Theoretical Models in Political Sociology
by Ted Goertzel

This is an abridged and edited version of Chapter One, "Theoretical Models in Political Sociology," from Political Society, by Ted Goertzel, a textbook published by Rand McNally in 1976 and now out of print.  I have left out the footnotes, which referred only to literature published before 1976.  The chapter reviews classic theories that are still relevant today.  This revision was done for a class at Rutgers, and is suitable for classroom use, assuming that the class will go on to discuss more recent developments.  I have not tried to update the manuscript, other than by cutting out some passages that seemed dated.

The chapter compares and contrasts three theories in political sociology:  social class theory, elite theory and pluralist theory...


Social class analysis was the first major attempt to explain political life in terms of sociological variables, so it is reasonable to consider the class model first. This is especially true because the other two models to be considered in this chapter were developed partly as counters to the social class model. Karl Marx was the first major social theorist to base his work primarily on a class model, although many of his ideas can be traced back to one or another of the earlier writers. It is the Marxian formulation of class analysis which has had the greatest influence on political sociology and which will be dealt with here. Marx's work was not limited to political sociology; indeed, much of the genius of his work lay in his attempt to comprehend the entire course of human history. Since he concluded that the basic dynamic of history could be found in economic life, his most detailed work was in economics. But his ultimate goal was to develop a theory of social change, and his model of social change was the basis of all his work. We will begin by summarizing that theory, following closely a well-known summary that Marx himself made in the introduction to one of his works.

Marx argued that men enter into social relationships independently of their wills and that their beliefs and behaviors are largely determined by the social conditions in which they find themselves. The most important of these conditions are those which are directly related to economic production, and these relationships tend to determine other aspects of social behavior and beliefs. Only in a highly affluent, technologically advanced society could men and women choose to be free. The economic conditions which determine people's social relationships vary from epoch to epoch, as economic conditions change. However, in all previous history (excepting prehistoric tribes) there has been a polarization between oppressor and oppressed. As the oppressors become better organized and more efficient, they change the economic system to make it even more exploitative. They must do this, otherwise they themselves would be destroyed by others who would. This increase in the efficiency of exploitation is the source of progress. It brings about increases in wealth and economic productivity, as well as financing advances in science and culture. However, there is a negative side as well. Social tensions increase because the noneconomic organization of society fails to change rapidly enough to fit the new economic conditions. Classes which are no longer economically useful, such as feudal lords or small businessmen or craftsmen, fight against progress in order to defend their privileged position. When these social tensions become sufficiently acute, an era of social revolution ensues and the society is changed to a more modern form. In this way the transition was made from a feudal to a capitalist society in France with the revolution of 1789. Marx expected that when economic conditions advanced fully enough there would be a similar revolutionary period and capitalist societies would be transformed into socialist societies.

Marxist theory differs on a very basic level from sociological theories - such as functionalism - which consider social order to be self-sustaining and disorder to be unusual and undesirable. Marxist theory expects tension, conflict, and change as necessary for human progress. Conflict between social classes, in particular, is viewed by the Marxist as the basic source of social evolution. Marx viewed political life as a reflection of the class struggle. When he analyzed political struggles, he viewed each of the participating parties and leaders as representatives of social classes, and he explained their behavior as resulting from their class interests. In its basic form Marxist theory has an elegant simplicity and grandeur, similar to many religious doctrines. It can be readily understood by people who are not professional social scientists. Indeed, Marx and his comrade Friedrich Engels wrote The Communist Manifesto precisely to communicate their theory to factory workers. This simplicity is often criticized by academics who are preoccupied with the subtleties and complexities of the world and mistrust any theory which seems to be guilty of "oversimplification." Marx was not concerned with the objections of these academicians, indeed he felt that their devotion to pedantic details often served to obscure basic truths about society. While the simplicity of popular versions of Marxism may have made it appeal to some people who were seeking simple answers to complex problems, Marx himself was quite capable of doing highly insightful analyses of the details of complex situations when he felt that these were called for.  Indeed, many of the points which later political critics have made, in refuting a simplistic version of "vulgar Marxism," were actually anticipated by Marx in some of his own work:

On a general level, Marxism is often criticized for placing too much emphasis on economic factors and not recognizing the complex interconnectedness of the world. This, however, does not recognize the sophistication which Marx brought to his analyses of specific historical events. Any theory draws generalizations about reality and in doing so reality must be "simplified."

