by: Brian Johnson, Brian Dickinson, Patrick Morley
Edited by: Brian Johnson


Pluralism and Elitism are two theories centralized on the distribution of power. The Pluralist Theory can be described as a general type of government where all participants share an equal status whether it be in possession, power, or rights. Popular Pluralist thinkers includes Robert A. Dahl, and Seymour Lipset. Pluralism appeals to the masses and the under privileged because it evens the scale from distant class orders to a unity. On the contrary, the Elitist Theory can be attributed to Vilfredo Pareto, Gaetano Mosca, and Robert Michels. The premise of the Elitist Theory is that the privileged and the successful are to inherit governing powers because of an obvious superiority shown through their success.


The Pluralist Theory involves a stress on immaterial power. Power can be in the form of many ideals such as political, religious, skilled or even persuasive power. This power is to be distributed to all members of the social contract, nobody is to have more or less say in the institution than any other. The Pluralist Theory goes even farther to suggest that no one controls the social contract as everyone has such an equal state in it. While some theories argue as to how a system should be run and who should be the head of said system, the Pluralist Theory challenges by arguing there be any system, let alone a head of a system, at all. Potential Power is also a recurring theme between the two theories, and Potential Power, like abilities of the people, shall always outweigh the actual Present Power, such as Executive Rulers or rights of a central power. Hyperpluralism is one of the great weaknesses of pluralism. It happens when the pluralistic society feels as if it doesn't give the people enough power and so they rise up against the government. It results in a complete crippling of government as the government bends to the will of all the interest groups.


Elitism is a stress on material power. Those who have resources must be successful and rightful rulers, or else that resource would not have gotten into their possession. Superiority in the elites is the premise for the Elitist Theory. Whoever has achieved must be of a higher mental capacity, and therefore are the only ones who are worthy of a position of power. To Elitists, the common people are common due to a lack of superiority. Elitism recognizes the need for people to be governed, and decides that elitists should rule because of all the material power around, they have the most, and therefore have the most to be lost in the event of an unsuccessful social contract. By making those with the most possession the ones in power, it is theorised that there will be order due to the elites keeping it together in order to sustain their foothold in society.

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This picture shows how the path of influence flows in a Elitist and Pluralist society. Although there is less influence in Elitism, there can be more control. Although there is more free will and freedom of influence in Pluralism, there is much more room for fallacies and misjudgement.

Key Differences of Pluralism and Elitism:
  • Stress on immaterial power
  • If an individual cannot keep up with politics, their interests will be protected by interest groups
  • Compromise and bargaining define Pluralist theory
  • Government has a checks and balances system the evens out power
  • can easily be frozen in decisions by different interest groups
  • People in decision-making positions are constantly moving in and out of power
  • Stress on material representation of power
  • Only successful individuals who have proven power may enter political system
  • Superiority of the property owning, upper class define Elitist Theory
  • Government is comprised of a single mind type that creates policies
  • Need to elevate some non-elites to power circles to appease masses
  • Power is decided at the top and masses are uninformed
Analyse: In what ways do Pluralism and Elitism try to create a balanced social contract? In what ways do both succeed and fall short?

Section Review:
1. Under the definition of Elitism, how is power determined and what does it tell about the owner?

2. What are two key weaknesses of Pluralism?

3. How do interest groups affect society in a hyperpluralistic situation?

Answers to section review:

Current News Relating to Elitism and Pluralism

One must try to gain the support of the elite class of people in order to develop any sort of foothold in the government. Mitt Romney in this clip attempts to gain the favor of the power class by appealing to their qualms of the taxation system. It has recently achieved a high level of criticism, saying that Romney is ignoring one half of the country, calling them useless. The Pluralist thinkers conflict with the Elitist here, one trying to gain influence via the appeal of what one population wants, and the other trying to slander the former.

Over the summer the Syrians had an anti-governmental uprising. Their pluralistic society felt to threatened with the government being corrupt and growing in power. The society had coexisted semi-peacefully but the Free Syrian Army was angry and so it attacked minorities such as Christians. They wished to institute hyperpluralism and have the government bend below them. The link to the article is here:

Term Definition:
Pluralism - A form of government where minority groups maintain their independent cultural traditions
Elitism - The advocacy or implementation of an elite as a domineering element in a society
Hyperpluralism - The most extreme form of pluralism where the interest groups have complete control over the government
Interest Groups - A social group that drives toward the same goals and have some power

Works Cited

Picture Link:

Links to Outside Resources:

Mills, C. Wright. The Power Elite. New York: Oxford UP, 1956. Print.

Neumann, Franz L. Behemoth: The Structure and Practice of National Socialism, 1933-1944. New York: Octagon, 1963. Print.

Schattschneider, E. E. The Semisovereign People: A Realist's View of Democracy in America. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1960. Print.