Ferdinand A. Hermens...

Voici une des dernières lettres que j’ai reçu de mon ami Ferdinand A. Hermens. Il était allemand et enseignait les mathématiques et l’économie. Il était prussien alors que le gouvernement national composé de cinq partis ne pouvait rien pour rétablir le calme en 1929 mais qu’il avait vu la police prussienne chasser les groupes de Nazis venus du sud  avec leur matraques.

A cette époque, mon ami n’avait  aucune position politique et dû se contenter de rejoindre les Etats-Unis, où il trouva immédiatement un poste d’enseignant chercheur.

Il prit peu de temps à trouver que l’être humain quant il s’agissait de la politique, ne pouvait nullement être considéré comme un chiffre immuable dans son être mais surtout variable qui lui permettait  de s’adapter à différentes circonstances. Certes, la variabilité peut provenir de différentes sources.

La structure  des institutions joue certainement un rôle longtemps non reconnu ou ignoré. Le mot « institutions » doit être considéré au  sens très étendu car de nombreuses organisations  se doivent par  les textes se contenter de mots tels  groupements,  groupes, réunions, assemblées, équipes. L’on peut dire que ces ensembles dont la plupart joignent ceux ils retrouvent car ils sont à l’aise. La provenance familiale,  tout comme les autres (par exemple, syndicats, religion) , peuvent devenir des structures d’accueil d’influence électorale et structure pour le vote contre


Ferdinand A. Hermens

Events are moving in the direction of ‘making the world safe for democracy. » But will new democracies be safe for the world? At the end of both world wars democratic government spread over large areas. In too many Cases it failed. This need not have happened. It did not happen in countries where the articulation of the political will was directed into the centripetal channels provided by majority voting.

In the « socialist' » countries in which autocratic rule is being loosened, majority voting clearly displays a unifying, even exhilarating, effect. The entire process is, as yet, rudimentary, but it can be fit into a rational democratic structure when the time comes.

Meanwhile, it is good to recall that the part played by majority voting in the  »keeping » of democracy has been set forth by James Madison in the, alas so often misunderstood, #10 of The Federalist. We must forgive him when he, like virtually all of his contemporaries, was not yet aware of the nature and essential functions of modern political parties. He wanted to show how ‘a well-constructed Union » could “break and control the violence of faction. » and his attention was focused on the warring, and destructive, factions in the Italian city-states. In our day the prime examples for the violence of faction! entered history successively as Communists, Fascists and Nazis.

Madison wanted no special laws (often so difficult to enforce) against such extremists. He emphasized that wherever in a “representative republic a faction consists of less than a majority, relief is supplied by the republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by regular vote. » Even if violence-prone groups win some local districts there is always the chance to finish them off in national contests, in particular in a large country. This is exactly what has been accomplished in the United States for two centuries. There have been examples of violent factions, such as the Anti-Masons, the Know-Nothings, the Klan of the post-Civil War and post-World War I periods, as well as the incipient « factions » which arose more recently in connection with the racial crisis. They all had their original flare-up followed, however, by a sobering-up when they had to pour water into the wine of their ideological purity in order to win that cross-section of “all sorts and conditions of men » (John Locke) without which they could not achieve a majority. This greatly impaired their credibility. When, eventually and invariably, defeat came on the national level there followed the break-up. Most of the rank and file returned to the moderate parties; some of the leaders did the same. The rest were relegated to the political fringe, where they might become a nuisance but never managed to be a danger.