More meaningful criticism goes beyond simply citing the complexity of the universe and specifies ways in which the generalizations drawn by the class theorists are inadequate. Much of this more serious criticism has been made by authors who are sympathetic with the Marxist approach . Marxist theory was developed in the nineteenth century and dealt with the social situation at that time. Marx tried to avoid making explicit predictions about the future, since he felt that our understanding of future conditions would come only after we had experienced those conditions (this is a consequence of his assumption that material conditions determine ideas). Social change has proceeded rapidly since Marx's time, however, and many of the problems with social class analysis today come from resistance on the part of some of its political supporters to modifying the model in keeping with recent changes. Perhaps the most marked change since Marx's time is the tremendous growth in the economic productivity of the developed capitalist countries. Marx anticipated this increase in productivity, but underestimated the ability of capitalists to use this wealth to buy off the working classes by giving them higher and higher wages. Marx, along with other economists of his time, based his theories on a competitive model of capitalism, and did not fully anticipate the role of monopolistic corporations. He expected that capitalists would be forced to compete with each other, and consequently to maintain their workers at a minimal level of pay. He did not anticipate the development of Keynesian economics and of effective government policies aimed at regulating the economy and avoiding crises. It is not hard to understand why Marx failed to anticipate these things. He wrote at a time, for example, when there were maximum wage laws, not minimum wage laws as there are today. The growth of the new middle class is another phenomenon which cannot be readily dealt with in classic Marxist theory.

Marxist theory is generally weak in dealing with intermediate classes or strata. Marx noted the economic decline of the craftsmen and small businessmen who made up the middle class in the early days of capitalism, and he predicted that as these groups diminished as an economic force their political role would also decline. He felt that the technological advances made under capitalism would lead to an increased polarization between a relatively unskilled factory labor force and a class of wealthy capitalists. Only in scattered references in his later work did he begin to note a new development- the growth of the new middle class.  Members of this class are still part of the working class in the strict economic sense since they earn their living by selling their labor power, but their level of education permits them to earn higher wages and maintain a style of life intermediate between that of the manual working class and that of the upper class. The role of intermediate classes or strata in political life is not easily explained by economic factors. While it has often been assumed that these classes will play a moderating role, seeking compromise between the upper class and the proletariat, this is not necessarily so. Further social changes may weaken the position of the middle class making their position more equivalent to that of manual workers. The recent surplus of college-educated workers in the United States has stimulated a growth of unionism among white- collar employees in many fields. Many white-collar employees are finding that despite their professional training they are working for large, impersonal bureaucracies where their economic position can be improved only through united action. The working-class pattern that these white-collar workers are assuming, however, is not the revolutionary one that Marx hoped for, and predicted, but a class conflict which has been legalized, regulated, and made a part of the existing social system.

Rather than being resolved through major confrontations, conflicts are regularized and accepted as part of the normal course of events. Means of dealing with them are developed which contribute to a more stable social order than one in which the dominant group simply imposes its will on the weaker. Conflicts are never ultimately re- solved in this way, but neither do they lead to revolutionary upheavals. Marx, of course, was aware of the possibilities of conflicts being handled in this way, but he felt that such solutions could only be temporary. Today, theorists in the Marxist tradition such as Marcuse are grappling with the possibility that advanced industrial societies will be able to contain indefinitely the conflicts which Marx thought would lead to revolutionary change.  The great increase in international inequality is another historical change which requires modifications in classical Marxist theory. In today's world inequality is often more pronounced between countries than it is between social strata in the same country. While Marx did not deal extensively with this topic, it has been thoroughly studied by liberal writers such as Hobson, and their findings have been incorporated into Marxist theory by Lenin and others.


