Ever since ancient times the idea of political parties has been
plagued by a sinister reputation, and throughout the history of Western thought
it has inspired criticism, suspicion, and censure. Until the end of the 19th
century is was widely feared that factions could destroy the harmony underlying
the political order. The decisive turning point arrived in the early 20th century
with the advent of mass organizations: parties ceased to be considered targets
of reproach and blameworthy phenomena, becoming the most solid and authentic
foundation of the State in both authoritarian regimes and new parliamentary
democracies. Yet inauspicious shadows continued to loom, and even now the idea
of parties, as current events show, for many embodies the worst possible image
of political affairs.
Damiano Palano teaches Political Science at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan.