Question
Asked 11th Jul, 2018

What is oligarchy? Is there a present danger of oligarchy?

I quote from the Encyclopedia Britannica,
Aristotle used the term oligarchia to designate the rule of the few when it was exercised not by the best but by bad men unjustly. In this sense, oligarchy is a debased form of aristocracy, which denotes government by the few in which power is vested in the best individuals. Most classic oligarchies have resulted when governing elites were recruited exclusively from a ruling caste a hereditary social grouping that is set apart from the rest of society by religion, kinship, economic status, prestige, or even language. Such elites tend to exercise power in the interests of their own class.
--pause quotation
The authors are correct here to emphasize “rule by the few,” rule “not by the best men” and the claim that oligarchy is a “debased” or corrupt form of aristocracy, in Aristotle's Politics. As we will see, the usage of the term “oligarchy” has in recent times been often replaced by talk of “elites” --which essentially leaves open the question of whether these elites are good or bad, whether their rule is corrupt, or –importantly—whether they rule in the interest of the common good. For Aristotle, the aristocratic decline into oligarchy consists in "the few" ruling in their own narrow self interest.
Britannica continues:
It is a recurrent idea that all forms of government are in the final analysis reducible to the rule of a few. Oligarchs will secure effective control whether the formal authority is vested in the people, a monarch, the proletariat, or a dictator. Thus, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels insisted that, throughout capitalism, the key capitalists had controlled the government; they coined the dictum, the state is the executive committee of the exploiting class. The Italian political scientist Gaetano Mosca likewise insisted that a ruling class always constituted the effective oligarchic control. Vilfredo Pareto elaborated the idea in his doctrine of the “elite.” The modern tendency to analyze social patterns in terms of an “elite,” although greatly reinforced by Pareto's theory, goes further back than Marx and Engels, who employed the term “elite” to describe the class-conscious communists, the leading group within the proletariat.
---pause quotation
Here we begin to come to the idea of the “Iron law of oligarchy,” or the “inevitability of oligarchy,” though this becomes more explicit in the passage below. The Marxist description of the elite communists as an oligarchy is interesting and ironic partly because oligarchy became the charge raised against the Communist system by Djilas, the Yugoslav dissident and critic in his classic book, The New Class. If oligarchy could survive even the socialist abolition of private ownership of the means of production, then, of course, this makes the claims for the “iron law” all the stronger.
Britannica continues:
One of the most famous modern uses of the term occurs in “iron law of oligarchy,” a concept devised by the German sociologist Robert Michels to refer to the alleged inevitable tendency of political parties and trade unions to become bureaucratized, centralized, and conservative. His reasoning was that, no matter how egalitarian or even radical the original ideology and goals of a party or union may be, there must emerge a limited group of leaders at the centre who can direct power efficiently, get things done through an administrative staff, and evolve some kind of rigorous order and ideology to ensure the survival of the organization when faced by internal division and external opposition. Subsequent writers of various persuasions have attempted either to expand on Michels' thesis, extending it to legislatures, religious orders, and other organizations, or to restrict or criticize the thesis, charging that the iron law of oligarchy is not universal and that some unions and parties do maintain a viable system of democratic expression and governance.
---pause quotation
If the “iron law” fails, then it must be the case that oligarchy is not inevitable under just any conditions, or in all situations. What then are the facilitating conditions and what kinds of conditions tend to defeat the rule or control of oligarchy?
Britannica continues:
Political science and sociology are beginning to differentiate more carefully between various types of control and power. The type of power held by a democratic party boss, while overwhelming in relation to any single member of the party, is very different from that wielded by the boss of the single party in a totalitarian and authoritarian pattern. Likewise, the control group within an organization does not occupy the same position under democratic conditions (which provide for the group's being effectively challenged by outsiders at any time) as it does under an authoritarian plan. If effective control changes hands as rapidly as it does in a city of the United States or a British trade union, it is doubtful that those exercising it should be spoken of as a “class” or an “elite.” The expression “the few” is too abstract to convey much information. Like the other purely numerical concepts of government inherited from Greek philosophy, oligarchy is an outmoded term, because it fails to direct attention to the substantive features of a government.
---End quotation
Well, if the term “oligarchy” is outmoded, it is somewhat surprising that the political scientists have begun to use near synonyms, such as “biased pluralism” --with the bias typically favoring the upper incomes. Again, there is “economic elite domination,” also quite current, which suggests in turn the theme of “policy capture,” and the domination of economic and tax policy by large-scale institutions and great wealth. No doubt, we want to distinguish between political control, kinds and conditions of political control --and with special attention to the reasonable prospect of a given ruling-set being turned out. The term, ”rule by the few” is indeed too abstract to capture even the concept of oligarchy. It is more a matter of “rule by the few”-- in their own self-interest, and ignoring the common good. Oligarchy is not merely numerical, it is also a moral and political concept –which can't be reduced to numbers alone.
See: the Britannica article, here: https://www.britannica.com/topic/oligarchy

Most recent answer

4th Aug, 2018
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Jacic & readers,
You link an interesting item concerning Greece, but I notice that no one on the thread has taken it up. It strikes me that the author, reporting from Athens, should know what he is talking about; and i notice that there are other related pieces, available on the web, by the same author. I wonder, in particular, whether you can support the use of the term "oligarchs"? What differentiates these Greeks businessmen from others not called oligarchs?
Or what does he mean by oligarchy? You seem to be convinced. Can you convince others by means of some exposition?
I would think that European or Greek contributors would be more knowledgeable on the specifics of economic and political developments in Greece.
H.G. Callaway
2 Recommendations

Popular Answers (1)

12th Jul, 2018
Samuel Uwaifo
Ekondo Bank
this question reflects the political situation in Nigeria today and in many African countries across the African continent . the dominance of the very few in a society via the possession, control and management of economic political social and religious resources of the state, use questionable means such as corruption, fear , terror, education and intimidation as a major weapon of control. this is particularly noted in Sudan, Egypt, Eritrea and Nigeria, particularly northern Nigeria.
13 Recommendations

All Answers (378)

12th Jul, 2018
Louis Brassard
Dear Callaway,
Very pertinent question. We often also talked about a particular form of oligarchy:
''A plutocracy (Greek: πλοῦτος, ploutos, 'wealth' + κράτος, kratos, 'rule') or plutarchy is a society that is ruled or controlled by people of great wealth or income.'' https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plutocracy
Take the role in international politics that the american banker Jacob Henry Schiff (1847 – 1920).
''during the Russo-Japanese War, in 1904 and 1905. Schiff met Takahashi Korekiyo, deputy governor of the Bank of Japan, in Paris in April 1904. He subsequently extended loans to the Empire of Japan in the amount of $200 million (equivalent to $4.3 billion in 2016[10]), through Kuhn, Loeb & Co.[5] These loans were the first major flotation of Japanese bonds on Wall Street, and provided approximately half the funds needed for Japan's war effort. ... . It is quite likely Schiff also saw this loan as a means of answering, on behalf of the Jewish people, the anti-Semitic actions of the Russian Empire, specifically the then-recent Kishinev pogrom.
This loan attracted worldwide attention, and had major consequences. Japan won the war, thanks in large part to the purchase of munitions made possible by Schiff's loan. ... ''
This is a single example of a rich person almost deciding the faith of empires with vast amount of money.
5 Recommendations
12th Jul, 2018
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Brassard & readers,
Interesting episode in the history of high finance. I was not aware of this story. I recall that President Theodore Roosevelt got a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts (and those of his Secretary of State, John Hay), in settling the Russo-Japanese war. (Roosevelt took office in 1901 on the death of McKinley and was re-elected in 1904.) It may be that the Roosevelt administration was involved in the loan in some fashion. Roosevelt was not reluctant to tell the big bankers where to get off--at least.
Strictly, though, I don't see strong evidence of oligarchy. That great bankers would make loans to countries at war was nothing new, after all. Schiff was, no doubt a very powerful man. But to quote Aristotle's most poetic line, "A single sparrow does not a Summer make."
Again, strictly speaking, plutocracy is compatible with Aristotle's conception of aristocracy--so long as (the very unlikely) case obtained that they ruled for the common good. He did think this very unlikely, though. A plutocratic aristocracy would decline into oligarchy on the same terms, i.e., if it ruled corruptly and promoted its own narrow interest--thereby ignoring the common good.
Plutocracy is not quite oligarchy. Oligarchy is a "degenerate" form just because it maintains its power corruptly and focuses on narrow self-interest. Such people lack the Aristotelian virtue of "magnanimity" --"generosity" and "greatness of soul." (magna + anima) Compare the Hindi "mahatma" --etymologically the same Indo-European roots. We might say, in contemporary terms, that they lack for a generous public spirit.
H.G. Callaway
3 Recommendations
12th Jul, 2018
Samuel Uwaifo
Ekondo Bank
this question reflects the political situation in Nigeria today and in many African countries across the African continent . the dominance of the very few in a society via the possession, control and management of economic political social and religious resources of the state, use questionable means such as corruption, fear , terror, education and intimidation as a major weapon of control. this is particularly noted in Sudan, Egypt, Eritrea and Nigeria, particularly northern Nigeria.
13 Recommendations
12th Jul, 2018
Sven Beecken
Unaffiliated
Dear Callaway and readers,
If I understand the problem correctly, then we have two premises: The first is that “the few” rule over “the many”. The second premise is that there are two forms of this rule: the “benevolent” form and the “malevolent” form. Given the two premises, the question becomes whether or not particular “elites are good or bad, whether their rule is corrupt, or –importantly—whether they rule in the interest of the common good.”
Within the framework set by the two premises, the problem becomes that benevolent forms of government by the elite will inevitably lead to the malevolent form, i. e. oligarchy. My problem is: who decides which is which? Is there any form of government in which those who governed where not convinced that their rule is benevolent? To the best of my knowledge, the answer is - No. It might then be the case that it is not the problem that the elites “break bad”, but rather the there are “the few” ruling over “the many”. Thus, the answer to your question: “What then are the facilitating conditions and what kinds of conditions tend to defeat the rule or control of oligarchy?” becomes: The facilitating condition is that power is concentrated in the hands of “the few”, The condition that defeats the rule or control of oligarchy is the rule by “the many”, in a word - democracy.
Now, the term 'democracy' – as any term in political discourse – has many meanings (Gerhard Schröder's description of Putin as “a crystal clear democrat“ (“ein lupenreiner Demokrat”) comes to mind). So, the EB's claim that “[the] expression “the few” is too abstract to convey much information [...], because it fails to direct attention to the substantive features of a government.” is in some sense correct. It might be better to lock at power and determine power by ownership and control. We can then determine democracy and oligarchy not as single states, but rather as a gradual and opposed states. The more people are involved in issues regarding ownership and control, the more democratic a society and the less oligarchic it is. As a corollary, we get a way to determine the present danger of oligarchy. The danger increases with the increase in concentration of wealth and power. As far as I can tell, at least for Europe, the US and - as I just learned from Samuel Uwaifo's answer - also for many countries in Africa, the answer to your second question is clearly: Yes.
Best,
Sven Beecken
6 Recommendations
12th Jul, 2018
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Uwaifo, Beecken & readers,
Thanks for your comments. I am aware of the nature of political problems in Nigeria--less so regarding the other African countries. Perhaps we can find out more about the details of the problems on this thread? My experience teaching in Nigeria recalls for me frequent discussions of what African colleagues called neo-colonialism. This would seem to be related.
Regarding the question of "Who decides?" It seems important to re-emphasize that the concept of oligarchy is both moral and political --and not just numerical. This does not mean, of course, that it is impossible for reasonable people to disagree about when or whether a ruling elite has "turned bad." Aristotle does maintain that democracy is a more tolerable regime than oligarchy. But there is also a negative connotation in his discussions which has reverberated down the ages and distinguishes his concept of democracy from our contemporary discussions. Likewise, we are much less inclined to see any good in "aristocracy." For Aristotle, aristocracy means "rule by the best," which is the etymological meaning. He is in little doubt as to who "the best" people are. They are the people who have attained to the virtues of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. However, he shares your concern that any rule by the few will degenerate into oligarchy. On the other hand, in Aristotle, "democracy" means the "rule of the many, poor, in their own narrow interest" --and neglecting the common good.
It also seems to the point here to observe that oligarchy may co-exist with electoral democracy. We would think of massive electoral manipulations, say, or perhaps economic-political domination of the nomination process, or perhaps suppression of the freedom of the press, domination of a ruling elite over the media, etc. By the way, the political scientist Francis Fukuyama has also taken note of the electoral democracy in Russia, and seemed to have little doubt that Mr. Putin would be re-elected. He's a popular politician in the country, though not uniformly popular everywhere in the country.
I think the most difficult question is to know in what "the common good" consists at any particular time--even given Aristotle's firm ethical presuppositions. The question is bound to be debated and controversial. Other conceptions of morality may also enter into the mix. But there is no denying, I think, that we have to do with a moral-political concept. In their criticism, the authors of the Britannica article end up reducing "oligarchy" to a numerical concept, and as I have argued, this is better resisted. However, this is not inconsistent with wanting to avoid rule by the few.
What comes down to us, and what Aristotle favored, is what is called a "mixed constitution." Political roles of the people, the demos, are needed to resist or prevent degeneration of the rule of the few into oligarchy. Aristotle calls such a system "polity," though the term is sometimes translated by phrases such as the "constitutional (republic or) democracy," or in classical English-language discussions, such a mixed constitution is called the "commonwealth." (Recall that Pennsylvania and Virginia, say, are officially "commonwealths.") His view is that this is only feasible where the middle class (neither extremely rich nor extremely poor) is large enough to dominate. The problem of the control of potential oligarchy becomes the problem of how to maintain a large and politically active middle class.
H.G. Callaway
---you wrote---
The danger increases with the increase in concentration of wealth and power. As far as I can tell, at least for Europe, the US and - as I just learned from Samuel Uwaifo's answer - also for many countries in Africa, the answer to your second question is clearly: Yes.
4 Recommendations
12th Jul, 2018
Stanley Wilkin
University of London
Samuel, the situation in parts of Africa is further confused by kin relationships, expressed as tribal or clan, a problem also in parts of Asia and from there often the Big Man syndrome. The Big Man disposes funds, often public funds, to subordinates or family members. In parts of Asia the problem is complicated by patriarchal and religious tropes, which allow elites to retain control in democracies.
Nevertheless, the above terms while seemingly localised can be transferred, perhaps with some resistance and some alteration to other cultures. I´ve noted Big Man cultures in small country towns in the UK, within indigenous groups and immigrant populations. Tribal activity can be seen in all politicians being involved with the law professions, which occurred in UK in 90s and 2000s.
When I was growing up the UK was completely controlled by an elite: landed, privately educated, Oxbridge degrees, who seemed a different species. Then the UK was run by people with first degrees from Oxbridge and London universities. (Tribal or elite? Or tribal and elite?). Are these corrupt? Not by their own definition because their appropriation of funds is done through association/osmosis based on their special nature and intellectual right to privilege.
