Kirchheimer Catch All Thesis Statements

Otto Kirchheimer (German:[ˈkɪɐ̯çˌhaɪmɐ]; 11 November 1905 in Heilbronn – 22 November 1965 in New York City) was a German jurist of Jewish ancestry and political scientist of the Frankfurt School whose work essentially covered the state and its constitution.[1]

Kircheimer worked as a research analyst at the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner of the CIA, starting in World War II and continuing to 1952.[2]


He is father of the concept of the catch-all party. Otto Kirchheimer's conception of the catch-all party was part of his more comprehensive theory of party transformation, encompassing four interrelated political processes. By tracing the development of the catch-all thesis and placing it within the wider context of Kirchheimer's complete work, it is possible to reconstruct a more precise understanding of what Kirchheimer meant by the catch-all concept, which itself remains highly contested. Kirchheimer's anxiety about modern democracy originated with what he saw as the vanishing of principled opposition within parliament and society, and the reduction of politics to the mere management of the state. This leads to collusion of political parties and the state, severing of the societal links of party organisations, and erosion of the classic separation of powers. Vanishing opposition, cartelisation and professionalisation of politics pits citizens against a powerful state, which increases political cynicism and apathy. Kirchheimer's comprehensive approach remains relevant to much of the contemporary debate about the transformation of Western political systems. For more information see:

The German Research Fund (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG) is funding the research and editorial work for an edition of the ‘Gesammelte Schriften’ (Collected Works) of Otto Kirchheimer The project has started in 2015 at Greifswald University. The edition is supposed to be completed in 2020. For more information see:



Presentation on theme: "The catch-all thesis Original version of the essay, titled"— Presentation transcript:

1 The catch-all thesis Original version of the essay, titled
"The Transformation of the Western European Party Systems"by Otto Kirchheimerappears in the volume"Political Parties and Political Development",edited byJoseph LaPalombara and Myron Weiner,published in 1966

2 According to the catch-all thesis…
…two main changes have taken place in political parties:OrganisationalParties have become more elitistIdeologicalIdeological differences between parties have been reducedFor the catch-all party, the top priority is vote maximising

3 Kirchheimer’s point of departure…
…is the ‘ante-bellum’ (pre-war) Mass Integration Party, i.e. socialist working class parties. Had an importantfunction in socialising members into the political systemThis they failed to do, due to resistance from the ‘bourgeois’ parties (i.e. conservative, liberal or Christian Democratic parties; here referred to as non-socialist)The socialist parties failed to integrate their members and supporters into the official political systemNon-socialist parties did not even try. Remained parties of Individual Representation, with no incentives to integrate people. Their core groups already had access to the state and political systemNote the parallel between:Kirchheimer: mass integration v individual representation partiesMaurice Duverger: mass v cadre parties

4 The conditions for these two types of parties changed gradually…
…and these changes became increasingly apparent after WWIIThe law of the political market took overExtension of the right to vote meant that political democracy was establishedAt the same time, affluence and increased standard of living meant that traditional class boundaries erodedSocialist parties saw their core of support reduced, and also less loyal than beforeMeanwhile the non-socialist parties began to see their chance to make electoral inroads into previously unreachable groups

5 The nature of elections changed
Earlier, elections were focused on mobilisation of the social groups that supported them. Little point in trying to convince other groups into voting for themThe new development meant that elections were also about persuasionIt had become possible to persuade people that traditionally had belonged to social groups that used to be unreachable for your party

6 The parties had to adapt to the new situation
No longer any good for the traditional mass integration parties to portray themselves as the champions of a particular class, because……it would mean that they disqualified themselves from competing for all the other, socially unattached, votes that were now up for grabsSocialist parties thus adapted to the new situation, and became what Kirchheimer calls Catch-All parties, or 'people's parties'These parties had given up their efforts to educate and integrate underprivileged citizens, and instead concentrated on maximising their share of the vote

7 According to Kirchheimer…
…catch-all parties are not totally unconstrained in their appeal to the electorate. For example Christian Democratic parties cannot try to appeal to secular or anti-clerical people, and Social Democratic/Labour parties may find it difficult to appeal to real estate interests (this was written over 40 years ago) or agricultural interestsStill, this leaves them with large groups that are up for grabs, for example the blue and white collar, wage earning and salaried employees in the cities, and the civil servantsThis encourages parties to concentrate on issues which will meet little resistance, such as education

8 Four functions of political parties, according to Kirchheimer:
Channels for integrating individuals and groups into the political orderDetermining policiesNomination of office holdersExpression of opinion

9 Catch all parties less able to perform their key functions
The integrative fuction not successful in the first placeThe expressive function has become increasingly problematicalBefore democracy, the business of government and the expression of opinion were separateWith democracy, the functions of government business and expression of opinion are concentrated into the same organisations, the political parties.Catch-all parties find it difficult to maintain the expressive function, because they must put re-election at riskThere is a conflict between the parties' role as critics of the establishment and their role as support for the establishmentThe expressive function is hindered by restrictions and tactical considerations

