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Parties and Party Research in Law and Politics

Modern democracies are party democracies. As such they didn’t only grow in Germany and Europe but are also emerging and developing in democratic states all over the world: For democratic decision-making needs to be channelled and organized by political forms of organisation. Political parties provide this form of organisation. And even if parties as an organisational form are often questioned and alternative concepts are discussed on a daily basis: so far none of the alternatives discussed were able to replace political parties - no matter if it was citizens’ initiatives, social movements, interest groups or populist demagogue acclamation groups.

Research regarding emergence, development, change, and theoretical classification of political parties therefore has always been a genuine part of jurisprudence and social sciences. The Institute for German and International Party Law and Party Research (PRuF) is now researching political parties for more than 23 years and evolved to an internationally recognized centre for party science, which is also caused by the institute’s interdisciplinary orientation.

German jurisprudence was initially hesitating to accept political parties as legal institution and only just started to take them more seriously within the last few years. After a long period of neglecting political parties in the German jurisdiction the Grundgesetz eventually took note of political parties as an essential part of a democratic political order through Article 21, which gave them a secure constitutional status. Surprisingly jurisprudence has been very slow embracing this legal innovation. For decades there was only one habilitation dissertation, which dealt with party law. Only in 2005 a new one followed, which, however, focused more on criminal aspects before in 2010 the first habilitation thesis considering interdisciplinary approaches followed. In addition, party law issues have for a long time only been dealt with in a few isolated essays, which, however, have not achieved a dense and reciprocal relationship to such an extent that one can speak of a dogma of party law. The long-lasting neglecting of party law ended about ten years ago. Since then, there have been countless dissertations, essays, and comments on party law. This is all the more gratifying as the law on political parties is intended to order and discipline the struggle for political power.

In political science, on the other hand, the subject of political parties is quite different: party research is also one of the most differentiated fields of the discipline in Germany. Since Robert Michels’ classic Iron Law of Oligarchy (1911), one has dealt with parties historically and empirically, state theoretically and ideology critically, system theoretically and political sociologically.

Contrary to jurisprudence, in political science political parties have always been seen as an engine for democracy, the decision-making progress, and interest intermediation, which is why political science always devoted considerable attention to them: party history, programme analysis, intraparty democracy, decision-making structures, sociology of elections, campaigning analysis, and party disenchantment as well as party criticism were its subjects. Considering the diversity of these approaches, an overview of the diffusing results of research is always required as a further special analysis. The PRuF tries to accomplish such a synthesis and synergy. In addition, current developments and changes in the party system are always scientifically monitored.

The special opportunity offered by the interdisciplinary character of the PRuF lies in the fact that it provides the necessary development of party law via the real conditions and functional logic of the party system as elaborated by political science analysis.  

The PRuF’s aims

The aims and activities of the PRuF can be categorised in four major segments: Basic research, applied research, teaching, and public relations.

These four tasks form the portfolio PRuF develops and works on for science and society. All four fields of work are mutually beneficial, although the most important line of inspiration comes from basic research.

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