6 Recommendations
12th Jul, 2018
Samuel Uwaifo
Ekondo Bank
i agree completely with you. but i would also add that the big man syndrome is not associated with African culture or social values but a function of colonialism and religion. these two factor created a vacuum that needed to be filled the so called African elites, who now usurp political power at the expense of the entire population in the African space. the African culture, tradition and even political systems allow for a clear cut limits and boundaries for each and every positions in the polity and also prescribed punishment and re-address, as the case may. clearly the big man syndrome stemmed is align and foreign which is a product colonization and domination.
4 Recommendations
12th Jul, 2018
Sven Beecken
Unaffiliated
Dear Callaway and readers,
I would separate the descriptive aspects of the concept from the moral aspects for the purpose of analysis. Before I try to explain this, let me address several points:
You wrote: “Regarding the question of "Who decides?" It seems important to re-emphasize that the concept of oligarchy is both moral and political --and not just numerical. This does not mean, of course, that it is impossible for reasonable people to disagree about when or whether a ruling elite has "turned bad."”
My point is that the disagreement is predictable: Those who profit will argue that the ruling elite has not turned bad and those who suffer will argue the opposite. A case in point is the massive disillusion with politics in the disenfranchised part of the population, both in Europe and the US. The moral part is the judgement about whether one finds the status quo acceptable, but the situation is purely descriptive.
I'm not that familiar with Aristotle's politics, but from what you say and I recall, he realized that the rule by the many is dangerous because the many are poor. Hence, they would naturally use their power to take from the rich. A concern that is expressed in the statement that the “”rule of the many, poor, in their own narrow interest” --[would neglect] the common good.” As you point out, his solution was that the “only feasible [system is one] where the middle class (neither extremely rich nor extremely poor) is large enough to dominate.” I other words, to reduce inequality.
I do agree that under some conceptions of democracy, the “[...] oligarchy may co-exist with electoral democracy. We would think of massive electoral manipulations, say, or perhaps economic-political domination of the nomination process, or perhaps suppression of the freedom of the press, domination of a ruling elite over the media, etc.” This why is suggested to measure democracy by participation in ownership and control, my guess is that we would find that there is an inverse relation between democracy and oligarchy.
In their criticism, the authors of the Britannica article end up reducing "oligarchy" to a numerical concept, and as I have argued, this is better resisted." I'm inclined to agree that the concept 'oligarchy' is not merely numerical, but it is a descriptive term. I do think that the moral part is the judgement about whether or not the described situation is acceptable. Naturally there will be disagreement, but again, my prediction is that the disagreement will correlate with the distribution of wealth and power.
I do agree with your conclusion that “[the] problem of the control of [...] oligarchy becomes the problem of how to maintain a large and politically active middle class.” Aristotle seems to have given the answer: by reduction of inequality - that is by increase in participation in ownership and control.
Best,
Sven Beecken
5 Recommendations
12th Jul, 2018
Mushtaq Ahmad
Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission
Not Africa but also many Asian countries are facing oligarchy in the name of democracy
6 Recommendations
12th Jul, 2018
Ljubomir Jacić
Technical College Požarevac
Dear @Callaway,
The following story The World's 5 Most Powerful Oligarchies is good reading.
"The term oligarchy is fitting as it describes the type of government where all power is vested in a dominant class or group of individuals i.e. the top one-percent. The following list may surprise you as it appears as if most legitimate forms of government on this earth eventually succumb to oligarchical control..."
Also, there are some answers posted under Quorra.
13 Recommendations
12th Jul, 2018
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Jacic & readers,
Thanks for your comments here. In support, I would mention that former President Carter recently stated that the U.S. was now more like an oligarchy than a democracy, given the role of big money in politics.
See:
(This video runs about 2 Min.)
In fact, he is more categorical than I recalled.
The premise of the present question and thread, however, is that we could do with some detailed clarification of crucial terms, including "oligarchy" and, say, "economic elite domination," or "biased pluralism," etc. That all or most governments eventually "succumb to oligarchic control," as in your argument, appears to be a version of the so-called "Iron Law of Oligarchy." Exposition and evaluation of that claim will certainly be in order here.
Its very easy to raise suspicions and point fingers, and that is part of the danger in our lack of precision regarding crucial terms and arguments. Anyone who thinks they've ever been taken advantage of (especially in relation to large institutions) may be inclined to think in terms of a shadowy oligarchy behind the scenes and manipulating everything to their own advantage. I think there is also some too-easy, uncritical acquiescence in the idea-- "What can we mere peons possibly do--except go along too get along?" The suspicions are often dangerous as is the acquiescence.
I think we need to air the suspicions and keep to the facts. In any case, personally, I do see dangers of oligarchy, to say the least. Part of the question is to understand how such things can be countered and what social and political conditions are conductive or un-conductive to this kind of social and political development.
Is the so-called "Iron Law" unconditionally true, or only in special conditions? What social conditions work against it? Let me recommend the following short and useful paper:
BTW: Beecken, I suspect that our moral disarmament facilitates oligarchic control. That is not to say, however, that there is no factual basis to good judgement on our question.
H.G. Callaway
4 Recommendations
12th Jul, 2018
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Wilkin, Uwaifo & readers,
The Western parallel to the African "big man" phenomenon is plausibly the cult of "star" or celebrity leadership. This is presently quite prominent in the universities, e.g., where the office of the President has greatly increased in prestige and in salary (along with many administrative posts), partly due to the fact that the President is expected to raise gigantic sums of money for the institution. This may require keeping rich donors happy.
In some degree the "star" phenomenon is modeled on athletic stars and their enormous salaries; but also, of course, we have the model of very highly paid corporate executives. (How are the academics ever to keep up with that scale?) In any case, we see some of the dangers of growing inequalities for any group or society.
In more general terms, exalting the status, prestige and salaries of officials within an institution creates temptations toward unscrupulous means to keep the subordinates in order and maintain the hierarchy. It is a gigantic fall to be unseated, of course, and this discourages democratic accountability of high officials. In consequence, if power, prestige and income are put at risk by democratic methods within the institution, then there will be some considerable temptation to discount democratic means, including open discussion and debate.
Flexible relationships between people of different ethnic backgrounds is always an advantage in the democratic polity. It facilitates forming new grouping for new purposes --or to engage with emerging problems. Rigid separations, on the other hand, tend to strengthen the role of existing particularist leaders --if people feel they have nowhere else to turn. Everyone needs somewhere to stand, of course. (Some grounds for skepticism of "multiculturalism," here.)
I often heard the argument that ethnic competitions and elite status for selective leaders was a prominent aspect of colonial policy in Africa--"divide and conquer" --and likewise, plausibly elsewhere in various colonial empires.
H.G. Callaway
2 Recommendations
12th Jul, 2018
Samuel Uwaifo
Ekondo Bank
i must agree with you sir, multiculturalism has its advantages but its tends to fail in the African space. multicultural and diverse ethnic groupings exist virtually all African society . but these have rather divide the people than strengthen them. hence, the emergence of African educated elites vis- as vis African big man.
4 Recommendations
12th Jul, 2018
Barry Turner
University of Lincoln
All organised society has been some form of oligarchy. It seems to have appeared at the time sedentary communities were first formed and almost certainly predated that.
Antropologically speaking it is probably just a more complex form of the hierarchies we observe in the animal world and could even be a product of human evolution.
The answer lies somewhere in the archaeology.
Are we in danger of one now? I guess all we need to do is look around us.
5 Recommendations
12th Jul, 2018
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Turner & readers,
Thanks for your comment on this thread. I'm glad to know that you are wary.
Still, your remark that "All organised society has been some form of oligarchy," seems to trivialize the question and border on a kind of acquiescence. Why should we be wary of something always present in any case?
This may help to emphasize, again, the importance of a greater degree of precision. I have to wonder what exactly you understand by the term, if you see oligarchy as ever present. So far at least, I think the working definition on the thread is "illegitimate rule by the few in their own interests and ignoring the common good." "Economic elite domination of politics and policy" would seem to fit the bill--though I suppose that oligarchy need not always be a matter of wealth in contrast to other forms of power.
If "oligarchy" just meant, simply, "rule by the few" then I could perhaps better understand your statements. Or let me put it this way, one might think of the absence of oligarchy as a matter of responsible government, where those doing the ruling are accountable to those whom they rule and hold themselves accountable. An oligarchy, in contrast, would be accountable only to itself.
H.G. Callaway
3 Recommendations
12th Jul, 2018
Willy LJ Van Buggenhout
Vrije Universiteit Brussel
oil garchy
3 Recommendations
13th Jul, 2018
Sven Beecken
Unaffiliated
Dear all,
Callaway wrote: "That all or most governments eventually "succumb to oligarchic control," [...], appears to be a version of the so-called "Iron Law of Oligarchy." Exposition and evaluation of that claim will certainly be in order here." I would like to take a first shot at this, based on Darcy K Leach's article Oligarchy, Iron Law of (linked by Callaway). Before I do this, let me say that I'm extremely skeptical with regard to the possibility that we can find anything law-like in something as complex as human behavior. Thus, it is not surprising that Leach states in the first paragraph of her article that:
Despite over a century of empirical research in a range of subfields in political science and sociology, however, there is still no consensus about whether or under what conditions Michels’ claim [that the very principle of organization made oligarchy the inevitable result of any organized collective endeavor] holds true.“ (Leach, p. 201)
However, this should not discourage one from the attempt to give a rational analysis. Leach sums Michels's original argument up as follows:
  1. Bureaucracy happens.
  2. If bureaucracy happens, power rises.
  3. If power rises, power corrupts.
As far as I can tell Michels defines 'oligarchy' as an “organization [that is] an end in itself [with a] leadership [that is] susceptible to co-optation […] and organizational maintenance.” This definition can be extracted from the last step of the argument as Leach presents it. I have to admit that this definition seems only to make (some) sense to me insofar as one accepts Michels's background assumption. Namely that an organization starts out achieve some benevolent goal (in his case the German Social Democratic Party at the beginning of the last century) and then turns into an organization with a leadership that is purely self serving (Leach, p. 201).
Leach herself proposes a definition that, to me, makes more sense:
Oligarchy is “a concentration of entrenched illegitimate authority and/or influence, such that de facto what that minority wants is generally what comes to pass, even when it goes against the wishes (whether actively or passively expressed) of the majority.” (Leach, p. 205)
This definition can be split into two clauses:
An organization is an oligarchy iff
  • [There exists] a concentration of entrenched illegitimate authority and/or influence. &
  • [What] that minority wants is generally what comes to pass, even when it goes against the wishes (whether actively or passively expressed) of the majority.
To translate that into plain English: We have an oligarchy iff
  1. A relatively small number of people concentrate wealth and power. &
  2. What they want goes regardless of whatever the others want.
Notice that I have eliminated the notion of the illegitimacy of power. It is an interesting question what happens when a small group concentrates wealth and power and is legitimate while only serving their own interests. It seem to me that this is a contradiction on elementary moral grounds.
Michels's original argument is supposed to show that any organization will eventually satisfy (1.) (which follows by MPP from M.'s (1.) and (2.)). For the sake of argument, let us accept this. Then we have the claim that for all organizations that satisfy (1.), it is necessarily the case that over time, the organization satisfies (2.). Leach discusses a variety of empirical attempts to show that either the link holds or it doesn't. I would like propose instead that there is a tendency for organizations that satisfy (1.) to become an organization that satisfies (2.), but no necessity.
My argument is based on a decision problem: In any complex society there are a myriad of conflicting and legitimate interests. The interests of a janitor are different from the interests of a university professor; the interests of a manager are different from the interests of a worker; the interests of a single mother are different from the interests of an elderly and so on. Obviously, there is some overlap, but in essence the ruling few are faced with a massive decision problem. Assuming that the past of least resistance is the one that is generally chosen, it follows there is a tendency that the ruling few will ignore the needs of the many, no matter how virtues they are. On the other hand, it is conceivable that the ruling few observe the wishes of the majority over an indefinite period of time. Thus, the fact that things could be different makes the “Iron Law of Oligarchy” an empirical claim. Therefore, one should drop the appeal to necessity (or “Iron” laws).
As far as I can tell, the claim that there is a tendency, but no necessity fits with the reviewed studies. As far as the conditions go, it seems to me that one should focus on (1.), i. e. the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few. It seems that the threat of oligarchy increases with the increase in wealth and power and the decrease in the number of people that concentrate it.
The argument runs as follows: The decision problem, i. e. the wide variety of conflicting and legitimate interests in a complex society – would become less relevant the smaller the number of people that concentrate wealth and power is and the higher the concentration of wealth and power is. That is to say, one would expect that the interests align, making it much easier to work towards a common goal, i. e. maintaining wealth and power. The more homogeneous interests are, the less likely it is that conflicting interests (of others) will be taken into account. Again, under the assumption that the path of least resistance is generally preferred. Hence, the broader the group that has access to wealth and power is and the less concentrated wealth and power are, the less likely it is that an oligarchy exists - which brings us back to Aristotle's solution: reduce inequality.
Best,
Sven Beecken
6 Recommendations
13th Jul, 2018
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Beecken & readers,
Good summary, and you've made some good use of the Leach article on the "Iron Law." Let's see who may follow up on your argument and exposition.
I think there is little reason to doubt that Aristotelian conclusion concerning the need of reducing inequalities and the role o the middle class, and consequently we mostly agree in broad outlines. As concerns "illegitimacy" of rule, or the "degenerate" character, in Aristotle's terms, I still think we do better to include the moral emphasis; still I think most will agree that lack of accountability to the common good and to the common interests of those ruled is itself a moral-political defect of oligarchy.
There is a good deal in the Leach article that you do not touch upon; and much of this concerns matters of detail on structures of equality and inequality within organizations --including political, economic and governmental organization. I believe that this needs to be explored for the sake of our concern with the present dangers. We also need to attend to present conditions and developments to make any firmer evaluation.
Many thanks for your work on this question and thread.
H.G. Callaway
4 Recommendations
13th Jul, 2018
Sven Beecken
Unaffiliated
Dear Callaway,
Thank you, it is my pleasure. I sorely agree with you that there is a lot of work left to do. As you may have noticed, I tend to focus on descriptive analysis, this does not mean that I think that there aren't interesting and substantial moral questions involved. On the contrary, but I try to keep the task manageable.
I'm looking forward to further discussion - in particular with regard to the issues you raise, i. e. the structure of organizations and the assessment of the current situation.
Best,
Sven Beecken
5 Recommendations
13th Jul, 2018
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Beecken & readers,
It seems evident to me that we can't reasonably expect to maintain the democratic structures and ethos, of our various political societies, if at the same time, we have no concern for the structures and ethos of sub-groups, organizations and elements of civil society generally. That's part of the reason that the so-called "Iron Law" continues to evoke much interest. The exceptions are particularly interesting.
We want to know about the internal structures and practices of organizations which do, or have, maintained more democratic structures and practices, because this tells us more specifically how oligarchy can be, or has been, resisted or avoided.
Among Leach's references readers of the present thread may find the following classic of the literature:
Lipset, Trow and Coleman 1956, Union Democracy. New York; London: The Free Press; Collier Macmillan.
This is basically a case study, but with very detailed attention to an apparent (and quite plausible) counter-example --to the "Iron Law," or the thesis of the "inevitability of oligarchy."
