What are the Core Assumptions of Classical Pluralism?

What are the Core Assumptions of Classical Pluralism?

The Classical Pluralist views of power are based upon the work of Weber. The basic idea of this view is that anyone can have power because they can all have their voice heard, so anyone can win an argument. Pluralists such as Dahl disagree with Marxists who believe there is a direct link between power and wealth, Pluralists think that everyone has an equal amount of power regardless of social stature, it is merely the person who wins the “issue” that has the power.

Evaluation of Classical Pluralism

The work of Dahl (1961) and Hewitt (1974) supports this theory

Pressure groups do have an effect, for example, Greenpeace has dramatically changed the way we view the environment. As anyone can join a pressure group does this mean we have plurality?

Classical Pluralism measures power by the “Issue Method”, who makes the decisions, however what about if someone gains power without even having to come to a decision or have an argument? 

Classical Pluralism also fails to consider that people might accept decisions that are against their own will, meaning that whilst it might appear there is plurality, actually one person is clearly exercising power in manipulating the wishes of others.

Overloading the Government – If we assume Plurality then the government must listen to the views and opinions of everybody, this would lead to wasting government time on the less important issues and make the government extremely impractical and inefficient.

  • Critically examine the nature and scope of Comparative Politics. 
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  • Distinguish pressure groups from political parties and interest groups. 
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  • Bring out the distinctions between totalitarian and authoritarian regimes. 
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  • What are the core assumptions of classical pluralism?

Theories of the state: Pluralist

The Pluralist view of the state is distinct from the perspective of Marxists. The Pluralist does not hold that the state is essentially contradictory in nature, as the Marxist and the Elitist schools of thought consider. Instead, the Pluralist view of the state is that it is neutral in nature. It is also supposed that the state is vulnerable to numerous influences from various groups in society. The modern state is not only dominated by one class, but that is also the capitalist or the bourgeoisie class, which dominates the political power, as believed by the Marxist philosophy. The modern state is a type of framework wherein the interests of the society can be reunited.

In simple terms, Pluralism is an influential protest against the monistic theory of sovereignty which endows the state with supreme and unlimited power. Pluralist theories indicate that political power should be regarded as analytically distinct from economic power and, in contrast to elitists, power is not concentrated in the hands of a single group, but widely dispersed among a variety of groups and actors. The exponents of Pluralism are Harold Laski, J.N. Figgis, Ernest Barker, G. D.H. Cole, A. D. Lindsay, Duguit, MacIver, and others. Pluralists stated that sovereignty resides not with the state but it resides with many other institutions. There exist many social, political, cultural, and economic institutions in society and many of these institutions are prior to the State. For example, Family and Church are prior to the State.

The central position of pluralist power is that all inhabitants have a chance to become politically active through either individual or group action. Views are signified in policy-making not only through representative elections but also through the participatory mechanism of group politics. The process of decision-making is just the outcome between different groups, with government institutions acting as a mediator. This philosophy represents that no group tends to dominate this process because of the plurality of political resources. The diverse base of group power means that if a group has little money, it may call on public opinion to sustain its views in the decision-making process. The electoral mechanism assumes that government doesn’t persistently favor one group as bias alienates the government from the rest.

Pluralists detailed that the State is not only the highest institution. On the contrary, like other institutions, the State is also one of the institutions of society. There the State does not reserve the authority to exercise autonomy according to its will. Sovereignty is not his private property. The Pluralistic state is “simply a state in which there exists no single source of authority”. According to Pluralists, sovereignty is not indivisible and exclusive”. One the opposing statement is that it is a diversity in its essence and manifestation, it is separable in two parts and should be divided”.

A.D. Lindsay has very pertinently remarked in this connection. “If we look at the facts it is clear enough that the theory of the sovereign state has broken down”. Professor Laski believed that “it is impossible to make the legal theory of sovereignty valid for political philosophy”. He thought that “it would be a lasting benefit to political science if the whole concept of the sovereign was surrendered”. Krabbe indicated that the “notion of sovereignty must be expunged from political theory”. Although Barker stated “We see the Stateless as an association of individuals in a common life; we see it more as an association of individuals, already united in various groups for a further and more embracing common purpose”. These associations have an inner life that is at least as autonomous as that of the state.

Consequently, the pluralists enthusiastically supported the freedom of profession, political, religious, economic, social, and educational associations. Gettell has dominantly summarized the idea of pluralism as “The pluralists deny that the state is a unique organization, they hold that other associations are equally important and natural, they argue that such associations for their purpose are as sovereign as the state is for its purpose. They emphasize the inability of the state to enforce its will in practice against the opposition of certain groups within it. They deny that possession of force by the state gives it any superior right. They insist on the equal rights of all groups that command the allegiance of their members and that perform valuable functions in society. Hence, sovereignty is possessed by many associations. It is not an indivisible unit; the state is not supreme or unlimited”.

