Chapter 14 (P.357-366): Politics
THEORIES OF DEMOCRACY
A Functionalist Account: Pluralist Theory
- the social scientists who studied New Haven politics in the 1950s followed pluralist theory
- pluralist theory
- Holds that power is widely dispersed. As a result, no group enjoys disproportionate influence, and decisions are usually reached through negotiation and compromise.
- they showed that few of the most prestigious families in New Haven were economic leaders in the community
- moreover, neither economic leaders nor the social elite monopolized political decision making
- different groups of people decided various political issues
- some of these people had low status on the community
- moreover, power was more widely distributed than in earlier decades
- the pluralists concluded that no single group exercised disproportionate power in New Haven
- pluralists believed that politics worked much the same way in the United States as a whole and in other democracies, such as Canada
- democracies, they said, are heterogeneous societies with many competing interests and centres of power
- no single power centre can dominate consistently
- pluralists closely followed the functionalist script
- they viewed the political system as an institution that helps society achieve its collective goals and interests, in the process integrating its members and keeping it in equilibrium
- the notion that different segments of society might have fundamentally opposed goals and interests, that some groups are consistently more powerful than others are, and the
politics could be a disruptive endeavor that sometimes promotes disequilibrium and on occasion even tears a society apart foreign to the pluralist mindset
Conflict Approaches I: Elite Theory
- elite theory
- Holds that small groups occupying the command posts of most influential institutions make important decisions that profoundly affect all members of society.
Moreover, they do so without much regard for elections or public opinion.
- foremost among early elite theorists was C. Wright Mills
- Small groups that control the command posts of institutions.
- Mills showed how the corporate, state, and military elites are connected
- people move from one elite group to another during their careers
- their children intermarry
- they maintain close social contacts
- they tend to be recruited from upper-middle and upper classes
- yet Mills denied that these connections turn the three elites into what Marx called a ruling class
- ruling class
- A self-conscious, cohesive group of people in elite positions. They act to advance their common interests, and corporate executives lead them.
- Mills insisted that the three elites are relatively independent of one another
The Elitist Critique of Pluralism
- most political sociologists today question the pluralist account of democratic politics
- that is because research has established the existence of large, persistent, wealth-based inequalities in political influence and political participation
Conflict Approaches II: Marxist Rejoinder to Elite Theory
- although compelling in some respects, elite theory has its critics, Marxists foremost among them
- one group of Marxists, known as “instrumentalists,” denies that elites enjoy more or less equal power
- actually, they say, elites from a ruling cla