The Development of Social and Political Cleavages in Germany before 1945

  • Charles Lees
Part of the New Perspectives in German Studies book series (NPG)


Political cleavages are the fundamental lines of political conflict that structure political competition and (along with electoral systems and electoral laws) determine the shape of party systems. In other words they are fundamental structural attributes within the political marketplace. But how do these lines of conflict arise and how do they become institutionalised into structural attributes over time? There are two main approaches within the comparative politics literature. On the one hand, there is the school of thought that argues that political cleavages are underpinned by more embedded social cleavages, around which parties mobilise (see Lipset and Rokkan, 1967; Rose and Urwin, 1969, 1970; Allardt and Rokkan, 1970; Rokkan et al., 1970; Rose, 1974). On the other, there is a revisionist school that argues that party politics are more uncoupled from social structures, with lines of conflict that are contingent on strategic decisions made by political elites (see Loewenberg, 1968; Converse and Valen, 1971; Berglund and Lindstrom, 1979). As Claggett et al. observe, the two approaches are often driven by the availability of data. Thus, most accounts of pre-1939 party systems rely on historical documents and adopt the Lipset and Rokkan approach, whilst accounts of more contemporary party systems are able to draw upon more sophisticated survey data and are better able to examine individual vote choices and value-orientations (Clagget et al., 1982: 644).


Party Politics Trade Union Party System Voter Preference West European Country 
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Copyright information

© Charles Lees 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Charles Lees
    • 1
  1. 1.University of SheffieldUK

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