Relevance of pluralism



February 19, 2022

M Ali Siddiqi talks about an important subject of Relevance of pluralism

Relevance of pluralism in the ‘in’ word in the current political setting of a nation-state as it has the potential to adequately describe the dominant description and ideal of modern political process. One of the cardinal reasons of failure of the Pakistani polity to develop a stable socio-political balance is the lack of pluralism in the country. Pluralism, in current parlance, portrays the system as a balance of power among overlapping economic, religious, ethnic and geographical groupings. Each group has some voice in shaping socially binding decisions; each constrains and is constrained through the processes of mutual group adjustment; and all major groups share a broad system of beliefs and values which encourages conflict to proceed within established channels and allows initial disagreements to dissolve into compromised solutions. Pluralism is celebrated not because it performs any single function perfectly but because it is said to promote, more effectively than any other known alternative, a plurality of laudable societal ends pursued by various social segments.
Pluralist politics combines the best features from the individualistic liberalism, social conservatism and participatory democracy. The individual’s active involvement in group life enables him to develop the language, deliberative powers and sense of purpose which make up a fully developed personality. His access to a multiplicity of groups promotes a diversity of experience and interests and enables him to reach alternative power centers. Society as a whole also benefits from pluralism. The system of multiple group pressures provides reasonable assurance that most important problems and grievances will be channeled to governmental arenas for debate and resolution.
The involvement of individuals in politics through group association gives most citizens a stake in the society and helps to generate the loyalties needed to maintain a stable regime with the minimum of coercion. Stability is further promoted because public policy outcomes tend to reflect the distribution or balance of power among groups in the society. Most importantly, innovation and change are also possible in pluralist politics. New groups, created by changes in economic processes or population distribution, can articulate new perspectives and preferences which will eventually seep into the balancing process, affecting the shape of political conflicts and the direction of issue resolution.
Pluralism has been justified as a system which develops individual capacities, protects individual rights and freedoms, identifies important social problems and promotes a politics of incremental change while maintaining a long-term stability based on consent. The intellectual roots of pluralist theory reach back to Aristotle and subsequent thinkers stipulated basic preconditions to the successful operation of pluralist politics. Some of these conditions persist today, for example, the universal suffrage, the competing parties and the independent judiciary.
A viable pluralism encourages among its citizens a widespread participation in politics which originates in the lowest classes and extends successively to all ranks of society. Such widespread involvement is necessary because no one will ever believe that a liberal, wise, and energetic government can ever spring from the suffrages of a subservient people. It is often observed that only a small minority of citizens, mostly from upper socioeconomic-educational brackets, participate actively in the political parties and interest groups of contemporary politics but the vital aspect is that it is a voluntary association that becomes a key agency for developing personality, protecting liberties and channeling grievances to government.
Nowadays, however, the emergence of the large-scale, hierarchical organisation has significantly altered the character of the voluntary association. It advances the claims of some of its members more forcefully than it does those of others; and the individual’s dependence on the structure within which he works may inhibit his opportunities to seek support from other units in times of stress. Moreover, the increased size and formalisation required to make the voluntary association effective in contemporary politics alter the relationship between members and leaders envisaged by the classical ideal of pluralism.
Pluralism is the system of decentralised administration aimed at muting and taming the power of central government. It must, however, be noted that the combination of deep involvement in world politics with national problems of economy management, transportation, communication, poverty, urban slums and ghetto riots has produced a tightening and enlarging of political and administrative processes. The stakes of politics are higher today and the earlier safety valves are largely defunct yet a widely dispersed and locally owned media has emerged as the most powerful weapon within every man’s reach which the weakest and loneliest of them all may use.
Some variant of pluralist theory provides the most adequate framework for understanding the contemporary political process. Two broad types of pluralist interpretation can be distinguished. The first, typically advanced by political scientists, views the government as the arena where major group conflicts are debated and resolved. The second, more often advanced by economists and sociologists, sees major social associations, especially organised labour and the corporation, involved in a balancing process which operates largely outside of government; the government acts more as umpire than as participant, setting rules for conflict resolution and moving in to redress the imbalance when one group goes too far.
In the current of Relevance of pluralism affairs of a nation-state, government is the crucial arena for the study of power as it is crucial because its controls are relatively powerful. In a wide variety of situations, in a contest between governmental controls and other controls, the governmental controls will probably prove more decisive than competing controls. It is, therefore, reasonable to assume that in a wide variety of situations whoever controls governmental decisions will have significantly greater control over policy than individuals who do not control governmental decisions. It is considered advisable to ensure that there is no ruling class or power elite which dominates government over a wide range of issues; rather, there are numerous bases for political power in society such s wealth, prestige, strategic position, voting power and while each resource is distributed unequally, most identifiable groups in the system have and make use of advantages in one or more of these areas.
The Relevance of pluralism competitive party system plays a major role in maintaining the system of pluralism. Since the ruling party is always exposed to the risks of hostile takeover therefore the ruling party will attempt to create new issues which will shift marginal voters to its side both parties and the result would be that all parties will constantly strive to increase their support among the major social and sectional groupings in the country. The result is a broad range of marginal interests whose preferences must be taken into account by leaders in making policy choices ensuring preponderance of pluralism. In this context, observation of issue resolution in the governmental arenas reveals a decentralised bargaining process which involves numerous competing and overlapping minorities but this bargaining is merely the chaff of politics as the social cement and constraints which make peaceful bargaining possible are found elsewhere.
Before Relevance of pluralism, conditioning it is the underlying consensus on policy that usually exists in the society among a predominant portion of the politically active members. Without such a consensus no democratic system will survive the endless irritations and frustrations of elections and party competition. It is an acknowledged fact that a minority of citizens actively participate in politics but since the active minorities represent a large number of social groupings, since all organised, active, legitimate, and persistent groups have a voice in the process, and since the consensus which underlies and controls conflict resolution is a collective product of the whole society, a pluralist system of politics exists that brings advantage to all stakeholders. TW

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M Ali Siddiqi is a writer who contributes to leading periodicals


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