Pareto and Elitism
- The Other Pareto edited by Placido Bucolo
Scolar, 308 pp, £15.00, April 1980, ISBN 0 85967 516 5
- Elitism by G. Lowell Field and John Higley
Routledge, 135 pp, £6.95, May 1980, ISBN 0 7100 0487 7
- Elites in Australia by John Higley and Don Smart
Routledge, 317 pp, £9.50, July 1979, ISBN 0 7100 0222 X
Elitists are a cheerless class and Vilfredo Pareto was no exception. He certainly led a cheerless life. He gave up a career as an engineer for writing and politics, but although he succeeded Léon Walras to the Chair of Political Economy at Lausanne he never obtained an academic post in Italy itself, and on the two occasions on which he stood for parliament in that country he was defeated (as he saw it) by corruption. He made a bad marriage to a Russian who left him for a servant and engaged him in litigation for almost all of the rest of his life. He lived out those twenty years in his villa at Céligny with increasing bitterness and sickness and a large number of Angora cats. He emerged at the very end once more to marry and to accept Mussolini’s invitation to join the League of Nations Disarmament Commission, but within a year, in 1923, he was dead.
He also had objective grounds for his gloom. His first piece on a political question, a lecture on proportional representation to the Accademia dei Georgofili in 1872, the piece with which Professor Bucolo begins his collection, reveals him as a firm if conventional enthusiast for Mill’s essay On Liberty. Proportional representation, he argued, would effect the best balance between the representation of the views of the majority and the representation of the views of various minorities which can check any tendency to tyranny and which in themselves are often the most enlightened. It would also prevent such minorities, if powerful, from having to work behind the scenes, or, if not powerful, from being made into martyrs. But as he came clearly to see, it required an ‘élite’ (although he did not yet use the term) which was not too divided in its opinions and which agreed about procedure. Italy had no such élite. Instead, there were various groups of conservatives, the Liberals and (after 1895) the Socialists, all very frightened and all in practice, as it seemed to Pareto (not without reason), concerned less with substantive and procedural justice than with self-protection and placement. ‘If Gladstone had been an Italian,’ he later remarked, ‘he certainly would only have opposed Salisbury for a couple of years. He would then have reached a compromise. England would have been governed by a Gladstone-Salisbury cabinet which would have been useful to many petty politicians but would certainly have corrupted not only the principles of each of these two men but the integrity of the political life of the whole country as well.’
Crispi’s second ministry in 1893, which ended three years later in the virtual annihilation of an expeditionary force in Ethiopia, the overt and unthinking repressions of the later 1890s, King Umberto’s attempted coups in 1898 and 1899, the King’s assassination in 1900 and the Socialists’ compromise with the Zanardelli-Giolitti government in 1902, after two years of promising collaboration with the Liberals, finally convinced this austere and unhappy man that nothing was to be hoped for from an enlightened middle class or from those Socialists who in some way shared the ideals that such a class might have. By 1898, he had decided that there were in truth only three parties in Italy: the clerics, the Socialists and ‘the thieves who govern’. By 1904, he had taken Marx’s view that the struggle between the classes ‘is the great factor which rules history’, and decided that force was the only effective means to power. By 1914 and the war, he had come to see the battle as one between German and Slavic vitality, Anglo-Saxon defensiveness and Latin decay. By 1923, he had concluded that democracy and the rule of law demanded dictatorship, that the Marxists had shown themselves to be incompetent dictators, and therefore that fascism, though gratuitously violent and bereft of ideas, had to be given some benefit of the doubt. ‘I do not want to follow anyone,’ he had already written to his friend the Liberal politician and journalist Pantaleoni in 1898, in the month in which the army had mown down demonstrators in Milan: ‘therefore I am going to interest myself in pure science.’ ‘I prefer to discover shame rather than be part of it.’
Vol. 2 No. 17 · 4 September 1980
From G. Lowell Field, John Higley
SIR: Your reviewer, Geoffrey Hawthorn, in reviewing Elitism, which appeared under our joint authorship, and also Elites in Australia (LRB, 3 July), was careless enough in reading our book and free enough with derogatory words in comment to entitle the authors to some room to reply.
Although the reviewer does not seem to take a drastically different view of the problems and difficulties of advanced industrial society from our own, he characterises us as fools for supposing that the prescriptions that we advance might be helpful in reducing these problems. Speaking of the manifold varieties of opinion which Pareto, late in life, conceded could never be totally suppressed (a manifestly sentimental notion if the brutal possibilities of history are taken seriously), Hawthorn says we are fools to think that we can ‘at once preserve’ such ideas and ‘render them inconsequential’ with ‘something called “élitism ”’. We never thought of élitism as a cause, movement or ideology, but only as a handy classification of certain recently neglected ideas. Such a reification of such a notion would, indeed, be foolish. We merely point to the factual predominance of élites in most political decision-making and suggest that élites might make a better job of what they do if they had a clearer conception of their position.
Dropping ‘merely’ from one key quotation and similarly dropping ‘in such matters’ from another, Hawthorn makes us read somewhat more ‘élitist’ than is actually the case. Then he spends some words chiding the straw man of our alleged intention to curtail democratic rights of free expression. Yet it remains the case that recognising that the outcomes of many matters depend more on them than on shadowy ‘popular forces’ might well lead élites to take better care of the public business.
Hawthorn’s brief references to Elites in Australia are nearly all factually incorrect. Whereas he asserts that the 370 national leaders interviewed agreed only that ‘whoever was in the élite they were not,’ in fact they mainly agreed that no single élite group runs Australia; three-quarters of them felt that they, as individuals, had significant influence on national policies and were in this sense part of the élite. Hawthorn asserts that the ‘central circle’ of 418 leaders did not include trade-unionists: in fact, 9 per cent were trade-union leaders and another 12 per cent were closely affiliated Labour Party leaders. He implies that the authors were eventually led to doubt the utility of their survey method: in fact, at the cited page (261) they say that, like any method, survey research ‘provides only rough approximations of social phenomena’. If Hawthorn knows another method which would yield a more accurate cross-sectional picture of a large national élite, there are many researchers waiting to learn it from him.
G. Lowell Field, John Higley
Geoffrey Hawthorn writes: Professors Field and Higley accuse me of misrepresenting their views, misreading their facts, and misunderstanding their remarks about method. I do remain puzzled as well as annoyed by their views. I still do not see how a recommendation to élites to realise their position and act accordingly, although in ways that these authors never explain, is self-evidently compatible with preserving such democratic virtues as we now have. And I certainly do not see how such a recommendation can blandly be called ‘a handy classification of certain recently neglected ideas’. Either Field and Higley believe what they say or they do not. When I said that none of those interviewed in the Australian study thought that they ran Australia, I had in front of me the authors’ repeated remarks to this effect. Many of these people conceded that they might have some influence, but that is a different matter. When I said that the central circle of 418 identified by Higley excluded union leaders, I was, I agree, oversimplifying. It did not. But such leaders seemed to be disproportionately under-represented in it, and, most surprisingly for Australia, scarcely figured at all in an inner 100 which I decided, for reasons of space, not to discuss apart from the 418. I remain convinced that a survey which identifies an élite solely from replies to questions about who the élite are and from replies to questions about whom the respondent talked to about a particular issue is worse than a ‘rough approximation’. It presupposes in the decision about whom to ask in the first place who is likely to be in the élite, and it says absolutely nothing about who actually does what how with whom to what effect. As Field and Higley must surely know, such an approach was effectively discredited by Dahl and others more than twenty years ago. No political historian would for a moment consider relying on it.