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PSC 201: American Government

Serow (ed) Lanahan Readings in the American Polity, 3/e

Part 11: Interest Groups, Student Outlines

compiled from student contributions (thanks) by Jeremy Lewis.  Last revised 12/3/17.
52: Alexis de Tocqueville, "Democracy in America (Groups)"
53: EE Schattschneider, "Semisovereign People"
54: Theodore Lowi, "End of Liberalism"
55: Jeffrey Birnbaum, "Lobbyists"
52: Alexis de Tocqueville from “Democracy in America”
By Steven Witt, 2004
  • Alexis de Tocqueville was a young French aristocrat who observed and became fascinated with how naturally Americans formed “associations”.
  • Tocqueville believed that group allegiances gave people the power to work together to achieve common goals and because these interest groups were meeting freely out in the open, Americans were able to advance their views.
  • The principle of association has not been more successful in any other country than in our very own United States, government or private.
  • Tocqueville relates young childhood games and rules to our everyday laws proving that even as young children we submit to our own rules and we punish those misdemeanors which they themselves defined.
  • In the United States, associations are established to promote public order, commerce, industry, morality, and religion.
  • An association unites the efforts of minds which have a tendency to deviate in one single channel, and urges them robustly towards the one single end which it points out.
  • When associations establish centers of action at certain points in the country, the activity and influence are greatly extended.
  • Associations can be classified as, “a government within a government”.
  • Tocqueville sums this up by saying, “The most natural privilege of man, next to the right of acting for himself, is that of combining his exertions with those of his fellow-creatures, and of acting in common with them. I am therefore led to conclude that the right association is almost as inalienable as the right of personal liberty…”.

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    52: Alexis de Tocqueville from “Democracy in America”
    by Adena Cosby, 2003

  • A young French Aristocrat observed how naturally Americans form “associations”.
  • Groups were formed to promote: public safety, commerce, industry, morality, and religion.
  • Tocqueville believed that group allegiances gave people the power to work together to reach shared goals.
  • Societies are formed to resist enemies which are exclusively of a moral nature, and to diminish the vice of intemperance.
  • Associations consist of the public assent which a number of individuals give to certain doctrines and contract to promote the spread of these doctrines by their exertions.
  • Associations unites the efforts of minds which have a tendency to diverge in one single channel, and urges them vigorously towards the one single end which it points out.
  • The power of meeting – when an association is allowed to establish centers of action at certain important points in the country, its activity is increased, and its influence extended.
  • The partisans of opinion may unite in electoral bodies and choose delegates to represent them in a central assembly.
  • A society is formed between individuals professing the same opinion and the tie which keeps together is of a purely intellectual nature.

  • The most natural privilege of man is that of combining his exertions with those of his fellow creatures and of acting in common with them.  Tocqueville believes that right of association is almost as inalienable as the right of personal liberty.

    52: Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (Interest Groups)
    Tiffany Holley, 2002

    -Groups were formed "to promote the public safety, commerce, industry, morality, and religion."
    -The citizen of the U.S. is taught to rely upon his own exertions, in order to resist the evils and the difficulties of life.
        -He looks upon the social authority with an eye of mistrust and anxiety, and he only claims its assistance when he is quite unable to shift without it.
    -Societies are formed to resist enemies which are exclusively of a moral nature, and to diminish the vice of intemperance.
    -In the United States associations are established to promote public order, commerce, industry, morality and religion.
    -Association consists simply in the public assent which a number of individuals give to certain doctrines.
    -When an association is allowed to establish centres of action at certain important points in the country, its activity is increased, and  its influence extended.
    -The partisans of an opinion may unite in electoral bodies, and choose delegates to represent them in a central assembly.

