Yıl: 2004/ Cilt: 6 Sayı: 1 Sıra: 1 / No: 187 /     DOI:

The Theorıes On The Power: Elıte Theory
Yard.Doç.Dr. Ali ARSLAN
Gaziosmanpaşa Üniversitesi - Fen-Edebiyat Fakültesi - Sosyoloji Bölümü

ABSTRACT:

Two main strategies have been used for analysing and explaining the power. The first and most popular strategy is “class theory” which stresses ownership and control to explain class differentiation. It concentrates on the inequalities based mainly on the ownership or non-ownership of economic resources. The second strategy is elite theory which investigates power and control and aims to analyse elite and non-elite (mass, public) differentiation. The major concern of this study will be elite theory. Therefore, firstly a detailed information about elite theory will be provided. Then, its sub-theories will be examined in detail. Finally, emphasis will be put on the problems of elite theory, misunderstandings about it, and its real face.

In spite of its very important contribution to the analysis and understanding of political systems, as the result of misunderstanding and misrepresentation, elite theory has not received world-wide popularity. It has been abandoned under the shadow of class theory for long periods. Furthermore, it has been accepted as more conservative, elitist, non-egalitarian and undemocratic, and it has been disparaged and marginalised in the social sciences. The reasons for this situation can be explained by a combination of several important agents:

KEY WORDS:

Power, Elite, Elite Theory, Pluralist Elite Theory, Elitist Elite Theory, Democratic Elite Theory, Class, Class Theory.

ÖZ:

İktidarın (Gücün) Teorik Temelleri: Elit Teorisi

Sosyal bilimciler, toplumların iktidar yapısını ve toplumdaki güç ilişkilerini anlayıp açıklamaya yönelik çalışmalarında, ağırlıklı olarak “eşitsizlik” kavramı üzerinde yoğunlaşırlar. Bu çalışmaların sonucunda geliştirilmiş teorik yaklaşımlardan en popüler olanı ve uzun yıllardan beridir bilim dünyasında etkin bir şekilde kullanılanı sınıf teorisidir. Aynı amaç doğrultusunda geliştirilmiş ve konuyu ayrıntılı bir şekilde inceleyen bir başka teorik yaklaşım ise “Elit Teorisi” dir. Kendi içinde 4 ayrı kola ayrılan elit teorisi, toplumdaki elit-halk farklılaşmasını analiz ederken “iktidar” ve “etki” olgularından hareket eder.

Bu çalışmada, iktidar ya da güç konusunda bu güne değin ortaya konmuş temel teorik yaklaşımlardan biri olan, fakat Türk okuyucular tarafından ayrıntısı fazla bilinmeyen elit teorisi üzerinde duruldu. Elit Teorisi, çok büyük bir kullanım potansiyeline sahip olmasına rağmen, çoğunlukla sınıf teorisinin gölgesinde kalmış ve sosyal bilimler alanında pek fazla kullanım yaygınlığı kazanamamıştır. Elit teorisinin temel açılımları ile birlikte ayrıntılı olarak incelenmesindeki asıl amaç, bu durumun altında yatan nedenleri araştırıp ortaya koymak ve elit teorisini gerçek boyutları ile sosyal bilimcilerin dikkatine sunmaktır. Çalışmanın bir başka amacı da, sınıf ve elit teorisi ile iki ilgili olarak sıklıkla ileri sürüle gelen bir takım spekülatif değerlendirmelerin bir son bulmasına katkıda bulunmaktır. Bu konuda, çağdaş batılı sosyal bilimcilerin, özellikle de Eva Etzioni (1993, 1997) ve John Scott (1995, 1991)’un çalışmaları oldukça aydınlatıcı niteliktedir.

ANAHTAR SÖZCÜKLER:

İktidar, Elit, Elit Teorisi, Plüralist Elit Teorisi, Elitist Elit Teorisi, Demokratik Elit Teorisi, Sınıf, Sınıf Teorisi.

1. INTRODUCTION

One of the major objectives of modern political scientists and political sociologists is to understand and to explain the socio-political structure of society. They are concerned with the power structure and power relations which are based on inequality to realise that aim. Two main strategies have been used for analysing and explaining that inequality. The first and most popular strategy is “class theory” which stresses ownership and control to explain class differentiation. It concentrates on the inequalities based mainly on the ownership or  non-ownership of economic resources. The second strategy is elite theory which was historically overshadowed by class theory. Elite theory concerns power and influence, and aims to analyse elite and non-elite (mass, public) differentiation.

The major theories in power structure research:

1.      Class Theory

•        Marxist Class Theory

•        Weberian (Mainstream) Class Theory

2.      Elite Theory

•        Pluralist Elite Theory

•        Elitist Elite Theory

•        Democratic Elitism

•        Demo-Elite Perspective

2. CLASS THEORY

Class theory was fathered by Karl Marx and especially developed by Marxist writers. Class analysts focus on identification of classes as the major social forces of society. There are two main schools of thought in class theory with their variations within each school:

1. Marxist Class Theory

2. Weberian (Mainstream) Class Theory

Class is defined in two ways in the Marxist tradition: firstly, as a category of similarly situated individuals, and secondly as a collective social actor-a cultural and political agency (Hindess, 1987:21). Marxist theory analyses social classes as based on the relationship to the means of production and accept them as social actors and conflict groups. Class is a social reality that its members occupy a common position in the organisation of production and its members have the awareness of a community of interests (class consciousness). The members of each class  have collective ties of solidarity to realise common purposes.

