Hawthorne, Perennial on Parties

The following statement stood out to me as I was reading Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Life of Franklin Pierce the other day:

The two great parties of the nation appear—at least to an observer somewhat removed from both—to have nearly merged into one another; for they preserve the attitude of political antagonism rather through the effect of their old organizations, than because any great and radical principles are at present in dispute between them.

Of course, this isn’t a new idea. Indeed, what’s remarkable is just how old it is; Hawthorne wrote this in 1852, and there’s no reason to think that it was all that novel even then.

It’s easy to take this quotation out of context. Hawthorne was Pierce’s friendly campaign biographer. He was basically arguing that his guy was different; voters, he hoped, would “put their trust in a new man, whom a life of energy and various activity has tested, but not worn out….”

That wrinkle notwithstanding, the main insight here—and its enduring nature—is perhaps worth remembering as Election Day nears.

Tags: politics misc