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    E.E. Schattschneider “Semisovereign People”
    Notes by Bianca Scott, Fall 2009 *believes there are 2 kinds of politics
     1) Party (large scale)
     2) Pressure (small scale)
    *because of how country was at the beginning of the 20th century, it seemed only logical for political scientists to try to develop a group theory of politics
     ~In other words explain everything in terms of group activity
    * Schattschneider says that problem with doing this is that it is too complex and does not have a shape or mold
    *in order to do this properly, one must take into account the differences between….
     1) public interest groups vs special interest groups
     2) organized vs unorganized
    *public interest groups refers to the community having a common issue
     -no community without at least one common interest
     -no nation w/out a national interest
    Does a national interest truly exist?
     -yes, i.e. national defense
     -everyone doesn’t mind government spending money in order to ensure domestic security
     -since this is an issue shared by all, then it cannot be labeled as “special”
    *special interest groups have much fewer members
    -exclude many people
    *Example of Distinguishing Between the Two*
    -American League to Abolish Capital Punishment (ALACP) vs National Association of Manufacturers
      1) anyone can join ALACP
      2) ALACP does not benefit just its members
    *Organized and unorganized refers to how often the group interacts with each other
    -makes a big difference
    *using this 4-way method to estimate the scope of the system gives us boundaries to define
    *in the end the only groups that can truly be studied are the ones that make up the pressure system
    *Pressure System
    - the organized, special interest groups
    -very small groups made up of business and upper-class people giving this system an upper-class bias
    ~made up of these kinds of people because of money and the interests they all tend to share
    -they are known, identifiable, and exclusive;  making them easiest to study
    *In actuality, 90% of Americans cannot get into pressure groups because of how selective the politics are

    53: E. E Schattschneider : The Semi sovereign People
    Tiffany Holley, 2002

    -The late 1950's and early 1960's was a time when political scientist placed their focus on
    the interest group theory of American politics.
    -Interest group politics was studied intensely, sometimes to be idealized as the perfect
    model of gov't and other times critiqued as the downfall of democracy.
    -Today, vastly different degrees of organization, financial resources and intensity separate
    interest group claimants in the competition for getting their issues heard by the gov't.
    -The basic issue between the two patterns of organization is one size and scope of conflict;
    pressure groups are small-scale organizations while political parties are very large-scale
    organizations.
    -The outcome of the political game depends on the scale on which it is played.
    -Pressure groups have played a remarkable role in American politics, but they have played
    an even more remarkable role in American political theory.
    -An attempt to formulate a universal group theory.
    -One difficulty running through the literature of the subject results from the attempt to explain
    everything in terms of the group theory.
    -Other difficulties have grown out of the fact that group concepts have been stated in terms
    so universal that the subject seems to have no shape or form.
    -We might clarify our ideas if...
    -We explore more fully the possibility of making a distinction between public interest groups
    and special-interest
    groups.
    -We distinguished between organized and unorganized groups.
    -The distinction between public and private interests is a thoroughly respectable one.
    -The public interest refers to general or common interest shared by all or by substantially all
    members of the community.
    -National interests do exist.
    -Consensus- the body of common agreement found in the community without which it is
    believed that no democratic system can survive.
    -Special interests-shared by only a few people or a fraction of the community; they exclude
    others and may be adverse to them.
    -The advantage of concentrating on organized groups is that they are known, identifiable and
    recognizable.
    -The advance of concentrating on special-interest groups is that they have one important
    characteristic in common: they are exclusive.
    -Pressure system- has boundaries we can define; we can fix its scope and make an attempt
    to estimate its bias.
    -The dominance of business groups in the pressure system is so marked that it probably
    cannot be explained away as an accident of the publishing industry.
    -The class bias of associational activity gives meaning to the limited scope of the pressure
    system, because scope and bias are aspects of the same tendency.
    -The pressure system makes sense only as the political instrument of a segment of the community.
    -It gets results by being selective and biased.
    -Special interest organizations are most easily formed when they deal with small numbers of
    individuals who are acutely aware of their exclusive interests.
    -Pressure politics is essentially the politics of small groups.
    -Pressure politics is a selective process ill designed to serve diffuse interests. The system is
    skewed, loaded, and unbalanced in favor of a fraction of a minority.
    -The outcome of pressure politics and party politics will be vastly different.
     
     

    E.E. Schattschneider “Semisovereign People”
    Notes by Sean Kent, Fall 2017


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    54: Theodore Lowi: The End of Liberalism
    Tiffany Holley, 2002, [with additions by Jeremy Lewis, Fall 2008]

    -Interest-group liberalism
    -Liberalism because:

