Rowman and Littlefield International
Political Elites

Political Elites

By Geraint Parry

Publication Date: Apr 2005

Pages 158

ECPR Press

Paperback 9780954796600
£16.00 €22.00 $24.95

Elites have been described both as the bulwarks of democracy and its very antithesis. 'Political Elites', first published in 1969, reviews the literature on the role of elites in politics. It deals with both the 'classic' elite theorists - Mosca, Pareto, Michels, Burnham and C. Wright Mills - and with many of the empirical and theoretical works on elites by modern political scientists and sociologists. It seeks to clarify the central terms of elite discourse, some of which have entered the everyday political vocabulary - 'elitism', 'power elite', 'establishment', 'elite consensus'' , 'iron law of oligarchy' and 'mass'. It explores the ways in which the descriptions of power relationships can subtly be infiltrated by the values of the observers. For this ECPR Classics edition Professor Parry has added an introduction reviewing significant new developments in elite political science.


New introduction by the author1


Chapter one: The context of elite theorising15

Elitism as a science and as ideology19

Marxism and elitism24

Chapter two: The classical elitist thesis28

Mosca and Michels: an organisational approach32

Pareto: A psychological approach40

Burnham: An economic approach44

C. Wright Mills: An institutional approach46

The concept of the mass47

Ideology and social control49

The perpetuation and replacement of elites50

Chapter three: Elitism and pluralism57

Types of elite60

Military elites66

Business elites67

Bureaucratic elites96

Education and elite formation72

The ‘Establishment’74

Elite consensus77

Chapter four: Empirical tests of elitist theories84

Elite background and recruitment86

Community power studies92

The ‘reputational’ approach93

The ‘decision-making’ approach96

Works of synthesis99


Chapter five: Criticisms of the elite concept105

The scope of influence105

Political influence: Appearance and reality108

The nature of decision-making113

‘Boundary’ problems116

The ‘costs’ of influence118

Concluding injunctions120

Chapter six: Elites and democratic theory124

‘Pluralism’ or ‘democratic elitism’?126

Classical democracy130

The radical alternative133

Degrees of democracy?136



What makes Parry’s book impressive overall as well as respectable in detail is his careful attention to the great diversity of questions which have been at issue.

Alan Ryan, professor of politics, Princeton University

Parry’s account of the theories in the field is admirably systematic and succinct, showing what is valuable in each, and his critical remarks are shrewd.

Steven Lukes, New York Univeresity

Geraint Parry was the WJM Mackenzie Professor, now Emeritus Professor of Government at the University of Manchester. His research interests are in democratic theory and practice, political sociology and the history of political ideas. He is the author of John Locke (1978) and, with G Moyser and N Day, Political Participation and Democracy in Britain (1992). He has edited Participation in Politics(1972), Democracy, Consensus and Social Contract (1972, with P Birnbaum and J Lively), Democracy and Democratization (1994, with M Moran) and Fundamentals in British Politics (1999, with I Holliday and A Gamble). His recent publications have been on the history of the relationship between political theory and educational thought. He has been editor of Government and Opposition, the Journal of Comparative Politics, and is a former President of the UK Political Studies Association.

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