[PAGE UNDER CONSTRUCTION]
is Chapter 3 of the web-publication, European Proponents of Sociology Prior To
World War I.
Copyright © 1968 Bedminster Press and © 1993 Hans L Zetterberg.
Swedish version available in Sociologins följeslagare, (Ratio, Stockholm 1993).
Hans L Zetterberg
"And democracy, I suppose, comes into being when the poor, winning the victory, put to death some of the other party, drive out others, and grant the rest of the citizens an equal share in . . . offices."
Socrates in Plato, The Republic, Book 7.
The place of Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923) in the history of science is secured through his contribution to economics. He is one of the pioneers of econometrics. This is an unusually cumulative part of the social sciences, enabling a person's contribution to be fairly precisely ascertained. To remove the theorems that Pareto contributed would be a noticeable loss.
It was, however, Pareto's contribution to sociology (and to some extent political science) that made him known in wider circles. Most of this fame is posthumous. In Italy, at Pareto's death in 1923, a journal founded by Mussolini took pains to point out that, regrettably, Pareto was not a fascist, but that he had contributed much to fascist thinking.
In the United States, in 1936, when one of Pareto's sociological works appeared in translation, he came to enjoy a wave of popularity; Saturday Review, for example, gave him a cover and devoted almost a whole issue to his work. But this vogue was soon followed by the wrath of victimization: during the second world war, he became identified as an ideologist of the enemy.
Aristocrat of the intelligentsia
Although activist-rightist groups often claimed him as their man, Pareto himself was a proud, detached, and ironic man without much desire to align himself with any political movement. His bias -- which is loud and clear -- is rather against people of all political persuasions who prefer social ossification to social change, ascription to achievement and softness to toughness. A dominant group, in Pareto's opinion, survives only if it provides opportunities for the best persons of other origins to join in its privileges and rewards, and if it does not hesitate to use force to defend these privileges and rewards. Pareto's irony attacks the elite that becomes humanitarian, tenderhearted rather than toughminded. Pareto favors opportunity for all competent members of society to advance into the elite, but he is not motivated by feelings of pity for the underprivileged. To express and spread such humanitarian sentiments merely weakens the elite in the defense of its privileges. Moreover, such humanitarian sentiments would easily be a platform for rallying the opposition. And since Pareto assumes that the opposition, if victorious, would never enact its humanitarian platform, nothing of moral value may be gained by accepting the humanitarian argument.
Pareto obviously thinks of himself as a sophisticated visitor to the theatre of historical drama who, early on, grasps the entire plot while the rest of the audience is still misled by dramatic gestures, moralistic speeches and the comings and goings of the actors. Pareto took pride in his superior sophistication in this respect, and he sees no reason to hide it. Many readers are apt to be annoyed with him for being so arrogantly pleased with himself.
Pareto concentrates his attention on existing and potential elites, and has rather little to say about other parts of society. While his own elitist sentiments might have played a part in this choice of topic, he also has other justifications for his particular attention to the top segments of society. He has noted that social change, at least in the sense of replacement of persons and reorganization of positions, is a great deal faster in higher strata than in lower strata, except perhaps in the very lowest stratum of itinerant workers. He is also convinced that events and decisions among the elites are more important for the history of a society than events and decisions among the broad masses. The very fact that critics of his viewpoint treat the masses either as hotbeds of revolutions, and hence of new elites, or as factors contributing inertia or stability to society proves to Pareto that the study of historical change very largely revolves around the study of elites.
Circulation of the elites
The propositions constituting Pareto's theory of the circulation of the elites are found mainly in three sources, all written when Pareto was over fifty:
1. A monograph entitled "Un applicazione di teorie sociologiche" (Rivista Italiana di Sociologia, l901, pp. 402-456), which provides the shortest and most readable introduction to his theory of the circulation of the elites. It is now belatedly reaching print in English under the title The Rise and Fall of the Elites: An Application of Theoretical Sociology.
2. A two-volume work, Les systèmes socialistes (Giard, Paris, 1902-03). (Pareto was bilingual and wrote with equal ease in Italian and French.) The theoretical introduction was written earlier than the above monograph. The value of this work lies primarily in the analysis of Marxism as a secular religion, and in the documentation of Pareto's thesis of the importance of irrational considerations in human actions.
