Portrait of Viscount James Bryce

James Bryce on the autocratic oligarchy which controls the party machine in the American democratic system (1921)

Found in: Modern Democracies, vol. 2.

The British jurist and diplomat Viscount James Bryce (1838-1922) argues that American politics is controlled by an autocratic oligarchy of professional politicians and party bosses who provide benefits to their clients and supporters at taxpayer expence:


If he (a professional politician) had the gifts of leadership, boldness, self-confidence and the capacity for quick decision, he became the Boss. Democracies talk of Equality, but Efficiency is after all the first requisite in all governments, be they governments of a nation or of a faction; so in the midst of equality oligarchies and autocracies rise by a law of nature. Where the control of one strong, swift will makes for success, that will brings its possessor to the top. Thus the party organization, based on democratic principles, and respecting those principles in its rules, fell under what may be called an autocratic oligarchy with the Boss for its head, while the rest of the Ring formed his Cabinet council.