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Elitist theory that holds the majority of political power

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Elitism - Classical and new elite theory Photo by: Barnaby Chambers Although the idea probably always has been present in some form, elitism emerged as a recognizable and clearly defined part of Western political thought in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These writers attacked classical democratic thought and also Aristotle and Karl Marx. Majority rule, they insisted, is impossible. Every society is divided into those who rule and those who are ruled; and the rulers constitute only a small minority of any society.

Aristotle's classification, which divided political systems into three types rule by one, rule by a few, and rule by the manydoes not fit reality either, for no man is capable of ruling by himself, and the many, too, lack the ability to govern. It is the few, under any political system, who exercise effective control. And Marx, with his emphasis on a class struggle that in the end following the victory of the working class leads to social harmony in a classless society, was also wrong.

  • The basic normative question underlying elite theory is whether the relative power of any group ought to exceed its relative size;
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  • Its central proposition, as stated by John Higley and Michael Burton 1989 , is as follows:

History features a continuing struggle among elites. That struggle will never end, and a classless society cannot be created. Moreover, to the pioneers in the development of elitist theory, Marx placed too much emphasis on economics and not enough on politics, which could be autonomous.

Classical elitist theory did not maintain merely that the active, socially recognizable people in a country made its important decisions—whether from within offices of government, from somewhere behind the scenes, or from completely outside the state apparatus. It emphatically asserted that the common man, however numerous within a society in absolute or relative terms, did not. Analysts of elites, who generally focus on the distribution of power rather than on the allocation of values, or on property and other wealth forms, differ somewhat over the degree of participation in government or, more generally, the political process that is necessary for a member of the elite accurately to be judged a member of what Mosca characterizes as "the ruling class.

Yet the actual group that is in office can change markedly and very quickly. The concept of an elite therefore may need to be understood as encompassing all those who might govern as well as those who in fact do govern. However "elite" is precisely understood, elitist theory is clear in the basic point that a minority, rather than the masses, controls things.

Elite theory

The general population of a country—the common man—is ineffective. Even in societies with elections and other democratic mechanisms, it is posited, the ruling elite functions in a way that is largely independent of control by a popular majority. However, it made need a justifying doctrine. That the elite ordinarily functions according to a "political formula," in Mosca's term, is what makes its rule effective and acceptable to the masses.

Thus, in theory, there can be a democratic elitism, however paradoxical that may seem.

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A "new elite paradigm," building on the work of Mosca and other classical theorists, emerged in the 1980s and 1990s among comparative political sociologists. It drew attention to the occurrence, and the important effects, of divisions that may arise within the elite of a society. Its central proposition, as stated by John Higley and Michael Burton 1989is as follows: A consensually unified national elite, which is historically much rarer, produces a stable regime that may evolve into a modern democracy, as in Sweden, or Britain, or the United States, if economic and other facilitative conditions permit.

  • That this amounts to a "democratization" of American foreign policymaking, however, is highly disputable;
  • A by-product of this has been a widening of participation in the national debate over foreign policy;
  • Those defenses of elite rule are the more notable because, in some cases, their authors ostensibly rejected the ancient assumption of unequally distributed capacities in favour of some notion of natural equality;
  • However, it made need a justifying doctrine;
  • Their power is seen as based most fundamentally on their personal economic resources and especially on their positions within the top management of the big corporations, and does not really depend upon their ability to garner mass support through efforts to "represent" the interests of broader social groups.

Of course, the American Revolution and, later, the Civil War, are the major exceptions to this generalization. During those periods, divisions ran so deep as to produce counter-elites.

As the political sociologist Barrington Moore, Jr.

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Vann Woodward have shown, the reconciliation between North and South that occurred following post—Civil War Reconstruction was in significant part a result of a complex bargain between the elites in formerly opposed geographical sections. After the late nineteenth century, issues of foreign policy have on occasion divided the American elite as well.

A by-product of this has been a widening of participation in the national debate over foreign policy. That this amounts to a "democratization" of American foreign policymaking, however, is highly disputable.

Katz Sep 3, 2012 10: You seriously think the likes of a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the way forward? This line of thinking isn't going to fundamentally change the power structure of the world and it's not meant to.

Elitism - Classical and new elite theory

Most of us who grew up in a Western society believe in meritocracy in some way or another. But the biggest flaw of this belief is the assumption of a level playing field and equal opportunities.

When a person or a group of people fail to live up to their potential in society, what's stopping you or anyone else from blaming it on their character or even a defect in their biology? Within the context of our societies, a belief in technocracy or meritocracy perpetuates the power structure itself and everything that goes along with it and that includes racism.

  • The conservative American philosopher James Burnham, a founding editor of the National Review , depicted Mosca, Pareto, and Michels as Machiavellians whose realistic analysis of elite actors and rejection of utopian egalitarianism represented the best hope of democracy—as defined in terms of the law-governed liberty that emerges from interelite checks and balances;
  • Most of us who grew up in a Western society believe in meritocracy in some way or another;
  • A consensually unified national elite, which is historically much rarer, produces a stable regime that may evolve into a modern democracy, as in Sweden, or Britain, or the United States, if economic and other facilitative conditions permit;
  • It emphatically asserted that the common man, however numerous within a society in absolute or relative terms, did not;
  • Their power is seen as based most fundamentally on their personal economic resources and especially on their positions within the top management of the big corporations, and does not really depend upon their ability to garner mass support through efforts to "represent" the interests of broader social groups;
  • Most of us who grew up in a Western society believe in meritocracy in some way or another.

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