3. Manuale di economia politica, which appeared in Italian in 1906 and, somewhat revised, in French in l909; the opening chapters on sociological methodology were also written before the monograph from l901.
4. A 3,000-page treatise, Trattato di sociologia generale (3 vols.; Barbera, Florence, 1916), considered his major work, which, in addition to an elaboration of the theory of elite, contains several other fragments of sociological theory. It is a rambling work, badly organized, in large measure classificatory, and taxing on the reader, but ultimately worthwhile. It has been translated into French, English, and German. The English translation was first entitled Mind and Society (Harcourt‑Brace, New York, 1936), but a reprint arranged by the Pareto Fund has restored the correct title, Treatise on General Sociology (Dover, New York, 1963).
I shall use The Rise and Fall of the Elites as the source of the following review ─unless otherwise indicated the page references are to this work ─ and draw on others only when they add new central ideas. As S.E. Finer indicates in his excellent anthology of Pareto's Sociological Writings, "this... long essay is a notable work: it foreshadows all the positions Pareto was to take up later" (p. 20).1
The opening chapter of The Rise and Fall of the Elites contains several propositions resembling laws of nature, each illustrated with examples drawn from history. The remaining three chapters use these propositions to interpret (and to some extent predict) the ascent of the working class toward positions of power.
This outline gives the book a very modern look; its arrangement is one that George C. Homans might have used in the 1950s or '60s, had he treated a similar topic. Considering that it appeared in l901, it may very well be dubbed the first explicitly propositional theory of sociology.
Like modern theorists who use the propositional approach, Pareto does not claim too much for his laws: "For the time being, let us accept the enunciated laws as more or less plausible hypotheses, and we shall see whether with their help we may succeed in explaining the facts" (p. 27).
The first two laws
suggested are these:
A. The greater part of human actions have their origin not in logical reasoning but in sentiment (p. 27).
1 Pareto, 1966.
B. Man, although impelled to act by nonlogical motives, likes to tie his actions logically to certain principles; he therefore invents these a posteriori in order to justify his actions (p. 27).
Faced with the multitude of human actions, Pareto searches for a few less variable elements ─ in the Treatise styled "residues" ─ which, in combination with more variable
elements (called "derivations"), make up the broad repertoires of human actions. The actual result of the application of this methodological device is as follows: residues are the major motives for human action and derivations are the external elaboration of man's actions, e.g., the habits of speech whereby men refer to the reasons underlying their actions. Pareto locates six residues. (Each has subclasses which we can omit here.) These are:
1. combination, i.e. the tendency to invent and embark on adventures;
2. preservation, i.e. the tendency to consolidate and make secure.
3. expressiveness, i.e. the tendency to make feelings manifest through symbolisation.
4. sociability, i.e. the tendency to affiliate with others.
5. integrity, i.e. the tendency to maintain a good self‑image.
6. sexuality, i.e. the tendency to see social events in erotic terms.
As a first approximation of motives for human action, this is a useful scheme. For his analysis of the elites, Pareto makes use primarily of the first two ─ innovation and consolidation ─ or, as it is expressed somewhat clumsily, the `instinct of combination' and the "preservation of aggregates".2 Where they are concentrated in persons, we may speak of "innovators" and "consolidators". One is out to get, the other to hang on to what he has. In today's society, the consolidators want old-age pensions, life insurance, fallout shelters, job security, tough divorce laws, closed shops; they put their money in savings banks or government bonds, and they are quick to call the police. The innovators make novel things and interpretations, put their money in stocks, sell fall‑out shelters, start new ventures, negotiate deals. Two other famous sociological types, Schumpeter's "entrepreneur" and Weber's "modern capitalist", also fall into the category of innovators.
"Elite" should be treated as a value-free term meaning those who score highest on scales measuring any social value or commodity ("utility"), such as power, riches, knowledge. Pareto deals mostly with elites within the economy and the body politic. But it is easy to extend the objective use of the term to science (the most learned) and perhaps also to religion (the holiest), to art (the most artistic), and even to ethics (the most virtuous).
