Compare and Contrast pluralist and ruling elites accounts of political power

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00548952 Claire Worsfold – GV1200 Non Assessed Essay – December 2005

Compare and Contrast pluralist and ruling elites accounts of political power.

Pluralist and Ruling Elite accounts of power can be looked at from both a different and similar perspective. Each approach has its own take on power with elitist believing a small group rule while pluralists believe a  diverse range exercise power.

The basic assumption of the Ruling elites is that in every society there is and must be a minority which rules over the rest of society. An elite is described as being ” those individuals who have the highest indices of excellence in any particular power.”  Dunleavy and O’leary (1987). In short the power elite theory “claims that a single elite, not a multiplicity of competing groups, decides the life-and-death issues for the nation as a whole” (

Paerto described government from the ruling elite view point as “a governing elite compromising individuals who directly or indirectly play some considerable part in government and a non governing elite compromising the rest” (cited in ruling elites*) Basically some people have power and can influence government and governmental decisions, while others cannot. Mosca notes that the elite and the non elite are not just a feature in developed nations but   “In all societies from societies that are very meagrely developed….down to the most advanced and powerful societies 2 classes of people appear – a class that rule and a class that is ruled. (Mosca:1959:50) Elitists believe there is a necessity and a want for a small ruling class and that governing by a small elite over the rest of society is inevitable Be it “economics, military and political power [there is an] organized minority and [an] unorganized majority” Dunleavy and O’leary (1987)

Political pluralism recognizes the existence of diversity in social, institutional and ideological practises and values that diversity (Dunleavy and O’leary (1987)).  Pluralism appreciates that many interest groups in society exist, but does not accept the influence of individuals and ultimately believes that “a multitude of groups, not the people as a whole, govern”( ).  As Pluralism is a theory that focuses on interest groups and their influence on government it tends to avoid talking about the “state” preferring to look at the “study of groups…..not abstractions” Pluralists explicitly state that no single group dominates all decisions. They state to exercise power requires resources and no one group is able to monopolise on these resources. “People are powerful because they control various resources” () although the rich have their money, the mass have their numbers and their vote. So although the public do not directly govern pluralists believe that “their opinions are a resource that can be used by one organization against another” () so in sense they do have power. Pluralists believe we live in a democratic institution because the competition between the groups means they have to operate democratically. “A Pluralist democracy is characterized by competition by power by organized groups.”(.) Due to the competition of groups it means each must look to win votes, thus it means that groups will not follow their own interest but seek to follow interests that will be popular for the public. To summarise ” inter group competition… [means] …..The power of one group tends to cancel that of another so that a rough equilibrium results” ()wwhich backs up their original point that no single group can dominate.

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There are several major differences between the 2 approaches. To begin with, pluralists insist that “large size does not prevent modern nation states from being effective polyarchies”, they believe that no group can dominate because the modern world actually “allows competitive relations and the diversity of interests to appear (http://econwpa.wustl.   edu:8089/eps/othr/papers/0004/0004009.pdf)  Elitism however suggests “in the modern world there is little scope for the reduction of domination” of ruling elites ( . Because Pluralists think there is a diversity of interests “no one is all-powerful” (   /APGOV_Pluralism.htm) as each group is too small to bear more influence than another so ...

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