Pluralism as a theory

Pluralism is a structuralist theory. It is the situation within the state or social organisations in which power is shared among a number of groups and organisations. This is a key characteristic of liberal democratic political systems in which power can be openly competed for rather than being concentrated in the hands of a small group of people who constitute a ruling elite. Some pluralist theorists emphasise the importance that pressure groups have in liberal democratic political systems. These are viewed as a key mechanism through which public opinion can influence the decision making process.

A pluralist society is one in which citizens are organised into a variety of interest groups that compete with one another. This process occurs within a state, which is independent of the class interests. And is superintendent by the government that adjudicates in the constant competing between groups and interests, seeking to assert the public interest Pluralism is a political sociological theory that is based on structuralism. It emphasizes the functionalists' concepts of equilibrium and stability with gradual change. Where pluralists differ from functionalists is that they see individuals with many different interests, values and goals.

Decisions reflect the process of bargaining between diverse bodies. This means that pluralist theorists are divided as to whether the government is an arbiter of inter-group disputes or whether it is itself a key factor in negotiating process pursuing its own interests as well as responding to demands from outside An interest group is an organisation of people with shared policy goal entering the policy process at several points to try and achieve those goals. Interest groups pursue their goals in many areas. They don't fight the election battles but they do choose sides.

Interest groups are policy specialists and political parties are policy generalists. Politics is mainly a competition amongst groups, each one pressing for its own preferred policies. Many centers of power and many diverse, competing groups. These groups provide the key link between the people and the government. No group becomes too dominant and if a group is weak in one resource it can rely on another resource. The state is seen as separate from this competition of interests between various groups and that government is the authoritative power to act as the arbiter

A large body of evidence from studies such as those of Dahl in the USA and Hewitt, Grant and Marsh in Britain appears to support the classical pluralist position. However there are a number of criticisms of pluralism. These criticisms are concerned both with the methods pluralists use to measure power, and empirical evidence which seems to contradict their claim that power is dispersed in western democracies Max Weber defined power as 'the chance for man or a number of men to realise their own will in a communal action even against the resistance of others who are participating in the action".

Power consists of the relationship between two parties in which one has the ability to compel the other to undertake a course of action that would not be voluntary have been carried out. Governments use power over their citizens but other political organisations may use power as their ability to use force or violence to further their aims. In liberal democracies governments use both power and authority. They are obeyed partly due to the general consent that they have the right to govern. Power that is not from authority is likely to cause violence, disorder or revolution.

Pluralists attempt to explain the liberal democracy system as a way in which power can be competed for and not from the constituted ruling elite. From a liberal democracy this equals capitalism, ruling elite and class divisions. Pluralists maintain that power in society is assumed as fixed in Max Webers model of power, which sees the fundamental source of power in society within its members. It also sees power in society as defused and fragmented, represented in many sources. Pluralism has many criticisms these include that it gives a short shrift to those who are not organised.

It fails to deal with the fact that some interests have more power than others do and it seems to leave no room for consideration of transcendent national interests. It is argued that when interest groups become so powerful that they dominate the political decision making structures they render any consideration of the greater public interest impossible. Interest groups have been criticised for ignoring the wider interest of society, producing confusion and deadlock in congress, generating so much emotion that they make reasoned discussion difficult and having too much influence.

The nature of power is a fundamental issue related to the study of politics. In power, a radical view by Steven Luke's (1974) has put forward a radical view of power as an alternative. He argues that power has three dimensions or faces rather than just one. Like pluralists, Luke sees the first face of power in terms of decision making, where different individuals or groups express different policy preferences and influence the making of decisions over various issues. Luke would accept that if a government followed the policies advocated by the trade unions and this would represent evidence that the unions had power.

He also believes that it is misleading to concentrate entirely on decisions taken, for power can be exercised in less obvious ways. The second face of power does not concern decision making but rather focuses on non-decision making. Power may be used to prevent certain issues from being discussed or decisions about them being taken. From this view point, individuals or groups exercising power do so by preventing those who take a decision from considering all the possible sources of action or by limiting the range of decisions they are allowed to take.

The third face of power strays even further from an emphasis on decision making and the preferences expressed by members of society. Luke's claims that power can be exercised by shaping desires of social groups. A social group may be persuaded to accept or even to desire a situation that is harmful to them. Having examined the nature of power, Luke's is able to conclude that power can be defined by saying that ' A exercises over B when A affects B in a manner contray to B's interests. ' In other words, Luke's argued that power is exercised over those who are harmed by its use, whether they are aware they are being harmed or not.

Luke has been responsible for refining the concept of power, and showing that it has more than one dimension. As he himself admits, though, what is in a persons interests, or what is good for them, is ultimately a matter of opinion. Marxists and other conflict theorists have suggested that pluralists ignore some aspects of power. In particular it is argued that they concentrate exclusively on the first face of power. There are some criticisms that pluralists ignore the possibility that some have the power to prevent certain issues from reaching the point of decision.

Pluralists can also be criticised for ignoring what Steven Luke's had identified as the third face of power and did not take into account the possibility that the preferences expressed in opinion polls or by pressure groups might themselves be manipulated by those of real power. In Marxists terms, the decisions might reflect the false class-consciousness of the members of society who do not realise where they're true interests lie Elite pluralism shares some important similar theories to that of classical pluralism.

These include the fact that they see western societies as basically democratic. They regard government as a process of compromise and they agree that power is widely dispersed. They also have major differences these include they fact that they don't except that all members of society have exactly the same amount of power. They do not concentrate exclusively on the first face of power and they see elites, the leaders of groups, as the main participants in decision making. Elite pluralism doesn't answer what criticisms advanced against classical pluralism.

It acknowledges that all individuals may not play an active part in politics and it doesn't exclusively rely on measuring the first face of power or decision making. Elite pluralists take into account of the two faces of power but ignore the third. They do not discuss the power of some members of society to influence the wishes of others. They also fail to discuss the possibility that elite leaders may monopolise power and use it in their own interests. The elite theory is different from that of pluralism and functionalism in that it sees power in society as being monopolised by a small minority.

It also sees society being divided into two groups. , A ruling minority and the ruled. There is a number of ways in which elite theorists differ. They do not agree as to whether elite rule is desirable or beneficial to society. They differ there conclusions about the inevitability of elite rule and do not agree about who constitutes the elite or elites. In conclusion to this essay it can be seen that pluralists believe that pluralism explains liberal democracies and that they work whereas Marxists believe that they don't work and that pluralism doesn't explain western European democracies.

It can also be seen that pluralism has many criticisms as Marxists and other conflict theorists have suggested that pluralists ignore some aspects of power. In particular it is argued that they concentrate exclusively on the first face of power. Some criticise that pluralists ignore the possibility that some have the power to prevent certain issues from reaching the point of decision. Pluralists can also be criticised for ignoring what Steven Luke's had identified as the third face of power.