What role should loyalty play in democratic politics? On the one hand, party systems are necessary to republicanism. They provide structure, put a face on distant and often shrouded political mechanization for voters, unite like-minded individuals around ideas and help them ensure they support policies that work best for them.
But take this idea too far and politics becomes about nothing but mechanization. Parties, not ideas, not politicians, govern. Structure is given power, respect, the ability to make decisions which affect legislation and thus the lives of the polity. This is to breathe life- and the discretionary power to act- to mere process. It is a characteristic of statism. And where statism exists so does oppression and misery.
Loyalty has been a front-and-center issue in the 2016 Republican primary almost from the beginning of the race when the opening minutes of the first GOP debate devolved into chaos after the candidates were asked to take an oath of loyalty to the party. Donald Trump, the consensus front runner by national polls, was obviously the target, and is now embroiled in fights involving ballot access and party oaths in states like Virginia.
Oaths of party loyalty are not out of the ordinary, especially in states with closed primaries, meaning only registered party members can vote. From the party’s standpoint, this is only logical. It is a survival mechanism- the party only survives so long as it has the approval of the voters, so it has a duty to ensure that candidates running under its auspices, and thus receiving resources payed for by supporters’ donations, truly support the ideals outlined in the party platform.
But what of states with open primaries, where any eligible voter can participate, or states with hybrid primaries, where voters can choose which primary they wish to vote in? In these cases the exigency of ideological adherence is lessened. Which begs the question, is ideological adherence as an ends unto itself problematic?
Party loyalty is slavishness, quite literally in the case of totalitarian regimes. Break the Communist Party oath in Soviet Russia and there was no leniency given the offender on the grounds of free thought.
Dissent cannot be akin to treason. In other words, party loyalty cannot supplant deeper ideology. There can be no philosophical rigidity where politics are concerned. Yes, adherence to ideas is important. Its organizational and structural benefits are clearly seen in partisan politics.
The basic Democrat-Republican divide is real and meaningful, rooted in genuine differences of what is moral, just and best for the country. It should not be disparaged. Divisiveness is not in itself bad. How could it be? Ideas have no emotion, no power to do ill or good. It is people using reason to analyze and extrapolate ideas and working in contrast with another that imbue ideas with emotional and moral value.
Thus, party loyalty cannot be allowed to stifle free exercise of reason, whether it be inter-party or intra-party debate. But neither can ideology be given as defense in the silencing of competing ideas. Both extremes- the despotism of ideological purity and the dictatorship of party organs- are the same organism. They are the unjust raising of one way of thinking over the other, to the exclusion and suppression of the other.
There is no merit in either case, only the monopoly of power given to government actors. Both are a barbarous strain of morality, claiming the common good or national welfare while suppressing a part of that whole.