Pluralism and democracy

Pluralism contributes to democracy at several levels. We will look two of them now.

At the ‘grassroots’ level, pluralism works for democracy because:

  • it allows people to develop a wide variety of attachments and associations
  • it enhances a sense of belonging and provides opportunities for people to participate actively in building the kinds of communities they want to live in
  • where effective interest groups or pressure groups are formed, people also have an increased ability to influence political decision-making.

At a direct political level, pluralism works for democracy because:

  • it allows for a variety of political parties. A sign of healthy pluralism is the operation of a range of political parties.
  • the political parties are formed around different values and beliefs, but seek to be broad-based in their membership. In other words, the membership base of parties in a pluralist society cuts across racial, class or other lines and brings people with similar convictions together.

Of course, these levels of influence are present in an ideal type of a democratic society. While most countries are unlike Bosnia and Rwanda, nevertheless there are many democratic countries where racial or ethnic-based political parties are common, and where they serve to draw attention to what divides people rather than what brings them together. The reality is that pluralism is something we have to strive towards, rather than something that automatically exists within democracy.