2 The derivations are classified by Pareto in four broad categories vaguely reminiscent of Bacon's `idols of the market‑place': (1) affirmations; (2) appeals to authority; (3) appeals to principles; and (4) verbal acrobatics. Pareto used this categorisation in content analyses of ideologies. It does not enter in a significant way into his analysis of elites.
An important typology (in which the terms "lions" and "foxes" are derived from Machiavelli) emerges when Pareto considers the dominant residues in elites in various areas.3 We may present it as follows:
Dominant Residue Economic Elite Political Elite
Preservation Rentiers Lions
Combination Speculators Foxes
The "circulation of elites" implies more than that new men of money and power replace old ones. It means, above all, that the dominant residue in the elite changes: consolidators replace innovators, and innovators replace consolidators.
The circulation of elites is irregular but incessant. Or, as it is put in a phrase that both resembles and modifies Marx' dictum of history:
C. The history of man is the history of the continuous replacement of certain elites: as one ascends, another declines (p. 36).
This is the process Pareto seeks to explain. But the causes are complex. In Systèmes (Ch. 1), Pareto lists among them war and differential fertility. War tends to kill a higher proportion of the elites than of the general population. Elite families also tend to die out, since they have fewer children than the population at large. However, of greater generality are two different chains of determinants which, in conjunction with each other, account for the circulation of elites.
One line of thought
(developed in the Treatise, chs. 12‑13)
is that all elites, in meeting effectively normal exigencies of life, must
sometimes embark on innovating actions and sometimes on consolidating
actions. Thus both the residue of
combination and that of preservation are called for. Innovation must be there; one persuades, cajoles, threatens,
manipulates friend and foe to reach some solutions. Consolidation must also be there; one provides security and
stability, and moves friends and opponents with forceful coercion when conscience,
faith, and normal social pressures fail.
Thus we have the proposition:
D. The more an elite consists of innovators alone, or consolidators alone, the less it is able to meet normal exigencies.
Of particular importance to Pareto is that consolidators are more willing to use physical
3 Pareto, 1916, §§ 2231-2238.
force to preserve the existing order. In critical situations this may be essential, since a small band of skilled insurgents can usually conquer through organised violence a much larger establishment reluctant or unable to employ its police and military powers.
An imbalance between innovation and consolidation can most easily be avoided by open recruitment into the elite. It is particularly important for an elite predominantly composed of consolidators to admit intelligent innovators in its stratum. Failure to pursue this policy leads to difficulties, even revolutions:4
"Revolutions come about through accumulations in the higher strata of society ─ either because of a slowing-down in class-circulation, or from other causes ─ of decadent elements no longer possessing the residues suitable for keeping them in power, and shrinking from the use of force; while meantime in the lower strata of society elements of superior quality are coming to the fore, possessing residues suitable for exercising the functions of government and willing enough to use force."
The circulation is aided and accompanied by another process. One of Pareto's laws states:
E. There is a rhythm of sentiment which we can observe in ethics, in religion, and in politics as waves resembling the business cycle (p. 31).
These waves are, for example, long-range trends in religiosity, such as movements from faith to scepticism, which historians refer to when they compare the 17th and 18th centuties, or trends in confidence about the future, such as the shift from optimism to pessimism in Europe before and after 1914, or other shifts in climates of opinion.
If we combine the assumption of these waves of sentiment with the second law listed, we reach a new proposition:
B+ E. "The people who are carried away ─ usually unknowingly ─ by these currents and who... wish to represent involuntary acts as voluntary and nonlogical actions as logical ones, conjure up strangely imaginary reasons, which they use to try to deceive themselves as well as others about the true motives of their actions" (p. 35).
4 Pareto 1916, § 2057.
A good illustration of this comes from an analysis of the talk around the stock exchange during waves of rising or declining confidence.5
"Whereas during the upward trend every argument advanced in order to demonstrate that an enterprise will produce money is received with favor, the same argument will be absolutely rejected during the downward trend... A man who during the downward trend refuses to underwrite certain stocks believes himself to be guided exclusively by reason and does not know that, unconsciously, he yields to the thousand small impressions which he receives to some degree from the daily economic news. When, later, during the upward trend, he will underwrite those same stocks, or similar shares offering no reasonably better chance of success, he will again think that he is following only the dictates of reason and will remain unaware of the fact that his transition from distrust to trust depends on sentiments generated by the atmosphere around him" (pp. 93-94).