Here is a short piece, by Lipset, available on line which describes the book:
(I found I was able to copy the image and then print it out at full size.)
Also quite interesting, I think is the old Marxist criticism of the "Iron Law," and the reply to it in the literature. The idea was that once private ownership of the means of production was abolished, the problem of the "inevitability of oligarchy" would disappear. The Argument is that it didn't disappear.
The details are of the essence on this theme. So, I hope that other readers will want to get involved in some exposition and explanations of the intellectual history of related issues.
H.G. Callaway
3 Recommendations
14th Jul, 2018
Kathleen D Toohey
International Arthurian Society (North American Branch)
I think Ronald Syme summed the issue up best.
""In all ages, whatever the name and form of government, be it monarchy, republic, or democracy, an oligarchy lurks behind the facade", The Roman Revolution, 1939, p. 7 in my copy. As Syme argued, it was the same under the Republic, as under Augustus and the later emperors. The members of the oligarchy may change with time, in revolutions, as in democratic elections, you may see one oligarchy supplanted by another, but the oligarchic presence remains, the power, money and influence that upholds the current government, whatever its form.
So in this, I agree with Barry, look around for whoever stands behind the 'throne-holder', be it Trump or Putin, May or Merkel, or Kim Jong Un.
4 Recommendations
14th Jul, 2018
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Toohey & readers,
Many thanks for your comment on this question and thread.
I don't know the Syme work, though I have seen some attention to the politics of the Roman Republic in relation to our theme. The view in question seems to represent a version of the "inevitability of oligarchy," and is relevant to the evaluation of the so-called "Iron law of oligarchy." (However, of course, one illustration of oligarchic domination doesn't show inevitability.) Again, the view seems to verge on acquiescence. This makes it particularly important to be very precise about what is meant by "oligarchy." Perhaps you could help by developing Syme's concept and argument? For example, does "oligarchy" in Syme's usage imply something like "illegitimate economic elite domination" --ignoring the common good? Does it simply (what is much weaker) imply a ruling group in any society?
Readers may also find the following book of interest, viz.,
Christopher Lasch 1994, The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy.
See:
Lasch, who was an American historian and social critic, finished this book just before his death with the help of his daughter. It became a national "best seller" in the U.S., and you will find several reviews available on-line. He uses the language of "elites" instead of "oligarchy," but this argument has been found compelling by many. The book is still widely available.
I add a passage on the book, below, from the Wikipedia article devoted to Lasch. The full article leads on to further related literature.
H.G. Callaway
The Revolt of the Elites: And the Betrayal of Democracy
In his last months, he worked closely with his daughter Elisabeth to complete The Revolt of the Elites: And the Betrayal of Democracy, published in 1994, in which he "excoriated the new meritocratic class, a group that had achieved success through the upward-mobility of education and career and that increasingly came to be defined by rootlessness, cosmopolitanism, a thin sense of obligation, and diminishing reservoirs of patriotism," and "argued that this new class 'retained many of the vices of aristocracy without its virtues,' lacking the sense of 'reciprocal obligation' that had been a feature of the old order."[24].
Christopher Lasch analyzes[25] the widening gap between the top and bottom of the social composition in the United States. For him, our epoch is determined by an social phenomenon: the revolt of the elites, in reference to The revolt of the masses (1929) of the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset. According to Lasch, the new elites, i.e. those who are in the top 20% in terms of income, through globalization which allows total mobility of capital, no longer live in the same world as their fellow-citizens. In this, they oppose the old bourgeoisie of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, which was constrained by its spatial stability to a minimum of rooting and civic obligations.
Globalization, according to the sociologist, has turned elites into tourists in their own countries. The de-nationalisation of society tends to produce a class who see themselves as "world citizens, but without accepting ... any of the obligations that citizenship in a polity normally implies". Their ties to an international culture of work, leisure, information - make many of them deeply indifferent to the prospect of national decline. Instead of financing public services and the public treasury, new elites are investing their money in improving their voluntary ghettos: private schools in their residential neighborhoods, private police, garbage collection systems. They have "withdrawn from common life".
Composed of those who control the international flows of capital and information, who preside over philanthropic foundations and institutions of higher education, manage the instruments of cultural production and thus fix the terms of public debate. So, the political debate is limited mainly to the dominant classes and political ideologies lose all contact with the concerns of the ordinary citizen. The result of this is that no one has a likely solution to these problems and that there are furious ideological battles on related issues. However, they remain protected from the problems affecting the working classes: the decline of industrial activity, the resulting loss of employment, the decline of the middle class, increasing the number of the poor, the rising crime rate, growing drug trafficking, the urban crisis.
In addition, he finalized his intentions for the essays to be included in Women and the Common Life: Love, Marriage, and Feminism, which was published, with his daughter's introduction, in 1997.
---End quotation
2 Recommendations
14th Jul, 2018
Reza Biria
Isfahan Azad University Iran
Like it or not, most countries are run by a small group of people who dominate the national policies controlling all aspects of governance and people's well being. Throughout history, oligarchy has played a dominant force in all types of political systems and governments. As you have very rightly observed, nowadays representative government is an artifice, a wishful thinking, and a political myth, because deep down the masses are under the dominance of a self-selected, self-serving few who deprive the people from their rights. This trend has become a norm in the political scene and it is fueled by freemasonry groups who basically want to rule over the world for accumulating more wealth and power. As a case in point, the Freemasons in America helped the triumph of a most unlikely candidate whose deeds are in sharp contrast with the long established and respected American dreams and ideals. Therefore, you are right to feel the devastating dangers of oligarchy.
3 Recommendations
14th Jul, 2018
Vassilis Doucas
VMCBL
«Pourquoi je hais l'indifférence», A. Gramsci
« Un homme ne peut vivre véritablement sans être un citoyen et sans résister. L’indifférence, c'est l'aboulie, le parasitisme, et la lâcheté, non la vie. C’est pourquoi je hais les indifférents. L’indifférence est le poids mort de l’histoire ». L'indifférence, synonyme de fatalité, d’absentéisme politique travaillant pour l'intérêt du petit nombre de possédants, est un état qui peut être brisé par l'invention du collectif, la renaissance de l'action.
Indifference, synonymous with fatality, of political absenteeism working for the interest of the small number of owners, is a state that can be broken by the invention of the collective, the rebirth of action.
Is there a present danger of oligarchy? Yes, The social division and the "social indifference" work for the interest of the small number of owners, the oligarchs.
3 Recommendations
14th Jul, 2018
Louis Brassard
Politics is not simply what is officially defined as political in a given society but the processes that truly control the destinies and directions of a society. The family and extended tribe family were the ancient forms of politics and they worked from very small societies which were more or less egalitarian and close to the land and very little differentiated in the role of the members. I think that humans have been in a present danger of oligarchy since the early days of large scale societies, and I tend think like people such as Tocqueville, Lewis Munford and Jacques Ellul that we are not so much threaten by a minority of masters but by the gradual lack of human control on large scale societies, which needed to be regulated by forces way out of our control. I tend to think that we are more than ever threaten by falling into Mumford's megamachine and it is this phenomena that created oligarchies.
''Lʼhomme est né libre, & partout il est dans les fers. Tel se croit le maître des autres, qui ne laisse pas dʼêtre plus esclave quʼeux. Comment ce changement sʼest-il fait? ''
Best regards
5 Recommendations
14th Jul, 2018
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Doucas & readers,
You quote Gramsci against "indifference."
Here's what I get as a first translation of the passage:
A man can not truly live without being a citizen and without resisting. Indifference is abulia, parasitism, and cowardice, not life. That's why I hate the indifferent. Indifference is the dead weight of history. Indifference, synonymous with fatality, of political absenteeism working for the interest of the small number of owners, is a state that can be broken by the invention of the collective, the rebirth of action.
---end translation
Corrections are welcome.
It would certainly help if you could offer a definition of what we are to understand by "oligarchy." You use the word, but you don't say exactly what it means. Government, after all, is bound to involve a comparatively small number of people. These people, in turn, are bound to have their own interests. Is every government an oligarchy, then? The term is in danger of being trivialized.
Ignoring this point, and refusing to describe varieties of "elitism," I think amounts to a kind of indifference --which encourages passive acquiescence. Varieties of passive acquiescence seem to be quite comfortable for some contributors to this thread.
I think that in the U.S. we call this "Going along in order to get along." It usually calls for some discrimination about what is tolerable and what is not --a very old topic, of course. But the attitude is sometimes equivalent to passive fatalism--what can we poor peons do, after all?
H.G. Callaway
3 Recommendations
14th Jul, 2018
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Brassard & readers,
Thanks for your further comments.
While I am, as you may recall, sympathetic to the claims of the threat of "bigness," overall, I think your position excessively vague. I also tend to agree that "we are not so much threaten by a minority of masters but by the gradual lack of human control on large scale societies ... ."
Lack of international control over banking, in the fashion of domestic control and regulation, is a pretty clear case in point. One will notice that people and politicians have "gone along" with this, lacking for a workable alternative--given the (self-blinding) politicals imperatives of globalization.
But it is not, certainly, that nothing could have been done. It does, however, require questioning the reigning political orthodoxies.
I believe I recognize a quotation from Rousseau?
''Man is born free, and everywhere he is in irons. Such believes himself the master of others, who does not fail to be more slave than them. How was this change made?''
(Corrections welcome.)
I see the matter as a question of democratic organization. If people mis-organize themselves, then they can also reorganize themselves. Again, where there is a will, there is a way. It will be a slow process. A mistake arises in that people think they can do just whatever they think to do, and still preserve this needed will. That is why acquiescence in the "inevitability of oligarchy" is found so often comfortable. It is a lack of self-discipline.
H.G. Callaway
4 Recommendations
15th Jul, 2018
Vassilis Doucas
VMCBL
@Callaway, Thanks for the translation. You ask me about definition of oligarchy, you gave many examples. If, you are part of a Democratic environment then you are not afraid of the dangers of the oligarchy because by definition the power is the people. Δημοκρατία. The passive fatalism--what can we poor persons do—is a danger even in a Democratic environment.
So, I still keep going with the book of Gramsci against "indifference, «Pourquoi je hais l'indifférence», means active presence, be part, have a voice/ Oligarchy is the power of few. This massive concentration of economic resources in the hands of fewer people presents a real danger today. ... Serve the interests of economic elites – to the detriment of ordinary people. Apparently a new class of people is established, the servants. This is the intermediate class between the elites and the ordinary. We need to position ourselves and then ask if we have a voice……
6 Recommendations
15th Jul, 2018
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Doucas & readers,
I believe we each and all "have a voice," unless we surrender it and lapse into passivity and acquiescence.
The needed power of each person is open to their own cultivation and development. Nor need this be anything focused on the purely political. But the extent of that power is always limited in some fashion. Surely no one here on earth is omnipotent. The extent of one's power to speak and act effectively is always, in degree, an experimental question, and everyone encounters limitations. Sometimes these limitations can be overcome.
There is no way to find out what is possible, except to make good preparations and to make the attempt. It won't do to wait around for some imagined "collective" to move and provide protection from the risks involved. I think that too often verges on another form of acquiescence.
We position ourselves whenever we think; and thinking through a problem, in all required detail will often allow people to overcome the limitations earlier encountered. But there is no sure-fire, guaranteed route which one can know beforehand.
H.G. Callaway
4 Recommendations
15th Jul, 2018
Ljubomir Jacić
Technical College Požarevac
Raghuram Rajan – an economist who would later become the head of India’s central bank – asked an even more pointed question about his country’s tycoon class: “If Russia is an oligarchy, how long can we resist calling India one?” ...
4 Recommendations
15th Jul, 2018
Louis Brassard
Dear Callaway,
Thank for the reply. I totally agree with you including . '' I think your position excessively vague.'' I hesitated before posting it. But I thought that it would be too long for working out a more clear position and so I decided to express it briefly as it is and then later clarify it throw further participation in this discussion.
Regards
4 Recommendations
15th Jul, 2018
Roberto - Minadeo
Conselho Nacional de Des. Científico e Tecnológico-CNPq
Dear Colleagues. I find it is difficult to fight oligarchies. After all, the wealthier classes have easy access to the media, political parties and even government support, such as public loans.
4 Recommendations
15th Jul, 2018
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Jacic & readers,
To reiterate.
Is the so-called "Iron Law" unconditionally true, or only in special conditions? What social conditions work against it? Let me recommend the following short and useful:
Here's an additional piece, debunking the "Iron Law":
H.G. Callaway
4 Recommendations
15th Jul, 2018
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Braun & readers,
Thanks for your comments on this question.
Clearly you see a danger, but as I've argued above, the devil is in the details. Without "moral disarmament," we still need to get down to the specific structures supportive of oligarchy and to the details of countervailing democratic organization and practices.
If oligarchy is not "inevitable" then what stops it?
Everyone "going out on strike" is not the answer.
H.G. Callaway
4 Recommendations
16th Jul, 2018
Louis Brassard
Dear Callaway,
One of the many ways to avoid oligarchy is to avoid organisation when it is possible to do so. For example, in representative democracy, it is possible to avoid the organisation of political parties by making illegal any such organisation. I do see a direct conflict of loyalty between loyalty to a political party and loyalty to the people that a representative is supposed to represented. I also question the need of an election for the choosing the representative. A pyramidal selection process could do the job of the selection of the representative directly without political campaing throw media. One one day, all citizen could meet by group of 10 and select one of them to represented them to the second level of the pyramid etc. Very simple, selection throw dialogue, and every citizen has as much initial chance than the other to be elected as a representative by rising to the top of the pyramidal selection process. If the maximum number of madate would be limited to two then the chance of the formation of political oligarchy would be highly reduced and money and media would be out of the loop.
4 Recommendations
16th Jul, 2018
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Baun, Beecken & readers,
Still, the devil of oligarchy is in the details of organizations.
H.G. Callaway
4 Recommendations
16th Jul, 2018
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Brassard & readers,
It strikes me that the burden of you note comes in the phrase, "to avoid organisation when it is possible to do so." Exactly when might this be so?
Though I am a registered independent, and that is not a political party, I don't see anything wrong with political parties in general. It might be noted, however, that your aversion to party politics was generally shared by the American founders --who nonetheless shortly afterward set about founding political parties themselves. It was felt to be a practical need, though the fear had been that parties would quickly degenerate into destructive political factions.
One function of political parties which you neglect to discuss, is the policy debates which often goes on inside the parties--with those who fail to put there point of view through still committed to the party and the agreed results of debate: "the party platform." This no doubt puts a strain on intellectual and moral integrity at times, though there is always the possibility of switching party affiliations. The point is that the debates themselves air the issues and sometimes even change opinions, and the internal party debates are then helpful in electoral debates. I idealize, in degree, of course; and one may doubt of this function of political parties in our age of media domination. Still in your replacement suggestion, it seems all to be a matter of persons and selecting the representative. Selecting candidates for office should involve debating their stands on prominent issues. In consequence, we have the practice of competitive elections.
