8. Ambition in Representative Democracy
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112 8. Ambition in Representative Democracy chapter eight Competition for political office is critical to the function of a democratic system. A representative democracy without political representatives who compete for power is unthinkable. Nevertheless, the personal motivations of individual representatives for seeking power are a controversial subject. On the European horizon, there has been emphasis on the principle that the political parties should curry the favor of the electorate and not the individuals who represent the parties. For this reason, the study of political ambition has been neglected for too long. Political memoirs and research in this field have communicated the idea that the personal motivations of representatives do not further our understanding of the workings of our democratic systems. The point of departure has been the opposite in the American context. American scholars have instead presumed that representatives are motivated by personal gain and have designed their studies—and their political system—accordingly. Politicians’ ambitions to hold high offices are one of the premises of the American national structure. One of the Founding Fathers, James Madison, articulated the matter thus: Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. (Madison, The Federalist Papers no. 51, 1788) Madison expressed the distinct notion that we can never ignore the ambitions of the powerful. He also presumed that ambition is a component of our nature, and thus to be ambitious is to be human. Ambitious politicians are a reality that must be controlled. But that which is seen as something “human” from an American perspective might instead be something that is “system dependent.” In this book, I have viewed both the European and the American perspectives on political ambition in representative democracy 113 ambition in a critical light. It is difficult to talk about human motivations, as the Americans do, if these motivations are not manifest in political systems that are structured otherwise. It is conceivable that the personal ambitions of politicians may have been constrained in systems with strong parties that have distinct collective values. This final chapter is intended to provide an overview of the empirical and methodological analyses as well as to consider the implications of my results on how we should think about the role of political ambition in representative democracy . I will also take the liberty of pointing ahead to future studies of political ambition. EMPIRICAL CONCLUSIONS The main message of this book is that ambitious MPs are found in many different types of political settings. Even in the Swedish context, where they are said not to exist, they are both active and successful. My analyses show that almost one-fifth of the MPs in the Swedish parliament in 1996 made up the theoretical basis upon which we can speak of politicians with real career ambitions. Who are they then, these ambitious ones? The book has clarified that ambitious MPs are not randomly distributed among parliamentarians. They are often younger individuals from relatively affluent families, residents of the Stockholm area, and professional politicians when first elected to the parliament.We have also seen that ambitious MPs, based on the arguments in the theoretical literature on various representation styles, may be likened to Burkeans (Eulau et al. 1959). The individual voter and the constituency are less important to them. They instead emphasize the importance of their personal convictions and of making their voices heard in various contexts, such as by breaking with the party line. The ambitious are also more engaged in international issues and more likely to see themselves as internationalists. When it comes to internal party machinations, ambitious MPs put more emphasis on playing the inside game than do other MPs. The inside game includes cultivating good relationships with the party leadership, standing up to party opinion, and winning debates at party group meetings. The MPs can therefore be said to have a distinct strategic approach to their work in the parliament and in the parliamentary party group. It is interesting to note that in none of the analyses undertaken in Chapter 6 did it emerge that...