Groups prone to violence have a much easier time wherever Proportional Representation (P.R.) prevails. In the then required multiple-member constituencies a fraction of the vote suffices for success. Nowadays, in most P.R. countries proportionality is limited to comparatively small constituencies. In Israel MEET nections are national and one percent suffices, pro- proportionality is complete, and its results are horrendous. Still, in most P.R. countries seats can be won with the support of those of whom Lincoln h:d in mind when he said: « You can fool some of the people all of the time. » Inter- national opinion polls indicate that everywhere about five percent of the voters tend to political violence. Let their country become the victim of unusual conditions, such as a severe depression, and these extremists can benefit from a potentially large protest vote. They may become strong enough to disrupt democratic government from within, and eventually, in he words of Madison, « to execute and mask (their) violence under the forms of the constitution. »

Thus, in pre-Fascist Italy. according to Gaetano Salvemini, ‘post-war neurasthenia' »‘ came to an end late in 1920. When, however, in March 1921 new P.R. elections took place, « parliamentary paralysis » developed. For the first time the Fascists were strong enough to benefit. In the Chamber their 36 deputies, together with the weaker Communists and the left-wing Socialists, played on the divisions among the moderates; no viable government could be formed. In 1922 the faceless Facta became prime minister, and when he too h:d to resign, no majority could agree on a forceful substitute. Facta returned, to Mussolini’s taunt: « With this Parliament 30 crises could only result in 30 Factas. » In October « Il Duce » could make his own ‘March on Rome » in a sleeping car. The ragged bands which he had put in motion could, in the words of General Bagdolio, have been routed in « five minutes of gunfire. »

The Weimar Republic fought Hitler for 14 years. When, in 1928, the Nazi’s national vote fell to 2.8 percent they seemed doomed, but P.R, gave them enough deputies to keep their party going. Eventually, doddering President von Hindenburg appointed the « Bohemian corporal » (whom he despised) to the Chancellor’s post because he had been persuaded that only with him could a viable government be formed.

In view of recent events particular interest attaches to Poland and the Baltic States/, In Poland P.R. had been adopted without even a minimum of discussion. The Sejm soon developed, in Marshal Pilsudski’s words, into a sterile jabbering, howling thing that engendered enough boredom to make the very flies die of disgust. » » He called it « a locomotive drawing a pin. » After he took over he had no  trouble ignoring it whenever he wished to do so. -As to the Baltic States, a reviewer in The Economist (May 11, 1974) wrote: . »…  they could hardly become advertisements for liberal democracy: there were for example, 14 political parties in the Estonian parliament and 27 in the Latvian. »

After the Second World War the weakness of P.R. was, on the whole, somewhat less conspicuous. Constitutional provisions to encourage stability helped in Some countries, and the memory of Mussolini and Hitler encouraged cooperation among the moderates. Yet, the France of the Fourth Republic was not even officially both before a three-party deadlock developed; General de Gaulle left public life a month after the first F.R. election. When, in 1958, the threat of a takeover by the parachutists from Algeria caused the parties to recall the General, majority voting was reinstituted and produced stable majorities without delay. In 1986 the Socialists, afraid of a defeat, restored P.R. which, even with proportionality limited to the « départements », brought the racist Jean-Marie Le Pen and his “National Front » into the Chamber with 35 deputies. Tu years later majority voting was restored, and only one of these ‘’Lepenists!! was elected. The party had to rely on those contests still held under P.R., such as the ones on the regions and for the European Parliament, to demonstrate its continuing existence.

In Germany all major problems seemed to be solved when the Bonn Constitution made it difficult to overthrow a chancellor, and the election law provided that parties with less than three SR REe districts, and less than five percent of the national vote, received no seats. The Free Democrats were, for a long time, the only minor party in the Bundestag, where they decided which of the major ones was to form a government. Even then coalitions were not easy to form; Konrad Adenauer saië that he would rather go through two election cam- paigns than one Kabinettsbildung. Nor did it help when two neo-Nazi parties, the Socialist Reiché Party (SRP) in the early 1950’s and the National Democratic Party (NDP) in the later 1900’s caused an international uproar.

