Introduction: This essay aims to explain how the elitist approach appears to be the most suitable analyticalperspective to identify where political power lies in current liberal democratic states: it contributes toexpose a fake and manipulated democracy. The first part of the text, through the definition ofpolitical power, liberal democracies and elitism, will set the limits of the research. Secondly,supported by classical sociology, elites will be analysed, regarded as the protagonists in the wholesocio-political panorama, with a further focus on the relationship between elites-mass, elites-democracy and elites-interests. The final part will apply the elitist perspective in the Italian context.In fact, it is possible to unambiguously observe most of the listed characteristics: now, as before,political power and decision-making are held in the hands of a few, often, mostly inclined to makechoices driven by opportunistic dictates, instead of thinking of the common good. Through theanalysis of the current context, it will be outlined that, in the most recent period, a new controversialmovement is born, aiming, not only, to dislodge this fixed pattern, but also to call for an authenticdemocracy, not assertive to the interests of the most powerful ones.
Section 1: Defining the “limen”: political power, liberal democracies, elites and elitists. Defining what we mean by “political power” is the first step to explain how elitism is often deeplyembedded in many states, including Italy. It can be argued that a definition of power would seemtaken-for-granted because of its self-evidence. Many scholars attempted to define it: Max Weber,for instance, stated that ‘power is the probability that one actor …
will be in a position to carry outhis own will despite resistance’ (Weber, 1978). His definition resembles Dahl’s one: one imposes hiswill over another (‘A has power over B to the extent that he can get B to do something B would nototherwise do’ Dahl, 1957). A more elaborated perspective is given by Hanna Arendt (1970), which,unlike the previous two, focuses and emphasises on the idea of power as a collective will: those ‘inpower’ have been enabled by a certain number of people to act on their behalf and their authoritydoesn’t originate only from violence or in the raw desire to dominate. De facto, it is possible toaffirm that political power surrounds everything and everybody: a community without power is justchaos (Shokri, 2017 p.2). The absence of political power or political rights, indeed, carries a totallack of order. ‘Individuals, societies, and institutions seek to justify their political power since it isone main angle of preservation – obtain immunity – and effective rule’ (Shokri, 2017 p.
6). Secondly, also explaining ‘liberal democracies’ is a prerequisite. It accurately refers to a specificpolitical regime based on the imperative combination of two principles: the liberal one, concerningindividual rights (such as, inter alia, freedom of expression, faith and press) and the democraticone, concerning popular sovereignty. In the Italian case, specifically, the transition to a liberaldemocratic state occurred with the enactment of the “Albertine Statute” in 1848, which acknowledged liberalism principles (legality, freedom and equality) and implemented a progressive expansion of the right to vote.
The third key step concerns a remark over elites. They are deep-rooted in the classical sociologicalspeculation and many scholars attempted to define the semantic concept. According to Pareto,for instance, the word denotes either those individuals who most excel and emerge in specificaspects of life or those who own much power or wealth. Nevertheless, the word “elite” might facesemantic confusion. The origin can be derived from the Latin past participle “electus”, from”eligere”, interpretable as “exclusive”, or with a French expression, as “la creme de la socie?te?”.Regarding the political context, it matches the concept of “aristocracy”, literally “the ruling of thebest ones”.
To this regard, the figure of an elitist is fundamental: they are often seen as giftedcharacters, with great abilities and exceptional capacities. Elitists, just like the Machiavellian prince,must be capable of wisely using both the bestial side and the reflexive and astute one in order toeither sympathise, comprehend or deceive the mass (simulare and dissimulare, the metaphor of thelion and the fox, Machiavelli, 1513). The other way to intend the term “elite” is related to thepejorative meaning. Since it implies a sense of superiority, it is in contradiction with the concept of”democracy”, which supposes a general equality of status. Many scholars’ critiques highlightelitism as a mechanism of social discrimination where those in charge only safeguard their interestsrather than the communities’ ones and where, overall, climbing the social ladder is almostimpossible.
Section 2: How do elitism actually function? Relationship between elites-mass, elites-democracy, elites-interests. “Elitism” refers to a specific political theory based on the concept that, in every society, a rulingminority is in possession of both the decisional power and the most powerful resources. Thisperspective is established on the belief of “social atomisation”: over a chaotic and blurry mass,elites stand up as the ruling actors in the socio-political panorama, with a stable power able toperpetuate itself. According to Mosca and the classical elitist perspective, a fundamental inequalityis to be found as an historical evidence: on one side those who rule, on the other, those who obey.As a result, the political establishment is always an oligarchy. In political terms, it can be said that,overall, political elites consist of people who are able, whether by virtue of key positions ininfluential organisations and movements or by wealth or by merits, to affect political outcomes,which are the basic stability or instability of political regimes. In fact, this is clearly explained byWeber’s concepts of power and domination which represent the essential fulcrum of contemporaryelite theory: the dualism mass-elite.
Elites are meticulously differentiated and stratified with functional purpose: address every aspect ofthe society. However, it is their small size and internal cohesion that allow them to monopolise asociety. Mosca, while outlining this feature, identified the rule of the three C’s: cohesion,consciousness and conspiracy.
The last criterium is essential: the minority, by camouflaging itspower, hides itself from the mass, which is blind and lost. As argued by either Pareto, Michels and Mosca himself, however, these criteria don’t make elites eternal: elites can be substituted, but only by another set of elites (hence Pareto’s definition of history as ‘a cemetery of elites’). It qualifies asan elites circulation, where elites are overturned by elites in the continuous struggle of prevaricatingon each other.
