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Do Ruling Elites Degenerate? American and British Elites Through Pareto’s Lens*

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For content published from 1960-2001, see International Journal of Comparative Sociology.

[AbstractUsing Machiavelli’s metaphors, Vilfredo Pareto theorized that over time psychosocial propensities of ruling elites - manifested by predominant personality traits, mentalities, beliefs, and actions - are those of “foxes” or “lions”. Either propensity renders a ruling elite, especially its leaders, prone to bias, closure, and cumulating blunders. This degenerative process leads to a severe economic-political crisis and wide elite circulation, during which groups and persons disposed toward the opposite propensity gain power. Pareto’s theory has much intuitive appeal, but its breadth and elasticity, together with the empirically elusive qualities of elites, risk tendentious applications. Taking this risk, we examine what through Pareto’s lens appear to be cycles of circulation and degeneration among American and British elites since shortly after World War II., Abstract Using Machiavelli’s metaphors, Vilfredo Pareto theorized that over time psychosocial propensities of ruling elites – manifested by predominant personality traits, mentalities, beliefs, and actions – are those of “foxes” or “lions”. Either propensity renders a ruling elite, especially its leaders, prone to bias, closure, and cumulating blunders. This degenerative process leads to a severe economic-political crisis and wide elite circulation, during which groups and persons disposed toward the opposite propensity gain power. Pareto’s theory has much intuitive appeal, but its breadth and elasticity, together with the empirically elusive qualities of elites, risk tendentious applications. Taking this risk, we examine what through Pareto’s lens appear to be cycles of circulation and degeneration among American and British elites since shortly after World War II.]

Affiliations: 1: Government and Sociology, University of Texas at Austin, Email: jhigley@austin.utexas.edu; 2: Sociology, University of Tasmania Hobart, Email: Jan.Pakulski@utas.edu.au

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/content/journals/10.1163/156913311x607647
2011-01-01
2016-12-08

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