At least every four years I hear complaints about our two-party system. The framers of our constitution, all nine of them, had no apparent inkling that there would be two parties, but two parties emerged as soon as the date was set for the first election. That would be the Republicans and the Whigs, later the Democratic Republicans and the Whigs, then the Democrats and the Whigs, then the Whigs went the way of the Dodo and since then it’s been the Democrats and the Republicans. In fact the current Republicans are the only successful third-party in the history of the country, and they were only a third-party once, really, as the former second party disbanded not long after that election. I think it’s all the Celts’ fault.
Not the basketball team that pronounces its name wrong, but the actual Celts who once ruled most of Western Europe. Like America since the beginning they were a divisive and contentious lot, and they had the “code of the West” before any of them knew that North America even existed. I once read a report from an early Christian missionary to some Gallic Celts. The missionary asked what, since they did not have the Gospels to guide them, the Celts used for a moral guide. The reply was, “Strength in the arm, honesty in the heart, and truth on the lips.” Updated to 1875, that amounts to “be strong and self reliant, be honest in dealing with other folks, and don’t try to con a con man”, which is pretty much the code of the West. Interesting, huh? Getting back to the two-party system, here is part of a description of Celtic society by none other than Gaius Caesar, from his Commentaries:
“caes.gal.6.11”: [6.11] Since we have come to the place, it does not appear to be foreign to our subject to lay before the reader an account of the manners of Gaul and Germany, and wherein these nations differ from each other. In Gaul there are factions not only in all the states, and in all the cantons and their divisions, but almost in each family, and of these factions those are the leaders who are considered according to their judgment to possess the greatest influence, upon whose will and determination the management of all affairs and measures depends. And that seems to have been instituted in ancient times with this view, that no one of the common people should be in want of support against one more powerful; for, none [of those leaders] suffers his party to be oppressed and defrauded, and if he do otherwise, he has no influence among his party. This same policy exists throughout the whole of Gaul; for all the states are divided into two factions.
Isn’t that interesting? You know, President Jefferson was a Celt, and he was most influential in the early days of our country. More than that, our government, contentiousness and all, would almost seem to be modeled after the Celtic idea of two parties protecting the common citizen. To a Roman such an idea seemed foreign of course, as Rome always went to whichever would-be leader managed to pull it off. In Gaul and other Celtic provinces the leadership was always a matter for some serious, and occasionally bloody debate. Oddly, the two-party system seems more built in to our National psyche than to our public documents. Maybe that’s because a lot of Celts were early settlers, and have continued to move in for almost four centuries now. There were a passle of Welshmen in Jamestown, for instance. In the eighteen-forties, when about a third of the population of Ireland moved to the new world, we got a huge infusion of Celts. Anyone you know who’s a wee bit Scots is Celtic. My family and I look German as heck, but amongst our ancestors are Irish, Welsh, and Helvetians (Swiss.) In a sense, for the first time in their history, the Celts have succeeded in setting up a lasting nation. Who’d ‘a believed it, eh?
So maybe the way to look at our two-party system is in the Celtic manner: to regard it as a way to protect individuals from the excesses of government, since whenever any party starts to exert too much influence the other one immediately comes out in opposition to whatever the party in power is doing, just on general principles. Rather than howl about scoring political points at the expense of civility and effective government, maybe we should be grateful that our two-party system keeps re-pointing us in the direction of “that government governs best that governs least.”
Besides, it can be a good show. Other people’s hypocrisy is always entertaining, innit?