We now come to a critical hypothesis about the timing for the change of an elite:
F. (When religious‑humanitarian sentiments are rising) the elite becomes softer, milder, more humane and less apt to defend its own power (p. 59).
If this coincides with the dominance of the innovators in the elite, the effect is dramatic:
D+ F = C. On the other hand, it (the elite) does not lose its rapacity and greed for the goods of others, but rather tends as much as possible to increase its unlawful appropriations and to indulge in major usurpations of the national patrimony. Thus, on the one hand it makes the yoke heavier, and on the other it has less strength to maintain it. These two conditions cause the catastrophe in which the elite perishes (p. 59).
The combination of a rising humanitarian sentiment in society and the predominance of innovators in the elite, thus, spells doom. In the Treatise, Pareto suggests a parallel argument for a situation in which consolidating people dominate the elite. Thus, he considers the explanation of the circulation of the elites to be complete.
Something remains to be said about the rising new elite. The rising elite is, of course, also subject to speech habits justifying its drive to power, and these are also likely to be moulded by the same rising religious‑humanitarian sentiments. Here, we obtain a new proposition:
B+C. + E. The new elite which seeks to supersede the old one, or merely to share its power and honours, does not admit to such an intention frankly and openly. Instead it assumes the leadership of all the oppressed, declares that it will pursue
5 Pareto, 1968.
own good but the good of the many; and it goes to battle, not for the rights
of a restricted class but for the rights of almost the entire citizenry (p. 36).
Thus Pareto can conclude that, at the level of ideology and propaganda, "the decline of the old elite appears as an increased humanitarian and altruistic sentiment; the rise of the new elite appears as the vindication of the humble and weak against the powerful and strong" (p. 41). But, of course, this is only on the level of speech habits. Reality is different:
G. Once victory is won, it (the new elite) subjugates the erstwhile allies, or, at best, offers them some formal concession (p. 36).
The victorious elite is also inclined to monopolize all rewards:
H. After victory, the elite becomes more rigid and more exclusive (p. 86).
The wheel has now turned full circle. The new elite is now established and the process can start all over again.
The Latin school
Pareto's theory has, at least to date, had only a modest impact on sociology. One exception ─ but only in part ─ is industrial sociology. The Hawthorne studies of the Harvard Business School in the late 1920s and early '30s demonstrated that the productivity of workers does not necessarily respond to improvements in the arrangements of their work, such as rest pauses, length of working day, lighting, et cetera. More important was the finding that workers, under some circumstances, do not act rationally to maximise their earnings but rather to restrict output, consequently diminishing their earnings. Pareto's theory that people are usually motivated by sentiments rather than by logic came as a welcome explanation in the interpretation of these findings. But a fuller application of Pareto's theory to the field of industrial sociology is yet to come: it would, of course, deal with the rise and fall of executive cliques in corporate hierarchies.
In the field of political sociology, in which Pareto himself found the inspiration for his theory, his ideas have not taken much hold. It is often said that C. Wright Mills' book The Power Elite6 represents an attempt to interpret the contemporary American scene in Pareto's terms; but this assertion reveals ignorance of either Pareto's work, or Mills' work, or both. In the field of social stratification the story is the same: it is symptomatic that an otherwise rather representative anthology about stratification such as Class, Status, and Power7 edited by Reinhard Bendix and Seymour Martin Lipset, contains no selection from Pareto, nor any _________
6 Mills, 1956.
7 Bendix and Lipset, 1953.
summary of his theory. It is mostly sociologists devoted to propounding the classical traditions of their discipline and to the history of social thought who have paid close
attention to Pareto. Outstanding in this respect is Talcott Parsons, whose book The Structure of Social Action contains a long and excellent summary of Pareto's ideas.8 However, in Parsons' later works he seems to draw on Freud where he previously built on Pareto.
More energy seems to have been devoted to discussing of the originality of Pareto's theory than to its further testing. It is written in an intellectual tradition that includes Machiavelli and Vico, and around the time when Michels, Mosca, and Sorel were making significant contributions on the same and similar topics. It was also written at a time when almost every social scientist in Europe felt he had to take a stand with respect to Marx' assumption about class struggles.