That's the theory, in any case. Better, I think, to get big money out of politics by legislation, constitutional amendment if need be; and perhaps shortening the campaign season would minimize the media domination. In any case, we do need time and place to debate the issues. At the least this results in better informed opinion, even if few change their minds on the issues. Its a social-political function of party politics at its best. Of course, I would add that political parties should have general political principles and not be simply groups of opportunists. At some point and to some degree, people do need to "go along" with organizations to which they contribute.
But, how to organize democratically? I think that's the better question.
H.G. Callaway
4 Recommendations
16th Jul, 2018
Sven Beecken
Unaffiliated
Dear all,
In order to understand how the general tendency for an organization to become an oligarchy can be countered, we should pay attention to the particular structure of an organization, as Callaway suggested.
Consider the CEO of a major cooperation, say ExxonMobil. Let us assume that the CEO is genuinely concerned about the wellbeing of the workers, the functioning of society and preventing the destruction of the environment. However, in her institutional role, she will implement the exact same kind of decisions as her psychotic counterpart. The reason is that she is required to maximize short term profit - and nothing else. If she tries to do anything that threatens profits, she will simply be replaced by somebody else. Thus, it is the structure of the organization that matters.
I want to discuss briefly one particularly interesting example that shows that one can have differently structured corporations even within a capitalist system.
The example is the Mondragon Cooperation (MC) in the Basque country in Spain. The MC is a worker owned industrial production cooperative with more then 74 000 members (stand 2015) and it is the tenth largest company in Spain (Wikipedia). The MC is particularly interesting because a) it is worker owned, but not worker controlled and b) it is cooperative system within a capitalist system. The MC case gives some insight into how one can have a functioning democratic organization under the current capitalist paradigm, because the MC has successfully resisted the tendency to become an oligarchy since its founding in 1956.
I use the following definition of an oligarchy (based on Darcy K Leach's proposal in Oligarchy, Iron Law of, p. 205):
An organization is an oligarchy iff
  1. A relatively small number of people concentrate wealth and power. &
  2. What they want goes regardless of whatever the others want.
Obviously, most corporations today satisfy this definition. The shareholders own and control the corporation and they are not accountable to anyone else (one could make the point that this is too weak, but I assume it for the sake of the argument). The MC satisfies (1.) partially, because it has a traditional industrial management structure (Johnson & Whyte, p. 24). Hence, there is a concentration of power, but the wealth is not concentrated, because the workers own the cooperation. It is not the case that the MC satisfies (2.), because there is an effective system in place that prohibits the MC from turning into a traditional corporation. So, the question is: What are the structural properties that prevent the MC from turning into an oligarchy? I base my discussion on two studies: Johnson & Whyte (1977) and Flecha & Santa (2011).
The MC case is complex and it is to some degree related to particular conditions of Basque society. So, in order to keep the task manageable, I focus three structural properties that are regarded as highly important by both studies and then I argue that one can generalize this to: education, the social environment and capital.
Johnsons and Whyte identify three institutions as the basis for the industrial cooperative system that is the MC (pp. 18-19):
  • An educational system that now includes schools, a university and a research and development complex, all are working in close cooperation with the individual firms.
  • The League for Education and Culture, a broad association of parents, teachers, students, and supporters from the community. The league has played the important role of linking the educational system to the co-operative firms and to the community in general."
  • A credit union, the Caja Laboral Popular, that provides funding for the co-operative and its expansions.
Flecha and Santa identify five major cooperative actions that, according to them, are responsible for MC's success (I only consider three):
  • A banking company that connects all the cooperatives, i. e. the Caja Laboral Popular (and further financial institutions) (pp. 162-163).
  • Open intellectual debate, i. e. MC's educational system (pp. 165-166).
  • Grassroots democracy, i. e. a developed democratic system within MC and that links the cooperative to the larger society. (pp. 166-168).
Assuming that all three factors are essential structural properties for the continued success of the MC, then we might try to abstract away from the details and try to draw some preliminary conclusions. I propose the following three general factors that are crucial for a democratic organization.
  • Education, the organization depends on an educational system that is closely linked with goals of the organization. Education should be understood in the most general sense, i. e. it includes institutionalized education as well public debate and the information and discussion on all levels.
  • Society, the organization depends on a close relation to the broader society in which it is embedded. Society should be understood as the interests and concerns of the people that are directly impacted by the organization. The requires real participation.
  • Capital, the organization must be able to sustain itself and expand. Capital should be understood as the pooling of resources to achieve a common goal. This may range from pooling resources on the grassroots level up to the implementation and control of financial institutions.
If an organization cannot sustain itself, it will loose its independences or cease to exist. If the society that is directly impacted by the actions of an organization does not support the organization, it will be difficult for the organization to be effective. If there is no understanding what is going on, it will be very difficult to take effective action. Thus, my claim is that – at least - these three factors are crucial in resisting the general tendency for an organization to become an oligarchy.
These are preliminary results, but they may serve as a first step for further discussion. It seems to me that one can find many examples in which these three factors are vital. I would like to point out that control of these three factors pretty much corresponds to what the elite controls, according to Christopher Lasch (cited by Callaway):
[The elite is composed] of those who control the international flows of capital and information, who preside over philanthropic foundations and institutions of higher education, manage the instruments of cultural production and thus fix the terms of public debate.”
So, we have education and capital, the only discrepancy appears to be what Lasch identifies as being “withdrawn from common life”,i. e. society for the elite is reduced there own secluded communities (although they have a strong state support system that makes sure their interests are cared for, so society is a major factor).
Therefore, all three factors are relevant when trying to either establish a democratic organization or when trying to prevent an existing democratic organization form deteriorating.
Finally, one should take into account that the MC case is also a perfect example that the task of keeping a democratic organization functioning is a highly dynamic process. There are continuous struggles and efforts to identify (sometimes rather sever) problems and develop solutions. In the MC case, the basis for these efforts is a democratic representative system that can exercise actual control and facilitate democratic control by electing the representatives that then exercise power (see Johnson & Whyte (pp. 24-26) and Flecha & Santa (pp. 166-168)).
To conclude, it appears to be that insofar as one can get control of the three factors, there is a chance for a decent society. The MC is not paradise, but it is certainly an improvement on most of the really existing alternatives and it actually works. Obviously, a lot of further work is required in order to substantiate the conclusion and to clarify the three factors. On the other hand, it seems to me that we can identify the threat of an oligarchy by paying close attention to who controls education, capital and society and in turn, we learn what we can do - as individuals - by getting involved in education, organization and the change of society.
Best,
Sven Beecken
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mondragon_Corporation
  • Leach, Darcy K. "Oligarchy, Iron Law of." (2015): 201-206.
  • Johnson, Ana Gutierrez, and William Foote Whyte. "The Mondragon system of worker production cooperatives." Industrial and Labor Relations Review (1977): 18-30.
  • Flecha, Ramon, and Ignacio Santa Cruz. "Cooperation for economic success: the Mondragon case." Analyse & Kritik 33.1 (2011): 157-170.
4 Recommendations
16th Jul, 2018
Roberto - Minadeo
Conselho Nacional de Des. Científico e Tecnológico-CNPq
The exchange of ideas is being quite rich. The quotation from the Mondragón cooperative by Sven Beecken was a welcome surprise, very well presented. It may be said that oligarchy is one of the misrepresentations of "government by the best" or "aristocracy." In the aforementioned plan of business organizations, the best response to avoid any misconduct is the creation of good Corporate Governance systems.
2 Recommendations
16th Jul, 2018
Irina Mikhailovna Pechonkina
University of Jordan
"Steppenwolf" /H.Hesse/ got lost in the wilds of civilization and babbitry. To J-J. Rousseau, "Tranquillity is found also in dungeons, but is that enough to make them desirable places to live in? The Greeks imprisoned in the cave of the Cyclops lived there very tranquilly while they were awaiting their turn to be devoured". An oligarchy is a cancer, there is no any way of getting out of this chronic condition. Ethics, values, consciousness, morality?! To B.Shaw, "I'm a brigand, I live by robbing the rich .- I'm a gentleman. I live by robbing the poor". To Lysander Spooner, "A slave government is an oligarchy, and one, too, of the most arbitrary and criminal character"
5 Recommendations
16th Jul, 2018
Theodore Costopoulos
ELVAL Academy
Oligarchia is always here in the form of the system. People, usually, stick to someone who is part of the system and they feel safe. In this way they solve some of their problems, which otherwise they are not able to solve by themselves. It takes character and high level of education and self esteem not to follow such practices of humiliation.
4 Recommendations
16th Jul, 2018
Louis Brassard
Dear Callaway,
C: ‘’ It strikes me that the burden of you note comes in the phrase, "to avoid organisation when it is possible to do so." Exactly when might this be so?’’
It can be avoid in the particular case that I mentioned: political parties are political organisations and their banishment would avoid this kind of organization and all their oligarchic tendencies althogether. Nothing wrong? The people representative are selected , pressured in all kind of ways by these oligarchic organization. It is easy for those having money, all the lobbies to capture the allegiance of these parties. One of the main reason why these parties need money is the way the the representative are elected. This demand a lot of money the way it is done now. It is why I sudgest a zero cost system a pyramidal selection system that would put every citizen on an equal footing for becoming a representative.. No notoriety, no money, no media, no publicity, would be needed.. Political parties should be banished and be declared as illegal mafia organization conspiring to capture power. We are so used to it that we have beome brain washed and so have normalize what should not be seen as normal.
C:‘’ the fear had been that parties would quickly degenerate into destructive political factions.’’
And so it did not only in America but all over the world.. I am contemplating running as an independent in the next federal election.. My main theme would be :: NO POLITICAL PARTY only independent candidats.. ‘’Vive l’independence’’.
If all the representatives would be independents, there would be temporary grouping on these representative regarding certain policies and during these debate and before voting, the representatives would group into different factions , each behind a certain politices and each of these faction would try to convince the representative of the other faction to join them. Compromise, debate would allow certain policies to be constructed and then vote. So temporary faction , not permanent party and permanent platform, would be created and then dissolve after each vote. Debate would be crucial instead of lobbies and money. Debate would be much more important than there are today.
In a pyramidal selection process of the representative, small group of peope (around 10) would select one of them but not before each of the person voicing what they want from politics. These people would debate and the person at each level of the pyramid would have to accect to carry forward a kind of program from all the discussion and debates.
Getting money out of politic is imperative. Not only to make money totally useless for the selection of the representatives is only a first step. We will have to assure that money is not trying to correupt the representative after they have been selected. I would put all representatives onto a constant 24 hrs 7 days a week watch by secret service. All meeting between representatives and lobbies would have to be monitor on videos and these would be potst on the internet. The separation of power between religion and politic was necessary, now it is even more necessary to edict the separation of financial power from political power. This should be put in all democratic constitutions.
4 Recommendations
17th Jul, 2018
Barry Turner
University of Lincoln
Oligarchy is simply rule by the few. It is a state of affairs common in all societies whether they profess communistic, socialistic, capitalistic aristocratic, feudal, theological or for that matter any gathering of humans in a structured society. As Robert Michels pointed out in his theory of an iron law of oligarchy "he who says organisation says oligarchy"
It is not of course unique to humans even though we have made a fine art of it. From what we have observed all animals reliant on collaboration for survival also have a hierachical structure or 'leaders'
The oligarchic society seems in some way to be linked with ideas of stability. Ophuls (1977) described steady-state societies as more likely to be both authoritarian and oligarchic. A rather odd and unlikely conclusion being that instability is the best way to obtain freedom.
Since modern populations emphasise stability as an essential element of government the oligarchy or its close cousin the 'strong man' often seems attractive to the 'ordinary folk'. Rather an authoritarian society than Ulrich Beck's risk society, in spite of the obvious contradiction that is built into that view.
In the UK we have the most extraordinary political demonstration playing out where ultra conservatives, the most oligarchical politicians of all are playing the 'radicals' in a grab for populist support over Brexit. On the other side of the political spectrum we have a socialist Labour Party with a centralist and traditional socialist agenda, which can only be delivered by a centralist and inevitable oligarchical government.
Whoever wins this battle we can expect 'rule by the few' as the outcome.
4 Recommendations
17th Jul, 2018
Antonio Lucero
What a rich discussion! Much to contemplate.
I might make a personal note: My father belonged to the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) union when he was a young man. They held regular meetings and distributed a monthly gazette discussing political issues and candidates and how they were favorable or not to the union members. They encouraged critical thinking and debate among their members. As the years progressed, fewer and fewer members attended meetings, until finally only a small cadre of workers were working actively to promote union issues and governance. It had lost its democratic aura.
In general, broader than the issues discussed here, there seems to exist a fundamental principle that determines the extent to which people exert the energy and commitment required to advance themselves, and thereby society at large. This principle has to do with the comfort level that people have. For example in the USA, children of immigrants work much harder than the rest of the population. This hard work ethic, may continue for one or two more generations - until the descendants of the immigrants feel very comfortable. After WWII, this was true of Jewish immigrants, and currently it is true of Vietnamese immigrants.
Now to apply this principle to the operation of political organizations: In general, people who are newly introduced to these systems may be quite hard working and diligent to promote the mission and the original spirit of the organization. But, can this enthusiasm be sustained indefinitely by the same people? I doubt it. It seems that the only salvation is to continuously introduce new members and encourage their idealism and desire for change.
6 Recommendations
17th Jul, 2018
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear all,
Noting again the tension in the contributions and discussion concerning the term "oligarchy," I thought to look at the German equivalent. Here is what I found in the Duden (German dictionary) online.
"Oligarchie"
  1. Staatsform, in der eine kleine Gruppe die politische Herrschaft ausübt
  2. Staat, Gemeinwesen, in dem eine Oligarchie (1) besteht
---end quotation
Here's a more or less direct translation back to English:
"Oligarchy"
1. A form of state in which a small group exercises political power.
2. State, commonwealth, in which an oligarchy exists.
The key here to to translate the German "Herrschaft," which I rendered above as "power." One might be inclined to some plausible alternative, such as "... in which a small group reigns." But something stronger is not ruled out by this usage of "Herrschaft." Clearly "Herrschaft" is sometimes illegitimate.
Contrast the Webster's definition of the English "oligarchy":
1: government by the few
Example: The corporation is ruled by oligarchy.
2: a government in which a small group exercises control especially for corrupt and selfish purposes
Example: a military oligarchy was established in the country
The second meaning given here suggests, more strongly the theme of illegitimacy, corrupt practices, etc.
However, in the "iron law" it is clear that oligarchy is regarded as something illegitimate, since less than democratic. But, I take it, this is not to say that a democratic organization can have no leadership. In the negative sense, which is clearly intended both in Aristotle and in the "Iron law," there is something in oligarchy which we want to avoid both morally and politically.
A small leadership group, however, might still be democratically responsible to a broader membership; and in consequence, having a small leadership group is not to be equated with oligarchy. But the rulers must be accountable to the broader group. Right?
I wonder what the definitions may look like in other languages.
H.G. Callaway
3 Recommendations
17th Jul, 2018
Thomas Prehi Botchway
University of Education, Winneba
Very interesting discussion. Since a lot of definitions have already been offered and explained, I think it would be more appropriate to look at other issues.