10 Reasons why catch-all parties cannot perform their functions:
Drastic reduction of ideological baggage in favour of short term tactical considerations and attempts to appeal to the new groupsA strengthening of the top leadership groups and, consequently……downgrading of individual party membersLess emphasis on parties' respective traditional core class in favour of recruiting voters among the population at largeAttempts to secure access to a wide range of interest groups

11 Access to interest groups…
…has happened partly due to financial considerations……but the main reason is that the interest groups provide something that the catch-all parties have left behind them, namely loyal votersIf the party has distanced itself from their traditional socially defined support groups, interest groups may offer a short-cut back to the support of such groupsOften random who wins in a competition between catch-all partiesTherefore party has to look for what Kirchheimer calls "a more permanent clientele". Only the interest group can provide "mass reservoirs of readily accessible voters"Co-operation between parties and interest groups is not new. What is new is the type of relationship between themThere used to be co-operation towards the same goals between, for example, socialist parties and trade unionsA catch-all party tries to secure links to other interest groups, so that they gain access a broader range of interest group members

12 The most important function of catch-all parties…
…is the nomination of political leadersThe de-ideologisation and reduction of politically controversial policies mean that personalities become more important in the quest for votesThus, the choice of the best leader is crucial for the partyAt the same time parties have increased the distance to ordinary citizensParties used to provide a channel of protest, a source of visions for the future and also protectionNow, Kirchheimer argued, parties have become remote, quasi-official and alien structures.

13 Kirchheimer was normative
He did not make much of an attempt to hide that he was critical of the development into catch-all partiesHis criticism came from a Leftist, democratic socialist, perspectiveHe deplored the loss of the parties' ability and willingness to facilitate the integration of ordinary citizens into the political systemHe had a class-based perspective on society, and he seemed to suggest that the catch-all parties are letting the underprivileged classes down

14 Kirchheimer also unhappy…
…about catch-all parties’s focus on getting electedThe way he puts the argument, it could be that if a high and equal level of education had been achieved, then the catch-all model would work quite well. But he does not accept that this level of high and equal level of education has been reached, and therefore significant groups in society are being let down

15 The development into catch-all parties has…
…adversely affected the parties' role as links, or transmission belts, between people and the governmental institutionsThis is partly because the parties are no longer interested in representing the interests, thoughts and ambitions of ordinary peopleIt is also because the catch-all parties do not offer any participatory facilities

16 The fact that……voters have been cut off from the organisations of the catch-all parties, and reduced to voting customers, could backfire on the partiesA party, argues Kirchheimer, cannot be any more rational than the voters. The voters were once subject to some sort of discipline, provided by the parties of mass integrationNow that this discipline is no longer at hand, the catch-all parties may be transformed into too blunt an instrument to provide a link between government and the peopleWhat he means is that, in return for involving, protecting and integrating ordinary people in the political process, the mass integration parties could count on their loyal supportIf they stop involving, protecting and integrating people, the support from their traditional supporters may not be as reliable as the catch-all parties may think

17 “Then”,……concludes Kirchheimer,: "we may yet come to regret the passing -- even if it was inevitable -- of the class-mass party and the denominational party, as we already regret the passing of other features in yesterday's stage of Western civilisation"

18 Leon D. Epstein……in his book “Political Parties in Western Democracies" (1967) came to the same conclusion as Kirchheimer – but Epstein saw this as positiveEpstein argued that it was no longer rational for parties to provide citizens with political participation and large numbers of influential rank-and-file membersMembers could get in the way of rational adjustments of the parties' policies, and the free and unconstrained competition against other partiesHence, to stay competitive in the electoral market, parties had to drop internal membership democracy and activist based campaigningThis he called “contagion from the right”, meaning that the non-socialist type of party organisation would prevail

19 Maurice Duverger……some 15 years earlier, had predicted precisely the opposite. H argued that parties need active members to be competitiveBut Epstein disagreed. Parties cannot afford to have influential members and activistsThe growth of the media, the development of opinion polls and the general technological development meant that it was cumbersome and risky to fight election campaigns based on a large membership organisation. Members are unpredictable, and inefficient recuiters of votes

20 Thus, Epstein and Kirchheimer reached a similar conclusion
There are, however, two main differences:First: Kirchheimer does not speak of a contagion. The catch-all party is a new type of party which all the existing parties have to relate toSecond: Epstein is positive to the development, while Kirchheimer deplores it

0 Replies to “Kirchheimer Catch All Thesis Statements”

Lascia un Commento

L'indirizzo email non verrà pubblicato. I campi obbligatori sono contrassegnati *