Elite theory in political sociology was advanced in direct response to Marxism. The early elite theorists were conservatives who were opposed not only to socialism, but also to liberal democracy as expressed by any movement which attempted to give the masses of the population a greater influence on political affairs.", They argued that elites were necessary and inevitable and that any revolution which pretended to abolish elites would end up by simply replacing one elite with another. Elite theorists use two basic lines of argument. First, they argue that certain aspects of human nature make elites inevitable. Second, they argue that elites are necessary for any social organization to function effectively.

Human Nature and Elites

Elite theorists often emphasize differences in inherent abilities as a source of elites. All people are not created equal: some are stronger, more intelligent, more artistic, etc. Those who have the most of a certain kind of ability constitute a sort of elite such as the elite of chess grand masters or of concert pianists. Of course, not all abilities lead to economic wealth or political power. However, those people who have the most of the particular abilities which a society rewards become the political elite. In some societies, a talent for corruption may be a prerequisite for entering the elite. Abilities are distributed continuously; that is, there is no sharp division between the people who are at the top with respect to a given ability and those who are on the bottom. Vilfredo Pareto, who was an econometrician as well as an elite theorist, assumed that abilities were distributed on a smooth curve similar to the distribution of income.  In his work on elites, however, he divided societies into two discrete groups: the elite and the mass. This cannot be explained by his analysis of abilities. There are other problems with an analysis based on differences in abilities. It is difficult to measure abilities, and even when there is some measure, it is difficult to show that those with the most ability are to be found at the top. Frequently, entire ethnic, racial, or sexual groups are absent from elite positions. If one assumes that membership in the elite is determined by ability, then one can only explain this by arguing that the excluded groups are inherently inferior. Even if there are no groups which are excluded or under- represented, it is too easy for critics of elites to point to cases where highly qualified persons are excluded from elite status, while less competent individuals with the right social background and connections maintain their status.

Elite theorists have, therefore, turned to other factors than abilities to explain the persistence and necessity of elites. Personality differences can be used as an explanation of why some people are in the elite and others are not. Conservative theorists generally assume, explicitly or implicitly, that human nature is fixed and unchanging. This assumption enables them to argue that existing social institutions, which they wish to protect, cannot be improved upon because they reflect innate human behavior. This argument often goes along with an emphasis on the irrational bases of human behavior. Of course, radical thinkers such as Marx also recognized the irrational components in the behavior of many people who supported political leaders and policies which were not in their interest. But Marx thought that irrationally would eventually be overcome and that people would learn to behave rationally.

Pareto developed an elaborate theory of social behavior based on the assumption that most behavior is determined by irrational "residues" deep within the human psyche. These residues are basic principles which underlie nonlogical thought and action. Pareto did not attempt to explain how the residues came about because he believed that they corresponded to changeless human instincts; he did, however, use his theory of residues to explain persistent common elements in nonlogical beliefs (the "derivations"). The two residues which are central to Pareto's theory of elites are the "instinct for combinations" and the "persistence of aggregates." These two residues are opposites. The first refers to the tendency to discover or establish relationships between things and ideas. This includes relationships of similarity or difference, cause and effect, magical relationships, logical relationships, analogies, and all other intellectual models of relationships. The persistence of aggregates is the tendency to resist changes in these combinations. This includes stable, traditional beliefs which are the irrational bases of social order. Change and stability depend on the relative influence of these two classes of residues. Individuals who are influenced by the instinct for combinations can be characterized as speculative, intelligent, shrewd, or resourceful (foxes in Machiavelli's analogy). Those who display the persistence of aggregates are stolid, forceful, conservative, moralistic, or traditionalistic (lions).