It seems there is the general impression that oligarchy- in whatever form it may take- is actually not good for the common good of the society. There is also the idea- at least as can be seen from earlier submissions- that the most effective antidote to oligarchy would be the empowerment of the majority of the masses (if not the entire human race). Thus, we seem to postulate that democracy (at least if not how Aristotle perceived it to be) would be the better replacement for oligarchy.
But we seem to have overlooked what a degenerated democracy would also look like (or should I say looks like) as described by Aristotle (the emergence of tyranny or even mobocracy).
Will it not be more appealing to revert to Plato's idealistic conception of the 'Philosopher King' if we are so eager to get rid of oligarchy? (It must be noted that this idealistic conception implies the best form of government where wise and knowledgeable kings/presidents/PMs, etc. rule efficiently, effectively, and impartially in the interest of 'all' with the assistance of equally presumably wise and patriotic men, and meritocratic bureaucracies).
4 Recommendations
17th Jul, 2018
Barry Turner
University of Lincoln
There is an interesting contrast between European elite theories of Mosca, Pareto and Michels and the American elite theories of Lasswell and Burnham. The three European political theorists were inspired to varying degrees by the concept of elites as strong man necessarily ruling a mass incapable of effective participation in politics.
Their elite, which Mosca described as a ‘ruling class’ controlled power by intellect, expertise, social status, wealth and interestingly by cunning and guile. Ownership of wealth and property would either be present at the start of their political careers or acquired during and as a result of them. All other citizens formed the mass who without a strong leader were disorganized and naturally lacked influence on policy.
The American elite theory holds that influence and capital were the fundamentals of rule by an elite. Lasswell stated in 1936 “The influential are those who get the most of what there is to get…those who get the most are elite, the rest are mass
James Burnham spoke of a managerial class, the ‘organization man’ declaring in The Managerial Revolution that directors of giant corporations would control the economy and therefore the society that depended on it.
These models, while today considered out of date by many political sociologists form the basis of much of the populist thinking currently dominating world politics. The ‘man of the people’ concept far from being a discredited fantasy is still as strong as ever with both billionaires and former state security operatives able to convince many in their respective populations that they are ‘their’ man.
21st century Populism seems to give a new boost to the idea that whatever kind of society is formed it will still be run by an elite. The current situation in the UK is a fascinating example. Brexit, voted for by a majority of what Mosca, Pareto and Michels would consider a politically incompetent mass is now proving impossible to implement by a politically elite ‘ruling class’ who cannot agree on even the most basic methods of implementing it. The inevitable consequence is that the mass will feel betrayed.
4 Recommendations
17th Jul, 2018
Bertil Haggman
NPMP
A very important question. Oligarchies are with us all the time often as political elites. James Burnham explained this in his books ” The Managerial Revolution” and ”The Machiavellians”. Among these latter was Robert Michels, who was strong on oligarchies.
Bertil Haggman
3 Recommendations
17th Jul, 2018
Hein Retter
Technische Universität Braunschweig
I am just an interested listener to this debate without being able to make any good arguments. I just want to give my impression:
The German sociologist Robert Michels, who rightly has a central figure in this discussion (Callaway), gave important impulses for the complicated balances, contradictions, paradoxes of liberal democracy (which he himself had not seen or exhausted; but his life path from social democracy via syndicalism to Mussolini was quite consistent) in 1911.
The liberal democracy and socialist democracy should be strictly distinguished according to the historical experiences of the 20th century.
Liberal democracy can only live in a sensitive balance between the law-and-order regime of socialist democracy (which has its oligarchy in the dominant party-elite) - and neo-liberalism in its highest (corrupt) degrees which gives the right and the power the economical strongest. Free, anomic liberalism always is threatened by corruption and professional crime; with the formation of monopolies it leads to the oligarchy of the rich and powerful.
In both systems we have a homogenization of power, which is also homogenization of interests. The most important conception we have to discuss is, in my view, the conception of INTEREST, it is liberal and necessary to state interests. Interests can become a dark background by using not-controlled power to assert selfish intereests. Maintaining power is characteristic of both systems. So freedom in liberal democracy needs strong kinds of self-control. Therefore good journalism, also investigative, which US have, is an important condition, but I am afraid that this is not enough. To use moral and to follow moral standards is the basic condition for political and economic acting .- last not least for controlling oligarchies.
HEIN RETTER
5 Recommendations
17th Jul, 2018
Vassilis Doucas
VMCBL
Democracy is not a company & business but an invention which creates social harmony.
Any organization creates a new dynamic, a new complex of order, a new space. Even though the conception of oligarchy in the days of French revolution or Russian revolution is different from the one in our days the procedure is the same; both to abolish oligarchy or instore oligarchs we need an “action”. Globalization which is being established has no borders, and though a communist or a capitalist system may produce the same oligarchy, the system works on a copy-paste procedure. The difference(s) is destroyed or isolated. Sharing common properties, the red or blue or green or rose oligarchs will keep going together till create fewer invisible oligarchs, using a pyramidal procedure.
There is no one idea of gain, benefits, corporate, sharholders in a Democracy. In a Democratic environment the members keep their properties and the new created political/social system activates the new properties for the harmonic organization of the people.
I think the question today is who is the barbarian; and to answer this question we need to define who is the people, the citizen. I feel that the system tries to transform a citizen to a shareholder, any type from small working unit, a virtual-like structure, public organization or a large corporate. At the end we will have few large Co and the oligarchs.
To my opinion we need to separate business, work from social life, working force and gain; Any one has the right to an identity, education, house, health system, family, peace, salary, work. The past, the future, and present have values and these values are associated to any of us equally.
4 Recommendations
17th Jul, 2018
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Botchway & readers,
The contrary emphasis to unlimited democracy is, in part, democratic, political leadership --including democratic accountability of leadership to the encompassing group or society.
Here's a short quotation, which helps illustrate the point in question:
(From James Madison, chief author, called "father" of the U.S. constitution.)
Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their death.
---End quotation
I'm yet to look this up and check the source, but it does sound like Madison. The American founders tended to follow Aristotle's usage of the word "democracy." In consequence, we find the early preference among the Jeffersonians, for the "Republican" label. The "Jeffersonian Republicans" of the early republic later became the "Democratic-Republicans," and later still simply the "Democrats." This is the longest continually existing political party in the world--as I recall.
It was the Jeffersonians of the early republic who insisted on the Bill of Rights to limit the power of the new federal government and of electoral majorities, too.
Addendum:
Here's the full quotation from Madison and the source:
“Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths -Theoretic politicians, who have patronized this species of government, have erroneously supposed that by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would at the same time be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions.”
James Madison, , Federalist No. 10, “The Utility of the Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection (continued),”  Daily Advertiser, November 22, 1787.
H.G. Callaway
---you wrote---
But we seem to have overlooked what a degenerated democracy would also look like (or should I say looks like) as described by Aristotle (the emergence of tyranny or even mobocracy).
2 Recommendations
17th Jul, 2018
Louis Brassard
Dear Callaway,
Here is a good paper on the topic at hand:
Bending Michels' 'Iron Law of Oligarchy': can democracy ever be for 'home consumption' in political parties? Robin T. Pettitt Politics School of Social Science The University of Manchester (Robin.T.Pettitt@postgrad.manchester.ac.uk / rtpettitt@yahoo.co.uk) Paper prepared for workshop 20: Partisanship in Europe: members, activists and identifiers European Consortium for Political Research Helsinki Joint Sessions 7-12 May 2007
Abstract :
Ever since Kirchheimer wrote about the evolution of Duverger's mass parties into catch-all parties, studies of political parties have commented on the loss of membership influence on policy. The idea that members have lost power is widely shared both in academia and amongst political practitioners. Indeed, when told of a project to investigate membership influence on policy in the British Labour Party Tony Benn, the grand old man of the Labour left commented 'That's going to be a very short book. At the moment it is zero'. However, as early as 1911 Michels, with his 'iron law of oligarchy', showed that even at the beginning of the 20th Century membership influence was 'zero'. So, if the catch-all party is not the cause of membership powerlessness it is worth going back to Michels and more fully analyse his reasons for oligarchy in party organisations. The argument of this paper is that the ‘oligarchic consensus’ illustrated by Benn's comment is overstating the lack of membership influence. The paper will apply the iron law to the Danish Socialist People's Party (Socialistisk Folkeparti) to show how, under certain circumstances it is indeed possible for party members to have a notable level of influence. The findings of this paper highlight the need for further research to be carried out on membership influence on party policy and a re-evaluation of the power of party members.
C: ''I wonder what the definitions may look like in other languages.''
Here is, according to the above paper, how Michels defines oligarchy:
''Michels never defines ‘oligarchy’ (Cassinelli, 1953: 777), but by piecing together what he does say, it is possible to get a good idea of what he meant by it. At one stage he writes that ‘the socialist parliamentarian [...] largely escapes the supervision of the rank and file of the party, and even the control of its executive committee’ (Michels 1949: 136). Later he talks about the power of union leaders to decide when to use the union’s funds to support striking workers (Michels 1949: 144- 145). On the basis of that observation he concludes that the ‘... leaders have openly converted themselves into an oligarchy, leaving the masses who provide the funds no more than a duty of accepting the decisions of that oligarchy’ (Michels 1949: 145, my italics). This discussion of the autonomy of the leadership has led scholars to conclude that Michels deemed organisations oligarchic when ‘...the people who hold positions of authority within an organisation are not checked by those who hold subsidiary positions within the organisation’ (Cassinelli 1953: 778, see also Hands 1971: 159).
========
From the above I would say that for Mitchels, a political party oligarchy would not be a governance by the few for the many (mass of party members). For Michels it is a governance of the few irresponsive of the many they are supposed to represent.
2 Recommendations
17th Jul, 2018
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Brassard & readers,
Good work, Brassard; and thanks. The distilling of a definition of "oligarchy" out of the Michels scholarship is especially valuable, as I see the matter.
This need of "checking" seems another way to express the more specific concepts of "responsibility" as in "responsible government," and "accountability," as in, say, "accountability of the politicians to the electorate," or "the accountability of the organization's leadership to the members."
One might say, then, for example, and to illustrate the concepts, that "given high degrees of gerrymandering of electoral districts, the accountability of elected officials to the electorate is diminished, and they are only checked or responsible to a comparatively small faction of their own party--those who turn out most regularly and hold the most vehement partisan views."
Though political gerrymandering (as contrasted with electoral districts crafted on the basis of pre-existing communities and a broad spectrum of voters) is only one aspect of political organization of society and government, still the example helps make the point that the details of the ways in which people are organized facilitates oligarchy or will tend to resist it.
H.G. Callaway
---you wrote---
This discussion of the autonomy of the leadership has led scholars to conclude that Michels deemed organisations oligarchic when ‘...the people who hold positions of authority within an organisation are not checked by those who hold subsidiary positions within the organisation’ (Cassinelli 1953: 778, see also Hands 1971: 159).
1 Recommendation
18th Jul, 2018
Barry Turner
University of Lincoln
C. Wright Mills had in interesting, if dismissive view of European elite theories regarding them in some cases as useless. Like other American theorists he concerned himself with where elites sprang from rather than simply looking upon them as being inevitable constructs of society.
He was particularly dismissive of Mosca:
"it is not my theory that for all epochs of human history and in all nations, a creative minority, a ruling class, an ommipotent elite shape all historical events. Such statements upon careful examination usually turn out to be mere tautologies, and evn where they are not they are so entirely general as to be useless in the attempt to understand the history of the present"
- The Power Elite (1956)
I wonder what he would have made of Soros and the philanthrocapitalists?
2 Recommendations
18th Jul, 2018
Bertil Haggman
NPMP
The three “heirs” to Niccolo Machiavelli when it comes to elite studies were Italian Gaetano Mosca (1859 – 1941), German Robert Michels (1876 – 1936), Italian Vilfredo Pareto (1848 – 1923)
They greatly expanded the study of elites. In my opinion one of the most pressing problems of today is if we can trust the managerial elites that rose to power during the 1930s. Two of these elites collapsed in 1939 to 1991. The similar elites that developed in the West still remain. Can we trust them?
All elites are concerned with the science of power. They consist in the end of human beings that have a desire for power and wealth. Mosca, Michels and Pareto believed the elites could be irrational, driven by sentiment and prejudice. Human beings are basically ignorant and easily deceived by others and themselves.
Mosca was highly critical of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whom he saw as a naive progressivist. There was one primary and universal social fact, namely two “political classes” – the “ruling class”, always a minority, and the ruled, the majority.
Pareto in his massive work The Mind and Society ( in English 1935) regarded elites as minorities that sooner or later inevitably took power.
Michels in turn developed what he called “the iron law of oligarchy”. In all groups, from the local chess clubs to political parties, a minority always took power.
Both Mosca and Pareto saw socialism as a prime example of a political idea that promoted elite rule, a small group acquiring the power of the state. Socialism came in the early 20th century to dominate in many European countries (also in its different forms like fascism and national socialism). After World War II the continuing striving of socialist elites for power have contributed to hamper development.
The Machiavellians, according to James Burnham, are the only ones who have told us the full truth about Power: the primary object, in practice, of all rulers is to serve their own interest, to maintain their own power and privilege…No theory, no promises, no morality, no amount of good will, no religion will restrain power. Neither priests nor soldiers, neither labor leaders nor businessmen, neither bureaucrats nor feudal lords will differ from each other in the basic use which they will seek to make of power…Only power restrains power…when all opposition is destroyed, there is no longer any limit to what power may do. A despotism, any kind of despotism, can be benevolent only by accident.”
The reference here is mainly to oligarchies in totalitarian/authoritarian ruled countries. The Machiavellians believed that we have to distrust also the managerial elites that rise and remain in control in states in the West. Popular protests by voters in the passed decade can be an indication of mistrust of the present ruling elites.
2 Recommendations
18th Jul, 2018
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Turner, Haggman & readers,
The quotation from C. Wright Mills is helpful at this point in the discussion. As a matter of fact, I have the Mills book open on my desk just now.
I think we see in the quotation a principled rejection of Michels' "Iron Law." However, the rejection fails to speak to the details of organization. No doubt, as you and Haggman have both suggested, it might do well to look into the theme of the "managerial elite."
Part of the perspective, I think, has to do with the rise of the large-scale corporation, and this was partly a reaction against the dominance of great (owner) families in late nineteenth-century industrialization. These great families often had strong local or regional affiliations and connections, in communities and various religious denominations, and were often felt to exert an excessively conservative social-political influence. But it is not too difficult to argue, I think, that great "impersonal" corporations have their own, somewhat similar influence. At the opposite extreme, interestingly, we find the thesis of the Yugoslav, Djilas, in The New Class, that even the abolition of private ownership of the means of production did not solve the problem of oligarchic dominance.
Haggman quotes Burnham:
... when all opposition is destroyed, there is no longer any limit to what power may do.
--End quotation
The only question remaining, then, it appears, is whether power must be concentrated in order to be effective, or if there are not other, effective and dispersed forms of power of use in the opposition to the danger of oligarchy. I've been arguing that this is a matter of the quite complicated and diverse details of organization.
