E. E. Schattschneider's Party Government, published fifty years ago, is one of the early classics of behavioral political science. The enduring popularity of this book, however, stems less from its impressive analysis of the actual workings of American party politics than its advocacy of democratic reform. Party Government was a strong blow in behalf of “responsible party government,” a creed that has had an important influence on political science. Schattschneider later chaired the Committee on Political Parties of the American Political Science Association, which produced the famous report “Towards a More Responsible Two-Party System,” published in 1950. Much of the argument of the report was anticipated by Party Government, which advocated “party centralization” to overcome the local and sectional tendencies that defined traditional partisan politics in the United States (Schattschneider 1942; Committee on Political Parties 1950).
Schattschneider considered political parties as perhaps the most archaic institutions in the United States: the American party system continued to operate as it had before the Civil War, that is, as two loose coalitions of state and local organizations, with very little national machinery and cohesion. The major parties were able to control the electoral process and bring people to the polls. Nevertheless, they failed to organize the nominees they elected to office into an effective, cohesive team for control of government. “Nearly all of the conflict and confusion of American government,” Schattschneider (1942, 30) claimed, “can be traced to the failure of the parties on this point.”
With the growth of the federal government's responsibilities during the twentieth century, this failing of the traditional decentralized parties represented a distressing deterioration of representative democracy.