Usually, the governing elite is dominated by the instinct for combinations, while the masses are dominated by the persistence of aggregates. This is a stable situation, since the masses are not likely to have enough initiative to challenge the rule of the elites. If both the elite and the masses are dominated by the residue of persistence of aggregates, the society will be stagnant; the elite will probably rule through force since it will lack the cleverness necessary to rule through more subtle means. Too much instinct for combinations among the masses on the other hand leads to instability, especially if the elite has "degenerated" into humanitarianism and fails to use force to maintain order. It is important for elites to be open to a certain amount of upward mobility from the masses so that those among the masses who are born with a high degree of instinct for combinations will be able to rise to the top. Today, this process is called "co-optation." If this "circulation of elites," with a certain number of the least effective elite members moving down as well, fails to take place, there may be a revolution as the elite loses its vitality and gets replaced by a group of those who had been kept out.

Social Organization and Elites

There is also a sociological argument that elites are necessary for a large social organization to function. To a degree this has even been accepted by Marxists. Marx accepted the necessity of a "dictatorship of the proletariat" after the Communists had taken power in order to suppress those who would attempt to restore their privileged position in the old society. V. I. Lenin, who led the first communist movement to actually win state power, did so on the basis of his theory that only an elitist party of professional revolutionaries, with strict discipline and control by a small central committee, could be efficient enough to win power from the capitalists.  Marx, however, argued that once socialism had been established in conditions of affluence, coercion would no longer be necessary and everyone could share in the administration of common affairs. Exactly how this would be done was never specified, however, and the history of the Soviet Union after the Communist Party took power certainly provided ammunition for the argument that a revolution which intended to abolish elites would simply replace one elite with another. This might be explained as resulting from the avowedly elitist organizational structure which the party needed in order to take power. Elitist tendencies can also be found, however, even in political parties which are deeply committed to democratic ideals and which operate in a society that allows opposition political parties to function freely. Robert Michels made an extensive study of oligarchical tendencies in political parties, basing most of his analysis on the history of the German Social Democratic party, a working class party strongly committed to democratic ideas.  He felt that by showing the prevalence of oligarchical rule in an avowedly democratic organization he was making a critical test of elitist theory. Michels thought that there were three basic causes of oligarchical tendencies---organizational necessities, characteristics of the leaders, and characteristics of the masses.

A complex organization requires highly trained and experienced leaders. An organization engaged in conflict with other groups needs to be able to make quick decisions and to command the organization's resources in carrying out those decisions. These organizational demands encourage the development of a professionalized, stable leadership group. These leaders find their job situation quite rewarding, both in salary and in working conditions. This is especially true in labor organizations since the gap in living standards, working conditions, and prestige is great between the leaders and the rank and file. Leaders are likely to perceive an improvement in their own living condition as representative of a general improvement in society, and consequently to become more conservative. In the German socialist party prominent leaders were usually elected members of parliament, where they relied on the support of many voters who were not party members. This enabled them to be relatively independent of the party organization and members; they had more to offer the party than the party had to offer them. The masses tend to be relatively apathetic as long as the organization is producing reasonable benefits for them. Often, they have deferential attitudes toward the leadership; but even if they were unhappy with their leaders, it would be too much trouble to do anything about it. These processes create what Michels called the "iron law of oligarchy," a tendency for small ruling elites to emerge and persist in complex organizations.

This same point was made by Max Weber in his highly influential theory of bureaucratization.  Weber felt that bureaucratic administrations could not be abolished by any kind of socialist or anarchist revolution since if they did so the society would cease to operate. He did see possibilities for change, however, largely through the mechanism of a charismatic leader. A charismatic leader emerges during periods of crisis or social breakdown when things aren't working right and people look for a solution which is outside the normal routine of social life. They seek a leader with outstanding personal qualities in whom they can place their trust. While Weber was an intense German nationalist during World War I, he was also a liberal and did not live long enough to see Adolph Hitler become the terrible incarnation of his concept of the charismatic leader. Robert Michels did live long enough to leave the socialist movement and seek salvation from Benito Mussolini. Pareto, also, was sympathetic to the fascist movement, and his works were used as part of the theoretical underpinnings of fascism. Elite theory, with its emphasis on strength and leadership, has a natural affinity with fascism just as social class theory has an affinity with socialism and pluralist theory with liberal democracy.