H.G. Callaway
---you quote Mills----
"it is not my theory that for all epochs of human history and in all nations, a creative minority, a ruling class, an omnipotent elite shape all historical events. Such statements upon careful examination usually turn out to be mere tautologies, and even where they are not they are so entirely general as to be useless in the attempt to understand the history of the present"
- The Power Elite (1956)
1 Recommendation
18th Jul, 2018
Farangis Shahidzade
Yazd University
oligarchy is governing most of the developing countries .a group of elites vey few in number but rich in all resources available. Due to power and dominance, their ideas are implemented with little resistance. it increases poverty of other members of society not related to them . people who do not agree with their views are deprived of most human rights. common people obey them and improv their power and control. best
2 Recommendations
18th Jul, 2018
Roberto - Minadeo
Conselho Nacional de Des. Científico e Tecnológico-CNPq
It's very good to see H.G. Callaway saying: "devil of oligarchy is in the details of organizations." It is a simple truth. Thinking about it leads to some pessimism: as organizations grow, it is inevitable to "multiply the details." Thus, the importance of implanting Corporate Governance tools and tools seems to be growing.
2 Recommendations
19th Jul, 2018
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear all,
Regarding James Burnham and his work on The Managerial Revolution, readers of this thread may want to take a look at the following essay. I quote from the opening. The essay appeared in American Affairs:
James Burnham’s Managerial Elite
by Julius Krein
Conservative polemicists have long presented a caricature of a decadent liberal elite, and liberals have offered a competing caricature of a conservative plutocracy. But few have attempted to understand how these ostensible opponents function as elements of the same elite, or how they have participated in maintaining the broader intellectual, political, and economic status quo. Today, with the old partisan categories in disarray, many pundits have begun to acknowledge the existence of a transpartisan elite with its own interests, if only as the antithesis of so-called populists. Yet although many efforts have been made to examine the motives—and, almost always, the pathologies—of populism, little serious thought has been given to the interests and character of the elite as a class.
This refusal to interrogate or even conceive of a ruling class of elites reflects the once prevalent—and still lingering—belief that ideological conflict ended after the Cold War. Without a critique of the dominant ideology, the distinct class consciousness and interests of the elite seem to disappear. If there is no critique of the general political consensus, then there is no critique of the political elite, for it is that elite which constitutes and defines the larger society.
---End quotation
See:
Comments invited.
H.G. Callaway
1 Recommendation
19th Jul, 2018
Sargis Karavardanyan
University of California, Irvine
Dear Callaway, and readers,
As an immigrant from a country that has been internally torn apart by the oligarchic networks that dominated Armenia during the post Soviet period I must attest that the meaning of oligarchy can be extended beyond the Aristotelian definition of "the rule of the few." Oligarchs, as such, are composed of hierarchies that control all segments of the society that can be of a value to sustain their networks and opportunities for increasing power/status. Two of those segments that are most vital for attaining protection include the legal and law enforcement which, if analyzed carefully, also can be classified as some levels in oligarchic networks. The hierarchies can stretch beyond the border of the country where oligarchs inhabit. For example, many oligarchs in Armenia and Russia have multi-citizenship, and this said, properties, investments and funds in those other countries. The protection by the state is what I would call the most crucial ingredient in the life-span of oligarchies. This is evident in the recent velvet revolution in Armenia that deprived the old-age oligarchs of such a protection, and the new government (with new personnel) embarked on mass arrests and investigations of anyone having involvement in using the state apparatus power for accumulation of wealth, electoral rigging, and other forms of illicit activities that helped to increase the influence of oligarchs.
p.s. for more comprehensive analysis of the concept of oligarchy I highly recommend a book by Dr. J. Winters, Oligarchy, (Cambridge University Press).
3 Recommendations
19th Jul, 2018
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Karavardanyan & readers,
Many thanks for your interesting comments on the history and developments in Armenia. I think its a word to the wise in criticism of acquiescence.
Here is an online review of the Winters, Oligarchy, book:
See:
The author of the review is not uncritical, and questions the generality of Winters emphasis on "wealth defense."
Here is the opening synopsis of the review:
Political scientist Jeffrey Winters argues that oligarchy is timeless, but varying in its forms. For him, the political power of billionaires in democracies represents a transformation towards “civil oligarchy”. But his exclusive focus on “wealth defense” may oversimplify and underestimate the real influence of the moneyed few.
---End quotation
I have the book here, and it strikes me that Winters' classifications of sub-types of oligarchy is especially interesting. One or more articles by Winters are also available online.
H.G. Callaway
3 Recommendations
19th Jul, 2018
Barry Turner
University of Lincoln
I recommend one of the best rock songs of all time. Won't Get Fooled Again by the Who finishes with the line "meet the new boss, same as the old boss".
Political commentary comes in all shapes and sizes.
2 Recommendations
19th Jul, 2018
Irina Mikhailovna Pechonkina
University of Jordan
To Mercy Otis Warren, "The love of domination and uncontrolled lust of arbitrary power have prevailed among all nations and perhaps in proportion to the degrees of civilization" The first profit was always dirty. The Russian red jackets are from the criminal past by birth. http://rusvesna.su/news/1516958231
1 Recommendation
20th Jul, 2018
Louis Brassard
Dylan’s “Masters of War”
[Verse 1] Come, you masters of war You that build the big guns You that build the death planes You that build all the bombs You that hide behind walls You that hide behind desks I just want you to know I can see through your masks
[Verse 2] You that never done nothing But build to destroy You play with my world Like it’s your little toy You put a gun in my hand And you hide from my eyes And you turn and run farther When the fast bullets fly
[Verse 3] Like Judas of old You lie and deceive A world war can be won You want me to believe But I see through your eyes And I see through your brain Like I see through the water That runs down my drain
[Verse 4] You fasten all the triggers For the others to fire Then you set back and watch While the death count gets higher You hide in your mansion While the young people’s blood Flows out of their bodies And is buried in the mud
[Verse 5] You’ve thrown the worst fear That can ever be hurled Fear to bring children Into the world For threatening my baby Unborn and unnamed You ain't worth the blood That runs in your veins
[Verse 6] How much do I know To talk out of turn You might say that I’m young You might say I’m unlearned But there’s one thing I know Though I’m younger than you That even Jesus would never Forgive what you do
[Verse 7] Let me ask you one question Is your money that good Will it buy you forgiveness Do you think that it could I think you will find When your death takes its toll All the money you made Will never buy back your soul
[Verse 8] And I hope that you die And your death will come soon I will follow your casket By the pale afternoon And I’ll watch while you’re lowered Down to your deathbed And I’ll stand over your grave 'Til I’m sure that you’re dead
1 Recommendation
20th Jul, 2018
Khaled Al-Farhany
University of Al-Qadisiyah
Oligarchy is a form of power structure in which power rests with a small number of people. These people may be distinguished by nobility, wealth, family ties, education or corporate, religious or military control.
Wikipedia
2 Recommendations
20th Jul, 2018
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Al-Farhany & readers,
Thanks for your note.
The problem with the notion of oligarchy, as you quote the definition from the Wikipedia, is that it fails to distinguish between oligarchy, as intuitively understood and standardly criticized, on the one hand, and a small leadership group on the other. For example, even in the original Aristotelian treatment of the theme (in Aristotle's Politics) he distinguishes between oligarchy and aristocracy. Oligarchy he says, is a degenerate (one might say, a corrupt form) form of aristocracy, because it lacks proper concern for the common good.
The more general argument is that to avoid becoming an oligarchy, any comparatively small leadership group, of an organization or a society, must be responsive and accountable to the large group. The ways in which such responsiveness and accountability are implemented, as I have argued on this thread, depend upon the details of organization; and this prominently involves competitive elections of representative governments or governing bodies.
The concept of oligarchy as simply "rule by the few" is inadequate, and especially because it ignores the details of organization.
H.G. Callaway
---you wrote---
Oligarchy is a form of power structure in which power rests with a small number of people. These people may be distinguished by nobility, wealth, family ties, education or corporate, religious or military control.
2 Recommendations
20th Jul, 2018
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Braun & readers,
Perhaps you'd be willing to offer some analysis of the paper posted in a reply several notes back. (Also, see below.)
I would be interested to see what you or others may think of it. The objective of going back over the literature, from Aristotle on, is to put ourselves in a position to answer the question at the head of this thread. In a way, that is a very practical objective.
Part of the contribution of the liberal arts and humanities is that they put us in a better position to understand what is actually going on in the world, in social, economic and political terms. Who, indeed, is benefitting society and who is not? I would not assume that such benefit must be political in character.
No doubt, any prospective oligarchs out there in developed western societies do nominally fall within the class of taxpayers. But I believe it is well recognized that we are faced with growing inequalities over several decades, in some countries perhaps less so and in others more. Unemployment and underemployment is also usually recognized as a significant problem.
You ask some questions falling into the category of "contemporary political analysis." That's a matter of trying to understand what is going on. If we understand "oligarchy" as a matter of gaining and maintaining power by illegitimate means (or if we understand "elite economic dominance" in those terms), then the case must still be made on the basis of the facts of the matter that there is a present "danger." If you see no danger, then by all means, dispute the article linked below.
H.G. Callaway
See:
1 Recommendation
20th Jul, 2018
Barry Turner
University of Lincoln
"There are many ways of reaching this point, and not just through the terror of police intimidation, but by denying and distorting information, by undermining systems of justice, by paralyzing the education system, and by spreading in a myriad subtle ways nostalgia for a world where order reigned, and where the security of a privileged few depends on the forced labour and the forced silence of the many”.
Primo Levi (1974)
4 Recommendations
21st Jul, 2018
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear all,
Here is a link to a paper which seeks to demonstrate the relationship of inequality to diminished political power of those left behind. The general point being that economic inequalities tend to reduce political and civil equality of citizens. The result is based on a range of studies on countries both rich and poor and is available from R.G., by contributor Wade Cole.
The Abstract reads as follows:
Abstract The relationship between economic and political inequality has long concerned social scientists, but research remains limited in scope. Most studies focus on isolated cases, highly restricted subsamples, or subunits within countries. Using data for up to 136 countries between 1981 and 2011, this study analyzes whether and how income inequality affects the distribution of political power for, and respect for the civil liberties of, a society’s rich and poor people. When income inequality is high, do rich people command greater political power and enjoy stronger civil liberties than poor people do? To answer these questions, the study uses both pooled regression analyses and two-stage models with instrumental variables to identify causal effects. The results are decisive: income inequality is inimical to both political and civil equality. These findings hold for developed as well as developing countries and for democratic as well as nondemocratic countries.
---End quotation
H.G. Callaway
See:
1 Recommendation
21st Jul, 2018
Bertil Haggman
NPMP
From the writings of Niccolo Machiavelli, Gaetano Mosca, Robert Michels, and Vilfredo Pareto, the American theorist and philosopher James Burnham in the book “The Machiavellians” deduced that:
1. All politics is concerned with the struggle for power among individuals and groups;
2. genuine political analysis involves correlating facts and formulating hypotheses about the future without reference to what ought to happen;
3. there is a distinction between the “formal” and “real” meaning of political rhetoric, which can only be discovered by analyzing the rhetoric in the context of the actual world of time, space, and history;
4. “political man” is primarily a “non-logical” actor driven by “instinct, impulse and interest;”
5. rulers and political elites are primarily concerned with maintaining and expanding their power and privileges;
6. rulers and elites hold power by “force and fraud;” (Note: in countries where there is representative government in the 21st Century force may not be a common method. "Fraud" is a typical Machiavellian term. The managerial elite beginning in the 20th Century has to a great extent failed to renew itself. The term to use in the present system would be "manipulation".
Officials and administrators are the product of almost unlimited modern state machines).
Mosca pointed to a crystallization of the elite when it camet to membership, interests, and activities
7. all governments are sustained by “political formulas” or myths;
8. all societies are divided into a “ruling class” and the ruled; and
9. in all societies the “structure and composition” of the ruling class changes over time.
2 Recommendations
22nd Jul, 2018
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Haggman & readers,
Many thanks for your exposition on Burnham's theory.
I would say, to begin, that the approach is overly "totalizing." In fact there are always a number of different factors affecting any given society or organization; and Burnham seems to be a kind of monist in his explanations. Whether a single factor is allowed to dominate, or a variety of factors enter in is in fact open to human choice. In consequence, as we have seen the charge of economic determinism has been raised against Burnham. I do not believe that the world has actually gone over to "managerialism." This describes only an aspect of contemporary political and economic reality.
Let me take an example from your listing of theses: As you put the matter:
“political man” is primarily a “non-logical” actor driven by “instinct, impulse and interest;”
---End quotation
This, of course, is very anti-Aristotelian in cast. We can wonder, however, about the meaning of "primarily." Is "political man" predominantly and all-but-universally "non-logical" and driven by "instinct, impulse and interest," or is it instead claimed that people start out this way, though they are capable of alternatives? While the first interpretation is more compelling and interesting, one might be inclined to view it as a matter of misleading rhetoric. This is particularly true, if the second interpretation is taken up, and we consider, that people are capable or rational evaluation and a broader view of human interests. Whatever is determinedly anti-Aristotelian basically forsakes the common-sense and embodied values of western civilization.
Or consider, briefly another of your listed points: "genuine political analysis involves correlating facts and formulating hypotheses about the future without reference to what ought to happen."
But on the contrary, our views of "what ought to happen" are clearly political motives for what we do. In consequence, if our political analysis ignores moral evaluations, and the factual assessment of of actual moral and political evaluations at work in society, then we are quite likely to miss out on understanding what actually will take place. Moreover, our very assessment and estimations of the relevant facts of political analysis is already, quite properly colored and directed by our values. The absolute separation of human facts and values is, more or less, an elitist strategy of control.
More could be said, but this is perhaps enough for the time being. There are many approaches to our question, and Burnham is just one.
H.G. Callaway
1 Recommendation
22nd Jul, 2018
Khaled Al-Farhany
University of Al-Qadisiyah
intrested
1 Recommendation
22nd Jul, 2018
Bertil Haggman
NPMP
Dr Callaway,
True, there are many alternative views but the Machiavellians represent an important school when it comes to judging the growth and influence of the managerial state during almost 100 years. It is not only Burnham. The voters are increasingly turning against the existing mangerial elites. It could be a sign that a change or course correction is needed. Some leading
scholars in applied history have even warned about collapse in the West. The problems of the complex state systems can of course be the result of mismanagement of the political elites or ruling classes. Niall Ferguson’s ”Empires on the Edge of Chaos - the Nasty Fiscal Arithmetic of Imperial Decline”. I do not like the term ”Empire” but the warnings of Professor Ferguson are worth a study.
Going back in time Machiavelli’s foxes in a way could be regarded as description of present political elites from the 16th century:
They live by their wits; they put their reliance on fraud, deceit, and shrewdness. They do not have strong attachment to family, church, nation, and traditions....They live in the present, taking little thought of the future, and are always ready for change, novelty...They are not adept, as a rule, in the use of force...
The words of Machiavelli can then be compared to those of Pareto:
...they will try to preserve their own power and resolve problems through verbal, administrative, and manipulative behavior...
1 Recommendation
22nd Jul, 2018
Barry Turner
University of Lincoln
"The workers and the peasants
Them should co-operate
But like a fish to the hook
Them go bite on Burnham bait".
