5

There are political factions in China, I am wondering if there are also factions within the U.S. government. I am not talking about the Democrats and the Republicans, although maybe those could be called factions.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Princelings

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuanpai

Do they exist in the U.S. and if so, how and why are they different from Chinese factions? When I search for political factions in America, they're mostly just coalitions and seem to be different from the factions in China.

7
  • 21
    What definition of "faction" are you using here? e.g. would you describe the Log Cabin Republicans as "not a faction"? What about the Green Party?
    – Sneftel
    Sep 4, 2023 at 15:36
  • 16
    Then I would recommend that you clarify the question by adding how you would define "faction" for the purpose of this question.
    – Philipp
    Sep 5, 2023 at 7:25
  • 3
    Any group of decisionmaking people of more than a few people will start to develop "factions" around ideas, schemes, patronage, or personal loyalty. It's a fascinating process to watch.
    – pjc50
    Sep 5, 2023 at 12:43
  • 3
    @pjc50 - any group of 2 or more develops factions. Sometimes it seems even 'groups' of 1 or 0 do.
    – Jon Custer
    Sep 5, 2023 at 13:19
  • 7
    Counter-argument: Does ANY nation LACK political factions? I suspect the answer is no. Every single one has them, though I reckon the difficulty of proving a negative. Sep 5, 2023 at 13:38

6 Answers 6

41

Sure, a faction is "a small organized dissenting group within a larger one, especially in politics."

So, for example the "Tea Party" and "Never-Trumpers" are factions within the Republican Party. And in the Democrats there are the "Blue-dogs" and the "Democratic Socialists", to name just a few.

Of course it is different in a closed and authoritarian state, from a relative open and democratic one. The obvious difference is that to gain power in China, one must operate and organise within the CCP. There is no opposition party that could gain power through the next election. In the United States, it is quite possible to openly oppose the President and hope to win power through the ballot box! That isn't possible in China.

5
  • 1
    Indeed. Interested onlookers can mostly see what the bulldogs are up to underneath the rug. Sep 5, 2023 at 8:16
  • 2
    Those are political factions. Then there are regional caucuses and interest groups. Often those are bipartisan and center on a particular issue. For example rural internet access, or farming.
    – ventsyv
    Sep 6, 2023 at 14:48
  • Good answer, but, for what it's worth, it seems that there may be some difference between the American and British English usages here on 'faction.' In American English usage, a 'faction' doesn't normally necessarily need to be either small or dissenting. It would be perfectly normal usage in American English to discuss a group that is split into two factions with one of those having a majority, for example. (Just wanted to mention this difference in usage in case it confuses anyone else as it did me when I read the first sentence of the answer.)
    – reirab
    Sep 6, 2023 at 22:03
  • Lol, whether there is just one party or two isn't that much of a difference, the fact that you immediately know several factions (whose politics are diametrically opposed) within each party just proves that
    – Hobbamok
    Sep 7, 2023 at 12:13
  • Lol, having two parties is a massive difference from having one. It is difference between democracy and a dictatorship.
    – James K
    Sep 7, 2023 at 17:08
21

In addition to membership in the Republican or the Democrats, there are also several other factions in the US congress around special interests, single issues or political ideologies. These are usually referred to as "Caucuses". They are in priniciple bipartisan, but most of them solely consist of members of one party. Some example of active caucuses are:

And these are just a few representative examples. Check the Wikipedia Category page of caucuses in the US Congress for more.

10

In addition to political factions within parties, there are also factional disputes within and between bureaucracies in the US. For example, after 9/11 the office of the Director of National Intelligence was created to force the CIA, FBI, DIA, and NSA to work closely together on counter-terrorism efforts, rather than compete with each other in bureaucratic "turf battles". Another example is that there is a longstanding rivalry between the Defense Department and the State Department over whether to address conflicts primarily through military or diplomatic means. Another example is the recent action by the Justice Department against SpaceX for not hiring enough non-US citizens. Whereas the DoJ wants to promote hiring of non-Americans, the State Department which enforces ITAR compliance wants to reduce the risk that military and space technology is leaked to foreign adversaries.

