Pluralist democracy

A pluralist society accepts diversity and so is tolerant.

The term pluralism is sometimes used more generally to refer to diversity or multiplicity (the existence of many things). For example: 

• Political pluralism refers to competition for power between a number of parties 

• Moral pluralism refers to the existence of a range of values and ethical beliefs 

• Cultural pluralism refers to the existence of a variety of cultures or ethnic groups within the same society.

Pluralist democracy

Pluralism is a theory of the distribution of political power that holds that power is widely and evenly dispersed in society, rather than concentrated in the hands of an elite or ruling class. In particular, pluralists have a positive view of pressure-group politics, believing that groups promote healthy debate and discussion, and that they strengthen the democratic process .

Pluralist democracy is a form of democracy that operates through the capacity of organised groups and interests to articulate popular demands and ensure government responsiveness. The conditions for pluralist democracy include the following: 

• There is a wide dispersal of power amongst competing groups and, in particular, there are no elite groups 

• Groups are internally democratic in the sense that leaders are accountable to members 

• Government is ‘neutral’ in the sense that it is willing to listen to any group or interest.

 So how pluralist is the UK? Do lots of competing groups get involved in decision making? If not are we elitist where one groups dominates- i.e.- the rich and powerful? Or do political parities exclude those groups who do not agree with their policies-?

This term can be used when discussing the impact of pressure groups- if many pressure groups have access to decision making then we are quite pluralist.

 The extent of pluralism is based on  how much the following assumptions hold to be true: 

• Citizens are represented largely through their membership of organised groups 

• All groups have a measure of political influence

 • There are many resources and ‘levers’ available to pressure groups (money, numbers, protests, etc) and these are widely spread 

• No group can achieve a dominant position, because other groups will always challenge it – there is always a ‘countervailing power’.


Do pluralist societies lead to moral and cultural relativism? 

If all ideas are of value and all voices can be heard does that mean no ideas are right and others wrong?

Pressure groups contribute to political pluralism by encouraging politicians to consider a wide range of ideas from various segments of society, even though these ideas may clash and spark conflicts between different groups. For instance, Americans United for Life opposes abortion, directly conflicting with the objectives of the pro-choice organization Planned Parenthood. Despite not being a pressure group, Planned Parenthood serves as a prominent health provider and operates as an interest group in politics. Proponents of pluralism argue that such disagreements are beneficial for democracy as they enable both the public and government to hear diverse perspectives, facilitating informed decision-making through public debate. They contend that joining pressure groups offers broader avenues for political engagement compared to political party affiliation. Noteworthy societal advancements in the United States, like racial integration and the legalization of abortion, are attributed to the efforts of pressure groups.

 In contrast, supporters of elitist theory criticize the influence of pressure groups in the United States. Affluent pressure groups invest substantially in advertising, legal actions, professional lobbyists, and election expenditures, granting them more sway than less financially endowed groups. Consequently, the nation is still governed by a powerful elite comprising wealthy pressure group leaders and government officials. Well-funded groups have obstructed changes favored by a majority of the American public. For example, despite over 60% of Americans endorsing stricter gun laws in 2020, the National Rifle Association (NRA) effectively resisted gun control measures. Progressives argue that prosperous corporations leverage their resources to sway politicians in their favor, resulting in a system that prioritizes corporate interests over policies that could address inequality.