What Determines Who Has Political Power, And How Much Of It They Have? Essay, Research Paper
There are many theories of power, and one crucial factor in determining who has political power is in defining what political power actually is. Many concentrated on studying power relationships within communities: community power. Polsby related the notion of community power to “decisions affecting large parts of the population of local communities” and sees “power”, influence” or “control” as the “capacity of one actor to do something affecting another actor, which changes the probable pattern of specified future events”. Here then, power is to do with decisions. “Who rules?” is analogous to “Who participates?” or “Who prevails in decision – making?”. Power is embedded in decision – making so that it is held by those who make decisions that can affect the community in general. Someone who involved in making the key choices shaping a community have power in the sense that what they decide on changes people´s lives and in this way, these decision – makers have power or control over other people. This is typical of pluralist theories of power. They focus their attention on the exercise of power, rather than its sources. Hunter, on the other hand, felt that there was dominant elite in the community, that power is concentrated in the hands of a few. His might be called a “stratification theory” of power, where power is a “subsidiary aspect of the community´s social structure” (Polsby) and the main determinant of the distribution of power within a community is its social stratification. Stratification studies assert that communities are divided into classes. The upper class, or the group with the highest social – economic standing, hold the most power. They are the “power elite” and can exercise influence over a large number of community decisions, thus “ruling” the local community. Hunter´s studies, as he saw them, showed that Regional City in Atlanta was run by a small group of powerful men who were able to shape policies both informally and behind the scenes. Admission into the “power elite” here is determined almost solely on their position within the local business community. The economic elites Hunter views as the power behind politicians. The topmost political leaders, he says, are the men with the most important economic connections. Who these influential people are was determined by Hunter´s “reputational method”, asking a panel of judges who they felt to be the most powerful in the community. While these people may be commonly held by he community as having the most influence and power, they rarely initiate or execute policies. These tasks they delegate to those lower down in the power hierarchy or pyramid. There are many criticisms of the elitist approach. Firstly, it is unclear whether Hunter´s reputational method can be completely accurate. People understand power in different ways. They see different people as powerful in different ways. It is unlikely that everyone understands or knows the ways in which Hunter believes the economic elite to hold power over the community. Rose argues that the economic elite is indeed important and very influential, but there are many other factors involved in the distribution of power in communities. According to Rose, there are several elites who are not united. While some have economic power, others have military, religious, political or association-based powers. Pluralists in general also reject the elitists´ basic premise that there is a power structure in every human institution reflecting the organisation´s stratification. Such categorical assumptions about community power cannot be made at all and it is doubtful whether, fundamentally, anyone dominates in a community. The question then is not “Who runs this community?” but “Does anyone run this community?” Elitists also assume that their power structure stays stable over time. There is some sort of longitudinal stability in that the same people hold the power over time. The pluralists, however, argue that particularly where power is specifically linked to issues, it tends to be only momentary or, at best, semi – permanent. In addition, there is a distinction between reputed and actual power that the elitists ignore. A panel of judges may view one particular person as being especially powerful. Whether this person actually exercises their influence, however, is another question. While elitists might presume that the members of their power elite are in fact involved in running the community, they may not be. Thus pluralists feel that theirs is far more “scientific” approach, based not on mere speculation, but on visible and specific empirical facts. The methodology of the pluralists contrasts with the elitists in that they use case studies in their findings, consisting in research that might be more anthropological or journalistic in character. They first distinguish between the routine and the key decisions that are made in a community. Once they have determined which the “key” or “important” decisions are, they can find out who was involved in the making of these decisions, their role and the nature of their participation during the decision – making process and, finally, how they have affected the specific outcome. Once such pluralist is Dahl, who studied the distribution of power in New Haven, and discovered that there was no evidence of any one ruling elite, or one group dominating decision-making. Rather, he found that there were several groups, each with different interests, who were able to influence key policy decisions. There is thus no simple “power elite” and he rejects the economic elite argument. The pluralist theory of power is subject to many weaknesses and is by no means absolute. One major failing of the pluralists approach is in their determination of the “key” or “important” decisions that are made in a community. It is unclear how anyone is to be able to objectively decide what can and cannot be classed as a decision or a policy that is “important”. Dahl has