    -Its optimistic about gov't, expects to use gov't in a positive and expansive role, is motivated
    by the highest sentiments, and possesses a strong faith that what is good for gov't is good for society.
    -Interest-group liberalism because:
    -It sees as both necessary and good a policy agenda that is accessible to all organized
    interests and makes no independent judgment of their claims.
    -It defines the public interest [just as the] amalgamation of various claims.
    -Interest-group liberalism turns out to be a vulgarized version of the pluralist model of modern
    political science.
    1-Organized interests are homogeneous and easy to define.
    2-Organized interests emerge in every sector of our lives and adequately represent most of
    those sectors, so that one organized group can be found effectively answering and checking some other organized group as it seeks to prosecute its claims against society.
    3-The role of gov't is one of insuring access to the most effectively organized, and of ratifying
    the agreements and adjustments worked out among the competing leaders.
    -Interest-group liberalism had the approval of political scientists because it could deal with
    so many of the realities of power.
    -It helps create the sense that power need not be power at all, control need not be control,
    and gov't need not be coercive.
    -The Requirement of Standards has been replaced by the requirement of participation.
    -Requirement of law has been replaced by the requirement of contingency.
    -As a result, the ends of pluralism are nothing more than sentiments
    -Practices of gov't are likely to change only if there is a serious reexamination of the theoretical components of the public philosophy and if that reexamination reveals basic flaws in the theory.
    -Among the many charges to be made against pluralism, the following 3 probably best
    anticipate the analysis to come.
    1-The pluralist system is not really self-corrective.  [more notes added by Jeremy Lewis, Fall 2008]
  • [Groups may not be confronted by other groups
  • there may not be overlapping membership
  • equilibrium boes not occur at a legitimate level]
  • [2. pluralism unable to cope with problem of imperfect competition or oligopoly, e.g. when a program is sent to a specialized agency and only a few groups compete there.
    3 . Pluralists idealize the group, more than economist idealizes the firm.  To Madison, groups were a necessary evil.  To modern pluralists, groups are good.  So, Pluralists maintain old, and create new, structures of privilege for favored groups and produce a conservative environment.
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    55:Jeffrey Birnbaum: The Lobbyists
    Tiffany Holley, 2002

    -Lobbying is not a much-loved or well-respected activity.
          -It epitomizes life "inside the Beltway."
    -This is an excerpt, which focuses on Wayne Thevenot, one of many lobbyists who got involved in
    1990's behind-the-scenes budget maneuverings.

    -As lobbyist, they are no longer part of the gov't, but they know enough high officials in
    Washington to hear about most significant things before they are announced.

    -Freelance lobbyist-they sell their services to almost anyone who is willing to pay their fees.
          -Bad news for corporate America is good news to them.
    -The object of lobbyist is to block the decision-maker at every turn.
          -It is also important not to allow the decision-maker to know that he or she is
           being entrapped.
    -Lobbyists see it as their job to persuade lawmakers that voters are on the lobbyist side.
    -Lobbyist also function as unpaid staff to the decision-makers, who often don't have enough people
    on their own payrolls.

    -They contribute the money that lawmakers need to get reelected.
    -They also provide information about both policy and process that government officials often
    cannot get from their own, often under funded gov't agencies.

    -Lobbyist are almost always the junior players, because, ultimately they do not make the decisions.
    -At the top of the hierarchy are members of Congress and Cabinet secretaries.
          -Next come congressional and Cabinet staffs.
          -At the bottom come lobbyists.
                -Theirs are the first appointments cancelled or postponed when other business calls.
                -They prefer to be called consultants or lawyers.
    -Thevenot was the 3rd oldest of 8 children and was the son of a failed father.

    [Correction from email, 29 Sep. 2004: ... should read “was the son of a failed FARMER.” My granddad did have some bad luck with his farm, but he was a wonderful father and grandfather, as everyone who turned out for his 1996 funeral would attest. -- Thanks, Geoff Thevenot.
    That'll teach us (ahem) to check our typing.  Mr Thevenot read this on the web.]

    -He worked as a television reporter for the NBC affiliate in Baton Rouge.
    -He then became a campaign manager for Gills Long who was waging an uphill fight for the U.S.
    House of Representatives.
    -He became an elevator operator then moved up to the staffs of committees that were run by Russell
    Long.
    -When Thevenot first left the Hill in 1975, he worked briefly for an investment-banking firm.
    -He set up a lobbying firm with 2 friends called Thevenot, Murray and Scheer.
    -He left the partnership to become president and chief lobbyist for the National Realty Committee.
          -They represented specialized industry factions.
          -Their most sweeping win came in 1981, when real estate was lavished with new tax
           breaks at the prodding of President Reagan.
    -The Tax Reform Act of 1986 made real estate one of its biggest victims.
     

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