-Lynton Kwesi Johnson
2 Recommendations
22nd Jul, 2018
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Haggman, Braun & readers,
Whatever you may think of Burnham's thesis, its a useful exercise here to work through it--and avoid mere emotional reaction to his themes.
Thought we may reject Burnham's monolithic style of explanation, it contains a warning. Consider, the argument I made above that whether more than one factor, or elements beyond the purely economic, enter into social-political development and change is a human choice.
If we can decide against such monism, then, as a practical matter, some might decide to ignore all else; and that would have definite social and political effects--of the sort Burnham describes. The exercise is not purely academic.
H.G. Callaway
1 Recommendation
22nd Jul, 2018
Louis Brassard
Dear Callaway,
Here are some comments on :
''Obama, forced to confront the failures of managerialism, seems to have sincerely sought to be a transformative figure outside of the conventional policy consensus.''
I question the author's judgement on that one. To me Obama is the ultimate smooth manager that do not rock the managerial society. Only a smooth Obama could push the managerial state to the climax of incompetence with the semblance of ultimate mastery. He was a real genuis of appearance this one. No scandals, everything under control when nothing is really. He entered a sinking both and left a sinking both and nothing was his fault. Perfect manager.
I place Burnhams in the line of the thinkers that I mentioned: Tocqueville, Munford and Ellul. He used another name: managerial society. It is also normal that a former Trostkist comes up with such critic given that Trostkist is a dictatorship of the managerial communist class and that class did not own the industry but control it. The similarity of the big capitalistic society which huge burocratic state and the concerted action of all the managers to run this smooth machine with the Big communist russian society was evident. Markets had all failed after WWI, only the concerted effort of big state and corporation had got it going. WWII will relaugh capitalist since it destroyed most infrastructure so providing ample of work of two generations , then we went on borrowed time , on credit and and all kind hyper drive solutions , all precipating the whole society under a faked management (no pilot in the cocqpit situation) until NOW, we cannot fake it, the crisis has to be acknowledge, the titanic is plunging. Of course, some passenger still pretend that everything is normal and this boat is unsinkable.
=========
''Burnham argued that the Soviet Union was a new type of society but not a socialist one. Rather, the Soviet Union, along with Nazi Germany and New Deal America, pointed to a future where capitalism would be supplanted by a fusion of the state with big business, controlled by the managerial class. Under capitalism, power was held by those who owned the means of production, but under the new managerial system power would be wielded by technocratic experts. No longer would businessmen follow the rags-to-riches trajectory of Andrew Carnegie; instead they would have MBAs and employ a stratum of middle mangers who were similarly educated, sharing the same class profile as government bureaucrats.  (Contra Douthat’s gloss, Burnham always located the American form of the Managerial Revolution in corporate power, and didn’t see it as being necessarily liberal.''
Burnham like his associate Buckley at National Review both worked for the CIA . The CIA is a kind of typical burocratic institution runned by the managerial elite. I do not like public intellectual on a CIA payroll. First it is not honest to pretend to be independent thinker if you are paid by the CIA. It is true that we do not need to know if the thinker intention and real thought in order to analsyse the content of a book. But it is a bit disturbing. I had the same problem with Fukuyama because he worked for the RAND Corporation.
1 Recommendation
23rd Jul, 2018
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Brassard & readers,
Thanks for your thoughts on Burnham.
I am really sort of surprised that you are as positive on Burnham as you profess. But I don't see, in any case, that you really answer the charge against his "managerial revolution," that it only captures one aspect, that he is too prone to explanation in a monolithic form, and that he falls into economic determinism. I'm inclined to say, e.g., that we will be tempted to ignore the real conflicts in society and politics, say, of "Wall Street vs. Main St." if we follow Burnham too closely. While there is much in the contemporary world which matches up with Burnham's "managerial revolution," there are also contrary economic and social forces. I believe that in general most people would allow the need of some great corporations (which will bring along their managerial elite), the question remains of which firms and how much?
My argument has been that if there is too much of this sort of thing, then what we get is "policy capture," and a decline of sensible regulation. That is definitely a danger, but it would not ordinarily count as a kind of fusion of big business and government. That is instead a kind of projection to the extreme of the genuine and factual dangers. So, what is needed is some mixture of anti-trust action and regulation. I attempt no quantifications and assume that the public prosecutors would go at this on a case by case basis. (The devil is in the details of organization.)
I am also skeptical of a public intellectual working for the CIA, but on the other hand, I think we see in Fukuyama's genuine break with the neocons, a sign of a quite forthright thinker, whether one agrees with him in all details or not.
Since some on this thread may not be familiar with the recent history, I would like to take the opportunity to link to Fukuyama's book, After the Neocons (2006):
See, e.g.,
In addition Fukuyama has faced up to the contrary evidence facing his "end of history" discourse in the book that make him famous.
The faults of managerialism are, in degree open to legislative remedy. Legislation might limit executive salaries, e.g., something which has been under discussion of late. (Diminishing the extent of economic advantage of the managers in control, as contrast with those with less power, would tend to diminish unscrupulous power struggles and oligarchic tendencies.) Again, legislation might seek to strengthen the role of stockholders in the governance of corporations, allowing greater scope for oversight of management and its practices. Corporations are, in the end creations of the state, and their restructuring by legislation is not impossible.
BTW: We have recently had a scandal here in the city in which the dean of the business school of one of the major universities was forced out. A practice was uncovered in which the school had falsified data sent to U.S. News magazine --which was the basis of the magazine's high ranking of one of the school's business programs. Its a not untypical episode of manipulation and deception on the part of institutional insiders to make their own people and programs look good --manipulation of appearances. Its a kind of corruption to my way of thinking; and the episode helps make the point that investigative reporting also has its uses in holding down the self-aggrandizing abuse of institutional power --and limiting the damage done to the public.
H.G. Callaway
---you wrote---
I place Burnhams in the line of the thinkers that I mentioned: Tocqueville, Munford and Ellul. He used another name: managerial society.
23rd Jul, 2018
Louis Brassard
Dear Callaway,
''I am really sort of surprised that you are as positive on Burnham ''
I don't see why you think that I am looking at this managerialism in a positive manner. I don't. I just regrettably observe it growing. I do not know if Burnham was seeing the phenomena positively or not.
For a long time I thought that we need a police of governance to keep all these huge public admistration and political organisation in check. It would be a totally different and independent with elected officials. The mandate would be to check everybody. Bonus would be offer for performance and for good catch. Total access to all information. It would be a bit terrifying for the burocrats of all kind but is'nt it what many need, a feeling that what they do is being checked, that they are watched, that there is a big organisation whose purpose is to get all slackers. Unfortunatly such policing is needed.
2 Recommendations
23rd Jul, 2018
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Brassard & readers,
Let me be more explicit. I am surprised at your estimation of Burnham as a social-political theorist--given the contrary arguments and criticism already on offer on the thread. Whether he's an "inevitabilist" or simply acquiesces, seems less to the point of the criticisms.
I do not see Burnham ranking with the others you mention in connection with his name.
H.G. Callaway
---you wrote---
I place Burnham in the line of the thinkers that I mentioned: Tocqueville, Mumford and Ellul.
24th Jul, 2018
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear all,
I would like the recommend an article by Frank Pasquale, which appeared in a recent edition of the journal American Affairs. The Title is "Tech Platforms and the Knowledge problem," and it was the lead article in an issue partly devoted to "Oligopoly and Oligarchy."
See:
I quote from the article:
Populist localizers want a new era of antitrust enforcement to break up giant firms. These Jeffersonian critics of big tech firms, megabanks, and health care behemoths are decentralizers. They believe that power is and ought to be distributed in a just society. They promote strong local authorities to counterbalance the centripetal accumulation of wealth and power in multinational firms.
Others have promoted gigantism as inevitable or desirable, and argue that we simply need better rules to cabin abuses of corporate power. Today’s Hamiltonians argue that massive stores of data are critical to the future of artificial intelligence—and thus to the productive dynamism of the economy. They focus on improving the regulation of  leading firms rather than on breaking them up.
Jeffersonians and Hamiltonians express very different views on what an optimal economy looks like. In the long run, their visions are probably irreconcilable. In the short run, however, both sets of reformers offer important lessons for policymakers grappling with the power of massive tech, finance, and health care firms. This essay explores these lessons, specifying where each vision has comparative advantage.
---End quotation
Please have a look at the article. Comments invited. Pasquale's work has been getting a good deal of attention of late. It strikes me that the distinction between contemporary "Jeffersonians" and "Hamiltonians" has a definite appeal; and its a good place to start discussions of reform, as needed to avoid dangers of oligarchy.
H.G. Callaway
25th Jul, 2018
Roberto - Minadeo
Conselho Nacional de Des. Científico e Tecnológico-CNPq
The spin-off of big business is such a big deal. From the practical point of view, it's impossible. On the other hand, the movement for the formation of gigantic and global groups is simply irreversible. Falling prices in PC's, Internet access, automobiles, air travel, sea cruises, etc., are a byproduct of large groups. If there were thousands of small car manufacturers, we would not have the technological advances of the last 50 years.
1 Recommendation
25th Jul, 2018
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Minadeo & readers,
Thanks for your comments.
No doubt very large firms sometimes make good economic sense--especially when many smaller competing firms would be awkward --as in railroad lines, e.g., or gas and electric utilities, etc. One sometimes speaks of "natural monopolies." But on the other hand, the railroad lines can be separated from the actual railroads which use the rights of way, and the gas and electric producers can be separated from the firms running the delivery (pipeline or cable-system) services. In any case "natural monopolies" are often heavily regulated and governed by a distinct set of laws and rules. These classical forms of large consolidated firms have been tamed in like fashion, and the related process of consolidation has proved to be less than "irreversible."
Very large producers of automobiles, likewise are widely thought to benefit from economies of scale, but on the other hand, cars these days often seem to be very highly priced. It is not entirely clear that the dominance of larger firms internationally has not tended to stifle more radical innovation.There may be a kind of corporate inertia involved. Some smaller firms have recently arisen at least in specialized markets.
I would say, too, that in newer fields it often makes good public sense to allow for the exploration of the possibilities involved. So it has been with computers, the internet and internet access. But the unregulated growth in this area has more recently been challenged or questioned. It is less than clear that every sort of firm which once gets very large must forever remain so, once the economic and technological possibilities have been extensively explored.
See the following interview with Frank Pasquale, speaking about his recent book, Black Box Society. This video runs about 16 Min., and was first broadcast on Canadian public TV:
You'll see, I think, that he makes an interesting case for the uniqueness of technological firms involving communications, human relations, and the mass collection of data on individuals. At the very end, he warns of dangers of oligarchy --The existence of few, very large firms in particular, sensitive fields is a factor in the danger.
Comments invited
H.G. Callaway
28th Jul, 2018
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear all,
Conclusion ? The evident solution to problems connected with oligarchy and the threat of oligarchy is to reign in, by legal and organizational means, the facilitating social, economic and legal structures which support it, or by means of which it operates and maintains its power. This requires strengthening the middle-class and strengthening the blue-collar, lower middle-class and the roles of small business in particular—and thus diminishing the long, pervasive growth of domestic economic inequalities. Effective means are generally well known. This must include a balance of effective regulation of large-scale public and private institutions and stronger anti-trust enforcement—broadly conceived. Greater public involvement in political activities and the strengthening of our organizations of civil society are always crucial to reform; but the evident temptation of our contemporary politicians to preferentially cater to the conveniently concentrated economic and political power of a comparatively small number of extremely powerful institutions must be reduced. We may doubt that up-from-the-bottom pressures will suffice, while there is excessive influence from the economic heights; doubt that any prospective “blue wave” will quite reach the elite, economic heights. Effective regulation of large-scale institutions and avoidance of “policy capture,” depend in part on increasing competition, and, in that way it depends on reducing the corrupting power of oligarchic economic and political configurations. In the end, the details of organization are crucial, and yet the organizational means supporting democratic practices, involve “eternal vigilance.” They are as varied as the evolving forms of corruption and unfair advantage. Deference to authority cannot be identified with respect for leadership and its roles. It will not do to allow organizational leadership unrestricted control over sub-groups, their membership and innovations in internal organizational structures.
Comments invited
H.G. Callaway
28th Jul, 2018
Louis Brassard
Dear Callaway,
The oligarchic problem has existed since large scales societies have existed, it is the inherented difficulty of large numbers of people to self-organized in ways that respect them, responsive to the needs of the vast majority. Ancient texts such as the myth of the tower of Babel already reflects on the difficulty of great cities. The increased in inequalities such as the one observed in the West in the last 50 years is a symptom of the rise of the financial oligarchy in the World but only a symptom. The communist oligarchy of the early 20th century had other symptoms, a rise of equality. The middle class of the soviet empire was created by that type of oligarchy. Secularisation is a deeper reason for the rise of both type of oligarchic tendencies. Liberal secularisaton is borned with the reformed in the West, and it is kind of deformation of christianity which has led to our current situation. What is peculiar in this new mode of life is the replacement of empathy for the closed one, the natural tribe for an empathy for the far away poors. Although we can think that both forms of social empathy are the same, they are not. The abstract liberal empathy in fact open the way for diminution the natural social empathy at the base of all religious traditions. It is a cognitive virus that hinder the natural social empathy that all form of religion try to forster and counteract the ego. Once it appeared, the cultural virus mutated several time and forster social changes enhancing the particular mental balance and form of life. The very notion of nations based on that form of natural empathy is being replaced. Globalisation is in the cards as soon as liberal form of abstract empathy is unleashed. The social orders being unleashed will not be hindered by the natural empathy and will fall prey of oligarchic tendencies. This is the state of my reflextion. Not yet well organized but some central theme are being put in place.
Regards
1 Recommendation
29th Jul, 2018
Alfonso Diaz-JIMENEZ
Universidad Distrital Francisco José de Caldas
a kind of oligarch - for pretending dignity - favors some of his relatives to impose rules
1 Recommendation
29th Jul, 2018
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Brassard & readers,
Thanks for your thoughts on the matter. I am not quite sure if you are responding to my "conclusion?" or more broadly.
In any case, my major doubt on what you say is that it is not clear that oligarchy, or the tendency toward it, is exclusive to large-scale societies. As I recall, oligarchy was quite frequent in the ancient Greek city-states, which were generally of modest size. More "democratic" Greek city-states were the exception and not the rule. Much the same can be said for the city-states of Renaissance Italy. Oligarchies, I think can just as easily be small or local --arising out of strong local affinities and unquestioned common social commitments.
Moreover, we have the example in the U.S. of the important role of the federal prosecutors in cleaning up local corruption. The key here is that they are not answerable or dependent on to the local politicians, and are therefore better placed to break up self-serving "rings" or "circles" or political "syndicates" which would otherwise run local politics primarily to benefit themselves. The tendency of local politicians to support each other and "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil (of each other)" is actually quite astounding. I think to emphasize the needed balance between the local and the larger-scale forms.
You write of a "deformation of Christianity," but I am unsure what you have in mind. What would this be? Didn't the reformation (or the "left-wing" reformation) often favor the scale of the local congregation in contrast to the "universalism" of a hierarchical church and the sometime official religion of empire? Of course, an abstract universal doctrine of "love thy neighbor as thyself" can be found throughout the Christian denominations. On the other hand, emphasis on the local has been known to eventuate in singling out the local "elect." What do you see as the source of "abstract liberal empathy" which facilitates "diminution the natural social empathy"?