All societies have at least two classes that have common relationships to the means of production: the first one is the “ruling class” which owns and controls the means of production. As Etzioni mentioned (1993:14), according to Marx, the class which controls the means of material production also controls the means of mental production. Therefore, it rules not only economically but also by shaping and disseminating its ideology.

As Etzioni has argued (1993: 68-9), Marxists distinguish between the “ruling class” and the “governing class” and they claim that the state apparatus best serves the interests of the ruling class not a governing class. The governing class execute the daily routine duties of administration and political process. Whereas the ruling class hold the decisive power that compels the political process to serve the rulers’ interests. The state serves the interest of the ruling class because the capitalists and those who are in command of the state apparatus have a common social background and mentality. In addition to this the capitalists exhibit an extremely powerful interest group structure and they can pressurise the state towards their common interests.

Briefly, classes are defined in terms of the relations of production in the Marxist approach and described as the major social force in history. Also, according to Marxist scholars:

1.      Class structure of capitalist society is related to two dynamics: the class struggle and capitalist economic dynamics that effect the classes and class relations.

2.      Classes exist and have effects whether people recognise them or not. The classes have conflicting interests that are shaped by the economic dynamics of capitalism (Hindess, 1987:49-50).

On the other hand, Weber defines classes as the identifiable group of individuals who share a common market situation (Giddens, 1974:4). He defines classes in terms of groupings of related class situation. Class situation is set out in terms of the market situation of individuals and, it may be differentiated according to the sorts of property used to obtain returns in some market or, for those without property, according to the types of services offered for sale (ibid.: 37). Similar class situation may develop common patterns of life and common interests, but this is not necessary.

The idea of class situation differentiates Weber’s idea far more than the Marxists. In the Marxist tradition, classes are a phenomena of the organisation of production. However, class situations are a phenomena of the commercial life of a society in the Weberian sense. Nevertheless, this differentiation between the Marxist and Weberian view is for pre-capitalist societies. Both of these traditions accept that capitalists and workers are two different classes in the capitalist era. Class is the main distinctive element for understanding differentiation in capitalist society.

Mainstream (Weberian) theory focuses on resources and it accepts material resources as a major basis of class division (Etzioni, 1993: 14). Weber stresses the three different but interrelated aspects of social stratification: class, status and party. According to Weber, class is based on property and position in the market or social life chances. There are three major social classes;

1.    Owners of property

2.    Non-owners of property but their market position is intensified by their skills and knowledge.

3.    Those who can sell only their labour

If the Marxist class analysis and Weberian class analysis are examined carefully it will be clearly seen that, as Abercombie and Urry have said, these two approaches are incompatible and it is impossible to synthesise them. Nevertheless, Hindess (1987:48) sees Weber’s view as the correction of and supplement to Marx’s ideas rather than an alternative. When the ideas of Marx and Weber are compared, it will be clearly seen that both Marx and Weber explain classes in relation to the economy. Nevertheless, while Marx defines classes in terms of the relations of production, Weber defines them in relation to the market.

On the other hand, Weber does not agree with the Marxist’ idea of class struggle that “history is the history of the class struggles”. For Weber, of course the class struggle may be important in some circumstances, but nevertheless, there is no reason to accept the class struggle as the dynamo of history. Classes take place within the markets and the formation of market relations cannot be explained by the class struggle. Classes provide only one possible basis of collective action amongst others. As Hindess discussed (1987:50), whereas Marx aims at generating a general theory of the history and particular theory of the dynamics of capitalist society, Weber’s approach seems more classificatory.

3. ELITE THEORY AND ITS MAJOR EXPANSIONS

Elite theory is one of the major theories which aims to analyse and explain the power structure and power relations. It investigates power and control and aims to analyse elite and non-elite (mass, public) differentiation. Elite theorists are concerned almost exclusively with on inequalities based on power or lack thereof. This distinguishes elite theory from class theory. Power in turn, is based on other resources (such as economic assets and organisational strength) and for its part may give rise to control over other resources as well. But, as Etzioni (1993:19) stressed, elite theory is concerned primarily with the other resources which are related to it.

According to elite theory, societies are divided into the “few” who hold power and rule, and the “many” who are ruled. The ruling group called an elite, effectively monopolises power and makes the important decisions. The others (non-elites), the public or the masses have relatively no power and no choice but to accept the decision of the minorities.

There are four major sub-theories of elite theory:

1.      Pluralist Elite Theory

2.      Elitist Elite Theory

3.      Democratic Elitism

4.      Demo-Elite Perspective

In addition to these major theories,there are some other theories which are related to elites and try to explain the power structure and power relations. Marxism based theories, corporatism, state centred views are noteworthy to mention amongst these theories.

4. PLURALISTS AND PLURALIST ELITE THEORY

Pluralist theories takes their roots from the liberal tradition. They gained a widespread reputation in the 1950s and 1960s. The pluralist view was popularised by major pluralist theorists such as Dahl (1956), Lindblom (1965), Riesman (1961) and Galbraith (1952). This idea has become more sophisticated and detailed in the works of Truman (1971), Bealey (1988), Polsby (1985), and Sartori (1987). The major emphasis of the pluralists is the plurality of pressure groups. Pluralist elite theory stresses the plurality of power groups and the decentralisation of power. Nevertheless, they do not emphasise elite autonomy which is one of the major principles of democracy.