Regardless of this form of circular equilibrium, the central aspect, a majorityinevitably ruling a minority, is always preserved as the inalterable one-sided relationship betweenrulers and ruled. To this regard, as discussed above, the elitist theory is founded on specific assumptions: first of all,that the masses are intrinsically incompetent, secondly that they are pliable, passive and with an’insatiable proclivity to undermine both culture and liberty’ (Bachrach, 1969 p.2).
This entails acategorisation of man into higher and lower orders, precisely the opposite of a democraticperspective. Likewise, one major difference regards the diverse approach as to what constitutesthe public interest: the elitist attitude, unlike the democratic one, sees the general interest in linewith the elites’ judgements. However, since the ‘elite is enlightened, thus its policy is bound to bethe public interest’ (Bachrach, 1969 p.5), they seem to be competent to pursue a common interestfor the whole community. This is also stressed by the fact that elites are not entirely untied, but acertain degree of pressure is exerted ‘from the passions by which the masses are swayed’ (Pareto,1902 p.
51): an evident interrelationship of political organisations and social forces is undeniable.Joseph Schumpeter stated that democracy appears uniquely as a mean for people to either acceptor reject the men ‘who are to rule them’ (1942, p.285). In any case, no direct democracy is everpossible, only representative: a strict minority possess greater power than those whom theyrepresent (Bottomore, 1993 p.90).
And since elites’ authority requires a certain degree of autonomy,a continuous effort in empowering themselves is made. As pointed out by John Highly and JanPakulski, ‘elitism means identifying and promoting conditions that enhance elite effectiveness’. Thecore of classical elitism is, indeed, the idea of “elite inevitability”, meaning that society isnecessarily manoeuvred by, and only by, elites. Section 3: History of elites in Italy hitherto Italy can claim, undoubtedly, the longest and most entangled connection with elitism. Theparadigm itself can be witnessed in the ancient Rome: during the monarchic phase the patricians(patricii) were the only one in charge of legal authority.
Belonging to this social rank, stronglyexclusive, was fixed by birth. Then, during the republican period, the number of patrician familiesexponentially decreased and a new minority social class arose: the “nobilitas”, opposed to themass, the “plebs”. As of the second half of the XIII century, new principalities are born and newelites are established, more competitive than before. Even a very brief glance at the past shows ushow elitism, always “one sex only” and gerontocratic, is very much deep-rooted in the Italiansociety. Still today, the Italian framework has one of the highest rate of public disparity, second only toPortugal and Estonia. In the recent past, power was concentrated in the hands of great aristocraticand bourgeoisie elites, then, later substituted by those ones defined as democratic.
However, 14th Dec. 2017 Essay PL10967nowadays, even these latter ones are on the verge of decline in favour of other elites, which are most capable, unlike the previous ones, to establish international relations and networking. Assuch, it is appropriate to refer to them as the winners of a new relational capitalism. Since the birthof the Republic, we can observe at least three main elites’ sequence. The first one prone to therecovery and revival of the country in the immediate aftermath of the second world war. Thesecond one, on the other hand, was more concerned with the incorporation of broad economicalareas into the public sphere of competence. The last kind, finally, was involved with thepersonalisation of the public sphere, especially after the political parties’ crisis (Marchiano?, 2016).
As explained by Michels, through the “iron law of oligarchy”, every organisation, despite itsdemocratic start, eventually develop into oligarchies: ‘who says organisation, saysoligarchy’ (Michels, 1914). Especially in political parties there is underlined a fundamentalspecialisation, which hence builds bureaucratically a party, creating leaders increasingly unbundledfrom the original basis. Michels’ analysis (1914) reflects thoroughly the Italian situation: democracyis not thinkable without some sort of organisation, which generates a solid power structureidentified in political parties. Political parties lead a majority, and its development produces either abureaucratisation and centralisation, which then becomes an exclusive and fixed caste. Theparticipation at the basis is, in the best scenario, a convenient fiction.
The reason is thatdemocracy is merely regarded as the procedure and the mechanism through which political elitesare enabled to reach the government. The idea of substantial democracy, and everything with itattached, wanes. The popular vote, through elections, is merely the procedural rule that decideseach time which political actor was better able to win over the mass. To this regard, Italy’s caseshows an evident falsity of an auto-representation of a, officially existing, democracy, but,substantially, assertive to the oligarchy’s interests. Affairs can interfere with the government, notvice-versa. The consequence of this ‘long-term relationship’ is that citizens feel more and morekept out from democratic circuits, seen as guaranteer of only private interests.
Consequently, theychoose either abstention or to vote for populist parties. And it is in this exact, yet worrying, contextthat charismatic figures emerge, even in their most extremist form. Furthermore, frequently, elitestend to block the access to power to new social forces. However, now, a new political entity,Movement Five Star, by many considered populist, is rising, trying to reverse these trends andenter into the political framework. They invoke e-democracy, direct democracy and the idea ofpolitics not as a career, but only as a temporary service to the community.
Conclusion: To conclude, given the great ability of elites in retaining the power through either organisation,order or merits, it can be said that these political entities have shaped and, still today, aresuccessfully shaping the social context. Potentially, this could be a very efficient regime when theelite’s interest coincides with the community’s one, but this scenario is quite rare, if not evenidealistic. A strict minority rules over a large majority, always safeguarding and prioritising itselffirst. Finally, the case-study above mentioned tried to illustrate how even in a country, globally recognised as democratic, hidden elements of elitism can be detected, revealing how the elitist perspective is indeed the most appropriate one to define where political power lies.