, Research Paper
Do we really have a democracy? Well, society is too large to have direct democracy. Even representative democracy is hard to achieve on such a large scale. Look at the voter turnout in the United States. It is lower than ever. If ordinary citizens aren’t making policy who is? One answer is the Elite Theory. The Elite Theory is a theory that states that the elite of society controls public policy.
If the Elite Theory were correct it would consist of two parts. The first part would be an uninterested public. With the low voter turnout in the polls, some people would argue that the American people aren’t interested. The second part would be an Elite class that made almost all of the decisions. Some scholars argue that the rich of today would be that elite class.
“The power elite is composed of men whose positions enable them to transcend the ordinary environments of ordinary men and women; they are in positions to make decisions having major consequences. Whether they do or do not make such decisions is less important that the fact that they do occupy such pivotal positions: their failure to act, their failure to make decisions, is itself an act that is often of greater consequences than the decisions they do make”(Wright, p. 4).
The Elite have to have a way to gain access to the political system. This can be done through the jobs of high standing that these people occupy. Their power can be used to influence the common man by way of his job. This is also done by campaign contributions. There are no limits on the amount of money you can give to a political party.
“Business and government have become more closely and explicitly connected; neither can now be seen clearly as a distinct world. Under American conditions the growth of executive government does not mean merely the ‘enlargement of government’ has some kind of autonomous bureaucracy; it means the ascendancy of the corporation men into political eminence”
If they give these large amounts of money surely they expect something in return. This gives the Elite much more leverage than the common man. All the common man has is one vote and that isn’t even a direct vote. The elite have the ability to donate their money. This can be millions of dollars. This gives them much more access to the political system. The decision of weather to lose one indirect vote versus a million dollars speaks for itself.
If the “Establishment”(Dahl, p.86) does exist who governs us? Robert A Dahl added a third answer to this question. He examined several public issues and found out who made the major decisions on these issues. He examined the city of New Haven. He indicated that the elite didn’t make the decisions. He said that some individuals and groups were very influential in making decisions on a certain type of legislation. The city was dominated by many sets of leaders “It was in short a pluralist system.”(Dahl, p.86)
Some scholars have criticized Dahl’s approach. They have said that you can’t always identify people of power by examining key decisions. The people of real power don’t always let the decisions reach the public.
The pluralist part of American democracy is widely recognized. Pluralism is when many groups have access to public officials. These groups fight back and forth using their political access to influence policy. The theory of Pluralism supposes people are very active in groups and their multiple interests overlap and conflict. For example, someone who is for construction of new schools on the PTA, may be for lower taxes in the neighborhood association. This is a valid theory but most groups are badly represented or left out completely.
It has been argued that Pluralism consists of competing Elites, so that even pluralism falls short of democracy. Scholars who think that America is ruled by the few are critical of elite power. They argue that the political system should be opened up to give more access to the American people. Other scholars claim that only elite are dedicated to democratic principles, and that the masses of voters don’t really care about freedom. This view diminishes the importance of the voter. This smashes the view of representative democracy.
The founding fathers may have intended it to be like this. They were very afraid of public opinion and they were all elite. Is it really believable that the elite and interest groups control our society? “Although elites exist in almost every field of human activity, many scholars reject the concept that a single economic and social elite wields ultimate political power.”(Cummings, 189).
To an extent the question over whether America is an elite or pluralist democracy may pose it in terms that are too inflexible. As with almost everything there is a mix. There are interest groups and the elite in government and there are also common people. The Elite do exercise power in and out of democracy, but in the end the decision still belongs to the people of the United States. In the election of the head of the school board to the President of the United States the people still vote.
In conclusion I think the government of the United States is a mix of elite, interest groups and common people who made it. I don’t think the elite theory best explains our government because of the mix of people. Even if the elite as a majority controls the power, they are still going to look out for what’s best for our country. Think of our alternatives to our form of government now. We could become communist were everyone has the same say in government. I bet the American people would love that. As of right now the government works pretty well. It is the best government in the world. If it isn’t broke don’t fix it. Even if the working man doesn’t have as much control over policy as the elite does, it may be better this way. The working man doesn’t have the time to sit down and ponder public policy. He is to busy trying to feed his family. A person who is an elite has the time to sit down and think about public policy. This will lead to better decisions and people will be better off in the end.