Interest Group History

 Common Developments

Although interest groups are rooted in different traditions in Germany and the United States, there are common threads that can be observed in the development of interest group systems in all Western industrial societies. Four phases can be distinguished in the development of interest groups (Thomas, 12). During the first, preindustrial phase from the 1830s to 1870s, charitable organizations assisting the poor represented the dominant form of association. Membership in these organization consisted mostly of middle class citizens.

The second phase corresponds to the process of industrialization between the 1860s and the early 1900s. During this time, group membership began to cross class lines. This period saw the establishment of economic groups such as trade unions and employer's organizations. Moreover, agricultural groups formed in order to represent their interests.

The third phase lasted from ca. 1920 to the late 1950s and was characterized by the emergence of professional associations and promotional groups. Group membership increased to embrace progressively larger segments of the population.

The fourth and present phase can be regarded as a product of postindustrialism. It is characterized by the rise of groups promoting postindustrial values, environmental issues, and civil rights. In general, postindustrial democracies tend to display a higher level of pluralism than previous phases. These phases can be observed in the US and Germany alike, but because of various overhauls of the political system in Germany, development there took place at an increased pace during the past half century.

Different Conditions

These broader trends reflect the effects of industrial development and simultaneous processes of specialization and diversification. However, these similar developments took place in countries with their distinct heritage of associations and with different political structures that provide the framework for interest group tactics and points of access to government.

This site should be approached accordingly. In order to understand the mechanisms of interest group activity today, one must consider both their traditions and their embedding in the political system. In the following chapter, distinctions in interest group history are explained. These differences, along with the section on the institutional settings of interest groups, provide a more complete view of the state of "interest groups today."

Differences in Interest Group History