The major ideas of pluralist elite theory are the plurality of the power centres and the distribution of power. Power has been shared by several pressure groups or elite groups. All these groups have some decisive affect on the decision-making process in some way. e.g., to Dahl who is one of the most important pluralist scholars, a number of groups have effective impact on the policy outcomes in some respects. Businessmen, trade unions, politicians, consumers, farmers, voters and many other groups are highly influential on the decision-making process (Hewitt, in Giddens and Stanworth, 1974: 48).

The power of the government was confined by the other power groups, such as elites of business, of bureaucracy, of white collars, of business and trade unions, of the major opposition parties, of the farmers, ...etc.. While elitists think that public opinion is checkable by the ruling group, to pluralists power of the ruling group is controlled and reduced by the other elites and the public. Pluralist elite theory is concerned with checking and counterbalancing the power exercised by the other power groups, but nevertheless they do not make any clear distinction between elites and key elites.

A quite recent version of pluralism is neo-pluralism which, in some respects, differs from pluralism. It concentrates major attention on political elites and business elites. They try to make pluralism closer to Marxism. Some pluralists (now they are named neo-pluralists), like Lindblom and Dahl give a privileged position to the capitalists within the power structure (Etzioni, ibid.: 83). Dahl argued at a 1964 conference that “the key political, economic and social decisions are made by tiny minorities”. As a reason for this situation, Schattschneider says that the large majority of society is politically disorganised, fragmented and passive (Bachrach, 1967: 7).

To neo-pluralists, business elites have more power than the other elites within society. They play a very important role in politics and they control the political economy. As Etzioni said (1993:83), while pluralists and pluralist elite theorists see the government counterbalanced by multiple pressure groups or elite groups, neo-pluralists accept the government counterbalanced mostly and especially by the business elites. Although, Dahl stresses autonomy, nevertheless his focus is quite different from the democratic elite theorists’. He concentrates his attention on the importance of the autonomy of the organisations, not the autonomy of the elites and elite groups as happened in democratic elite theory.

Pluralism is a highly idealistic approach. It usually stresses the equality and fragmentation of power and also pluralists assign an important role to the public in the decision-making process. The pluralist suppositions are acceptable and desirable, but not realistic. The social reality is highly different from the arguments of pluralism. As Freeman concludes, pluralism is more mythology than fact (Presthus, 1964: 45)

5. ELITIST ELITE THEORY

Whereas,Field and Higley (1980: 1) mention the three pioneers of classical elite theory as being Vilfredo Pareto, Roberto Michels and Gaetano Mosca. Moyser & Wagstaffe (1987: 5) mention Michels’ study as the first elitist book. Peter Bachrach accepts Mosca as the first elitist thinker. Bachrach says “Mosca’s Ruling Class can be said to constitute the first formulation of democratic elitism” (Bachrach, 1967: 10).

Mosca argues that always a small minority group rules any society. There are at least two classes in all societies which are the class that rules and the class that is ruled. The first class is always a minority and has fewer members. Mosca says that “the Few” rules “the Many” and adds “those on high, who have their finger in the pie, or who make the good and the bad weather” (Meisel, 1962: 33). Those people who are known as the “ruling elite” accomplish all political functions, hold and exercise decisive power. Briefly, they control the rest of society. The masses do not have an important affect on the ruling class (Bachrach, ibid.: 12). According to Mosca, dominant minorities derive from the majority by “natural selection” or the political election process, and then they control the majority impressively (Meisel, 1962: 371).

Meisel accepts Ludwig Gumplowicz as Mosca’s intellectual father and Henri de Saint Simon as grandfather of Mosca’s intellectual ideas (Meisel, ibid.: 255). Mosca discovered the elite concept being influenced by French thinker Henri de Saint Simon, but nevertheless, Pareto gained international scientific popularity by using this concept (Meisel, ibid.: viii). Mosca argues that “according to Saint Simon, power in all organised societies is split between two orders: one controls the intellectual and moral, the other the material forces. These two powers are exercised by two organised minorities together form the ruling class” (Quoted from Meisel, ibid.: 255).

Mosca specifies “knowledge” as another important social source of power which will counterbalance the power of property. Personal achievement will become as worthy as birth and wealth (Meisel, ibid.: 50-1). On the other hand, the source of the inevitability and domination of the ruling elite is their organisational ability and cohesion. The Few rule because they are strong. They are so strong because they are so few. The ruling elite has organised and co-ordinated group character (Meisel, 1962: 40). Also, James Meisel introduces his “Three C’s Formula” in his analysis. To Meisel, all elites had “the three C’s” which are group Consciousness, Coherence and Conspiracy (Meisel, 1962: 4). Their power is inevitable and their influence is irresistible because they have been organised and united, they also control the elite recruitment process (Bachrach, ibid.: 12-3).

To Field and Higley (1980: 17-20), the elitist paradigm concerns the consensual unified elite, political stability and representative democratic government. There is a causal relationship between these three facts. Representative democratic government requires political stability which in turn necessitates consensual unified elites. Consensual unity makes the elites more powerful within the policy-making process. Nevertheless, Field and Higley argue that elites are imperfectly unified and representative institutions are highly unstable, especially in most modern developing societies.

