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Pluralism vs. Elitism

Historically, pluralism is associated with democracy, a system of checks and balances of power that forge a consensus of the general interest that dictates government policy. In contrast, the elitism or elitist perspective of government maintains that a select group of rich and powerful individuals or groups dictate public policy that favors their own interests. Wasserman (2006) argues that a more evolved viewpoint of American government and politics blends the two approaches, "The pluralist and elite approaches are two ends of a range of ideas about American politics" (p. 264). Basically two opposite ends of the political spectrum, neither elitism nor pluralism is an accurate lens through which to describe American politics, which is typically some combination of the two stances.

The pluralist perspective of American politics maintains that "politics in America is democratic, with widespread participation in decision to which most people agree" (Wasserman, 2006, p. 264). In contrast, the elitist perspective of politics maintains that American politics is "dominated by an elite that controls and manipulates the rest of us in its own interest" (Wasserman, 2006, p. 264-65). In reality, American politics is most clearly viewed as a combination of these two perspectives. While some view the elitist approach as harmful to the public interest, the pluralist approach is not always beneficial either. This is because the sum of various interests influencing politics does not always equate to the general interest. As Michael Kinsley (1994) maintains, "Children, veterans, senior citizens, oppressed peoples, handicapped persons, small business, taxpayers and students all get their goodies, and the result is a national debt that harms all more than the goodies benefit them" (p. 7).

Despite American politics being a combination of the pluralist and elitist approach, the major political parties have positioned themselves on one pole o...

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Pluralism vs. Elitism. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 09:02, December 08, 2016, from