This changed after the Berlin elections of January 1989. The FDP lost out with 3.9 percent of the votes, and the « Alternatives! (the Berlin name of the Greens) had 11.8 percent. The sensation was the 7.5 percent of the votes cast for the radical right-wing « Republicans. » The SPD increased its share to 37.8 percent, slightly less than the CDU. Sirnce the Social Democrats, during the campaign, rejected a coalition with the Greens, they were expected to join in a « Great Coalition » with the CDU. When, however, the Alternetives dropreë their more outlanäish demands, the SPD coalesced with them, and their decision was welcomed by most of their friends in other parts of the country.

The result was a significant change in the German political system. First, a reform of the election law became even harder than it has been since the failure of the “Grand Coalition’s » attempt to institute a ‘’mehrheitsbildendes Wahlrecht' »‘ (a system which you have made single-party majorities likely in future elections). The Free Derocrats left no doubt that they would leave any coalition, be it on the Land- or on the Federal level, if a psrtner even considered changes opening the road to a two-party system. Henceforth, the Greens will exert additional pressure from the left.

Second, the country’s party system became asymmetric. The Social Democrats can form a coalition with the Greens, but a coalition between CDU and « Republicans! is out of the question.

Third, the upgrading in the political status of the Greens has intensified the changes in the articulation of political will, which began as soon as the Greens won their first parliamennary seats. Since that time the three traditional parties have stood in danger of losing votes to the new competitor ; they began to make policy changes in order to reduce this possibility. So far as environmental policy is concerned the result may be little more than what the situation has been demanding for some time. In the areas of constitutional government (where at least the earlier demands of the Gheens were ‘chaotic’) economic and foreign (including defense) policy the basic consensus established by the three traditional parties was thrhatened. When the Social Democrats coalesced with the Greens in Berlin they did obtain concessions in these matters, but many feel that their own views changed. . .

The party most sensitive to the pressures emanating from the Greens is the Free Democrats. The five percent clause worked in their favor as long as it merely kept minor competitors from gaining seats. However, as the Greens began to take that hurdle they became a mortal danger: they could push the FDP out of a parliament, as they did in some of the Diets of the Laender, and nationally in the European elections of 1984, though they made-it with 5.6 percent in 1989.

Such developments are one of the reasons why Foreign Minister Hans Dietrich Genscher insisted on immediate negotiations for the curtailment, and eventual elimination, of short-range nuclear weapons. He had other reasons, set fatheloquently in a speech he gave at the University of Bologna, but their impact would hardly have been strong enough to make him ke quite the stand he did, bearing in min& that its possible consequences included the break-up of Chancellor Kohl’s government, with a coalition of Social Demo- crats and Greens to follow in due course.

Chancellor Kohl has been sharply, and hardly fairly, criticized for modifying his own stand in regard to the missiles. Had he accepted a reso- lution calling for their modernization it would have meant the immediate end of this government and the shift of power to more radical epponents of the missiles.

At that point the institutional background of political decision-making should have been taken into account by the Western leaders. Maïority voting in England, France and the United States means thst parties like the German Greens or »Republicans' » simply don’t exist; their potential followers choose, for the most part, to make their demands on the major parties, which accept them onlÿ within the framework of their overall policies. Furthermore, Mrs. Thatcher and François Mitterrand can dissolve their parliaments at any time, putting the parliamentary representatives of all parties, including their Own, on notice that they too must stand up to any panicky pressures on the part of their constituents. (To avoid misunSerstandings, let it, however, be said in conclusion that RATE crisis can have its advantages.

In this case that included a/reformulation of the United States attitude to the changes in Eastern Europe.)

Israel resembles Weimar Germany. First, in regard to the fact that there was no real discussion before P.R. was adopted. In Germany the revoluticnary Council of People’s Commissars did this by decree, following the Socialists’ Erfurt program, which was adopted at a time when their party suffered from the under-representation of the urban constituencies which, in 1918, they could have easily corrected. Once the National Assembly had been elected under P.R. the valiant effortsof Friedrich Naumann to have it stopped (combined with the warning that its continued use might lead to an impasse which could be corrected only by a coup d’état), was bound to fail. In Israel the election law was patterned on the one applied for the Zionist executive. David Ben Gurion came soon to oppose it vigorously and,

at the end of his career, desperately: he founded a small party, the Rafi, which was to block any coalition which would not abolish P.R. He failed by a small margin, as did, in 1977, professor Yigael Yadin, his chief of staff during the war for Independence.

