Yesterday evening as I was getting ready for bed, I found some interesting commentary on some people who were concerned that their opportunity for sleeping had vanished because some dramatic news sank the weak governing coalition in Israel when a member of the governing coalition withdrew from her party because of tensions over being a religious Jew trying to enforce secular policies, specifically allowing people to bring leavened products into hospitals during the upcoming Days of Unleavened Bread. It is easy to rag on Israel for having ineffective coalition governments, just as people tend to wish that the United States would have more dominant parties to force coalition politics to work, but the truth is that coalition politics are inevitable in any world where there is to be good functioning governments.
We do not tend to think of that as the case, but it is. No matter what the form of one’s government is, there are always going to be factions that have to cooperate in some fashion in order to get anything done. If you have a monarchical form of government, there will be coalitions that form around the king or queen, the crown prince(ss), as well as a general court and country divide. Oligarchies will typically struggle to unite around a few dominant families or cliques. In republics there will be factions based on regional matters or other interests–such as different economic systems or different religious beliefs or different ethnic origins or the like. Whether one has a variety of smallish parties that must cooperate in order to obtain power as part of a governing coalition or one has large big-tent parties that are made up of various groups like the Republics and Democrats of the United States, there are always coalitions that must be built, and when these efforts at coalition-building fail parties end up losing power, at least temporarily, because they have alienated some part of their base that they took for granted.
The reason why coalitions are always necessary is that no matter what our formal system of government is for any nation or institution, people must be motivated to do stuff that we want them to do for things to get done. A leader who commands others to do things will not be successful unless others want to do what that leader commands on some level. There have to be people who are willing to act, whether out of fear of something or out of some sort of love or devotion or agreement with what is being proposed. There must be some sort of system of rewards that encourages people to act in accordance with the regime, and these will tend to be mobilized by people who are drawing a following after themselves as well, nominally at least in service to those who are in charge overall but often having their own areas of focus and particular interest that may not be shared by others.
The means by which coalitions can be formed are rather straightforward. People can join because of shared self-interest, which comes from common backgrounds and goals that work in a complementary fashion. People can join together out of shared regional experiences, shared ethnic or family background, shared religious or philosophical beliefs, and so on. People also join together because they simply get along together and enjoy each other’s company. Just as people who might be unlikely allies can be joined by the fact that they like and respect each other, despite their disagreements. Similarly, people who should by all means be allies are alienated from each other due to disrespect and a lack of cordial relations, and by such means coalitions are kneecapped and prevented from ruling as they were meant to do. How we get along with other people matters; it certainly is not everything, but it matters for a lot.
It cannot be forgotten that no matter what our form of government, or even how popular or how historically inevitable we believe our ideas and opinions to be, when it comes to ruling institutions, we need to be able to work with coalitions of people who do not see things exactly as we do. There are a variety of ways that we can have of appealing to people, by focusing on areas of agreement, by maintaining an atmosphere of collegial warmth and mutual respect, even where we might respectfully disagree on some points. But however we choose to do it, we need to coalition, and if we cannot behave with kindness and respect towards other people, we will not get things done and we will not long remain in positions of power and authority because other people will simply not want to work with us and will sabotage us at every step. We should all want better than that.