Elitist theory adopts the opposite view to the pluralists. The main thesis of the elitist view is that power has been concentrated and centralised in the hands of the small numbers of the elite group (Presthus, 1964: 10) which is the most powerful in the power structure. It is dominant over other groups. This dominant group knows what others do not know, can do what others can not do, is permitted to do what others may not do (Thoenes, 1966: 42). On the other hand, pluralists argue that power has been diffused and fragmented among many people, pressure groups or elite groups which participate to the decision-making process in one way or another.

Hewitt counts F. Hunter, C. W. Mills and W. Domhoff amongst the most important American elitist scholars. On the other side, he accepts Aaronovitch and Miliband as the effective British elitist theorists. To Hewitt (Giddens & Stanworth, 1974: 47), American sociologist C. W. Mills has some elitist aspects. Mills sees the three most vigorous and influential elite groups within the power structure as political elites, business elites and military elites. These three elite groups have got social inter-connections, common interests and affairs and similar social backgrounds. This unity constitutes the power elites which formulate the most significant policy issues and make macro level social, economic and political decisions.

Another important name amongst the American elitist sociologists is Domhoff. He sees the power elite as the “operating arm of the upper class”.  The most important social and political issues are shaped and the rules are defined by the members of the upper class. To Domhoff, they have a significant influence on foreign affairs and social welfare legislation (Hewitt, ibid.: 47).

The two important British sociologists in the elitist perspective are Aaronovitch and Miliband. Aaronovitch accepts the finance capitalists as the ruling class. Finance capitalists or their representative take the most critical political and economic decisions in favour of themselves out of the discussion and popular control. They control the state and also the lives of millions of  people. According to Miliband “economically dominant class rules through democratic institutions. The holders of the state power are the agents of private economic power - that those who wield that power also, therefore, and without unduly stretching the meaning of words, an authentic ruling class.” (Quoted from Hewitt, ibid.: 47). 

As Hewitt (ibid.: 49) explained, elitists pay attention to a relatively unified and cohesive ruling group. Nevertheless, there is not any common conceptualisation amidst the elitist writers. Some elitists accept this ruling group as a social class (like Domhoff), some of them call it an economic class (like Aaronovitch and Miliband) and some others see it as an organisational elite (like Hunter and Mills).

 

6. DEMOCRATIC ELITE THEORY

Democratic elite theory concentrates on equality but, with a small but important difference from the theory of democracy. While democracy idealises the equality of power within society, the democratic elite theory stresses the equality of opportunity to obtain a position of power. This is much more realistic than the idealistic principle of democracy (Bachrach, 1967: 97-8).

The explicit principle of this perspective is the relative autonomy, but never absolute autonomy, of elites from one another, especially from the governing political elites. The relative autonomy of elites is at the heart of democratic elite theory. It accepts this autonomy as the unavoidable component for democracy. The separation of power is inevitable not only to save democracy but also to frustrate despotic regimes. Free elections, freedom of speech and association are the major elements of democracy which help to protect the elite’s autonomy (Oyen, 1990: 114). Elites requires to the public and to the other elites for well-being of democracy (Bachrach: 106). It is impossible for the liberties to survive, to preserve the democracy from the totalitarian dangers and to create a more democratic system without active public support and counterbalancing the social forces and institutions.

The idea of autonomy is related to liberal democratic thought. Liberal democracy takes its roots from the idea of limitation of state power for individual rights and freedoms. The pioneers of this school of thought are John Locke, David Hume and James Madison. Nevertheless, some of the major principles of liberal thought, such as the idea of the separation of legislative, executive and judicial powers were clearly defined and explained by Montesquieu in the eighteenth century. To Montesquieu, concentrated power is very dangerous, because it risks bringing despotism, tyranny, oppression and abuses. Controlling one power by means of another power/s can keep away this kind of danger.

Liberal democracy is based on the separation of powers (legislative, executive and judicial powers) within the state. In addition to this division, James Mill and Jeremy Bentham add and clearly explain the idea of electoral representative democracy that includes free elections, freedom of speech, press and association. Nevertheless, as Etzioni mentions (1993: 54), there is no perception about  holders of power and influence that they identified as elites in that perspective. They also, do not concentrate on the importance of the autonomy of non-state elites for limitation of state power and advancement of civil sovereignties whereas democratic elite theory concentrates on and aims at explaining in detail all the mentioned points.

It is thought that examining the historical and theoretical backgrounds will be helpful to understanding the theoretical perspective. This will be followed to explain democratic elite theory.As mentioned by Oyen, the most effective scholars in the democratic elite theoretical perspective are Max Weber, Gaetano Mosca, Joseph Schumpeter and Raymond Aron.

Weber stresses authority and bureaucracy, and analyses bureaucratic and political elites in his theory. To Weber, power is the realisation of objectives and wishes in spite of the resistance of others within social relations. This ability takes its roots from its position in the social hierarchy. Weber accepts that elites are unavoidable even in a democratic system. He stresses charismatic authority and charismatic leaders in particular and pays special attention to the role of charismatic leaders in the democratic process. To Weber, the democratic process is a competitive struggle of leaders for public support bringing forward the most qualified leaders who have genuine charisma. The autonomous charismatic leaders give new political directions to political life and avoid bureaucratic oppression. These leaders must be controlled by parliamentary assemblies because if the leaders loose their charisma, or their control over the public they become oppressive power holders.