proposed a definition of key decisions as those where they involve an “actual disagreement in preferences among two or more groups”. Yet Bachrach and Baratz argue that it is not just the important decisions that involve disagreements. Many unimportant and trivial decisions can also be founded on basic and fundamental divergences in the preferences and interests of different groups. Thus it is difficult to say how there can be consistency between pluralists in their choices of key and routine decisions. Since this serves as the basis and the starting point of all their findings, this considerable flaw undermines their theory significantly. Domhoff argues against the pluralists in the way that they have no specific definition of the economic elite. They neither specify nor describe the elite. Nor do they take account of the many ways in which economically powerful members of society are able to influence and involve themselves in politics. The predominance of the economic elite within the executive branch of the US government and in Congress is underemphasized in pluralist theories, through political campaign funds, for example. In this way, businesses do indeed play a large part in shaping domestic legislation. Clinton´s health reforms regarding health insurance, for example, were defeated and many have attributed this failure to insurance companies in the US who were opposed to the reforms. In addition, the reliance of political parties on business for funding in the US means that they have to reflect the interests of the patrons in their policy decisions. Thus it is likely that the pluralists have indeed underplayed the role of the economic elite in politics. The power of the economic elite in the UK, however, may be quite different. In the UK there is not the reliance of the government and political parties on businesses and so they may be able to exercise less influence over politicians, and not act as the “power” behind political leaders. In addition, Bachrach and Baratz feel that the both the pluralists and the elitists have missed out on a crucial aspect of power that is “non-decision making”. This refers to the ability to limit the scope of what people can do. People can have power in the sense that they can have influence over what areas decisions are made in. If someone can enforce rules or practices so that certain issues are rendered unfeasible or so that some issues are prevented from ever arising, they have power. They are not directly making decisions, but they are in some way deciding what happens even before the supposed decision – makers choose the ultimate outcome. Take the teacher who gives her pupils a choice. The pupils may think that they hold the power in this instance, but in reality the teacher holds the ultimate power. Pluralists cannot detect this form of power because it is very often invisible. When non-decision – making is at its most successful, it is impossible to even link the instigator to what happens. Lukes goes even further in his definition of power. There are three faces of power, he says. The first is in participation in the decision-making process, the second in non-decision – making, and the third in shaping the preferences of others. To the extent that one may be able to change the values, interests and preferences of others so that the decisions they make may be affected, they can be said to hold power over these people. Someone, then, may hold power simply in their ability to manipulate the consciousnesses of other people. By shaping their preferences, he is making them think in the way that he might want them to think, and thus controlling the decisions they may make. The difficulty with both the second and the third faces of power, however, is that they cannot be proven empirically. There is no way anyone can prove that anyone else has been manipulated, or that there is some invisible force behind it all that controls what happens. Though this is undoubtedly a weakness of some sort, the fact that this theory is based on speculation, however, and not empirical facts, as Bachrach and Baratz said, makes it no less valid. There are thus many different conceptions of power. Generally, it is the ability of one person to affect others and make them do things in a way that they might not have chosen. According to the different theories, power is held variously by the economic elites of a community, different interest groups and several power elites. Thus what determines who has political power and how much depends very much both on how you go about doing the research, and also on how you define power. It is unlikely that there is any one group that holds all the power in any community. The power is distributed among many, some have more than others, but everyone has, to an extent, some power. The wider the definition of power, the more plausible this is. How much power they have, too, is determined by these factors. Influence can be both direct and indirect. If one is to view power merely as participation in the decision – making process, one is limiting the studies to a very narrow approach. It is not only the politicians, nor the economic elite that may stand behind them, that hold political power. At the very least, each and every adult citizen has some influence, albeit indirect, over what choices are made through their ability to vote. In addition, communities are very different. People act differently in different societies. Because many of theorists have concentrated their studies on only one community, their theories may be applicable to that one community. There will inevitably be some distinctive features in that society, however, and these will have contributed to how power is distributed within it. Thus it is very difficult to say decisively who ultimately has the power in any one community, nor how much of it they have. Power is held to some extent by even ordinary members of society, but to determine how much of it each individual or group may hold will depend on what areas one studies and which definition of power one holds.