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Clarence Stone’s Critique of Pluralist Theory Essay

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Updated: Jun 21st, 2022

Pluralism is the idea that political systems are made up of divergent and powerful sub-groups that have their distinctive loyalties and interests as well as their leaders and objectives. In the contemporary world, fragmentation has become a common complaint. As a result, functional specialization has advanced, ushering in a new era where no ruling faction holds absolute power. However, according to Stone, such a change does not mean that people have become pluralists (131). In his article Looking Back to Look Forward: Reflections on Urban Regime Analysis, Stone critiques arguments presented by two of the most renowned pluralism theorists; David Truman and Robert Dahl. Particularly, he is strongly opposed to the pluralist view that universal suffrage turns politics into a penetrable and open process, yielding to individuals who are always active around specific interests relevant to them.

Stone argues that although pluralism encompasses some characteristics of political reality, the theory is primarily flawed. The author uses regime theory to debunk the pluralist idea that the ballot box makes politics penetrable and open (Stone 132). He claims that “urban regime analysis looks in a different direction to explain why politics is mainly accessible to those who can meet substantial thresholds and tests” (Stone 132). Stone believes that even in the existence of ideal conditions, suffrage serves as a limited tool of popular control. According to him, public policies are impactful, thus dependent upon actions from sources outside the government. As a result, electoral responsibility does not cover the whole process of making public policy, making it to be practically far from being considered a robust process.

Stone also opposes the pluralist argument that individuals are mainly concerned with issues that are of interest to them. The author contends that coalitions are “unstable and realign as issues shift with changing times and conditions” (Stone 132). Conversely, in typical pluralism, every issue occurs on the same plane, where a concern’s immediacy is an unavoidable situation with centrifugal forces taking the center stage. Nonetheless, Stone emphasizes that the capacity to modify, reinforce, or build governing arrangements needs skills and resources that are naturally scarce (132). As a result, economic, social, and political inequality becomes persistent, substantial, and systematic. Characteristically, such qualities do not reflect classic pluralism’s view of a penetrable and open system. The author further insists that for factions with a history of social, economic, and political marginality, possessing a political influence requires more than being active around specific matters of immediate concern (Stone 133). While politics can be described as a process that is not permanently closed to any party, meaning political impact depends on the capacity to meet significant threshold tests.

In regime theory, the major role of inequality is that it is a deterrent to the ideals of the model. Stone claims that histories of past frustration and neglect as well as lack of confidence that opportunities can be realized may serve as great barriers to concerted efforts of winning the target population’s hearts (133). As a result, it becomes increasingly difficult to achieve grassroots engagement in matters pertaining to such issues as workforce development, reducing crime, countering youth violence, and maintenance of neighborhoods (Stone 133). Thus, in regime theory, inequality is a limiting factor to problem-solving efforts.

In summary, Stone strongly rejects the pluralism’s view that the vote makes politics a penetrable and open process. The author argues that suffrage does not fulfill the ideals of the pluralism model. For instance, the policy-making process cannot be completed successfully without the involvement of non-governmental sources, raising concerns over the robustness of electoral accountability. Moreover, a worthwhile political influence requires the ability to meet crucial threshold tests. Furthermore, in regime theory, the key role of such disparity is that it serves as a barrier to the ideals of the concept such as the establishment of fruitful grassroots engagements.

Work Cited

Stone, Clarence N. “Looking back to Look Forward.” Urban Affairs Review, vol. 40, 2005, pp. 130–140.

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