Not all elite theorists, however, moved into totalitarianism; one of the most prominent, Gaetano Mosca, was able to reconcile his theory of elites with a belief in a limited form of liberal democracy.  The critical differences between political systems, in Mosca's view, depend largely on the organization of two strata within the elite - those at the very top and a larger group of people who are not part of the ruling clique at the moment but nevertheless have considerable power and resources.   Less capable families drop out of the top group, and more capable members of the second group rise to the top. This sort of mobility, which Pareto called the "circulation of the elites" is healthy up to a point. If all could compete equally for the position at the top, however, the struggle for power would use too much social energy for too little social benefit.  Indeed, it may be necessary for families to be in an elite position for several generations for them to develop the virtues needed for leadership in their children. This line of argument has been applied to more modern events by Karl Mannheim.   Mannheim argued that one of the reasons for the growth of fascism in Europe was the weakness of the elites. There was an increase in the number of elite groups due to the increasing complexity of society. This means that the elites became less exclusive and no one was really able to influence events in the societies. The elites were not sufficiently insulated from the masses and were not able to cultivate cultural and intellectual differences. The anti-intellectualism of the masses became popular in elite circles, the quality of intellectual and artistic work declined, while intellectuals became so numerous that their social prestige declined. After fleeing Germany,

Mannheim was impressed by the British social system which maintained a stable elite through its aristocratic traditions, while still recruiting an adequate amount of fresh blood. Too much democracy could lead to dictatorship, and a dictatorship which rules over a relatively literate and sophisticated population must be an authoritarian one since it cannot rely on the passivity and ignorance of the large majority of the population. England was Mosca's ideal also, and it is easy to see how someone who feared the success of a totalitarian movement based on support from frustrated, uneducated masses might feel that a stable, aristocratic elite on the English model could best provide some stability to society.


Just as social class theory is congruent with socialism and elite theory with fascism, pluralism is the theory of modern liberal democracy. Pluralists are generally pleased with contemporary American political institutions and feel that America can serve as an example of the good society. While pluralism lacks much of the intellectual force of Marxism or of the classical elite theories, it is of great importance because of its dominant position in American political science and especially in mass education. Pluralism is what is taught to most American school children about the political system. The pluralist model of politics was developed largely by political scientists, although it is essentially based on certain sociological principles. More recently, it has been defended by some prominent sociologists as well. Pluralist theory does not make use of the whole range of sociological thinking; it passes over theories of social class or of bureaucratization and turns instead to the sociology of small groups. What the pluralists have done is to take basic ideas from the study of small person-to-person groups and attempt to generalize them to the societal level. This is, on the face of it, a surprising idea and one which few sociologists of small groups would attempt.

The most comprehensive modern statement of pluralist theory is The Governmental Process by David Truman. Truman's book is largely based on, and mimics the title of, Arthur Bentley's The Process of Government.  Bentley and Truman start with the assumption that the group is the basic unit of political life. This means that politics cannot be explained by reference to feelings, attitudes, or ideas since these result from group life. Nor can politics be explained by the study of leaders, since these leaders reflect group interests and their behavior cannot be understood except from the perspective of group analysis. Since groups are so basic, Truman begins with a review of basic principles of group life taken largely from introductory sociology and social psychology texts. Groups are the basic unit of social analysis because of the uniformities of behavior which characterize group members. These uniformities result from the relationships, or interactions, between members of the group.

All of this is elementary social psychology; the distinctiveness of the pressure-groups approach lies in its attempt to generalize from a sociological theory of small groups to a theory of politics on a societal level. Truman does this by referring to "institutionalized groups," which are stable and maintain themselves in relative equilibrium for long periods of time. These groups cannot always maintain themselves in equilibrium without making claims on other groups. When they make these claims, they are defined as "interest groups." The interests which these groups defend are shared attitudes, and forms of behavior which are implied by the attitudes. Thus, it is possible to identify potential interest groups, where large numbers of people share common attitudes even though they are not organized into an interest group. They may become organized if their interests are threatened.

