hand; but when opportunity offered, he who first ventured to seize it and to take his enemy off his guard, thought this perfidious vengeance sweeter than an open one, since, considerations of safety apart, success by treachery won him the palm of superior intelligence. Indeed it is generally the case that men are readier to call rogues clever than simpletons honest, and are as ashamed of being the second as they are proud of being the first. The cause of all these evils was the lust for power arising from greed and ambition; and from these passions proceeded the violence of parties once engaged in contention.

"The leaders in the cities, each provided with the fairest professions, on the one side with the cry of political equality of the people, on the other of a moderate aristocracy, sought prizes for themselves in those public interests which they pretended to cherish, and, recoiling from no means in their struggles for ascendancy engaged in the direst excesses; in their acts of vengeance they went to even greater lengths, not stopping at what justice or the good of the state demanded, but making the party caprice of the moment their only standard, and invoking with equal readiness the condemnation of an unjust verdict or the authority of the strong arm to glut the animosities of the hour. Thus religion was in honour with neither party; but the use of fair phrases to arrive at guilty ends was in high reputation. Meanwhile the moderate part of the citizens perished between the two, either for not joining in the quarrel, or because envy would not suffer them to escape.

"Thus every form of iniquity took root in the Hellenic countries by reason of the troubles. The ancient simplicity into which honour so largely entered was laughed down and disappeared; and society became divided into camps in which no man trusted his fellow. To put an end to this, there was neither promise to be depended upon, nor oath that could command respect; but all parties dwelling rather in their calculation upon the hopelessness of a permanent state of things, were more intent upon self-defence than capable of confidence. In this contest the blunter wits were most successful. Apprehensive of their own deficiencies and of the cleverness of their antagonists, they feared to be worsted in debate and to be surprised by the combinations of their more versatile opponents, and so at once boldly had recourse to action: while their adversaries, arrogantly thinking that they should know in time, and that it was unnecessary to secure by action what policy afforded, often fell victims to their want of precaution.

"Meanwhile Corcyra gave the first example of most of the crimes alluded to; of the reprisals exacted by the governed who had never experienced equitable treatment or indeed aught but insolence from their rulers — when their hour came; of the iniquitous resolves of those who desired to get rid of their accustomed poverty, and ardently coveted their neighbours’ goods; and lastly, of the savage and pitiless excesses into which men who had begun the struggle, not in a class but in a party spirit, were hurried by their ungovernable passions. In the confusion into which life was now thrown in the cities, human nature, always rebelling against the law and now its master, gladly showed itself ungoverned in passion, above respect for justice, and the enemy of all superiority; since revenge would not have been set above religion, and gain above justice, had it not been for the fatal power of envy. Indeed men too often take upon themselves in the prosecution of their revenge to set the example of doing away with those general laws to which all alike can look for salvation in adversity, instead of allowing them to subsist against the day of danger when their aid may be required."

1 comment:

Samuel Wilson said...

Of course, some commentators have praised this exact tendency to "stasis" in the two-party system, since they fear or distrust energetic government. For them, last month's spectacle was proof, not that the system was broken, but that it worked. They are fitting subjects for stasiological study.