The elections of 1984 led to the worst result yet. The novelist, Amos Kenan, wrote « The people of Israel voted against itself. It…voted against the government – against any government. » The « government of National Unity' »‘ which was eventually established came soon to be called a « Government of National Disunity. » » It could, in particular, not take any serious step to continue the peace process started with the Camp David accord. It was unable to resist the demand of a comparatively small group for addi- tional settlements in the occupied territories which Israel’s major ally, the Urited States, openltermed illegal. Nothing was better suited to engender the spirit which led to the Arab « uprisins. » The 1988 elections led to Le es kind of result as those of 1984, except that Likud had gained slightlÿ Pbautr might have managed to assemble a majority with the help of the religious parties and minor rightist splinters. President Herzog stepped in, denouncing Israel’s « strangand incomprehensible electoral system » which, he added, gives « ‘disproportionate power » to the smallest parties. He called for a “stable, wide-based government » which alone could tackle electoral reform and other issues. He concluded: « I represent the people’s wishes…This is a moral, not a political problem. »

Israel’s political leaders did form a new « Great Coalition, » and the major parties agreed on electoral reform. A commission of four cabinet members, two each from Likud and Labour, is to make concrete recommendations. This procedure avoided the mistake made by Germany’s Grand Coalition » government, which h=d been set up to establish an electoral system giving the voter a chance to decide which party was to form –. à government. Four months later a committee of seven professors (this writer was one of them though he had protested against setting up such a body at such a time) was appointed to examine the matter which, after ten more months, reported six to one in favor of plurality voting in single-member constituencies. The time lost sufficed to give the vested interests opposed to reform (including those within the major parties) a chance to get to work; they won by default.

Israel’s procedure permits timely action. Yet, both major parties have, for years, worked with some of the minors and retained close ties to them. So they cannot follow the view which Ben Gurion expressed (in a letter to this writer, November 7, 1970): « I always considered the British electoral System as the best, just as ours here in Israel is the worst. » The best is, of course, not always attainable, According to early reports, the system now favored provides for constituencies electing three or four candidates. This arrangement still might change the country’s political landscape sufficiently not only to eliminate the smallest parties but also to produce a concentration on the major ones, giving One of them, as a rule, an overall majority. The smaller parties could, however, elect candidates by concentrating, singly or jointly, on constituencies in which they are strong. Furthermore, the large parties could admit minor party representatives to their Tickets who, if elected, would be expected to cooperate closely with the respective major one. All things considered, the risks involved in such a system appear worth taking. À serious delay could, however, prove just as fatal as it did in the case of Germany’s « Great Coalition. »

The above remarks present highlights; details have been discussed in previous publications, which can be supplemented and brought up to date, whenever required.

To summarize: What Madison wrote in No. 10 should make us realize that he was not only the “Father of the Constitution » but also the father of « militant democracy. » When, on leaving Philadelphia’s Convention Hall Benjamin Franklin was asked what the Framers had given us, a republic or a monarchy, and answered « A Republic if you can keep it, » he could not know that the way for accomplishing that task would so soon be shown by a close associate.

Madison did not want to win the fight against « the violence of faction. » by special laws. In his view, what we now call « the « immune system of democracy » would do the job. When, however, that system is gravely weakened, as happens under any consistent system of P.R., valiant men and women will still fight for free government, but anything can happen, and sometimes does. If P.R. is diluted in small constituencies, its effects will be limited, though they make the task of responsible people unduly hard, and at times their best efforts unavailing.

