Pluralism vs. Elitism

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Pluralism Vs. Elitism Opinion Paper
It could be argued that politics is everywhere, from the debates and decisions of a powerful government to an argument between family members. There are many different ways of studying politics, each with different emphases, theories, and assumptions. Two of these are elitism and pluralism. Though they analyze the same systems and institutions, the assumptions that the approaches use mean they see politics in diverse ways. Elitism claims to be a realist approach to politics. It argues a reality of elite rule, where minorities with expertise in their field form an elite and have considerable power over the majority. Skeptical about democracy, elitists see elites everywhere, in all institutions, and are critical of other approaches to the study of politics, as they do not acknowledge the power or even existence of elites. It is possible to bring a normative approach to elitism, as well as the empirical aspect or realist view. The normative approach would argue that elites should rule, as they are: "people of superior character, and energy" (Mills, 1956:13). Parties, even when they promise non-elite rule, are themselves formed of an elite and a non-elite, and when in power, create an oligarchy. "Political equality may well be among the most Utopian of all human goals. But it is fallacious to assume that the absence of political equality proves the existence of a ruling elite" (Dahl, 1958:465). This typical pluralist critique of elitism may be taken even further than Dahl's attempt, by arguing that political inequality is, in itself, a false concept, as there are no dominant groups in society. Like elitism, pluralism can be seen as a realist view of politics, in that it asserts that a diverse range of interests exists within society, and that those interests are represented. This creates multiple groups with various interests such as business and interest groups. Pluralists claim that no one group dominates the processes of politics, and that power is negotiated so that it is not concentrated in any one area. Robert Dahl, a pluralist writing in the mid 20th century, studied New Haven, and claimed that many different groups with equal power and influence ruled the political system. A heavily criticized assumption that pluralists tend to make is that the state is neutral; therefore all groups have access to power. They deny that the state may have vested interests or that institutions within the state benefit certain groups over others. This assumes a particular concept of power, that one has power over another if he can persuade them to do something they would not otherwise have done. Other conceptions of power may call the pluralists into question, as they involve two faces of power, including the exclusion of some issues from the agenda as a form of power, a concept that Dahl ignores in his analysis of New Haven. It could be argued that the nature of some states means that some interests are excluded from the agenda, such as racist states. Another assumption is that consensus in society and perhaps voter apathy is an indication of widespread agreement about government and policy. This is not necessarily the case, as consensus could be that the government is not performing well, but that there is no better alternative. Pluralists see two types of constraint on the power of influential groups. One is that of counter-groups, such as the gun lobby and gun control groups in America. The other is that of potential groups, a mass of people unable to organize and mobilize, but which conceivably could, and so are included in policy making (Smith, 1990). Elitists would refute this assumption, claiming that no group can counter an elite, and that a potential elite would either be encompassed by the elite, if possessing the right qualities, or prevented from attaining elite status. Pluralists would also criticize the idea that individuals would never act in the group interest....
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