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This essay debates that pluralism is not an accurate analysis of the contemporary British state. Mainly due to the concentration of power within a certain mass of groups as well as having the majority of groups not being able to influence the current British state when making decisions. It will do so through three stages. Firstly, it will examine pluralism as a theory of power. Secondly, it will analysis its strengths and weaknesses against other political ideologies, and thirdly, it will look into how accurately it compares with the British state.
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Pluralism is the theory of power in the state which believes that due to the state being so complex, that it is too tough for only one group to govern; therefore there are a large number of government institutes allowing many groups to have access to diverse departments and thus allowing them all to influence the state. We can understand that pluralist theory utilizes a positivist approach due to their use of empirical assessments to examine how much influence groups have over the state. In other words, only things that can be observed are fact unless evidence is found to support it.
Pluralism has evolved over time and we can see that there are three different main segmentations. Classical pluralism makes the assumption that it is ‘easy’ for all political parties to influence the state, and therefore the state is neutral, ‘acting on interests of the electorate as a whole’. However reformed and neo pluralism take a different stance to this statement. Reformed pluralism accepts that sometime a group may have more power than others, and as Dunleavy explains, neo pluralism accepts that one group has much more power than the rest of the political institutes … This group suggested to being ‘Business’. (1987, p.28)
Reformed pluralism is similar to classical pluralism except it understands that power may not be as defused as much as the classical pluralists believe, therefore saying, the dominance of some groups over part of the state can be countered by the dominance of other groups over a different part of the state.
Focusing further on neo pluralism, Lindblom goes on to suggest that ‘politicians rely on high levels of business confidence… and therefore a healthy economy leads to electoral success’. (2006, p.28)
Therefore only through having a content business sector is it possible to gain the ‘feel good factor’ and push further the electoral success. This all means that the business sector has power over the government, allowing many groups to have the ability of diminishing investment if they are not pleases with the with the government’s proposals, leading to an imprisoned state for developing or making policies. This neo pluralist idea overlaps the Marxism’s view over power being in economics & therefore business.
There are three main principles in the English pluralism ideology; firstly, liberty is the most important political view, and it is best presented by power being dispersed. Secondly, groups should be regarded as ‘persons’, and thirdly, Ideas of state sovereignty should be rejected (Nichols cited in Martin Smith (1975, p.22)
However Dunleavy adds another further three key features; thirdly he suggests that pluralist ‘agree that vigorous group conflicts must be expected in any complex society’. Secondly he suggests that through having the goal of preventing state monism they have to ‘debate the relative usefulness of institutional or social checks and balances’. As well as this, Dunleavy suggests the importance of self interest due to its dangers. (1987, p.17)
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Overall it is important to state these conclusions of pluralism ideologies. Firstly, ‘Individuals exist only through groups and individual identity is gained from expression of group membership. (Laski, 1989, p.23) Secondly, Martin Smith states that the role of the state needs to be limited. He goes on to declare that thirdly, that groups can be alternative to the state as a mechanism of collective organization and production of collective goods and that fourthly, ‘in opposition to Marxism and elitism in liberal societies there is a dispersal of power and there is some separation between economic and political power.'(Smith, 2006, p.36)
In pluralist theory, it is important that the power is spread through some groups if not all of the groups involved in the state, where as for Marxists and elitists, power is held within a certain group of people leading to a possible abuse of power as well as self-interested actions, benefiting only a minority of the people and not the largest possible amount of people. However, comparing pluralism to elitism we can see a very strong weakness as elitism demands knowledge to gain power, and therefore this will lead to an increase of people who are highly qualified (trying to gain further power), opposing the pluralist view of power gained by groups representing individuals. This deprives the pluralist state from a need and therefore a supply of qualified population.
Another benefit of pluralism is derived due to the complexity of the state; Groups who are under looked by the state are able to work with other parts of the state leading to a ‘countervailing power’. A dominant group/s with power over a part of the state can be opposed by a different dominant group through a different part of the state. As a result power is still diffused and there is a kind of equilibrium between groups over the entire state.
Lindblom states that Neo pluralism suggests that one group has more power than any other, this being the business sector of the state. This idea is close to the Marxist view about dominance in the state. (1977, p.28) This can be seen as a weakness in both ideologies due to the fact that business has power over the state and therefore has leaver edge to acquire policies they prefer, not benefiting the rest of the population. Another way of looking at this is that through being business focused, it will most likely lead to economical prosperity; overall benefits will provide a greater gain in comparison to its negative effects. A good strong economy can lead into further investment into public and merit goods benefiting a wide range of the institutes greatly. From the elitist’s view, Skocplo disputes that the state has a greater power than the economic interests due to the state being self-governing and not involved with capitalist interests. This allowed the state to not be bios towards business, having no single interest dominating over the majority of the groups.
This essay takes the position that the contemporary British democratic state is not accurately analyzed as a pluralist one due to the fact that the parliamentary system is a bicameral system, divided into legislative, executive and judicial. Pluralism theory is about everyone having the right to influence state, however through having this parliamentary system it is easy to see otherwise. As the executive branch overlaps the legislative branch, the Prime minister not only has the power to elect his cabinet, but also highly influences parliament, providing him with a huge amount of power over the state, and therefore possible self interesting action could occur. One of the main elitist and Marxist criticism against classical pluralism is the fact that they believe it is relatively easy to influence government, however as we have seen above it is right to criticise due to the government favouring the party they are representing.
This essay has been divided into three main parts, the first being an overview of pluralism, the second being an analysis of the strengths and weakness of the pluralist ideology, and the final part of comparing it to the contemporary British state. Through the information above it is right to say that this essay takes the position that pluralism is not an accurate ideology to analyse the British state.
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