Elite Theory of Gaetano Mosca

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1. From the Wikipedia:

"Mosca's enduring contribution to political science is the observation that all but the most primitive societies are ruled in fact, if not in theory, by a numerical minority. He named this minority the political class. That means that every society could be split between two social classes: the one who rules and the one which is ruled. This is always true, for Mosca, because without a political class there is no rule.

Although his theory is correctly characterized as elitist, its basis is different from The Power Elite described, for example, by C. Wright Mills. Unlike Mills and later sociologists, Mosca aimed at developing a universal theory of political society. His more general theory of the Political Class reflects this aim.

Mosca defined modern elites in term of their superior organisational skills. These skills are especially useful in gaining political power in modern bureaucratic society. Nevertheless, Mosca's theory was more liberal than the elitist theory of Pareto, for example. In Mosca's view, elites are not always hereditary, as peoples from all classes of society can theoretically become elite. When this happens, the reproduction of power is defined as democratic; in contrast, when the members' turnover remains inside the elite, the reproduction of power is defined as aristocratic. He also adhered to the concept of the circulation of elites, a dialectical theory of constant competition among elites, with different elite groups alternating with each other repeatedly over time. This concept originated from his materialist idea of history as a conflict between classes (Marx), from the conflictual nature of politics considered as a fight for acquisition and deployment of power (Machiavelli), and finally from the non-egalitarian, hierarchical structure of society. Unlike Marx, Mosca has not a narrow concept of historical time, but a circular one, as in classical political theory, which consists in a perpetual condition of conflict and recycling of the elite. For Mosca, the dichotomous structure of society would not be solved by a revolution."


2. From the Brittanica:

"Mosca’s Sulla teorica dei governi e sul governo parlamentare (1884; “Theory of Governments and Parliamentary Government”) was followed by The Ruling Class (originally published in Italian, 1896). In these and other writings, but especially in The Ruling Class, he asserted—contrary to theories of majority rule—that societies are necessarily governed by minorities: by military, priestly, or hereditary oligarchies or by aristocracies of wealth or of merit. He showed an impartial indifference to the most diverse political philosophies. For him the will of God, the will of the people, the sovereign will of the state, and the dictatorship of the proletariat were all mythical. Although sometimes called “Machiavellian,” Mosca actually considered most of the political ideas of Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527) impractical."


More information

Works in English translation:

  • The Ruling Class, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1939.
  • "On the Ruling Class." In Talcott Parsons, ed., Theories of Society; Foundations of Modern Sociological Theory, Vol. I, Part Two, The Free Press of Glencoe, 1961.