In this insightful, impressive, and well-documented study, Brandon Van Dyck challenges the conventional wisdom that democracy facilitates party building. The organizational analysis he develops convincingly explains the divergent fates of a broad array of new left contenders in Latin America while offering important and broader lessons for party building in our media-driven times.
Around the world, established parties are weakening, and new parties are failing to take root. In many cases, outsiders have risen and filled the void, posing a threat to democracy. Why do most new parties fail? Under what conditions do they survive and become long-term electoral fixtures? Brandon Van Dyck investigates these questions in the context of the contemporary Latin American left. He argues that stable parties are not an outgrowth of democracy. On the contrary, contemporary democracy impedes successful party building. To construct a durable party, elites must invest time and labor, and they must share power with activists. Because today’s elites have access to party substitutes like mass media, they can win votes without making such sacrifices in time, labor, and autonomy. Only under conditions of soft authoritarianism do office-seeking elites have a strong electoral incentive to invest in party building. Van Dyck illustrates this argument through a comparative analysis of four new left parties in Latin America: two that collapsed and two that survived.
Why do some new parties remain significant electoral contenders for an extended time while most fade away? In this well-researched book on the Latin American left, Brandon Van Dyck argues counterintuitively that contemporary democracy has been an unfavorable breeding ground for successful and durable new parties, but that liberalizing electoral authoritarian regimes sometimes generate favorable conditions for party building. The book is a major contribution to the literatures on political parties and Latin American politics.
This book is a powerful assertion of the importance of organization for party building, and a compelling challenge to the conventional wisdom that democratic competition breeds strong parties. Van Dyck provides a strikingly original account of the varied success of new left parties during Latin America’s ‘third wave’ of democratization, and he makes an important theoretical contribution to our understanding of the organizational and leadership factors that foster sustainable party building.
Brandon Van Dyck is assistant professor of government and law at Lafayette College. He specializes in the study of political parties and political regimes, with a regional focus on Latin America. He is coeditor of Challenges of Party Building in Latin America.