The question of the originality of Pareto's conception of the rise and fall of elites has arisen particularly in relation to Mosca. Mosca expressed some indignation that he was not always credited with the discovery of the circulation of the elites, and he felt that Pareto received, indeed stole, much of the kudos that rightfully belonged to him. The priority in terms of chronology of publications has been reviewed by Livingstone in the introduction of his English translation of Gaetano Mosca's The Ruling Class9, 1939, and need not concern us here. The issue seems a simple one. Each of Pareto's propositions has been stated or alluded to by Mosca as part of his general discussion, and each proposition can be found in one form or another also in earlier writings. However, no one before Pareto had singled out these particular propositions and combined them the way he did. The striking quality of Pareto's theory is not each of its building blocks; taken by itself but the ingenious combination he made of them. The combination is novel; this theorising process shows a methodological sophistication unparalleled by his contemporaries, and even by most latter‑day social theorists.
How good is the evidence for Pareto's theory? In The Rise and Fall of the Elites Pareto's own evidence is offered as illustration, not as proof. The empirical illustrations in Les systèmes socialistes and the Treatise are more extensive but still not as complete as today's scientific practice prescribes. As best, one may only say that all Pareto's empirical material taken together renders his propositions more likely than their negations.
The evidence backing Pareto's theory from other sources than his own is unsystematic. As we have noted, Pareto and his theory are often ignored among scholars. An important exception is the work of P.A. Sorokin, whose Social and Cultural Dynamics10 extends Pareto's proposition of historical cycles of faith and scepticism into an important theory of cultural _________
8 Parsons, 1949.
9 Mosca, 1939.
10 Sorokin, 1962.
change. However, this work and his earlier Social Mobility11, although very sensitive to
Pareto's theory, cannot marshal any evidence that directly bears upon the ideology and
personality of members of rising and falling classes. Here a very significant topic is still in search of an investigator. As to the assumption about cycles of faith, Sorokin's work is far superior to anything Pareto ever attempted, both in method and in result. Sorokin concludes that Western civilisation is now in the turmoil accompanying the emergence of a new era of faith; Pareto assumed that the humanitarian‑religious sentiments were already on the rise at the turn of the century. More important than this minor difference in diagnosing time trends is Sorokin's tabulation of numerous revolutionary changes of elites. He finds them most frequent when the cycle of faith is turning either up or down and when social relationships undergo change from a familial to a coercive or contractual character.12 Pareto's conclusion that the change of elites occurs most readily when the religious sentiment is on the rise thus stands much elaborated and somewhat corrected after Sorokin's investigations.
Many other studies published since the appearance of Pareto's theory bear on it. They range from quantitative studies on membership in business, military, and political elites to more journalistic accounts such as Diljas' The New Class. An important methodological invention has been introduced in recent years which makes it possible to begin to measure the achievement motive. Measurements carried out in many strata in several countries have been reported in McClelland's The Achieving Society.13 It is possible to mofidy these measurements, making them applicable to the innovation motive. It may also be possible to adopt other recent measurements described in The Authoritarian Personality14 to gauge the consolidation motive. A particularly crucial topic is the genesis of the consolidation and achievement residues. Pareto deliberately delimited his topic of investigation so that he did not have to deal with this difficult issue; it was enough to take note of the existence of these residues and to trace the consequences of their existence through the social fabric. Social psychologists have a great task in studying the circumstances of upbringing which generate personalities with consolidating and achieving traits. The last two books mentioned contain several intriguing ideas about this. The circumstances under which achievers turn into consolidators and vice versa need further exploration.
What we might recommend for Pareto's theory is perhaps a book like Coser's The Function of Social Conflict15; this book deals with Simmel's theory about conflict, explicating it, confronting it with logic and modem research findings, and revising it where necessary. In Pareto's case, one also ought to add factors relevant for circulation of elites, which have
11 Sorokin, 1927.
12 Sorokin, 1962, vol. 3, pp. 496-499.
13 McClelland, 1961.
14 Adorno, 1950.
15 Coser, 1956.
been contributed by other scholars. A more complete theory would have to include several factors not treated by Pareto. For example, Max Weber's notion of the charismatic leader
to whom people are bound by personal bonds of loyalty and who can take them on paths violating the laws laid down by tradition is important for the understanding of the rise of an elite. Likewise, George Sorel's concept of the "myth", the emotively loaded vision of the future, has a similar effect of breaking up the established order and bringing a new elite and new ideas into domination.
