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Pluralism and Elitism Essay


Basic principles of pluralism

While discussing two models of U.S. government and analyzing which of them best explains the realities of federal authorities, it is necessary to consider some fundamentals the most prominent schools of thought represent. First of all, there is a need to point out that pluralism is mostly regarded as “a marketplace, with more or less perfect competition” (“Interest Groups and Political Systems,” n. d., para. 2).

One is to keep in mind that in America the main idea of pluralism is related to the most important questions concerning American identity. In other words, pluralism is associated with the issues of democracy, religion, and ethnicity. It should be noted that the idea of pluralism cannot exist without four premises.

These include “equal access to the policy-making arena, fragmentation of the marketplace, a competitive process for the determining policies, and the neutrality of government” (“Interest Groups and Political Systems,” n. d., para. 2). Although America can be regarded as a country, which has the power to implement the above-mentioned premises, some politicians criticize the model pluralism is based on.

For instance, political constraints, varying levels in the economy are recognized to be the most widespread perspectives of pluralism. However, even though pluralism has been criticized, it expresses the complexity of society. Nobody will deny the fact that American society is plural; so, pluralism and American identity seem to be the common issues.

Generally, it is necessary to point out that political pluralism in the United States is closely related to religious pluralism in America. In other words, it becomes obvious, that the kind of democracy ensures the free existence of all cultural groups as well as religious beliefs.

The weaknesses of the most dominant theory

As far as pluralism is criticized by many politicians, it is recognized to be an undesirable form of government. Inequality in the distribution of various resources is considered to be one of the most important objections to the pluralist interpretation of American government.

Moreover, pluralism’s critics state that politically valuable resources, in their turn, are also distributed among rich members of American society. So, one can conclude that there are the top layers of modern society, who have certain advantages.

However, the most interesting point, which cannot be neglected, seems to be the idea that pluralism is at variance with its basic principle. It is obvious that pluralism functions best when people direct and control the least. In other words, the so-called democratic elitism is recognized to be the key principle the model of pluralism is to be based on.

However, the major point is that democratic elitism is a preposterous phenomenon, as a government of elites cannot be regarded as a democratic government.

Some fundamentals of the elitist theory

So, as far as the idea of pluralistic American government has been criticized, the elitist theory appeared. It should be pointed out that the elitist theory is based on the idea that all contemporary societies are dominated by elites. However, it should be noted that the kind of the theory “does not fully appreciate the degree to which corporate-based owners and managers dominate other institutionally based elites in the United States” (Domhoff, 2005, para. 41).

The elitist theory emphasizes the interdependence between corporate-based owners and the members of the working class, although it underestimates the differences between the representatives of the above-mentioned groups. Thus, according to the elitist theory, the major conflict between corporate-dominated organizations and the working class is that certain objectives the union leaders set are still recognized to be class-based objectives.

So, on the one hand, the corporate leaders want to put an end to the unions; on the other one, “there are no restraints on corporate attacks on unions in the United States” (Domhoff, 2005, para. 43). For this reason, one can conclude that the elite theory seems to be the most appropriate kind of theory for most of the European countries.

According to the elitist theory, political power belongs to the elites. Usually, upper socioeconomic strata of society are better educated and have certain advantages; so, they have more opportunities to govern the society. The changes the American government is to implement must be slow and evolutionary.

Generally, it must be pointed out that the values of public policy are not formed by ordinary citizens. On the contrary, they are created by elites. The masses have little impact on elites, and they are usually poorly informed.

Pluralism vs. Elitism

When analyzing pluralism, it is necessary to state that interest groups are considered to be the basic elements, which should be studied, to understand the way American democracy operates. However, even though pluralism is regarded as the most controversial theory, it is also recognized to be the most dominant theory. In the early sixties, the kind of theory was increasingly discredited.

“Since that time no new theory of interest groups has emerged to replace pluralism. The scope of pluralist theory—nothing less than a claim that our country is a democracy—is intimidating” (Berry et al., 2006, p. 1). Both theories, pluralism, and elitism tend to answer the question Who Governs? Still, the pluralism-elitism debate is one of the burning problems of American politics.

At first sight, it seems that the American government represents a decentralized form of government with multiple interest groups. The democratic process of election is considered to be one of the most widespread ways to resolve conflicts. On the other hand, one can probably notice that the participants of the policy process include a small minority.

In other words, it is difficult to define what theory is more dominant. For this reason, it becomes obvious that neither pluralism nor elitism can allow us to analyze a holistic view of American politics. Garson thinks that “group theory loses its place as the dominant frame of analysis because it fails to offer empirical evidence that interest groups are effective participants in the policy process” (Pagan, 2007, p. 2).

One can probably say that the realities of the U. S. government are best explained by the elitist theory, as the pluralist model is at variance with its basic principles. Moreover, as far as the phenomenon of democratic elitism is rather contradictory, one can suppose that the American government is based on simple elitism.

However, a deeper analysis of the elitist theory, allows us to state that the model the elitist theory is based on is also imperfect. The kind of theory is mostly applied cable to many European countries than to the United States. So, the idea of elitism can be regarded as quite attractive; however, it does not work in reality.

The conclusion

Taking into account the fundamentals of both – pluralism and elitism, as well as a tension between them, it becomes evident that neither of two rival theories can be used to identify the policy of the government of the USA.


Berry, J., Portney, K., Liss, R., Simoncelli, J., & Berger, L. (2006). Power and Interest Groups in City Politics. Tufts University. Retrieved from: http://ase.tufts.edu/polsci/faculty/berry/CityPolitics.pdf

Domhoff, W. (2005). Alternative Theoretical Views. University of California at Santa Cruz. Retrieved from: http://www2.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/theory/alternative_theories.html

Interest Groups and Political Systems. (n. d.). Virginia.edu. Retrieved from: http://xroads.virginia.edu/~ma98/pollklas/thesis/groupth.html

Pagan, N. (2007). Group Theories of Politics. Sfsu.edu. Retrieved from: http://userwww.sfsu.edu/~npagan/documents/grouptheories.pdf

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