Elites and Establishments

Submitted by admin on Sat, 08/27/2016 - 21:06

Elitism is the belief that government by a small ruling group is normatively desirable. Of course, elites and establishments can arise in any organisation, from a football or darts team to a national government, and the mechanisms for this are probably similar - perhaps they are even part of human nature. However, in the Elite theories we are examining here, the theorists go beyond the "everyday elites" to look at them as the dominant factor in a State.

A number of distinct 'styles' or 'flavours' of elite in the State have been proposed:-

  1. Democratic elitism, where the elite are elected politicians
  2. The 'social closure' variant of mechanistic models, where professional and managerial cadres have control
  3. The 'business control' variant of mechanistic models, which business elites and capitalists control
  4. The autonomous models, where control is by elected or un-elected officials (this occurred in many communist states)
  5. The liberal corporatist model, where the national interest is paramount, and policies are the result of bargaining between many elites.

Dunleavy and O'Leary report in their book "Theories of the State" MacMillan Press, 1987, that, even dating back to mediaeval times, there is a considerable literature on the rise, competition and decay of elite groups, and on the capture of power by such groups. Much of European history can be seen chiefly in these terms, and also much of current political process. The study of elites inevitably focuses on power and domination, collusion and exclusion. Inevitably, elites can be studied from inside, from outside, or from a "neutral position" (which may itself be a mythical concept). It seems that there is a continual problem with elites, in that the members of the elite inevitably seem to require more status, recognition and reward for their skill and commitment than other members of the society are willing to give. This seems to inevitably lead to corruption of one sort or another (or suspicion of corruption) unless very strict controls are put in place.

The Central Ideas of all elites is that "they couldn't manage without us", and also that leaders should play a symbolic and subsidiary role.
There is a Mythic Idea dating back to Aristotle of rulership by elites being a natural state, and that some people are "born to rule"
The Negative Stereotype is that without the elite, there would be inefficiency and maladministration by the inexperienced. (there is also a negative view of elites, such as "the freemason", Jesuit or other secret society manipulating affairs only for their own benefit, or with their own agenda)

Establishments. I think this is a variant of Elites. Perhaps the difference is that (in the UK) we think of there being only one main Establishment, where the leading members of the different elites (politics, financial, university, arts) seem to form a seperate social grouping. Perhaps this is based on public-school eductation ? (and money ?)  This seemed to fade from 1965 to 1995, but has since revived.