The pluralist conception of politics incorporates a number of modernist assumptions about the appropriate relation of the individual to the state. Pervaded by scepticism concerning the power of human reason to operate in the realm of values and the concomitant subjectivist assumption that, in the absence of absolute values, all value judgements must be relative to the individual, pluralists suggest that individuals must be left free to pursue their own subjectively determined ends.
The goal of politics must be nothing more than the reconciliation of subjectively defined needs and interests of the individual with the requirements of society as a whole in the most freedom-maximizing fashion. Moreover, presupposing the fundamental equality of individuals, pluralists insist that the state has no business favouring the interests of any individual or group.
Thus, in the absence of rational grounds for preferring any individual or value over any other, pluralists identify coalition building as the most freedommaximizing decision principle. Politics qua interest accommodation is fair precisely because the outcome of any negotiating situation is a function of the consensus-garnering skill of the participants.
The genius of this procedural conception of politics lies in its identification of solutions capable of winning the assent of a majority of participants in the decision process.
Pluralists have ascribed a number of virtues to their conception of politics. It avoids the excessive rationalism of paternalist conceptions of politics that assume the state knows what is in the best interests of the citizenry.
It recognizes the heterogeneity of citizens and protects the rights of all to participate in the political process. It acknowledges the multiple power bases in society (for example, wealth, numbers, monopoly of scarce goods or skills) and accords each a legitimate role in collective decision making.
It notes not only that interest groups must be taken into account if politics is to be adequately understood, but also that competing interests exist within the official institutions of the state; that those designated to act on behalf of citizens must also be understood to act as factions, whose behaviour may be governed as much by organizational interests, partisanship, and private ambitions as by an enlightened conception of the common good.
Despite such advantages, pluralism, too, has been criticized for failing to provide a comprehensive conception of politics. In defining politics as a mechanism for decision making which constitutes an alternative to force, the interest-accommodation definition relegates war, revolution and terrorism beyond the sphere of politics. In emphasizing bargaining, conciliation and compromise as the core activities of politics, the pluralist conception assumes that all interests are essentially reconcilable