The American Pluralist Conception of Politics

  • Sheldon S. Wolin
Part of the The Hastings Center Series in Ethics book series (HCSE)


During the past two decades, roughly from 1960 to 1980, the major political institutions of this country have exhibited increasing signs of disintegration, even of collapse. The presidency is unable to generate sustained leadership and, as a result, retreats fitfully to the more secure role of manager of the executive branch and, from that redoubt, issues tired pronouncements and promises about making government more efficient and less expensive. The Congress, which has always been plagued by fragmentation, is now almost completely reduced to a feudal system in which powerful (and usually senior) senators and congressmen play the role of liege lords, and surrounded by retainers and servants in the form of staff experts (who, of course, often exercise considerable influence over their masters), they develop relations of influence and favor with lesser congressional lords, with various strategically placed bureaucratic agencies, and with the emissaries of powerful economic and social groups. Congress is not so much a “branch” of government as a honeycomb in which the maze of power and influence produces circularity rather than direction or purpose, except to manufacture honey. In the eyes of the public—as virtually every opinion poll has demonstrated—this elected branch has little credibility and less respect, even though, in constitutional theory, it is supposed to stand closest to the people. The executive branch, or administration, has grown so cumbersome and distended that the marvel is that it functions at all. It governs the society on a daily basis, which has come to mean bureaucratic regulation and bureaucratic benefit.


Interest Group American Politics Political Order Executive Branch American Petroleum Institute 
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Copyright information

© The Hastings Center 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sheldon S. Wolin
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PoliticsPrinceton UniversityPrincetonUSA

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