Beyond the European void? Reflections on Peter Mair's legacy

Published date01 September 2018
Date01 September 2018
Beyond the European void? Reflections on Peter
Mair's legacy
Christopher Bickerton*
Peter Mair was one of the world's leading scholars of party politics. Though he wrote at some length
about the European Union, there has been no systematic exploration of the implications of his com-
parative work on political parties for European integration. His writings on the EU have generally
been studied in isolation from his wider oeuvre, with the result that we have missed the important
analytical and logical connections between Mair's work on parties and his writings on the EU. This
article argues that Mair's pathbreaking middlerange theoretical and empirical work on the decline
of party democracy can form the basis of a radical reappraisal of the project of ever closer union.
The article studies Mair's arguments against the backdrop of more recent empirical evidence and
evaluates the normative implications of his work for the future of the European project.
Peter Mair devoted much of his career to a strictly academic study of the comparative politics field. His contributions
ranged from celebrated empirical studies of the Irish party system to pathbreaking works on societal cleavages, the
phenomenon of electoral volatility, and transformations in political parties and party systems.
Venturing outside of
the academy, Mair published in 2006 an article in the New Left Review entitled Ruling the Void: The Hollowing Out of
Western Democracy.Muchdiscussed and cited, this article became the basis for a longer booklength exploration of
the theme of the crisis of representative politics in advanced democracies.
Reader in Modern European Politics, Cambridge University, UK
Peter Mair, The Changing Irish Party System: Organization, Ideology and Electoral Competition (Frances Pinter, 1987) and Stefano
Bartolini and Peter Mair, Identity, Competition and Electoral Availability: The Stabilisation of European Electorates 18851985
(Cambridge University Press, 1990). On parties and party systems, see Peter Mair, Party System Change: Approaches and Interpreta-
tions (Oxford University Press, 1997). For the longstanding collaboration with Richard Katz, see, inter alia, Richard S. Katz and Peter
Mair, Changing Models of Party Organization and Party Democracy, (1995) 1 Party Politics,528 and a revisiting of the cartel party
argument in Richard S. Katz and Peter Mair, The Cartel Party Thesis: A Restatement, (2009) 7 Perspectives on Politics, 753766. For a
very brief summary of his scholarly work and contribution to comparative politics, see the obituary by his coauthor, Richard Katz, in
Party Politics: Richard S. Katz, Peter Mair, an Obituary,18Party Politics,36.
Peter Mair, Ruling the Void: The Hollowing Out of Western Democracy (Verso, 2013). Mair himself had published previously two arti-
cles in the New Left Review, both focusing on British politics. His 2000 article entitled Partyless Democracyoutlined some ideas that
were taken up in his later writings but the focus remained on the UK, and New Labour in particular. See Peter Mair, Partyless Democ-
racy, (2000) 2 New Left Review,2135, and Peter Mair, The Question of Electoral Reform, (1992) I/194, New Left Review,7597.
DOI: 10.1111/eulj.12287
268 © 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Eur Law J. 2018;

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