One may also wish to emphasize the requirement of rationality for any modern elite at least to the same extent that one emphasizes its willingness to use force. The decisions made in the elites have more or less far-reaching consequences in every corner of society: the extent to which these decisions are rational and based on knowledge becomes crucial for the course of history. If it is true, as Mannheim assumed, that modern elites in business and government are centers of decision-making to a far greater extent than elites of the past, this factor is particularly important for the understanding of recent rises and falls of elites: modern elites must be intelligent and knowledgeable in a large number of decisions that are only remotely related to the immediate business of maintaining their elite status.
This consideration leads to a specification of the parts played by reason and sentiment in the functioning of elites. It is undoubtedly true, as Pareto asserted, that men's actions flow more from sentiment than reason. The anti-intellectual ideologists took this notion to justify the surrender of reason to sentiment. They preferred the emotional frenzy of a political rally to the slow reform work based on research by a commission and implemented by a clumsy but rational bureaucracy. They preferred romantic intuition to cool calculation of evidence, they chose metaphysics over science. Pareto clearly does not belong in their camp; what he wanted to find was a rational explanation of irrational behaviour. But it is equally true that Pareto was not in agreement with the philosophies of the Enlightenment, which held that the critical factor in the survival of an elite is the extent to which it allows reason to control sentiments; a government by intellectuals, for example, Pareto held to be a near‑certain disaster.
The inability to solve the problem of the role of reason in the circulation of the elites is most obvious when the issue is phrased as reason versus sentiment. It is neither reason nor sentiment that should be maximized to ensure the survival of an elite, but efficiency. And efficiency is produced through a delicately balanced mixture of reason and sentiment, working not against one another, but in harness. In the last analysis, it is only the efficient elites ─ whether elected, appointed or self-chosen ─ that gain substantial support from those who are on the receiving end of their decrees, who buy their goods and services, who attend their sacred rites, who receive their knowledge. It is the over‑all efficiency in the tasks of generating and distributing order, riches, knowledge, beauty, sacredness, and virtue that slowly makes the elites perceived as "legitimate", thus helping to ensure their tenure.
Adorno, T.W.: The Authoritarian Personality, New York, Harper, 1950.
Bendix, R., and Lipset, S.M.: Class, Status and Power, Glencoe, Illinois, Free Press, 1953.
Coser, Lewis: The Functions of Social Conflict, Glencoe, Illinois, Free Press, 1956.
Finer, S.E.: Vilfredo Pareto, Sociological Writings, London, Pall Mall Press, 1966.
McClelland, David C.: The Achieving Society, Princeton, N.J., Van Noshand, 1961.
Mills, Wright C.: The Power Elite, New York, Oxford University Press, 1956.
Mosca, Gaetano: The Ruling Class. With an Introduction by Arthur Livingston, New York, London, McGraw‑Hill, 1939.
Pareto, Vilfredo: Les systèmes socialistes, 2 vols., Paris, 1902; 2nd ed., 1926.
─ : Manuale di economia politica, Milan, 1906; French rev ed. (Manuel d'economie politique) Paris, 1909.
─ : Trattato di sociologia generale, 3 vols., Florence, 1916; 2nd ed., 1923; French ed., Traite de sociologie generale, 2 vols., Paris, 1917; English ed., The Mind and Society, translated by A. Livingston and A. Bongiomo, 4 vols., New York and London, 1935; Treatise on General Sociology, New York, Dover Press, 1963.
Parsons, Talcott: The Structure of Social Action: A Study in Social Theory with Special Reference to a Group of Recent European Writers, Glencoe, Illinois, Free Press, 1949.
Sorokin, Pitirim A.: Social and Cultural Dynamics, 4 vols., New York, Bedminster Press, 1962. (Original ed., 1937-41.)
Sorokin, Pitirim A.: Social Mobility, New York, Harper, 1927.44