What political institutions, such as P.R., mean in fact is one thing; its proper perception is something else again. Surprisingly, before there vas any significant experimentation with P.R. English political literature, beginning with Walter Bagehot’s English Constitution and Ramsay MacDonald’s Socialism and Government, described, in surprising detail, what P.R. would when applied. Harold Laski, mean when applied.  Harold Laski, Ivor Jennings and Herbert Morrison continue this tradition during the next generation, which also witnessed some pertinent points being made by Austen Chamberlain.

In the United States Liberal opinion, largely motivated by the wish to foster minor parties, and/or to strengthen the fight against machine- and boss- government, long considered P.R. a vital need. The simple fact was overlooked that in order to get good government you have to have a majority, even if that begins with a plurality (as La Guardia did in New York). When, in 1936, P.R. with the Single Transferable Vote (STV) was adopted in New York City its countryside success seemed to be assured.  The results soon disappointed many, and  the tide turned.  When P.R. was repealed in New York in 1947, an unprecedented series of editorials, published in The New York Times, (October 27, 28, 29, 30, November 5,6, 1947) spelled the beginning of the end for the STV in American local government. There now remains Cambridge, Mass. where, however, when a deadlock developed after one election, the council had to vote more than 1300 times in order to elect a mayor.

Meanwhile, intellectual opinion had also begun to turn away from P.R. The change was highlighted by the fact that a few years after the war Charles A. Beard, Paul H. Douglas, “alter Lippmann, and Norman Thomas resigned from the Board of the P.R. League, expressing their change of mind in no uncertain terms. Walter Lippmann, in a letter to this writer, emphasized that his own political observations had turned him against P.R. some years earlier; he had simply forgotten to notify the P.R. League.

This is not the place to ask why this emerging consensus was not reflected in public policy. By now, however, any hesitations should have been put to rest by the recent elections in Ireland and Greece as well as by the prospects which the European elections in Germany offer for the future political stability of that country.

In Ireland Prime Minister Haughey, who had steered his minority government, not without some trouble, through two years of a successful, though not every- where popular, austerity policy, asked for an absolute majority and instead lost a few more seats. The gainers were not the moderate opposition, but minor left-wing parties. Though Mr. Haughey did better than Mrs. Thatcher in any of her three victories, he must try to cope with increased possibilities for trouble.

In Greece Mr. Papandreou, certain to lose to Mr. Mitsotakis’ « New Democracy »! under an electoral system which combined P.R. with elements of majority voting, had a completely proportional system instituted. It left Mr. Mitsotakis, with about #4 percent of the votes, short of the majority which he could have won under the old system. A Communist-led coalition with about 13 percent of the votes now turns the scales.

In Germany five parties won seats in the European elections. If the distribution of the votes were the same in Bundestag elections, there would be no majority for either a Christian Democratic-Free Democratic coalition or for one formed by Social-Democrats and Greens. The only possibilities would be either the Free Democrats joining a « Red-Green » combination, something difficult to imagine, or the Social Democrats teaming up with the Christian Democrats for a new « Great Coalition. » Theoretically, they might then succeed in instituting that « majority forming . electoral system which Chancellor had Kiesinger promised in 1966. But it would take some doing for this to come to pass.

It is, at any rate, so much simpler to avoid F.R. when there is a clean slate than to try to abolish it, or even modify it seriously, once it has begun to create its powerful vested interests. As of now, there exists a clean slate in the hitherto « socialist » states. Since, however, Hungary is close to free elections, consider this sentence from an editorial in The Washington Post (June 16, 1989): « The opposition is composed of nine embryo parties, none of which has yet gained any great standing in the country. » The usual procedure is to form a committee consisting of party delegates who will without fail vote for a system giving everyone a chance to cut himself a slice. Enough parties are likely to succeed to prevent anyone from having a clear majority. If this is the case in a constituent assembly a hundred horses will not drag it away from P.R. Therefore, whatever can be done to place the articulation of the country’s political will on the right track has to be done now.

