The modern state can be defined as a sovereign political association that claims to exercise power within a defined territorial area. It consists of a set of institutions, including the government, who organise society and are financed through public expense. Under democratic regimes it has always been debated as to the extent to which the state responds to popular pressure. Some academics argue that states can be neutral to competing interest groups, whereas others claim certain sections of society always have a higher degree of influence. These opinions differ according to the theoretical approach that is taken. Classical pluralist and classical elitist thinkers forward two very different viewpoints. This essay will evaluate and compare these two theories. It will also assess whether they believe states can be neutral to competing interest groups.
Classical pluralism was the original form of pluralist thought to emerge. It is based on the notion that power in society is diffuse and takes a strong liberal theory of the state. Classical pluralists argue that governments and states in western democracies act in the interests of society and represent public opinion. They also believe that the state is a legitimate force as it operates with the acceptance of society. It can therefore be said that pluralists believe that states can be neutral to competing interest groups. One of the most influential modern thinkers to forwarded classical pluralist views is Robert A Dahl. The reasons as to why Dahl believes that sates can be neutral to interest groups will now examined.
As a classical pluralist Dahl believes that certain beliefs are shared amongst the majority of democratic societies, such as in America where there is a dedication to the constitution of the country and its political institutions. However, he denies that in democratic societies there is an all-inclusive value consensus. Classical pluralists such as Dahl believe that in industrial societies there are many social divisions, which are on the increase due to the expansion of job diversity. They argue that according to a persons job, there will be values that are specific to there experiences. Groups such as labourers, teachers and scientists will all have different concerns.
The concerns of these different groups may then be conveyed to the government by their own union or professional association. Although classic pluralists believe that divisions such as class, age, gender and ethnicity affect people they reject the idea that any one specific difference dominates the way in which an individual acts. For example, a female manual worker, as well as being a member of the working class may also be: a bus user, a mortgage payer and have children in higher education. Therefore as well as having issues relating to her class she will also be concerned with: as a bus user the efficiency of bus services, as a mortgage payer inflation rates, and as a parent of children in higher education student fees. Classical pluralists believe that it is this diversity in people’s interests that allow democratic societies to function smoothly. They believe that if one division in society were to dominate, it would lead to majority rule with the interests of the minority being ignored. It has been made apparent as to one of the reasons for classical pluralists’ believing that states can be neutral to interest groups. This is that they believe there are a diversity of interest groups within society and that no specific group is dominant.