Development of the Pluralistic Theory:

The pluralistic theory was devised by Otto V. Gierke through his writings. According to Professor R.N. Gilchrist, “The germ of Pluralism is to be found in the work of the German Jurist, Von Gierke (1844-1921) whose immense work on the legal theory of corporation, part of which was interpreted, with a sympathetic introduction, by the English Jurist, F.W. Maitland, in his “Political Theories of Middle Ages” (1900). It gave an incentive to the idea of companies as legal entities, with a life of their own independent government”

Many thinkers opined that the theory of pluralism was devised in the last quarter of the nineteenth century and developed at the start of the twentieth century, yet its background can be traced in the Medieval Age. In the Medieval Age, the organization of the State in Europe was loose and the church, vocational associations, and Guilds had a vital role in society. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, national sentiment gathered force in Europe, and as a consequence national states developed. These national states became influential and all the powers, in these states, were centered with the ruler. In due course of time, these national states faced rebellion and public movements and the result was the birth of democracy.

In Democracy, the authority of the ruler was limited, the cabinet became more powerful but the state remained sovereign and supreme. With the arrival of the Welfare State, there was rapid increase in the functions of the State and there remained no sphere of life with which the State did not interfere, the sovereign and the supreme state also faced revolt and reaction. This reaction against the sovereign and supreme state resulted into the emergence of pluralism.

The Pluralist Model: Types of Groups

There are two types of groups within the pluralist model that include insider groups, which tend to be more powerful, and outsider groups.

Insider groups are well established and are able to work diligently with the chosen officials in government because of their position within the community. The people in these groups tend to have similar views to the government in power, which may not always be a positive factor. Insider groups include business groups that concentrate their efforts on issues directly affecting business interests (in the U.S., the American Petroleum Institute works on behalf of all oil companies, as an example.).

Insider groups also include labor groups that promote policies that benefit workers in general and union members in particular, Agricultural groups that consist of general and specialty farm associations, Professional groups that have lobbying associations to promote the interests of their members.

Outsider groups are observed as less dominant. Characteristically, members of outsider groups have less access to elected government officials. Their groups are more recently established, which could be a sign of weakness.

Outsider groups include grassroots activism that may hold marches and rallies to bring attention or action for their cause, political Action Committees (PACs) that filter money to support specific candidates for office.

Although the pluralist model rotates around the theory that power is equally dispersed, criticizers are quick to indicate that this is not always the case. Many critics view the pluralist model as a form of the 'good old boys' network in which membership is based on class or ethnicity.

Pluralists Dunleavy and O’Leary recognized the three main pluralist views of the state. They are as follows:

The Weathervane model: The state's direction echoes public opinion and the demands of pressure groups. This means that state policy is based on the concerns and interests of society.

The neutral state model: The state is perceived as the neutral or impartial arbiter who acts in the public’s interests. This arbiter compromises between the demands of different pressure groups and makes sure that even the weakest groups are heard. These demands are then evaluated in terms of what is best for society. It is dissimilar from the Weathervane model because it is more active in that it listens to a range of different views then makes decisions in the public’s interest.

The broker state model: This model visualizes groups within the state as having their own interests and concerns. Although state officials may negotiate with a number of interests groups and can develop compromises with conflicting demands, most policies tend to reflect the concerns of the state officials themselves.

Factors responsible for the development of Pluralism:

- The individuals put emphasis on the lessening of the powers of the State. The Pluralists also followed suit. But the main point of difference between the individualists and pluralists is that the individualists laid emphasis on the rights and freedom of the individual whereas the pluralists laid emphasis on the rights and freedom of the associations of the individuals and guilds.

- Both the individualists and pluralists laid emphasis on the need of co­operation between the state and other associations for promoting the common welfare.

- In the modern age, all the states of the world are interdependent on one another in one way or the other and, therefore, the need of limiting the sovereignty of the state is felt these days.

- Many intellectuals like German Jurist Otto Von Gierke (1844-1921), F.W. Maitland, famous English Jurist, J.N. Figgis, and others have debated that the Churches and Guilds possessed internal freedom and were party to sovereignty in the Medieval Age.

- Anarchism and Guild Socialism laid more emphasis on the confinement of the sovereignty of the state and this gave motivation to Pluralism.