What is needed is ‘. : a general intellectual clarification, and it has to begin in the West. This writer has, for some decades, been begging proponents of P.R. to join him in drawing up a systematic comparison of the arguments for Madison’s ‘republican principle » of majority voting, and for P.R.  There have been no takers. So let there be done what can be done to make up for the deficit in literature critical of PR « In particular in recent years, has been engendered by the renewed, and obviously well funded, activity of proponents of P.R. in civic and academic organizations.

Issues of principle need to be tackled first. It is said, and widely believed, that P.R. is « just and fair. » Since problems of ethics are in the realm of philosophy, let a philosopher speak. When, at the end of the war, French patriots in the United States studied Ways to avoid the weaknesses of  the Third Republic, Jacques Maritain warned:

In order to eliminate, in addition, every attempt to introduce the « Trojan horse! » of proportional representation into the democratic structure, let us note that just as the common good is not a simple sum of individual goods, so the common will is not a simple sum of individual wills. Universal suffrage does not have the aim to represent simply atomic wills and opinions, but to give form and expression, according to their respective importance, to the common currents of opinion and of will which exist in the nation. The political line of a democracy must frankly an decidedly be determined by the majority, while the parties composing the minority play the past, also fundamental, of the critical element, in an opposition which is not destructive, but as much as possible constructive and cooperative.  Thus the majority and the minority express the will of the people in opposite, but complementary and equally real, fashions. » (La République Française, Dec ember 1943. Translated from the French by FAH)

Maritain’s warning was ignored. He lived to see both the rise and the fall of the Fourth Republic.

Systems of voting require urgent attention, but so does the warning expressed by John Jay in No. 64 of The Federalist: « Although the absolute necessity of system, in the conduct of any business, is universally known and acknowledged, yet the high importance of it in national affairs has not yet become sufficiently impressed on the public mind. »

New democracies should, in the first place, pay attention to the difference between the essential elements of the government structure and the many concrete problems which should be left to the normal legislative process. There is now a tendency for constitutions to RE which pressure groups have deposited their favorite demands. This procedure obscures the preeminent importance of structural provisions. It also deprives a country of the flexibility which the managing of day by day problems requires.

Needless to say, the “unity of system » is frequently ignored within the “framework of government » itself. Practically all Latin American constitutions need a good combing out for obvious inconsistencies. Thus in a democratic government the implementation of popular decisions should not be unduly delayed, and Argentina has just demonstrated what it means when there is a long inter- val between the election and the inauguration of a President. The effects of other irrational provisions, which cannot be listed here, are not so glaring, but quite real. À general treatise could systematize them, but in the end these problems can be treated only in country by country studies.

Lastly, political and economic problems are now more closely intertwined than ever. This is : widely acknowledged insofar as radical ‘socialist » policies are concerned. When Marxists reject the market, they reject rationality.  Unless prices are shaped with reasonable freedom, the relative value of goods and services cannot be ascertained. The market has also an informative function: It gives producers a chance to know the preferences of the consumer, and makes possible a meaningful comparison between costs and returns. Finally, there is the market’s selective function: Only competition, rising from the lowest level to the highest, can identify entrepreneurs capable of performing the task of successful innovation.

If doctrinaire socialism is now leaving the scene, there remains the ever-recurring fascination . With « populist » measures. These may, as Alan Garcia was to recognize in Peru and François Mitterrand in France, produce the symptoms of prosperity for a limited time, but their inflationist base becomes obvious in short order. That Mitterrand could correct himself within two years and Garcia never is in good part due to the fact that the French Constitution (not necessarily ideal in every respect) made quick and coherent action possible, whereas the Peruvian political system (in the widest sense of that term, including the election law) did the opposite.

Still, economic problems are nowadays 50 freely and so openly discussed that the options available in that area can be referred to rather briefly in the studies so urgently needed. Economists should, however, pay as much attention to the political implications of their proposals as political scientists should to the significance of economic factors for their own conclusions.