Mosca is recognised as one of the pioneers of democratic elite theory. He stresses the idea of the separation of powers. To him the nature and formation of the ruling class is substantial in defining the political structure of society. Political systems that are feudal and bureaucratic regimes play an important part in his analysis. The members of the ruling class practise all governmental functions that are judicial, economic, administrative and military in the feudal system. Nevertheless, the members of the ruling class are more specialised within the bureaucratic regime. The different parts of the class, such as governmental, bureaucratic, military..., exercise the different duties within the governmental body in the bureaucratic system. Social and political changes in Western societies culminated in the replacement of the  absolutist bureaucratic state with the modern, bureaucratic parliamentary state.

Whereas the Weberian representative democracy view is not concerned with sovereignties of the people, the democratic elite theory is. Public discussion of governmental actions, parliamentary, individual and press freedoms are also highlighted in Mosca’s political analysis.

Separation of powers and elections are inevitable elements of democratic regimes. The ruling class has been divided into distinct sections within the democratic state. It is very important to check the powers by the other powers, because uncontrolled and concentrated power bear the dangers of authoritarian and oppressive regimes. In addition to that, though elections beget elected assemblies, nevertheless they may lead to the party based political corruption or electoral dictatorship of elected politicians. Therefore, only the autonomy of judiciary and bureaucracy prevents this kind of danger. Briefly, the basic rule to create a more democratic system is that the power of governing political elites has to be checked by the power of the other autonomous elites.

While Weber and Mosca stress the segregation of power within the state, Austrian sociologist Joseph Schumpeter concentrates on the separation of power outside the state as well. Schumpeter analyses not only the autonomy of state elites but also the autonomy of the non-state elites. He pays extensive attention to countervailing power of autonomous elites because, to him, electors do not control the power of elected politicians. Elected people can be controlled only by the independent elites, such as academic, bureaucratic, judicial elites, media elites. Schumpeter argues that the idea of broad participation of the public in the decision-making process is very unrealistic. Democracy is not rule by the people, but by elected elites (Etzioni, 1993:60).

Like Schumpeter, French sociologist and liberal thinker Raymond Aron appreciates the significance of the autonomy of the state and non-state elites. As Etzioni points out (1993:61), for Aron, elite structure is more than the entire reflection of the structure of society, and makes a crucial impression up on it. The type of elite structure has great importance for the limitation of the elites power and the type of political regime.

There are a lot of power groups in modern societies, but, five of them are very significant. These five very substantial elite groups are political leaders, government administrators, economic directors, labour leaders and military chiefs. For Aron, the balance of elite unity is very important for the democratic regimes, because entire unification of elites means the end of freedom, on the other hand complete disintegration of elites means the end of the state.

Etzioni emphasises that, “although there is a basic consensus among democratic elites on the most basic issues, elites are internally divided on a whole variety of less fundamental issues” (1993: 61). Other elites have a relative independence from political rulers, and they act to defend their interests (Etzioni, ibid.: 61). Aron differentiates the state and society in the democratic regime, and also he sees the authority of rulers as controlled and limited.

Seymour Martin Lipset examines the evolution and preservation of liberal democracy (1981). He shows that stable democracy is highly associated with the level of economic development and the educational levels of the people. A higher level of education diminishes radicalism and authoritarianism amongst the working class, and also it increases the size of the middle class. A substantial middle class reduces the conflict between working class and upper class, and it also acts as a moderator between government and the public. He identifies the middle classes as the autonomous association or centres of power (Etzioni, 1993: 63).

Israeli sociologist Shmuel Eisenstadt’s work on the comparative study of empires, civilisations and modernisation can be mentioned under the label of the Weberian-Schumpeterian tradition. To Eisenstadt, solidarity and consensus among elites is related to the rules and values of the political game. The separation of elites is one of the essential elements of democracy.

Berelson (1954) and Kornhauser’s (1959) studies can be pigeonholed within elitist democratic theory. Kornhauser stresses the importance of relatively autonomous power groups. For him, relatively autonomous power groups restraint the power of elites and control the undemocratic tendencies of the masses. These power groups play a countervailing role between the elites and the public. Elitist-democratic elite theorists see a large amount of public participation to be dangerous. They prefer public apathy to public participation.

7.  DEMO-ELITE PERSPECTIVE

The demo-elite perspective is a branch of democratic elite theory. Although, it uses some parts of the other theories and has some similarities with them, it tries to follow a new path in analysing elites: whereas Marxist and state centred theories concern the complete autonomy of the state from other sources, demo-elite perspective stresses placing check on state power by the other powers. Unlike pluralists and pluralist elite theory, the demo-elite perspective focuses on both elites and sub-elites. Pluralists stress on the pressure groups and accept the elites as the representative of pressure groups. In contrary with pluralist elite theory, demo-elite perspective distinguishes clearly powerful pressure groups and inferior interest groups.

Pluralist elite theory distributes power among the pressure groups. The key elites and sub-elites monopolise power consistently in the demo-elite perspective. The demo-elite perspective ascribes higher value to elites’ relative autonomy from government in terms of the control of resources, and accept it as more significant than a large number of power holders for democracy. It defines established and non-established elites clearly and accepts the elites as the major dynamic force for social change.

On the other hand, although the demo-elite perspective takes place within the framework of democratic elite theory, it is more elaborate and detailed. Whereas, the liberal philosophy and democratic elite theory examine the separation and autonomy of power holders very generally, demo-elite perspective analyses comprehensively the autonomy in terms of control of substantial resources. While liberal philosophy associates the segregation of power with liberal governance and democratic elite theory links the autonomy with the democracy at a very general level, demo-elite perspective accepts the autonomy as the very heart of democracy.

