Saturday, May 10, 2008

Held on pluralism and Dahl

Key features of pluralism: government by minorities, constitutional resistance to faction.
  • Citizenship rights: one-person-one-vote, freedom of expression and association.
  • Constitutionalism, checks and balances, division of powers.
  • Competitive electoral system.
Classical pluralism vs. neopluralism

Who has power? Classic: diverse overlapping groups; neo: bias to corporate interests.
What is the state? Classic: a mediator; neo: the state, and even individual departments, have their own interests.
What is the nature of political resource? Classic: various, distributed, and fluid; neo: endogenously unequal.
Involvement of the citizenry? Classic: minimal enough to ensure stability; neo: goverment is not permeable to most citizens, apathy is compulsory.
Role of the international? Classic: by and large helps to uphold pluralist, free market societies; neo: dominated by multinationals and the particular interests of powerful states.

Early Dahl (1956)

For many contemporary societies, Dahl claims a deep underlying consensus, which effectively winnows down "politics" into an area of technics and details.

Dahl abstracts the constitutional form of so-called liberal democracies as "polyarchy." But for Dahl, the formal polyarchic constitutional content is trivial compared with the substantive social prerequisites of democracy. Early Dahl claims that these criteria are more or less met de facto.

Criticism: Dahl is surrendering "the rich history of the idea of democracy to the existent."

Criticism: Empirical research drew the idea of an underlying consensus into question. There seemed to be systematic ideological differentials with a significant class structure. The political polarisation during the 60s and 70s in Europe and the US was difficult to account for within the classical pluralist framework.

The classical pluralist analysis of power, as influence by A over B's action, was also criticised. Power was assigned a role previously belonging to representation. Cf. Henry Parker (the people and their parliament both are sovereign) vs. Thomas Hobbes (the body politic is so much a fiction it cannot even contract with the sovereign, only constitute itself as a fiction by contracts among its members). Cf. perhaps Sieyes, representation as constitutive of social relations. For the classical pluralists, de-juridified power in a well-behaved polyarchy could tick some of the same boxes because of overlapping membership, and the diversity, fluidity and transitivity of that power. Cf. balance of powers.

Bachrach and Baratz (1962): A's power may mobilise bias to establish / defend structures ("social and political values and institutional practices") of political process which exclude any issues whose resolution may frustrate A's interests. Cf. triangulation, social choice theory, Arrow's Impossibility Theorem, agenda setting, saliency theory (competition of emphasis), hegemony, transforming positional issues into valence issues, politics conducted in a register of morality (Mouffe).

Late Dahl

Dahl (1985): threat to liberty is not from equality (as Tocqueville suspected it would be) but from liberty of a certain kind - namely, liberty to accumulate unlimited economic resources and organise production in hierarchically governed enterprises. INEQUALITIES.

Corporate capitalism produces sharp inequalities in social and economic resources sufficient to undermine political equality and therefore democracy.

Furthermore: the capacity for Western goverments to act in the ways desired by many groups is systematically constrained by the requirements of private accumulation. Governments must ensure the prosperity of the private sector.

Democracy is embedded in a socioeconomic system which systematically privileges business interests. Dahl now argues that the normative content of democracy demands the priority of the right to self-government over the right to private property.

Political liberty requires democratisation of the workplace and a widespread system of cooperative forms of ownership.

Sectors of the state are locked into the interest structures of private corporations.

Some neo-Marxist theories of the state

Miliband (1969): the state is a crucial instrument in the maintenance of the structure of power and privilege inherent in capitalism, which routinely separates itself from ruling class factions.

Poulantzas: Miliband is humanist and subjectivist, reproducing bourgeois categories of thought. Direct participation of the capitalist class in government is unnecessary. The state is a condensation of class interests. It participates in class contradictions. It is nonetheless the subsystem which oversees the organisation of class fractions, and the political disorganisation of the working classes. It regroups the economically and politically marginal. The state bureaucracy and electoral leadership involuntarily construct national unity and simultaneous atomise the body politic.

Offe: the state is constitutively contradictory. The arbitration of interests is key to its legitimation, and tax revenue from a particular interest (accumulation), key to its material reproduction. Intervention in the economy is inevitable, yet it risks challenging the traditional basis of liberal social order.

The liberal democratic capitalist state (a) is excluded from accumulation; (b) is necessary for the function of accumulation; (c) is dependent on accumulation; (d) functions to conceal a, b & c.

The state is a reactive mechanism. Contra Miliband and Poulantzas, it is not functionally interlocked (in the long term) with the needs of capital. The manouevres of constellations may benefit the working class. The most vulnerable suffer.

Cf. Habermas in Legitimation Crisis.

Schmitter (theorist of corporatism) argues that at the very least, the validity of an unspecified number of voluntary self-determined categories is deeply questionable.

Some more on corporatism:
Financial liberalisation
Labour market liberalisation
Professionalisation and bureaucratisation of large sections of the labour movement
Contemporary corporatism: a system of interest representation organised into limited "singular, compulsory, hierarchically ordered" & functionally differentiated categories, licensed by the state to a representational monopoly.
Tripartite relation between state, employees and labour
Is tripartism displacing traditional political representative institutions? Extraparliamentary policy origins?
To be fair, it's mainly macroeconomic policy so far
It's also limited by the degree to which the trade unions produce a legitimate elite that is both amenable to corporatism

Final thoughts

Non-Marxists have come to appreciate the limits placed on popular sovereignty by massive concentrations of ownership of productive property. Vulgar marxism is marginalised, with few Marxist theorists arguing for the reduction of state activity to class categories.

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