This article lays out and defends the role of political parties in cultivating a democratic ethos among citizens. It argues that citizens' commitment to the democratic idea of self-rule requires positive conviction of the worth of collective political agency, and suggests that this conviction draws on three main sources, characterised as normative, motivational and executive. The article shows theoretically why parties are able to cultivate all three sources in a way no other political actor can match, thus constituting a unique and indispensable mode of civic engagement. Moreover, it proposes that the widely noted shortcomings of parties in contemporary democracy leave this basic capacity unimpaired, indeed that certain important developments herald renewed opportunities
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