The demo-elite perspective analyses not only the general associations between relative elite autonomy and democracy, but also examines historical/causal relationships among them. It sees as necessary this autonomy for the preservation and development of democracy. It aims to further democratic and egalitarian democracy, and also to give a more egalitarian appearance to democratic elite theory. This perspective provides a trichotomous division in describing the power structure of society. They are elites, sub-elites and the public:

1. Elites; those people who have greater share of power because they are controlling the major social resources actively. They have usually settled in the highest echelons of the power and influence structures. The major elites are the members of  government, the leaders and effective-active members of major political parties, the top occupants of military, police, judiciary, bureaucracy, the operative owners and the top managers of the large scale companies.

Additionally higher ranking academic staff and scientists, editors and directors of the major broadcast companies, highly popular writers and artists, leaders of labour or trade unions and the leaders of the major social movements can be called major elites. This final sentence clearly shows that, elites are not only members of the most advantaged but may also be the most influential and active members of the disadvantaged.

2. Sub-elites; those people who come after the elites and occupy the medium echelons of the power structure. Sub-elites cover the owners and directors of the medium-scale companies and the occupants of those posts which come after the elite positions within the elite groups. They may be accepted as mediators between the elites and the public.

3. The Public; who occupy the lowest stratum of the power structure. The public is not completely powerless, nevertheless, they take the fewest share from power, wealth, prestige and the major social resources.

According to the researcher of this paper, as shown in Figure 1, in addition to this trichotomous division two major sub-categories can be added: that of “shadow (potential) elites” and “aspirant sub-elites”:

4. Shadow (potential) Elites: Shadow elites can be defined as those people within the sub-elites who potentially have the greatest opportunity to obtain an elite position, because of their social background. The number of the shadow elite is as high as the number of elite positions in the power structure of any society. This happy and lucky minority group within the sub-elites becomes an elite at the end of the process of elite circulation.

5. Aspirant Sub-elites: It can be defined as the category of those people within the public, and have the highest opportunity and potential to obtain, firstly a position in the sub-elite; and then maybe become a member of the elite within the elite recruitment process because of their social background, personal abilities and personalities. They can be identified as the potential sub-elites and elites.

The demo-elite perspective does not neglect the public and its power, because the circulation of elites cannot be understood and explained unless the circulation of the public is understood and explained. The health and fulfilment of democracy depends on institutionalised channels for the circulation between the public and the elites. The public has great importance not only for political elites but also for the other elites. As Etzioni said (1993: 108), elites need public support for sustaining their positions and the realisation of their aims. It is absolutely essential for the elites and sub-elites to communicate with the public, because the public act as the voters, listeners, readers or customers for the elites.

 

Figure 1

 Power Pyramid of Society

(Toplumsal Güç Piramidi)

The autonomy of the elites is not the same as the autonomy of the organisations, and it is also not identical to elite pluralism. The autonomy of elites is usually interpreted as autonomy from the major social resources. These resources comprise either material or non-material things that are deficient and wanting. The most important resources cover the physical resources, organisational-administrative resources (like bureaucratic organisations), the symbolic resources (such as knowledge, information) and the ability to control symbols, financial-economic resources (such as capital, means of production, exchange and enterprises), and psycho-personal resources like charisma, time, motivation and energy. These resources are usually interrelated and can be found within different combinations. Etzioni (1993: 98-99) stresses that the autonomy of the elites necessitates the following conditions:

•        Autonomy from the coercion of the coercive resources of others

•        Autonomy from the control of the material resources of others

•        Autonomy from the restraint of the directoral and regulatory expedients of others

•        Freedom from control of the symbolic resources by others.

When the above explanation is examined it should be clearly seen that, it is impossible to talk about absolute autonomy as often some resources are controlled by the other elites. Therefore, the demo-elite perspective prefers to use the term relative autonomy rather than absolute autonomy. It is possible to talk about the relative autonomy of elites and sub-elites, either some of their resources are controlled by the other elites or sub-elites.

In the demo-elite perspective, the relative autonomy of elites and sub-elites has the means of independence not only from each other, but especially from the state and the governmental elites. The relative autonomy from the state and the governmental elites are key features of democracy, and also it is the guardian of the power balance within the power structure. Whereas elite theory concerns the role of the autonomy of elites for the appearance and perpetuation of democracy, the demo-elite perspective stresses the role of autonomy for stabilising and promoting democracy. Nevertheless, the degree of relative autonomy is changeable and fragmentary in Western democracies.

Sometimes, elite co-operation is necessary to operate the political system and to achieve some of the social and political tasks of society. Etzioni differentiates elite co-operation and elite solidarity-consensus. He accepts that elite co-operation is more important than elite solidarity-consensus for the conventional running of any political system including democracy.

Elite co-operation is not essentially grounded on elite solidarity and consensus. It may contradict absolute elite autonomy, but there is no contravention between relative elite autonomy and elite co-operation. “Without elite co-operation there can be no democracy, but without elite autonomy there can be no democracy either” (Etzioni, 1993: 110). Co-operation of elites on the duties of society does not mean the end of the struggle among elites. Sometimes, the social conditions of the country, emergence of duty and the high benefits to society may necessitate the urgent co-operation of elites. Nevertheless, the competition and the struggle among the elite groups has not ended.