The pluralist model can be simply described as employee organizations and trade unions. Since organizations and trade unions have power over the government, the politicians, trade unions, businesses, and the proletariat have a share in the state power. The Pluralist view affirmed that the power is distributed among the government, the organizations, and the labor unions as well, proving once again that the neutrality of the state is also valid.

It is appraised that pluralists visualize the state as a mechanism that signifies all the interests of every member of the state and it works because it is not possible for the political process to directly represent the views of every single member of society, as modern societies are a little complex. Therefore, a plurality of pressure groups acts as an evocative voice for all members of society.

Advocates of Pluralism:

Some of the followers of Pluralism were Otto Von Gierke, F.W. Maitland, Figgis, G.D.H. Cole, A.D. Lindsay, Ernest Barker, Krabbe, Duguit, Laski, Cober, Zimmern, Durkheim. According to Gierke, “The state should accept the common point of view that permanent associations have rights and duties as groups whether or not the state has accepted them as corporations”.

Laski specified that “State is only one among the various forms of associations and as compared with them, has no superior claims to the individual allegiance”. He further stated “These associations are not less sovereign than the state itself. Since society is federal therefore the authority must also be federal”.

Krabbe considered that the “notion of sovereignty must be expunged from political theory”. Figgis has also acknowledged the importance of associations. He stated that “Human society is not a heap of individuals related only through the State but an ascending hierarchy of groups.”

The traditional theory of sovereignty is venerable superstition”. MacIver has indicated in his famous book, “The Modern State” that “State is one association among many associations within the community”. The Pluralistic philosophy has been summarized by Cober, “The state is confronted not merely by unassociated individual but also by other associations evolving independently, eliciting individual loyalties, better espoused than the state-because of their select membership, their special forms of organization and action for serving various social needs.

Criticism of Pluralism:

The pluralist theory is criticized for being too expectant about the State and the government. The State cannot act as a truthful broker as it is impossible to govern without using power and without favoring certain power and political groups.

The theory of the pluralistic state has been critiqued by a number of political philosophers on the following grounds:

- The States needed to control various types of institutions existing in society. It is the sovereign state that brings about unity and controls all the associations existing in society. Gierke, Barker, Miss M.P. Follet Figgis, and many other advocates of Pluralism have to realize the need of the State for this purpose.

- If sovereignty is divided among various associations existing in society, this division will lead to the devastation of sovereignty. As a result, chaos will prevail in society and there will be turmoil.

- Several pluralists believe that law is superior to the state and the State is controlled by law. But this hypothesis is incorrect because laws are outlined by the state.

- It is a mere illusion and not a reality that other associations are equal in status to the State.

- Laski, main supporter of Pluralism, has also gone to the extent of condemning Pluralism and stated that it has not closely studied the different sections of society.

- If sovereignty is divided among various associations existing in society, these associations will be so dominant that it would be difficult for the State to have control over these associations. This will augment numerous problems in the State.

- If these associations are reassigned limited sovereignty, society will worsen and mutual disputes will arise.

- State is needed for guarding people against the excess of associations.

It is evaluated that the pluralist theory emphasizes immaterial power. Power can be in the form of many principles such as political, religious, skilled or even persuasive power. This power is to be distributed to all members of the social contract, nobody is to have more or less say in the institution than any other. The Pluralist Theory goes even further to suggest that no one controls the social contract as everyone has such an equal state in it. While some theories debate as to how a system should be run and who should be the head of the said system, the Pluralist Theory challenges by arguing there be any system, let alone ahead of a system, at all.

Potential Power is also a recurrent theme between the two theories, and Potential Power, like abilities of the people, shall always outweigh the actual Present Power, such as Executive Rulers or rights of central power. Hyperpluralism is one of the great flaws of pluralism. It occurs when the pluralistic society feels as if it does not give the people enough power and so they rise up against the government. It results in a complete crippling of government as the government bends to the will of all the interest groups.

To summarize, pluralism theory is a famous theoretical tradition used to analyze political actions in modern autonomous states. This theory is reliant upon a viewpoint that citizens are involved in political arenas through different interest groups, and that political power should be distributed to secure its own genuine interests and none of these groups will control the system (Miller, 1983). The theory is grounded in the concept that in a diverse society such as the United States, several interest groups exist to allow anyone coherent group of elites to rule. Government decisions are made in the field of competing interests, all contending for influence and struggling to express for the people that they represent.

Some pluralists have debated that the originators characterized different interests (such as rural vs. urban, or north vs. south), and that many points of view were actually represented. The model still works today, as pluralists argue, creating strong links between government officials and their popular base. This is currently the predominant theory of government.

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