Compare and contrast the pluralist and elitist accounts of political power.

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Compare and contrast the pluralist and elitist accounts of political power.


Whilst there are not infinite interpretations of political systems, there are differing accounts of systems theory. Each separate account of a theory can have varying threads such as classical, reformed, neo or radical interpretations. Within these definitions there may be variance over the role of the government or the prominence of power, yet there is confluence on one basic concept. In this essay I shall try to attempt to explain the theories, major ideas and pre-eminent writers in both pluralist and elitist political power. Following on from this I shall attempt to find any similarities and any differences in both pluralism and elitism. In my conclusion I shall attempt to draw on which theory is most relevant in the contemporary political world.

Exposition of Pluralism

H.S. Kariel is cited in Schwarzmantel’s work referring to pluralism as: ‘specific institutional arrangements for distributing and sharing governmental power.’ Therefore pluralism is the dispersion of power to prevent tyranny. If power is concentrated to one group, there will be autocratic rule. By diffusing power, a state will be open to the demands of the population and this is essential to the supposition. This does assume social pluralism; that is a wide variety of interest groups. Social variety, such as difference in class, race, religion, gender and sexuality is needed, but social pluralism does not equate to pluralism. The old Soviet Union had great social variety and numerous interest groups, yet in elections there was only one political party to vote for. There was social pluralism, but not political pluralism. Political pluralism means the government will attempt to satisfy the demands of the various interest groups.

Political pluralism needs to have seven distinctive features. Contemporary Britain and the USA are said to have these. These comprise of:

  1. Free and fair elections, which have no coercion or ballot rigging.
  2. Associated autonomy, which means people are free to join interest groups that are not state sponsored.
  3. Inclusive suffrage
  4. The right to run for office.
  5. Elected officials.
  6. Free speech.
  7. Alternative sources of information which are uncensored and not state propaganda.

Dahl recognised oligarchy in politics; though this was changing due to shift of political participation. When suffrage encompassed more social groups or becomes universal ‘the number of party leaders and members of parliament drawn from the middle classes has increased’. Dahl goes further and sees ‘Something of the same kind has occurred when the working classes have been enfranchised, particularly in countries where labor or socialist parties have acquired a large share of working-class votes’.  It is true in Britain that MPs reflect the stretch of the social spectrum to a greater extent, but there is still a majority of middle class, middle aged, Oxbridge educated white males who dominate parliament. Dahl does recognise that ‘blue collar occupations are numerically under represented as are many other categories - farmers and housewives, for example.’

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Exposition of Elitism

Elitism can be defined as a minority which governs in its own interest and is unaccountable to the majority. Elites believe the masses are ill equipped to govern themselves, therefore elitist rule is desirable for all. Mosca, cited in ‘Introducing Government’ outlined elitist theory as the following: ‘In all societies..two classes of people appear - a class that rules and a class that is ruled. The first class, always the less numerous, performs all political functions, monopolises power and enjoys the advantages that power brings, whereas the second, the more numerous class, is directed and controlled by the first.’  Mosca’s ...

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This essay has some good ideas but is chaotically organised - ironic, given that it is subheaded, usually an indication of a solid structure! Too many words are devoted to summarising texts, without analysing why this is necessary. As such, I'd give it a 2.2, although with some substantial tweaking to the writing style and structure it would probably garner a far better mark.