One of the most important types of interest groups is the "association," which is defined in an unusual way. The association is a group which results from "tangent relations," or from the fact that individuals can be members of more than one group. Associations are formed when a "considerable number" of people have similar tangent relations. The purpose of the association is to regulate the relationships of tangent groups. Examples of associations include the Parent-Teachers Associations, where the school and the family groups are tangentially related through the child. Also included would be executives of two automobile companies who are tangentially related through their employees who belong to the same union. They both interact with the same labor leaders. It would be hard to argue, however, that there would be no association of automobile manufacturers if their employees were not unionized or belonged to different unions. It could be argued, of course, that automobile executives are tangentially related in other ways, since tangency is defined very loosely, ". . . tangency between groups may exist not only through an individual, but through a third group by which the tangent groups are similarly affected or through a common technique."  Given this broad definition, it would be difficult to cite two groups which do not have "tangent relations." The vagueness of this key concept results from the difficulty, never adequately resolved, of bridging the gap between small groups and societal structures.
 When Truman begins discussing actual interest groups and associations in American politics, he is forced to put them into categories. This is difficult for him to justify on a theoretical basis since to use a category such as "business groups" presumes a community of interest which may not exist. Business groups may spend as much time fighting each other as they do dealing with other groups. And, of course, individuals may belong to diverse groups with conflicting aims. However, when all the dangers of classification have been pointed out, it is still necessary to talk in terms of types of interest groups if one is to say anything intelligible about American political life, and Truman ends up with essentially economic categories. Most of his discussion centers on labor organizations, trade associations, and agricultural groups. The others are lumped together as "other organizational beginnings," including professional' associations, "cause" organizations, veterans' and women's groups. Thus, when Truman expands the group perspective to the national scene, he is forced to fall back on categories which are closer to Marxism than to social psychology.

Pluralist theory does not place much emphasis on the nature of the government itself or of the men, and occasionally women, who control it. The theory asserts that government is a differentiated, representative group which performs governing functions for the rest of society. Thus, the government has relatively little freedom of action; it is more often in a position of reacting to initiatives and pressures from other groups. Truman has a chapter on "The Ordeal of the Executive," and places emphasis on the President's role in ". . . effecting a continuous adjustment of the diverse interests within the nation . . . .". The constitutional powers of the President are limited, and he cannot be effective unless he has the support of Congress and of department heads. He wins this loyalty by catering to the group interest and affiliations of these leaders. Truman cites many incidents to show the limits of the President's control even over agencies and departments over which he has formal control. The chief source of limitations on his power in the examples cited is the Congress, which controls these agencies both through statute and through appropriations. Congress, of course, acts under the influence of groups. Pluralist theorists do not directly deny the elitist argument a relatively small group of people at the center actually carry out day-to-day processes of governing in a society or within a smaller group.

Some pluralists prefer to avoid the term "elite" and refer to the "active minority" (Truman) or "homo politicos" (Dahl). But they do recognize the importance of leadership groups, especially within pressure groups. Arnold Rose, the leading defender of pluralism within sociology, recognized the necessity of using terms like "elite" and "leaders" and admitted that there is a small active core in any group.  However, pluralists do not accept the strict dichotomy between "elite" and "mass"; instead they argue that there is a gradation from highly active to relatively inactive members in any group. And again, they emphasize limitations placed on the elite's freedom of action. Interest-group leaders must satisfy their constituents that they are doing a reasonable job, and they must conform to limitations on what they can do. They may resort to internal propaganda in attempts to influence their members, but the effectiveness of this is limited unless they "deliver the goods" to their supporters. If the membership becomes incensed because of some change in government policy, or because of a change in social conditions, they may compel the leaders to take militant action.

