For there is honor in partisanship, when the differences are philosophical; and for the purposes of social change, politics is all we have. Faction is not only a reality, it is also a calling.
My own view is that once partisanship becomes philosophical, all is lost. Wieseltier is using "philosophical differences" as a euphemism for ideology, a habit of thought that ascribes philosophical (if not eschatological) significance to practical questions and conflicts of interests. Once the Framers constituted a federal democratic republic, philosophical differences were automatically minimized. The size of government does not rise to the level of a philosophical subject. Disagreements over tax rates are not philosophical, nor are debates over the necessity of regulations. All such questions were meant by Madison and his collaborators to be resolved by compromising interests, not through the refutation of some so-called theory of government by another. There are no "philosophical" differences between the Republican and Democratic parties; believing so would be giving them too much credit. Ideology, like religion, is a matter of faith, the conviction that one's side has all the correct answers in advance of most of the questions. Partisanship may be honorable when forming a party is forbidden and the partisans are honorable in the first place, and in such cases faction may well be a "calling" in the inspired sense of the word, but there is no inherent honor in the pooling of electioneering resources on behalf of ideological conformity. As for the claim that "for the purpose of social change, politics is all we have," all I ask is: how does the honor of partisanship follow from that?
Wieseltier waxes poetic to finish his column: "The Beltway is a venal place, but the streets of Washington are paved with the Constitution, the Constitution is the mortar between every brick of every building, it is in the air and the light, you can find it even in a brandy glass, and it can get you through the day." That last is perhaps a telling metaphor for someone apparently hooked on old-school politics, even if he's only a hanger-on. A lot of people have nostalgia for a bygone day when pols dickered cordially over drinks, and that kind of government may still be preferable to TEAtotaling, but writers like Wieseltier have an almost too sensual appreciation of the old art, not to mention a characteristically liberal emphasis on process over result. He worries that politics is getting too dull or too coarse, but politics isn't meant to entertain us or even provide stimulating company. But a more effective politics suitable to a time that is different from the past could well be less exciting or even less sociable than what Wieseltier prefers. I'm sure he considers himself a man of moderation, but I wonder whether he's had too much of the metaphorical brandy and mistaken it for his meal.