Different Notions of Democracy
The different governmental systems in the United States and in Germany reflect different perceptions and traditions of democracy in both countries. The German system stands in the tradition of the ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau who based his concept of democracy on homogeneity of the people. He deems the common will an absolute, based on his theory that the governing class be identical with the governed in a uniform and "indivisible sovereignty". Such a setting impedes consideration of particular interests. Clearly, until today Germany remains far more homogeneous than the United States have ever been. In America, on the other hand, by acknowledging the pursuit of happiness of the individual as a fundamental goal and as the basis of a democratic structure, the bargaining between pluralistic interests is ingrained into the system.
This basic difference is reflected in procedures in Congress and Bundestag. While in the United States it is common among members of Congress to bargain for compromises and special interests, their German counterparts are tied to party discipline. The parliamentary system relies heavily on party loyalty in order to run efficiently and consistently. Such loyalty would oftentimes prevent the formation of majorities in the American legislature. Without the ability to find compromises, the system of checks and balances would inevitably stagnate in deadlock. However, inertia also becomes a threat as increasing numbers of groups find ways to approach Congress.
One might argue that since each pressure group represents narrow interests that often conflict with the interest of the nation as a whole. Legislators are therefore forced to consider those narrow issues, instead of more important issues of concern the entire population. Graham K. Wilson compares the US political system to the more corporatist Western European states (132 f.).
In Europe, governments and economic interest groups such as unions and employers' organizations have built a relationship of cooperation and partnership. In the United States, such a clear relationship does not exist due to the fragmentation of the government into three branches and many different institutions. The existence of state governments, each with their own divisions, makes the system even more complex. Thus, unlike European parliamentary democracies, the United States does not have a unitary government, it cannot accommodate the demands of a limited number of interest groups. Instead, a wide variety of groups, each representing only a fragment of the population, seek access to the different government branches and bureaucracies, making representation of society as a whole impossible.
In a federal democracy as the United States, where power is divided among numerous institutions on the national, state and local level and where those institutions provide access for citizens, interest groups play a major role in policy making. Because of their large number, their diversity, the differences in their goals, interest groups will compete with each other on their way to Capitol Hill. Since legislators and bureaucrats can only respond to a limited number of those various demands, they tend to listen to those with the most influence on electoral politics, namely those who have the financial resources to support electoral campaigns, are organized and are represented in the nation's capital, as well as in different localities.
Political Systems -- Constitutions -- Democracy -- Group Theory