Term Paper: Domhoff Shapiro Gaventa Dahl Putnum

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Political Science - Domhoff, Shapiro, Gaventa, Dahl & Putnam

Do you think Pluralism as defined by Dahl, is still a fitting description of the American Political System? Why do Domhoff, Shapiro and/or Gaventa disagree with the argument that pluralism is the best description for American Politics?

The definition of Pluralism as defined by Dahl does and does not fit the description of the American Political System. Overall, the "idea" of Dahl's pluralism is one that makes the government sound like a utopia, where all people would live in harmony, and where the power of the country would be equally divided among civil associations, informal and formal communities, the government, the judicial bodies and Congress. Realistically speaking the United States is set this way, but it is obvious that much work has to be done before one can assume that all sects are equal in power. However, there are some that would argue the pluralistic democracy described by Dahl does indeed mimic the ideal description of the American Political System. In his work Who Governs? Dahl performs a case study of a town in Connecticut called New Haven. His goal is to examine the formal and informal structures responsible for government actions and explores who has power. Dahl finds that America's governments are powered by a poly-archy, or the concept of pluralism, meaning many elite members of society really have the power in government, and affirms that American is democratic because the government is not in the hands of a single person or monarchy as it is in Europe. In later works however, specifically in 2001 Dahl wrote "How Democratic is the American Constitution" and it is here that Dahl becomes more skeptical of the government in American, claiming that the constitution is not as democratic as he once thought, and that many of the people that hold power in this "polyarchy" as he may refer to it, are ignorant and demonstrate little foresight about what might or might not happen in the future (Dahl, 2005). The author notes that it is likely the constitution will continue to break down, and leaves his thoughts at that. He believes that it is impossible for America or any other country to realize a true democracy. Some would say this is impossible because according to Dahl, the ideal democracy would involve participation from ever member or citizen in the country, equal voting at important points in history, heightened understanding of democracy by America's leaders and control of the countries primary objective (Dahl, 2005). Dahl notes that in an ideal democracy is as pluralistic as he earlier hinted, because the power in society does not lie with these elite members of the government that are elected to office. Rather, Dahl (2005) suggests that power in this country rests among many groups including the electorate or those people that are elected to office, but also many groups that support or do not support the electorate, including various labor unions and businesses, coalitions and interest groups whose purpose is to ensure that the United States remains pluralistic and does not fall into the ways of a monarchy.

Dahl would agree with the statement that the government has control over much of the power that builds the foundation for a democracy; he just wouldn't believe that the electorate alone would have all the power in society, for this would indicate that a democracy does not really or truly exist. A polyarchy according to Dahl (2005) occurs when there is competition that allows many people of different backgrounds and political beliefs to try to be elected to the house or to the electorate body by the people. Even the President does not have all of the power in the United States because there is inherent in the Constitution and under pluralism a system of checks and balances that ensures many government and non-government agencies are working in the best interests of the people living in the United States. Inequalities of power may exist within certain groups in the government, but they are so spread out it is difficult to discern who has more power than another (Dahl, 2005). Dahl (2005) would also argue that power is something that builds and forms from the opinions and actions of many people not just the government. People that are among the elite may have more resources available to them, which enable them to become powerful, but this does not mean they have more power than a group of people or a coalition or interest group that is also acting to have legislation changed or adapted in Congress. Dahl (2005) assumes that no one person can have all of the power (Gaventa, 1980).

Pluralism as Dahl defines it is an accurate description of how the government runs today despite what others may think. Dahl is right in noting that many bodies, groups, entities and people are responsible for the government, and no single person truly has more power than another because of the system of checks and balances. Shapiro is more likely to argue that the people of this country have the power because they are able to elect the electorate that runs the government, whether they are ignorant or not. Domhoff (2005) would suggest that much of the power in the American judicial system lies with the judges the president and people of the United States appoint to power. The judicial bodies are the enforcers of the laws and the people the President and everyone else turns to for information about the wrong and right way to interpret the constitution. The judicial system is responsible for much of the change that occurs among groups and within the electorate (Domhoff, 2005) because members of the judicial system are much less likely to lose their popularity or stature than the president himself, who usually turns to the people of America to support him. Putnam (2000) is also likely to agree partially with Dahl (2005) because he believes that a true democracy includes many things including a strong community, one that is inclusive and one that is interactive with the people living in communities throughout the United States. However, just because Putnam (2000) and others (Gaventa, 1980) believe the community in the United States is powerful and important, it does not mean the government functions in a way one might determine to be clearly democratic. At least not in the idealized way that Dahl (2005) describes the government.

Each other author makes a strong point. Domhoff (2005) argues the power is within the judicial system. This is not purely a pluralistic thought, but one could argue that Domhoff would support some of Dahl's theories because he believed that the power in government did not rest in one monarchy. The judicial bodies for example, do not comprise a monarchy; rather they are inclusive of many educated bodies whose purpose it is to remain neutral and preserve the sanctity of democracy in its purest state. The judicial bodies in America however, often are largely decided by the President, although the people of the United States may oppose the individual's the President appoints to the Supreme Court or to Congress.

There are many ways the community can become more inclusive. However, pluralism as defined by Dahl (2005) does not suggest that the community has as much power as it needs to in its present state (Gaventa, 1980). In order for the community to reflect purely pluralistic values as the ones described by Dahl, the community would have to have a greater interest in politics, would actively promote for equal legislation and voting rights and would eagerly step in to ensure the balance of power does not fall one way or the other. It is hard to believe however, that the modern communities of today actually act or behave in a pluralistic way. This is evidenced partially by the decreasing numbers of voters taking part in not just presidential elections, but also in many other elections including elections that would determine who would be mayor or governor of cities (Gaventa, 1980). For the community to gain ground it would have to encourage its members to become more involved, and come to better understand what the President and the government's plans are, because only then will communities have an "insider's" view on what is happening in Congress.

2. Why might Domhoff, Shapiro, Gaventa and/or Jameson be skeptical of Putnam's proposals for the revitalization of social capital in the United States? What would they recommend instead?

Domhoff, Shapiro, Gaventa and others would argue revitalization of social capital as provided by Putnam need revision because Putnam has an idealized version of what civil society looks like, one that does not accurately reflect how power is dispersed within the government or within the community.

They would recommend that a single entity or group hold much of the power, and that this group should be closely monitored by the community. The community and civic associations could establish then, a system of checks and balances… [END OF PREVIEW]

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