Rose claimed that power could not be readily transferred from one area of society to another: political power is distinct from economic power, power over school systems is not power over foreign policy. In opposition to this, elite and social-class analysts emphasize the extent to which the same people exercise power in all sectors of society: the same men sit on corporate boards of directors, boards of trustees of universities, and on key councils which advise the President on foreign affairs. The extent to which power is unified in the persons of powerful individuals is a key question of fact which is argued by exponents of the opposing theoretical models. However, the lack of comparative benchmarks lends an air of unreality to much of the debate. For there is clearly some pluralism and some concentration of power in every political system, and society can be judged relatively pluralist or relatively elitist only against some standard. If the only standard which exists is the ideal of a completely egalitarian society, then any system will appear to have a concentration of power. On the other hand, if one adopts as a countermodel a society where power is vested in a tiny, monolithic, conspiratorial clique, almost any society will appear pluralistic.

Pluralism is the most comprehensive of the three major models in political sociology. Indeed, almost any social cleavage can be included in the pluralist model. But a model is useful only when it narrows down the field of study and specifies which factors are crucial to an analysis. Pluralist theory complements elite theory by drawing attention to the secondary levels of leadership, and to how the diversity which exists on this level reflects broad social divisions. However, when pluralists descend from the broad theoretical level to deal in specifics, they often fall back on social classes as a key source of "pluralism" in society. Any society will appear pluralistic if one goes no further than to refer to the multiplicity of groups which exist without any attempt to classify them or to estimate their relative degrees of power. The very generality of the pluralist model strongly limits its usefulness in doing this. The critical question is not whether a society is elitist or pluralist, but what are the important social divisions and how do they relate to the exercise of power?


The three theoretical models which have been discussed in this chapter are all reasonably persuasive; there have been and still are learned defenders of each of them. Each has weaknesses which make it susceptible to serious criticism, but there is usually a way to respond to this criticism by making modifications in the model without abandoning its most central assumptions.

During the 1960's the political climate changed radically as a result of the black revolt and American intervention in Vietnam. The dominance of pluralism came under strong attack as it became clear to more and more people that power was concentrated in elite groups which were not always responsive to the pressures of groups seeking social change. Young social scientists who were in college during the peak of the youth movements of the 1960's saw pluralism as an apologia for the status quo, and began to seek other explanations for the ills of the system. Today, the dominance of pluralism has been broken. The argument which Truman and other pluralists made that elites have little effect on political decision-making did not survive the Vietnam era. During the 1950's studying the elite in the United States was considered vaguely subversive although studies of elites in the socialist or Third World countries were quite respectable. By the late 1960's even the pluralists were talking of the "pluralism of elites" and conceding that many groups were excluded from effective participation in decision-making. While pluralism has lost its dominant position, no other theoretical model has assumed a similar degree of acceptance.

Marxism enjoyed a considerable renaissance in the 1970s, but it has not proven its adequacy to deal with the political conflicts of the late 1960's and early 1970's. Marx's economic theory focused largely on the conflict between workers and owners, and his theory of the evolution of the capitalist system over long periods of time emphasized the polarization of class conflict into these two groups. Many political issues such as the black revolt, the youth movement, the environmental crisis, and the women's movement were not predicted by those who were using Marxist models of thought any more than they were by pluralists. Long-term changes in class systems do generally reflect economic changes; but at a detailed level, and at a specific point in time, it is necessary to consider many aspects of social inequality which cannot be immediately reduced to their economic origins.

The study of elites has been generally accepted as an essential part of political sociology, and debate has focused on more empirical questions such as the nature, composition, and behavior of elites. Class analysis is generally accepted, also, although there remain many differences about the origins of and the necessity for class inequality. Pluralism has lost most of its claim to being adequate as a portrayal of contemporary American society (and it never claimed to be an explanation of most other societies), but much of the empirical work done by pluralists is increasingly appreciated by people whose understanding of the larger system is different. The basic ethical and philosophical values which underlie many of the differences have not, of course, been resolved. The socialist assumption that human nature can be improved cannot be reconciled with a conservative belief that it is innately determined. The liberal belief that political institutions should limit themselves to mediating disputes between existing interest groups cannot be reconciled with a radical desire to use political power to redistribute wealth and fundamentally reorganize society. But on the more mundane level of social research, the three perspectives can often be effectively combined.

Photos are of sculptures that were on display in the (former) Millenium Dome, Greenwich, England