‘Til Tuesday – Voices Carry

Singer Aimee Mann went on to become somewhat of an indie darling after her time with this 1980s new wave group. This 1985 song had a video in regular MTV rotation, and is basically about the narrator’s love life given a series of failed relationships.

The notion in politics that voices can carry – and make a change, brings up the notion of pluralism.

The pluralist view sees public policy as the outcome of a competition between organized groups, each trying to get what their group wants. Let’s say a neighbourhood group mobilizes to save a local park from commercial development. Or a women’s group advocates for stiffer sentences for those that commit violence against women. A Christian group wanting evolution out of public school curriculum… And so it goes. These are all groups, all trying to get their demands made into public policy.

Society is viewed as a bunch of complex groups, and sure, they can bash each other with their protest signs in a competitive and open environment. But pluralism is not necessarily no-holds barred, ultimate fighting. This is because disputes among the competing groups for their views of the world are sometimes reconciled given the overlapping membership of people in various groups. For example, a group sets up to protest cuts to Medicaid, the U.S. public health program for the poor. And a member of that group may also be an employee of a medical insurance company that otherwise may stand to gain from more people needing private health insurance absent Medicaid. Both individuals in the group will at least learn both sides of the debate.

The major work and explanation on pluralism is “Who Governs?” by Robert A. Dahl. U.S. President James Madison also wrote in the Federalist Papers (No. 10) that such groups in society can be factions:

By a faction I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.

Madison worried that factions in pluralism would be up to mischief for thinking of their own, perhaps narrow interests. That their voices would carry us too far. He argued we mustn’t restrict their activities as this would violate liberty. But that the will of the majority could vote down narrow faction demands, and that a Constitution must be overarching as a safeguard against any majority tyranny.

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