A recent Turkish case can be cited as a good example of elite co-operation: in 1996, the elites of the Turkish labour union acted voluntarily with Turkish business elites against governmental elites, in opposition to the “Law of the tax free auto-import”. Although, theoretically these two elite groups must struggle with each other because of their contradictory interests. In terms of this contradiction, they acted together, because some common profits of these two groups necessitated a united and collaborative action against the government.

In addition, the solidarity and incorporation of the democratic elite groups against the provocative actions of the “Refah-yol” Islamist government forms a good example about the importance and necessity of elite co-operation. The solidarity and co-operation among the Turkish military, media, business, trade union and scientific elites not only slowed down the growing Islamist movement but also brought the end of the “Refah-yol” government.

8. THE MAJOR PROBLEMS OF ELITE THEORY

The major concern of this study will be elite theory. Therefore, detailed information about elite theory and its sub-theories will be provided. Firstly, emphasis will be put on the problems of elite theory, misunderstandings about it, and its real face. Then, elite theory and its extensions will be examined in detail.

In spite of its very important contribution to the analysis and understanding of political systems, as the result of misunderstanding and misrepresentation, elite theory has not received world-wide popularity. It has been abandoned under the shadow of class theory for long periods. Furthermore, it has been accepted as more conservative, elitist, non-egalitarian and undemocratic, and it has been disparaged and marginalised in the social sciences. The reasons for this situation can be explained by a combination of several important agents:

  1. The halo effect of the founding fathers: The popularity of the theories has been affected by the founding fathers. Marx has had more influence and popularity than the classical elite theorists Pareto, Mosca and Michels within the social scientific universe.

  2. The halo effect of ideology: Where class theory was developed within the communist environment  in relation to socialism, elite theory was generated in the early twentieth century under the influence of fascist ideology.

  3. Problems of terminology: Elite theory has some problems of terminology, but nevertheless class theory also has not solved the terminology problem as discussed before. As Etzioni explained (1993:26), there are four terminological misunderstandings about elite theory:

•        The term elite brings to mind a selected group of people who are the most capable and have  moral excellence.

•        The term elite calls to mind elitism and praise of  the elites and their rule.

•        Seemingly, elite theory has been misunderstood  as over simplistic and as the dichotomous map of the socio-political structure of society. On the other hand, it has been accepted that the class theory constructs a more detailed and problematic power structure map for society.

•        It seems that, while class theory defines clearly and in terms of some criteria the sub categories of the class, elite theory sufficiently describes only the elites. According to that idea, the remaining part of the society is not described in terms of their characteristics, but only their exclusion from the elites.

  1. The neglect of the public: In Marxist Class Theory, seemingly the lower ranks of the social hierarchy are active in shaping their destiny and they are struggling for their interests. This appearance makes class theory  relatively more democratic and egalitarian, and also more attractive to the intellectual ambience. Elite theory labels the rest of the society as the non-elite or masses. These words may be understood as apparently inactive, apathetic and have no identity according to some scholars.

  2. Negative effects of some elite theorists: Some elitist theorists have used strictly elitist views in their studies either deliberately or unconsciously. This kind of ideology oriented approach has had a negative effect on the popularity of elite theory.

9. THE REAL FACE OF ELITE THEORY

Nevertheless, it seems that its unpleasant and unjust reputation will not continue and elite theory will take its real place within the social sciences. If elite theory is examined carefully and objectively it can be seen very clearly that:

a.       Elite theory is not inherently simplistic: Mills’ and some other elite theorists’ studies clearly show that, in addition to the dichotomous hierarchy of power structure, elite theories also use a trichotomous viewpoint. That categorisation is at least as adequate as the classification of the class analysis. For the trichotomous viewpoint, society is formed by the three major categories that are elites, sub-elites and the public. This simplification of society is not much more simplistic than the division of the society into three classes. Furthermore, social scientists need to simplify the complex structure of society to understand and to analyse its peculiarities.

b.      Elite theory and elites are not inherently elitist: Etzioni shows clearly that (1993: 30), elite theory is ideologically neutral and elites are not necessarily the cream of society or better than anybody else. Elite theory does not praise or condemn the elites. It only examines the elites as a social subject without giving them any ideological meaning. Elite theory is not linked to any particular ideology and certainly not fascism (Moyser, 1987: 13). Nor can it be claimed that Marxist class theory is “classist” because it examines classes. For this reason, nobody can claim that elite theory is “elitist” because its subject is elites. In a theoretical context, Elitism is only one perspective within elite theory. There are many other perspectives within elite theory that have antithetical views to elitism.

c.       Elite theory is not inherently undemocratic and non-egalitarian: The democratic elite theory has clearly proved that, elite theory is not undemocratic and does not contradict and deny democratic theory. A more detailed explanation of the democratic elite theory can be found within the next pages.

d.     Elite theory is not inherently neglectful of the public: The theory does not attribute any negative means to the terms of non-elite or public, such as inactive, apathetic or having no identity. Elite theorists never hold the public in contempt. They use the concept of public within the scientific sense as a neutral concept.

SUMMARY

One of the major objectives of modern political scientists and political sociologists is to understand and to explain the socio-political structure of society. They are concerned with the power structure and power relations which are based on inequality to realise that aim. Two main strategies have been used for analysing and explaining that inequality. The first and most popular strategy is “class theory” which stresses ownership and control to explain class differentiation. It concentrates on the inequalities based mainly on the ownership or  non-ownership of economic resources.

