As we noted in Chapter 1, a key feature of western liberal democracy is held to be the role of regular elections and the necessity for political leaders to struggle competitively to attract the people’s vote. This is a major distinguishing factor from one-party or ‘totalitarian’ regimes which lack clashes between parties and leaders with opposing philosophies and alternative policies. In recent years, however, this rather élitist interpretation of democracy, in which leadership circulation and periodic appeals to the electorate loomed larger than classical democratic concerns with more direct forms of citizen participation, has been supplemented by the rediscovery of interest groups. As we indicated in Chapter 1, interest, or pressure, groups which develop alongside or within formal institutions have been seen to play an increasingly crucial representative role in democratic systems. It was pointed out that in the structural functionalist approach to comparative politics that dominated Anglo-American political sociology in the immediate post Second World War decades interest groups undertook specialised functions in advanced societies that complemented those of political parties. In this view, to quote Berger (1981, p. 8),
The defining characteristic of interest groups is that they articulate the claims and needs of society and transmit them into the political process. In the most developed political system the division of labour between interest groups, parties, and government is one in which interest groups transmit ‘pragmatic specific’ demands to parties; parties aggregate these demands, integrate them into a general programme, and mobilise support for them; and parliaments and bureaucracies enact them as policies and laws and implement them.