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Unformatted text preview: du/entr ies/democr acy/ 13/28 8/30/13 Democr acy ( Stanfor d Encyclopedia of Philosophy) 3.1.2 Interest G roup P l ural i sm
One approach that is in part motivated by the problem of democratic citizenship but
which attempts to preserve some elements of equality against the elitist criticism is the
interest group pluralist account of politics. Robert Dahl's early statement of the view is
very powerful. “In a rough sense, the essence of all competitive politics is bribery of
the electorate by politicians… The farmer… supports a candidate committed to high
price supports, the businessman…supports an advocate of low corporation taxes… the
consumer…votes for candidates opposed to a sale tax” (Dahl 1959, p. 69). In this
conception of the democratic process, each citizen is a member of an interest group
with narrowly defined interests that are closely connected to their everyday lives. On
these subjects citizens are supposed to be quite well informed and interested in having
an influence. Or at least, elites from each of the interest groups that are relatively close
in perspective to the ordinary members are the principal agents in the process. On this
account, democracy is not rule by the majority but rather rule by coalitions of
minorities. P olicy and law in a democratic society are decided by means of bargaining
among the different groups.
This approach is conceivably compatible with the more egalitarian approach to
democracy. This is because it attempts to reconcile equality with collective decision
making by limiting the tasks of citizens to ones which they are able to perform
reasonably well. And it attempts to do this in a way that gives citizens a key role in
decision making. The account ensures that individuals can participate roughly as equals
to the extent that it narrowly confines the issues each individual is concerned with. It is
not particularly compatible with the deliberative public justification approach because it
eschews deliberation about the common good or about justice. And it takes the
democratic process to be concerned essentially with bargaining among the different
interest groups where the preferences to be advanced by each group is not subject to
further debate in the society as a whole. To be sure, there might be some deliberation
within interest groups but it will not be society wide.
3.1.3 Neo-Li beral i sm
A third approach inspired by the problem of citizenship may be called the neo-liberal
approach to politics favored by public choice theorists such as James Buchanan &
Gordon Tullock (1965). Against elite theories, they contend that elites and their allies
will tend to expand the powers of government and bureaucracy for their own interests
and that this expansion will occur at the expense of a largely inattentive public. For this
reason, they argue for severe restrictions on the powers of elites. They argue against the
interest group pluralist theorists that the problem of participation occurs within interest
groups more or less as much as among the citizenry at large. As a consequence, interest
groups will not form very easily. Only those interest groups that are guided by powerful
economic interests are likely to succeed in organizing to influence the government.
plato.stanfor d.edu/entr ies/democr acy/ 14/28 8/30/13 Democr acy ( Stanfor d Encyclopedia of Philosophy) Hence, only some interest groups will succeed in influencing government and they will
do so largely for the benefit of the powerful economic elites that fund and guide them.
Furthermore, they argue that such interest groups will tend to produce highly inefficient
government because they will attempt to advance their interests in politics while
spreading the costs to others. The consequence of this is that policies will be created
that tend to be more costly (because imposed on everyone in society) than they are
beneficial (because they benefit only the elites in the interest group.)
Neo-liberals argue that any way of organizing a large and powerful democratic state is
likely to produce serious inefficiencies. They infer that one ought to transfer many of
the current functions of the state to the market and limit the state to the enforcement of
basic property rights and liberties. These can be more easily understood and brought
under the control of ordinary citizens.
But the neo-liberal account of democracy must answer to two large worries. First,
citizens in modern societies have more ambitious conceptions of social justice and the
common good than are realizable by the minimal state. The neo-liberal account thus
implies a very serious curtailment of democracy of its own. More evidence is needed to
support the contention that these aspirations cannot be achieved by the modern state.
Second, the neo-liberal approach ignores the problem of large private concentrations of
wealth and power that are capable of pushing small states around for their own benefit
and imposing their wills on populations without their consent. T...
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