The second strategy is elite theory which was historically overshadowed by class theory.. It investigates power and control and aims to analyse elite and non-elite (mass, public) differentiation. Elite theorists are concerned almost exclusively with on inequalities based on power or lack thereof. This distinguishes elite theory from class theory. Power in turn, is based on other resources (such as economic assets and organisational strength) and for its part may give rise to control over other resources as well. But, as Etzioni (1993:19) stressed, elite theory is concerned primarily with the other resources which are related to it.

According to elite theory, societies are divided into the “few” who hold power and rule, and the “many” who are ruled. The ruling group called an elite, effectively monopolises power and makes the important decisions. The others (non-elites), the public or the masses have relatively no power and no choice but to accept the decision of the minorities.

ÖZET:

Sosyal bilimciler, eşitsizlik olgusundan hareketle, toplumların iktidar yapılarını ve toplumda cereyan eden güç ilişkilerini anlayıp açıklamaya yönelik olarak iki teorik yaklaşım ortaya koymuştur. Bunlardan biri sınıf teorisi, diğeri elit teorisidir. Ekonomik eşitsizliklerden yola çıkan sınıf teorisinde, sınıf farklılaşması açıklanırken, “sahiplik” ve “kontrol” kavramı kullanılır. Elite teorisinde ise daha çok sosyo-politik eşitsizlikler ön planda tutulur ve farklılaşma üzerinde durulur. Bu analiz yapılırken ve elit-halk farklılaşması açıklanırken de “iktidar-güç” (power) ve “etki” (influence) kavramları temel alınır.

İktidar ve güç ilişkilerini inceleyen teorik yaklaşımlar içinde en popüler olanı ve uzun yıllardan beridir bilim dünyasında etkin bir şekilde kullanılanı sınıf teorisidir. “Elit Teorisi” ise, çok büyük bir kullanım potansiyeline sahip olmasına rağmen, çoğunlukla sınıf teorisinin gölgesinde kalmış ve pek fazla yaygınlık kazanamamıştır. Bunun temel nedeninin birtakım tarihsel sebepler ile elit teorisi ile ilgili bazı eksik ve yanlış anlama/anlaşılma ve değerlendirmeler olduğunu özellikle vurgulamak gerekir.

Bununla birlikte, sosyal bilimler alanında yaşanan gelişmeler, uzun yıllar hak ettiği akademik ilgiden ve ünden yoksun kalmış olan elit teorisinin, sosyal bilimler alanında hak ettiği yere kavuşacağı günlerin yakın olduğunu gösteriyor. Zaten objektif bir gözle ve dikkatle incelendiğinde, elit teorisinin gerçek yüzünün sanılandan çok daha farklı olduğu ve kendisine yöneltilen eleştirileri hiç de hak etmediği görülür.

Örneğin, elit teorisi kesinlikle aşırı basite indirgeyici değildir.Mills’in ve öteki bazı elit teorisyenlerinin çalışmaları, elit teorisi toplumların güç yapılarını yalnızca, halk ve elit şeklinde aşırı şekilde basite indirgeyici olmadığını açıkça gösteriyor. Aslında bu dikotomik  (ikili) sınıflandırmanın dışında daha çok, trikotomik (üçlü) bir sınıflandırma (elit, alt elitler ve halk) kullanılır. Hatta Arslan (1999-b)’ın, toplumun iktidar yapısını beşli sınıflandırma önerisi büyük ölçüde kabul görmüştür. Unutulmamalıdır ki, elit teorisinin kategorileştirmeleri de, en az sınıf teorisinin yaptığı kadar gelişmiş bir sınıflandırmadır. Yani toplumun sınıf teorisyenlerince alt, orta ve üst sınıf şeklinde üçlü bir yapılandırmaya ayrıştırılması aşırı basite indirgeyicilik olmazken; elit teorisyenlerinin yapmış oldukları kategorileştirmenin aşırı basitleştirme olarak nitelendirilmesi çifte standarttan başka bir şey değildir.

Elit teorisinin seçkinci bir kimliğe sahip olduğu şeklindeki yanılsamaya gelince: Etzioni’nin (1993: 30) de açıkça gösterdiği gibi, akademik bir kimliğe sahip olan bu yaklaşım ideolojik açıdan kesinlikle nötr bir niteliktedir. Bu yaklaşımda elitler de hiç bir zaman, toplumsal hayatta öteki bireylere oranla daha iyi, daha üstün, akli ve ahlaki yeterlilikleri bakımdan daha gelişmiş bireylerdir şeklinde tanımlanmamıştır. Öte yandan, bazılarının iddia ettikleri gibi, elit teorisinin herhangi bir ideolojiyle, hele hele faşizm ile uzaktan yakınan ilişkisi yoktur (Moyser, 1987: 13). Nasıl ki, Marksist yaklaşım obje olarak sınıfları ele alıp incelediği için “sınıfçı” bir yaklaşım olarak suçlanmıyorsa; elit teorisi de inceleme konusu olarak elitleri seçmiş olmasından dolayı “elitist” bir teori şeklinde damgalanamaz. Aynı şekilde, elit teorisinin demokrasi karşıtı ya da eşitliği yadsıyan bir yaklaşım içinde olduğu iddialarının da hiç bir gerçeklik payı yoktur

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