Daniel Schlozman and Sam Rosenfeld, "The Hollow Parties: The Many Pasts and Disordered Present of American Party Politics" (Princeton UP, 2024)


The Hollow Parties: The Many Pasts and Disordered Present of American Party Politics (Princeton UP, 2024) traces the political history of American political parties, not so much as historical institutions with different constituents—though it does that—but as living and breathing entities that have, over the course of more than 200 years, been, at times, vitally engaged with politics. The role of parties in the political system is to work in an organized way to get control of government and to connect electoral actors with the power to do things within the governmental system. Daniel Schlozman and Sam Rosenfeld dive into all kinds of archival data and information to get at the records and comments of party stalwarts, not just presidents or elected officials often associated with the parties. They were looking to see how the folks who were inside the parties, or parts of the parties, thought about the parties themselves and their work in them. Some of this is well-trodden ground, but much of the political history in The Hollow Parties really fleshes out much more of the daily engagement among party members and how they made American political parties work and thus how they made American politics work. But part of the story is also that the parties did not and do not always work the same in tandem. In fact, according to the examples laced throughout the book, often times one party, say a dominant party like the Republican Party during and after the Civil War, or the Democratic Party in the post-war period, operated differently and was structured differently than its opposition.

The underlying thesis of The Hollow Parties is that while the political parties at the moment, at this time of high polarization, may seem to be vessels of ideology antagonistic to stable democracy, in fact, we need parties to be vitally engaged in politics, as they have been in the past. Scholzman and Rosenfeld also note that the current polarized era has produced different outcomes in the ways the parties operate: for the Democrats, they become ineffectual; for the Republicans, they have become extremists. The Hollow Parties explains that it may currently feel as if the parties are hollow, especially on the Right where so many other entities have come into the space that had belonged to the party itself. But that the way to stem the crisis in democracy in the United States is for the parties to re-establish themselves as functional political institutions working with and in the formal components of the American political system. The Hollow Parties explains a kind of typology of how the parties in the United States operate and that at different times, each party has embodied different strands within this typology. This is a useful and important framework to consider how American political parties function and how these different strands aim towards different forms of operation and different goals.

Finally, this book is beautifully written, marrying archival information with contemporary examples and whisking the reader along on a fascinating and revealing ride through American political development. The Hollow Parties focuses on American political parties but can’t help but enlighten the reader about American history and current political developments that are all directly connected to past party activities and political history.

Lilly J. Goren is a professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-host of the New Books in Political Science channel at the New Books Network. She is co-editor of The Politics of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (University Press of Kansas, 2022), as well as co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics (University Press of Kentucky, 2012). She can be reached @gorenlj.bsky.social

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Lilly Goren

Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI.

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