1
  • 1
    Within the U.S. Military, all branches (save for maybe Space Force at time of writing) have rivalries with each other and stereotypes that formed around them. These largely come about from funding and who gets to do what jobs (For example, the A-10 Warthog still flies despite numerous attempts to retire them because the Army loves them. The Airforce hate them, but the Army makes a point that they'll fly the things if the Airforce doesn't want to.). While this is mostly seen in the political arena and for fun, the rivalries have caused battlefield trouble in the past.
    – hszmv
    Sep 8, 2023 at 11:15
7

There have been various near-misses at establishing political dynasties in the US, which might be loosely analogous to the Princelings. They include the Roosevelt presidents (fifth cousins), the Kennedys (one president, assassinated, a brother assassinated while running for president, another brother failed to become the party candidate), the Bush presidents (father and son; another son was unsuccessful when he ran for president), and the Clintons (husband was president, wife lost to Trump, daughter has not attempted electoral office).

An important difference from the Princelings is that there has not been any question of politicians helping each other's children.

3
  • 1
    *cough Kennedys *cough Sep 5, 2023 at 12:45
  • 1
    @JaredSmith: good point, added. Sep 5, 2023 at 13:43
  • 1
    And, in addition to the Kennedys already mentioned, at least two others were U.S. Senators (one of them for a very long time) and another is currently running for President.
    – reirab
    Sep 6, 2023 at 22:17
2

It may be of interest to note that the first American President, George Washington, on his departure wrote a Farewell Address that devoted a large part of its text to warning of the danger of political factions in the country. (And this is followed closely by the related danger of political parties.) As summarized on Wikipedia:

Washington warns the people that political factions may seek to obstruct the execution of the laws created by the government or to prevent the branches of government from exercising the powers provided to them by the constitution. Such factions may claim to be trying to answer popular demands or solve pressing problems, but their true intentions are to take the power from the people and place it in the hands of unjust men.

1

When you are one member of a house of 100, you have one vote in 100. 1/100

If the house splits on party lines, and you are one member of 55, you have control with one vote in 55, 1/55.

If your party splits on factional lines, and you are one vote in a faction of thirty, you have 1/30th control of the country.

This only works if you have strict party control of the house, and strict factional control of the party.

Conditions that are met in China, but are presently weakening, because at present China is moving from factional control towards one-man control. Even if China turns back into a strictly one-man dictatorship, factions continue to exist because of history/tradition/political inertia.

In contrast, American politics is presently moving towards strict party division, and strict factional control, conditions that favour the existence of factions, but moving away from a period of weak party control and weak factional control, so the caucuses that exist at present have weak factional control and a history of flexible membership.

(edit) I wish to clarify that I do not think that American politics presently has "factions" as a structural part of politics, as some parties in other countries do, and I do not think that there is presently strict party discipline, as exists in some other countries. I think that it is observable that American party discipline is stricter than it was 20 years ago, and strict party control and factional control may exist some time in the future.

2
  • For a congressperson, grouping together with other people is typically already a sign that those people hold the same desired agenda that you do. If faction A wants to vote X and has 30 members, odds are very high that all those 30 individuals would have voted X anyway if Faction A didn't exist, no? The question is, what about factions actually makes being in them more powerful than simply sharing their political opinion as an individual? My guess would be something along the lines of the collectivism at play amplifying certain voices more than others... or vote trading and/or cooperations.
    – user45266
    Sep 6, 2023 at 18:10
  • I don't think it's really accurate to say that American politics has anything resembling strict factional control of the parties. A group of 30 in a party of 55 will still lose a vote 30-70 on an issue that neither other members of their party nor the other party agrees with them on. Just because they have a majority of the majority party's membership does not mean they can get a majority of votes on whatever they want. It might mean that they can largely control the agenda (especially in the House,) but it's not sufficient to pass legislation.
    – reirab
    Sep 6, 2023 at 22:26

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .