Pluralism (politics)

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Pluralism , understood as an empirical term in political science , describes the fact that in a political community a large number of free individuals and a variety of social forces that compete with one another are respected. The diversity is evident in competing associations and in the opinions, ideas, values ​​and world views of individuals.

Pluralism as a normative political idea means that this competition of different and opposing interests is seen as legitimate and recognized as desirable. No social group should be able to impose its conviction on others. That would jeopardize the fundamental openness of pluralistic communities. In a pluralistic society there cannot be an absolute power center; power is distributed among different institutions. Decision-making authority can also only be delegated to individual persons on a temporary basis. Minorities are protected and dissenting opinions have a legitimate place in a pluralistic society.

As an empirical theory

The US political scientist Robert Alan Dahl is regarded as a classic of the pluralism theory . In his Who Governs? (1961), a case study of political decision-making and participation processes in the city of New Haven (Connecticut) , he describes a structure of "polyarchy" and in this way arrives at the idea of ​​a pluralistic distribution of power.

This empirical description was countered in particular by Charles Wright Mills, who characterized the power structure of US society as being ruled by a power elite . More recently, the elite research has been carried out in Power Structure Research .

Franz Neumann paints a similar picture in his Behemoth analysis of German society at the time of National Socialism . According to Neumann, the normative concept of pluralism suffers from the fact that the real functioning, i.e. H. to produce generally binding decisions about the overall system, presuppose a fundamental harmony of group interests.

Sociologists such as Erwin Scheuch and Helmut Schelsky at times also created a pluralistic picture of society in the Federal Republic with his thesis of the leveled medium-sized society or René König , when he emphasizes:

"The density of the social relationships that exist in industrial society presents itself primarily as social interdependence that goes hand in hand with social differentiation, from which a plurality of priorities arises."

- René König

This point of view also applies in a pointed way to the state, which is not seen as standing above the groups, but in extreme cases represents one group among many and is shaped by this interplay of interests.

Following the Marxist tradition, Urs Jaeggi contrasted the image of the pluralistic with that of the antagonistic society, which is characterized by power imbalances and relationships of political superiority and subordination. The proponents of the pluralism thesis would have neglected to confront their normatively shaped image of society with the data already available on widespread social inequality , such as income distribution .

As a normative concept

Neumann saw the origin of the pluralistic conception in Otto von Gierke's account of German legal history, which he understood as a strange combination of Proudhon's reformist syndicalism with neo-Thomist social teachings. Parts of it were translated into English by the legal historian Frederic Maitland and Ernest Barker and made a career in Anglo-American political theory. Gierke's theory of the real association personality was taken up by the church historian Figgis in canon law and by AD Lindsay in labor law .

“We do not see the state so much as an association of individuals in their communal life; we consider it rather as an association of individuals who are already united in different groups for a more far-reaching and comprehensive purpose. "

- Ernest Barker

The state theory of National Socialism gave pluralism a strong negative polemical accent with regard to the political conditions in the Weimar Republic :

“The surrender of politics to the social powers - and in times of high capitalism that is always a clouding term for the economic powers - means the inclusion of the political in a level without the rank that makes politics possible. In summary it can be stated that under the validity of the Weimar Constitution the German state perished because it was robbed of social pluralism. "

- Ernst Forsthoff

In their works, Carl Schmitt and his pupil Ernst Forsthoff put forward the thesis that the demand for political pluralism and parliamentarism should be rejected and that a strong state that uncompromisingly realizes the Führer principle should take its place.

After the Second World War , Ernst Fraenkel contrasted pluralism, understood as “a structural element of the free democracy based on the rule of law”, with totalitarianism per se.

“Every pluralistic democracy assumes that, in order to be able to function, it not only needs procedural rules and rules of the game of fair play, but also a generally recognized code of values ​​that must contain a minimum of abstract regulatory ideas of a general nature; However, it does not believe that in politically relevant cases these regulative ideas can be sufficiently concrete and sufficiently substantiated to be immediately useful for solving current political problems. Rather, pluralism is based on the hypothesis that in a differentiated society the common good can be achieved a posteriori in the field of politics as the result of a delicate process of the diverging ideas and interests of groups and parties, always provided, to repeat this for the sake of clarity, that in their interaction and contradiction, the generally accepted, more or less abstract regulative ideas of social behavior are respected and the legally standardized procedural rules and the socially sanctioned rules of fair play are adequately observed. "

- Ernst Fraenkel

For this pluralistic conception of the state, an open and fair competition of interests and opinions is a constitutive structural principle of democracy; In this way, compromises should be sought that are fair in the majority opinion.

According to Jürgen Habermas , there is a necessary balance between the different interests as a discourse and discussion process ( deliberative democracy ). B. with the possibility of formally regulated conflicts that aim at compromise or insight. The prerequisite is that there is a visible consensus on the rules of the game under which the conflict of different interests is carried out and which are part of the above-mentioned, most general system of standards . It is also important that no relevant interest is excluded from the “market of compensation”. This is ideal and not always guaranteed (see disenchantment with politics ).

Samuel P. Huntington introduced the term clash of civilizations ( The Clash of Civilizations , New York, 1996), which has been criticized from various quarters , into the debate: While western civilizations and their, in his opinion, liberal governments, claim to be increasingly embracing democratic pluralism Wishing to enforce regions of the world, opinion leaders and government politicians in African, Latin American, Asian and Islamic societies in particular would demand a different type of pluralism, on the basis of which some totalitarian, Islamic states refuse to report human rights violations with the postulate that they are systems with equal rights whose internal policy should not be judged from outside. Other countries would refer to human rights , such as the right to work and a livelihood, which are not automatically part of the generally recognized canon of human rights. The question of whether the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the UN applies to all people and can provide a fundamental political and social pluralism, is debatable. The pluralistic alternative to the system of universal values ​​outlined by Huntington is called cultural relativism . According to this, cultural forms of behavior could only be evaluated within the framework of the respective culture, i.e. in the light of the associated social, value system and cultural understanding.


  • Axel Gehring: Freedom and pluralism: an analysis of the problem of the stability of a pluralistic society . Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1977, ISBN 3-428-03988-2 .
  • Quirin Weber: Parliament - Place of Political Decision? Legitimation problems of modern parliamentarism - illustrated using the example of the Federal Republic of Germany. Helbing Lichtenhahn Verlag , Basel 2011, ISBN 978-3-7190-3123-7 .
  • Reinhold Zippelius : General state theory / political science. 16th edition, § 26, CH Beck, Munich 2010.

Individual evidence

  1. Ernst Fraenkel : The pluralism as a structural element of the liberal-constitutional democracy. Munich / Berlin 1964, in: Works, Volume 5: Democracy and Pluralism , (edited by Alexander von Brünneck), 2007, ISBN 978-3-8329-2114-9 ( table of contents )
  2. on the current discussion: Jürgen Hartmann and Uwe Thaysen (eds), Pluralism and Parliamentarism in Theory and Practice , Winfried Steffani on his 65th birthday, Opladen 1992, ISBN 978-3-531-12326-4 .
  3. Erwin K. Scheuch: Power has many masters . In: Die Zeit, December 1, 1967, No. 48.
  4. Sociological Orientations . Cologne 1965, p. 62; quoted according to Urs Jaeggi: Power and rule in the Federal Republic . Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 1969, ISBN 3-436-01000-6 , p. 25.
  5. ^ Helge Pross: On the concept of pluralistic society . In: certificates. Theodor W. Adorno on his 60th birthday , Frankfurt am Main 1963, p. 441 ff.
  6. Urs Jaeggi: Power and rule in the Federal Republic . Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 1969, ISBN 3-436-01000-6 , p. 25 ff.
  7. ^ Otto von Gierke: The German cooperative law . 4 vols. / Franz Neumann: Behemoth. Structure and Practice of National Socialism 1933–1944. Edited and with an afterword by Gert Schäfer. Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, September 1988, ISBN 3-596-24306-8 , p. 33.
  8. ^ Ernst Fraenkel: Germany and the western democracies . 6th edition, Kohlhammer, Stuttgart / Berlin / Cologne / Mainz 1974, ISBN 3-17-001860-4 , p. 202.
  9. ^ Political Theory in England from Herbert Spencer to the Present Day . Everyman's Library 1915, pp. 175-183; quoted after Franz Neumann: Behemoth. Structure and Practice of National Socialism 1933–1944. Edited and with an afterword by Gert Schäfer. Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 1988, ISBN 3-596-24306-8 , p. 33.
  10. The total state . Hanseatische Verlagsanstalt, Hamburg 1933, p. 28.
  11. ^ Ernst Fraenkel: Germany and the western democracies . 6th edition, Kohlhammer, Stuttgart / Berlin / Cologne / Mainz 1974, ISBN 3-17-001860-4 , p. 197 ff.
  12. Germany and the Western Democracies . 6th edition, Kohlhammer, Stuttgart / Berlin / Cologne / Mainz 1974, ISBN 3-17-001860-4 , pp. 199 f.
  13. Reinhold Zippelius , Allgemeine Staatslehre, 16th edition, § 26 II