4 Ways Political Parties Can be Harmful


Written by Ian Tartt

“However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”

That comes from George Washington’s farewell address way back in 1796. Washington was the only US president who was never affiliated with any political party during his time in office. One can only wonder how history would have played out if his warning had been heeded. In the spirit of Washington, here’s an updated warning about political parties with four ways they can be harmful.

1. My team is better than your team.


If someone is a member of a political party, they have an incentive to want to see their party succeed, which means other parties have to fail. Accordingly, they tend to focus less on the agenda of any party and more on staying loyal to their party. How many times have we seen this? One example is Democrats getting upset about Bush’s wars while staying silent about Obama’s and Republicans getting upset about Obama increasing the national debt while ignoring when Reagan did the same. Another example is pushing away people who have the same goals but are in a different party (such as members of the Libertarian Party rejecting members of the Republican Liberty Caucus) or who aren’t registered with any party. While it’s true that bipartisanship usually means Republicans and Democrats working together to pick our pockets and push us around, party affiliation, or lack thereof, should never prevent people who share the same ideas from working together.

2. They can tempt people to compromise their principles.


As mentioned in the previous point, members of political parties often place more importance on advancing their party than the actual goals of their party. This makes it very tempting to defend the words or actions of people in their party even if doing so involves straying from the party platform or condoning things with which the person disagrees. At first, this may involve someone compromising their principles, but if they do it for long enough, their principles may end up changing to match their party. This is natural since many people involved in a political party get used to looking to what the party platform says on any given issue instead of going by what they believe about that issue. The desire to avoid this is what drives some people to never register with a political party or to change their registration to “no party affiliation” if they see notice they’re becoming more partisan than they’d like to be. For this reason, while some people do well in parties, others do better as independent.

3. Not everyone can participate.


A lot of work goes into a political party. There are conventions, meetings, bylaws, additions or alterations to the platform, membership dues, candidates to nominate and promote, and on and on. The more involved with a party someone is, the more time and money they’ll have to have to do so. Not everyone has the luxury to be able to do that. A lot of people are having a hard enough time making ends meet and taking care of their families, so they have neither the time nor the money to be able to participate even if they want to. Thus, the party ends up being shaped by those with more resources, meaning that it best represents them and leaves in the cold members with fewer resources. This can result in frustration on the part of those who can’t participate and cause them to look for other ways to make a difference.

4. They can distract people from other ways to effect change.


Most people looking to influence politics turn to political action. Those with the resources and the interest get involved in a political party, and most people, whether or not they’re registered with a party, end up voting on candidates and issues that affect their lives. There’s nothing wrong with political action, but it’s only one possible way to effect change. Advancing liberty can be done through political action, education, civil disobedience, and a number of other ways. Not everyone enjoys political action or has the resources available to engage in it, but they might be able to talk to their friends and family members about their ideas. That’s one example of something anyone can do that takes very little time, costs nothing, and can be done anywhere. But if someone is under the impression that political action is the only way to make a difference and they can’t participate in it or don’t enjoy it, they may feel depressed because they don’t think there’s anything they can do. Because the primary purpose of political parties is to affect change through political action, they can lead people into activities that they don’t enjoy and distract them from activities that they do enjoy.


The views expressed in this piece belong to that of the author, and do not represent the views of Liberty Viral or its staff.