Pluralist Analysis Essay

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ISSN: 00071315

EISSN: 14684446

Subjects: Sociology, Social Sciences

Collections: Arts & Sciences II Collection, JSTOR Essential Collection


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American Pluralism

In Federalist No. 10, James Madison stresses that “measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.” Madison philosophized that a large republic, composed of numerous factions capable of competing with each other and the majority must exist in order to avoid tyranny of majority rule.# When Federalist No. 10 was published, the concept of pluralism was not widely used. However, the political theory that is the foundation for United States government was the influential force behind pluralism and its doctrines.
Pluralism comes from the political system that focuses on shared power among interest groups and competing factions.# A pluralistic society contains groups that have varying interests and backgrounds, including those of ethnic, religious, and political nature.# Differences like these are to be encouraged, with overall political and economic power being maintained. When a number of people, all sharing a common interest are threatened, a group is involuntarily formed in order to defend against competing interests.

These pluralistic interest groups are free to operate and lobby in the political arena, fighting against the majority and other competing factions for voice in Congress. With the influence of multiple factions operating throughout the political system, a balance of power is created (Kernell 2000, 429). This is much like the international theory of sovereign states balancing each other’s power to create a political system that focuses on stability, yet is always in a constant flux of power. With this in mind, special interest groups are constantly contending for power by raising money, campaigning, and lobbying in Congress. When a special interest group is threatened by a competing policy, the group will organize efforts to balance, or transcend the power of the competing group.
The pluralistic scholar David Truman notes that “the proliferation of political interest groups [is] a natural and largely benign consequence of economic development” (Kernell 2000, 429). That is, as American economic development increases, in the form of industry, trade, and technology, factions are produced in order to protect special interests. Factions have a large platform on which to find support from various political parties, committees, subcommittees, and the courts, as well as federal, state, and local governments (Kernell 2000, 429).

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Interest groups are often regarded as beneficial to United States politics because they tend to be very unyielding and enthusiastic about their cause, working diligently to achieve political goals. Small interest groups will often defeat the overwhelming majority by contributing more time and money to their cause. As a result, many people have a lack of faith in Congress, feeling as though they cannot trust the political process if minority groups are able to infiltrate the system and gain power (Kernell 2000, 206). Due to the lack of faith in Congress, pluralistic theory is often met with criticism despite the beneficial aspects of pluralistic politics.
Many critics believe that faction “representation is biased in favor of wealthy corporations and affluent individuals” (Kernell 2000, 449). This evaluation is backed by critics like Schattschneider, who claims that “the heavenly chorus sings with a strong upper-class accent.” This statement exposes special interests groups as corporations taking advantage of American capitalism; however, without sponsorship and assistance from well-heeled economic figures, factions might not be able to survive in the American political system, since the majority alone would be able to manipulate Congress. In the past, special interest groups have formed “iron triangles” (Kernell 2000, 449). Iron triangles are usually composed of two to four interest groups that form a mutual relationship in which one group supports the others and in turn gains something. In Congress, each faction has more lobbying power due to support and help brought by their political partners. Few critics still worry about iron triangles since many have been broken up by rising public interest groups and legislators who know how much power iron triangles are capable of producing. Furthermore, the same public interest groups focus on specific factions and change the political scheme by offering political benefits to politicians who pursue public interest and the breakdown of faction alliances (Kernell 2000, 449).
When James Madison and the other founding fathers met to draft the Constitution, they envisioned a country with political freedom and opportunity for every citizen. They intended for every person, from the wealthy aristocrat to the poor working man, to be represented in Congress. While the word pluralism was not yet used, its foundation is clear in the Constitution. When James Madison wrote Federalist No. 10, he was not expecting the growth of numerous factions in United States politics (Kernell 2000, 450). He did however, hope that America would be able to avoid tyranny brought by an overwhelming majority. Understanding the potential of America, Madison prophesized that the large geographic area of the United States would contain many diverse interests, creating special interest groups that would hold enough power to inhibit the majority from applying too much pressure to Congress. This early form of pluralism welcomed society’s various interests and endorsed “the idea that those competing interests most affected by a public policy will have the greatest say in what the policy would be” (Kernell 2000, 54). Madison drew the expectation that politicians today would be as politically determined as he and would therefore fight for policy that would be beneficial. In Madison’s time, “society was viewed ideally as a harmonious whole, its different parts sharing common interests that all wise and honest authorities would dutifully promote” (Kernell 2000, 384). While this is still the basic concept of representation, the founders of the Constitution may be disappointed in the way public policy and factions are handled in American politics. Examples of these situations are found in everyday politics.
In the October 4th edition of The New York Times, Texas Republican Larry Combest criticizes the Bush Administration for turning down the Republican farm bill.# Combest, chairman of the Agriculture Committee was upset with Bush’s rejection of the
bill which stops $171 billion from going to commodity subsidies. A portion of the
funding is supposed to be spent on conservation efforts, but the Bush administration feels as though not enough would be spent on the environment. After the bill entered the House, the Office of Management and Budget asked the House to edit the bill, taking into account rural America, the environment, and growing markets. This is an example of pluralistic politics. A particular faction, the Agriculture Committee is attempting to acquire government money in order to promote the best interests of their cause. To their misfortune, the Bush Administration and the House are hoping to allocate the proposed $171 billion among different spending areas, not just the Agricultural Committee in Texas. Instances like this are irritating for those that are part of the special interest group, but this will inspire harder work, and more pressure on Congress in the form of lobbying.
Founded in the birth of America, pluralism is a large aspect of the United States’ political system. As outlined in our Constitution, special interest groups are an important in maintaining liberty and freedom. With America’s diverse culture, factions are needed in order to support the existence of diversity. With diversity comes change, and at the beginning of a new century, it is important to allow change in America. Pluralistic interest groups will be the key factor in changing the political and economical face of America. While pluralism is met with criticism, it is important for maintaining the balance of power. Without it, the majority would all too easily be able to influence Congress. A tyrannical majority would undermine the political theory on which James Madison and others built the United States. Maintaining the value of pluralism in American political life exposes politics to diversity, allowing every American voice to be heard and every perspective to be represented.


1. Becker, Elizabeth, White House Criticizes Republican Farm Bill, The New York Times, Thursday, October 4, 2000.

2. Evans, Graham; and Hewnham, Jeffrey , The Penguin Dictionary of International Relations, London, the Penguin Group, 1998.

3. Kernell, Samuel; and Gary C. Jacobson, The Logic of American Politics, Washington D.C., CQ Press, 2000.

4. Soukhanov, Anne H., Microsoft Encarta College Dictionary, New York, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2001.

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