I think this otherwise goes by the description "love of humanity in general, but of no one in particular" --or some similar formulation.
H.G. Callaway
---you wrote---
Secularisation is a deeper reason for the rise of both type of oligarchic tendencies. Liberal secularisation is borned with the reformed in the West, and it is kind of deformation of christianity which has led to our current situation. What is peculiar in this new mode of life is the replacement of empathy for the closed one, the natural tribe for an empathy for the far away poor. Although we can think that both forms of social empathy are the same, they are not. The abstract liberal empathy in fact opens the way for diminution the natural social empathy at the base of all religious traditions. It is a cognitive virus that hinder the natural social empathy that all form of religion try to forster and counteract the ego.
1 Recommendation
29th Jul, 2018
Louis Brassard
Dear Callaway,
Humans are animals that like their primate cousin are naturally adapted for living in extended family group of at most 100 individuals, anything vastly larger than this, a small city state is way way beyond our natural cognitive capacity and so we had to rely on all kind of cultural devices not as good as our natural social empathic ways for doing so. And the greater is the group, and worse it is. Yes we are condemned to live in large society, and so to find cultural means to do so. I personally think that the combination of civil institutions and religious ideologies and institutions have been created for that purpose. It is my belief that our primary social instinct are at the root of our religions and these have found ways for our natural social empathic instinct to still play a role for guiding social life. Nature grow by new layers over older ones. But nothing is fixed, society changes because of all kind of external factors, wars among the most important, but also because of technological change and the most important is the regulation of human social relation throw money. All great religions appeared almost at the time where money took greater importance in all great civilisation. It is not a coincidence, because money tend to replace the normal human empathic way to relate to each other and replace it with commerce, where calculation enter, where debt can be remember on clay tablet, etc. This create a different cognitive balance in human once this instrument enter human relations and all religions have tried to tempered this and found all kind of ways for our instinctual social empathic side to not be push aside. Money and banking took many forms over the age and it is related to writing and to rationality. Not a coincidence if the printing press, and reformation and commerce and the importance of banking rose in Europe simultaneously. The mental balance, the defiance of Christianity towards money was then removed in the new reformed forms of Christianity, commerce , banking, the importance of money was unleashed. I am still catching this idea into fly which is far from being stabilize. One of my key inspiration has been my own personal experience of growing up into a society without much money which was culturally almost pre-French revolution and its rapid transformation. Another of my inspiration is my own reflection on the visual system of humans and mammals and to my conception of mammalian imagination and its transformation in the transition to humanity. I see the insistence on rationality, calculation, as being based on our object relation side and I see our social instinct empathic side based on our core imaginative side, the side based on the relation with the living and most importantly with other humans. I see the rise of writing, calculation,money as creating an imbalanced that shrink the living relationship side of our imagination. The natural science are exclusively an expression of only this side of our mammalian imagination. I can’t enter into the details of this , here I just mention the background from which these ideas evolved. I have of course detected similar ideas in the romantic thinkers.
P.S.
''A review of the philosophy of money:
Economic exchange, Simmel argues, can best be understood as a form of social interaction. When monetary transactions replace earlier forms of barter, significant changes occur in the forms of interaction between social actors. Money is subject to precise division and manipulation and permits exact measurement of equivalents. It is impersonal in a manner in which objects of barter, like crafted gongs and collected shells, can never be. It thus helps promote rational calculation in human affairs and furthers the rationalization that is characteristic of modern society. When money becomes the prevalent link between people, it replaces personal ties anchored in diffuse feelings by impersonal relations that are limited to a specific purpose. Consequently, abstract calculation invades areas of social life, such as kinship relations or the realm of esthetic appreciation, which were previously the domain of qualitative rather than quantitative appraisals.
Just because money makes it possible to limit a transaction to the purpose at hand, it helps increase personal freedom and fosters social differentiation; money displaces "natural" groupings by voluntary associations, which are set up for specific rational purposes. Wherever the cash nexus penetrates, it dissolves bonds based on the ties of blood or kinship or loyalty. Money in the modern world is more than a standard of value and a means of exchange. Over and above its economic functions, it symbolizes and embodies the modern spirit of rationality, of calculability, of impersonality. Money levels qualitative differences between things as well as between people; it is the major mechanism that paves the way from Gemeinshcaft to Gesellschaft. Under its aegis, the modern spirit of calculation and abstraction has prevailed over an older world view that accorded primacy to feelings and imagination.''
3 Recommendations
30th Jul, 2018
Oscar Chavoya-Aceves
Glendale Community College, AZ USA
An oligarchy is a tyrannical state where a few take control of society for their own benefit. I think we live now under oligarchy at the local, national, and global level. This has been facilitated by the advances in information technology and the spread of a false ideal of freedom. This, I think, is the first time in history that oligarchy does not only oppress human kind, but endangers the very existence of life and humanity because of the threat of global war and the degradation of the environment.
2 Recommendations
30th Jul, 2018
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Brassard & readers,
It may be that the money economy facilitates certain sorts of oligarchy. "The love of money is the root of all evil," as the old saying goes. It does certainly facilitate more impersonal relationships. But it is pretty obvious that no one is about to abolish money any time soon.
In consequence, I think we have to look, chiefly to the organizational factors which tend to facilitate oligarchy. I think I understand something of your perspective, but I think we have to deal with the world as it is, including large-scale social and political organization. In any case, I remain unconvinced that even the smaller human groupings you emphasize would be immune to the dangers. If it weren't money, driving people, it would be something else--say power over others, honor, etc.
Recall that Plato has it that oligarchy is a degenerate form of timocracy--where the leaders are qualified by honor thought to be due to them. I suspect that even in a hunter-gathering society, the best hunter of the lot, who "brings home the bacon," so to speak, might, with his close associates elevate themselves into a hunters' oligarchy.
Generally, in societies where money is somewhat less important, it is often position and power that plays the same roles. Might you be somewhat romanticizing ancient (prehistoric?) society? Herd animals (say, wolves vs. tigers--which are lone hunters) generally have hierarchical "pecking-order" relations within the group.
H.G. Callaway
1 Recommendation
1st Aug, 2018
Ljubomir Jacić
Technical College Požarevac
With every new government that takes power in Athens, the oligarchs threaten to take away the jobs they provide and the cash they flush into the political system should any attempt be made to audit their assets or tax them more effectively. In the past three decades not a single major party in Greece has run for election without vowing to break the power of these men; not a single party has seriously attempted to do so once in office. What is more, oligarchs are able to control the narratives told about them because there hardly exists a newspaper, television channel, or magazine in Greece that is not owned by one of them. Their power is such that press outfits within—and outside—the country have many legal and financial incentives not to call them out by name...
1 Recommendation
Can you help by adding an answer?

Similar questions and discussions

What is corruption and what are its social and political sources?
Discussion
115 replies
  • H.G. CallawayH.G. Callaway
The concept of corruption
(Opening for a draft paper)
Corruption is a matter of “dishonest or illegal behavior especially by powerful people,” including, for instance, government officials or the police; and primary examples of corrupt behavior are bribery and any other inducement by improper or unlawful means.1 The varying forms and expressions of corruption may, in fact, form an unending list, since new, more sophisticated, subtle or covert forms are pretty sure to arise. The more corruption is exposed at any given time and place, the more subtle and covert it tends to become. Partly in consequence, attempts at definition and demarcation of corruption vary and are often problematic or incomplete; “the class of corrupt actions comprise an extremely diverse array of types of moral and legal offences undertaken in a wide variety of institutional contexts including, but by no means restricted to, political and economic institutions.”2
As Lincoln Steffens put a similar point, directly concerned with Gilded Age corruption in St. Louis, Missouri, one had to fear that, “… the exposures by Mr. Folk will result only in the perfection of the corrupt system.”
For the corrupt can learn a lesson when the good citizens cannot. The Tweed regime in New York taught Tammany to organize its boodle business; the police exposure taught it to improve its method of collecting blackmail. And both now are almost perfect and safe. The rascals of St. Louis will learn in like manner; they will concentrate the control of their bribery system, excluding from the profit-sharing the great mass of weak rascals, and carrying on the business as a business in the interest of a trustworthy few.3
In the wake of exposures of corruption in the press, indictments and convictions due to the work of St. Louis public prosecutor Joseph W. Folk, if the good citizens of the city would not or could not take things in hand, then corruption could simply mutate into some as yet unexposed or covert forms. As a general matter, though, in spite of the tendency toward subtler and more sophisticated forms, the old familiar patterns are always being rediscovered and deployed somewhere or other; they never completely die away.
The etymological source of the English word “corruption” is theological Latin,4 which followed traditions of translating ancient Greek moral and political thought. This background is reflected both in the call on moral standards involved in the condemnation and prosecution of corruption and in the broader usages of the word. Corruption, in a secondary sense, is a matter of departure or deviation from an original, or from what is pure, ideal or correct, as in “corruption of a text,” and “corruption of computer files”—where no moral evaluation need be involved. In their original Greek setting, Aristotle’s three “degenerate,” “digressive” or “perverted” (παρεκβάσείς, parekbasis) forms of government, viz., tyranny, oligarchy and (extreme) democracy, are regarded as degenerate precisely because they deviate or “swerve” from proper concern with the common good. They might therefore equally be said to be corrupt forms. As political scientist Samuel Huntington makes a narrower point, “Corruption is behavior of public officials which deviates from accepted norms in order to serve private ends.”5 But not all corruption is political.
1. Cf. “Corruption” in Merriam-Webster.
2. Seumas Miller 2018, “Corruption” in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. p. 6.
3. Lincoln Steffens 1904, The Shame of the Cities, H.G. Callaway ed. 2020, p. 39.
4. Theological Latin is mentioned in the great Oxford English Dictionary. In consequence of the Latin source, one finds cognate forms in many European languages: English, corruption, French, corruption, German, Korruption, Italian, corruzione, and Russian, korruptsiya. The English “corrupt” derives from Latin, corrumpere = co- + rumpere, “to break.”
5. Cf. Samuel P. Huntington 1968, “Modernization and Corruption” in Huntington 2006, Political Order in Changing Societies, p. 59.
PAGE 2
In spite of our understandable and frequent focus on monetary exchanges involving government officials and favors, corruption need not involve exchange of money and may be either public or private. Public officials accepting envelopes stuffed with cash to favor bribe-givers in the exercise of official powers is perhaps the central, paradigm case of political corruption. Yet, surely, corruption may still exist where no money changes hands. Favoritism toward particular persons, groups or interests might be exchanged for other sorts of “inducements,” for instance, reciprocating preferences in hiring, employment advantages or promotions; and favoritism may involve exchange of useful “insider” information.6 “In some corrupt exchanges, such as patronage and nepotism” argues political scientist Michael Johnston, “considerable time may elapse between receiving the quid and repaying the quo, and the exchange may be conditioned by many factors other than immediate gain.”7
When illicit favoritism is practiced within a particular insider group involving partiality in dispensing jobs, opportunities and other advantages to friends, supporters or trusted associates, this favoritism is called cronyism. Favoritism and partiality toward one’s own family and kinship, nepotism, is illegal in American Civil Service employment practices, and restricted by the requirement to report possible conflicts of interest to stockholders in publicly traded firms. The charge of nepotism fails of legal application in privately owned firms. It is worth remarking, however, that the distinction between “public” and “private” agents and resources is not always entirely clear and straightforward.
The point is reflected in the history of corporate charters. For example, the British East India Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company long effectively ruled large areas of India and Canada respectively. Were these private trading corporations or colonial sub-polities of the British crown and government? Being both, of course, they could legally govern their respective geographic domains with priority and preference given to their own economic and trading interests and profits. The East India Company even had its own army which was effectively deployed in the Seven Years’ war (1756-1763).8 Chartered trading companies acting as sub-polities was a compromising configuration, though it long persisted. Again, while colonial Americans saw their chartered colonial governments as their own, requiring their representation and subject to “the consent of the governed,” the view from London was that they could be modified or abolished by parliament like any corporate or municipal charter in the kingdom.
Lincoln Steffens distinguished several classifications of municipal corruption. This is partly a matter of where to look for corruption. His typology includes police corruption which was especially prominent in the scandals of Minneapolis, and also found elsewhere, for instance, as reported in the Lexow Committee’s exposures of police corruption in New York City. Police corruption involves “protection” of and extortion from illegal but tolerated gambling and vices. Steffens sometimes found municipal corruption, centered in the mayor’s office, the executive and administrative departments and sometimes centered in the municipal legislatures. With corruption centered in City Council, the political bosses could often afford to tolerate a “clean hands” mayor. Steffens also describes financial corruption, for example in St. Louis, which involved “not thieves, gamblers, and common women, but influential citizens, capitalists, and great corporations.”9 Political bosses of the Gilded Age often enjoyed quite cozy relations to large financial and industrial firms or even owned banks themselves. Generalized civic corruption, exemplified by Philadelphia, “corrupt and contented,” involved direct ...
6. Cf. Sung Hui Kim 2014, “Insider Trading as Private Corruption,” UCLA Law Review, Vol. 61, pp. 928-1008: “Private corruption” is defined as “the use of an entrusted position for self-regarding gain.”
7. Michael Johnston 2005, Syndromes of Corruption, p. 21.
8. Relevant in comparison is the literature of Edmund Burke’s later speeches and documentation in the long impeachment process against Warren Hastings (1732-1818), the East India Company’s Governor of Bengal. See, e.g., Isaac Kramnick ed. 1999, The Portable Edmund Burke, Section V. “India and Colonialism,” pp. 363-406; Frederick G. Whelan 2012, “Burke on India.”
9. Steffens 1904, Shame of the Cities, H.G. Callaway ed. 2020, p. 71.
PAGE 3
partisan manipulation of the electoral system and vote counts, integration of political patronage, federal, state and local, with favored business interests plus institutional and popular acquiescence in boss led, machine politics. Even people not directly involved in corruption, still prevalently “went along,” and adopted protective affiliation and coloring of the dominant party in order not to fall into
direct opposition to the party bosses and the machinations of the corrupt system. Even “heads of great educational and charity institutions ‘go along,’ as they say in Pennsylvania, in order to get appropriations for their institutions from the State and land from the city.”10
Though acceptance of bribes among political office holders is the paradigm, corruption also exists in other institutional contexts. For example, embezzlement by a business partner or favoritism in the allocation of funds by a corporate treasurer show the possibility of corruption in private spheres; and “insider trading” of stocks and bonds on the basis of privileged information is criminal in many or most important jurisdictions. Bribery may exist even in “non-profit” sports organizations, influencing the outcome of games or the award of sports events to particular localities. “Corruption involves the abuse of a trust,” writes Michael Johnston, “generally one involving public power, for private benefit.”11 But the involvement of public power and public financing may be more or less remote, unobvious or even absent. The fundamental objection to corruption is moral, whether or not particular forms of corruption are also legally prohibited—though not every moral failure counts as corruption. Corrupt actions are those that disrupt or strongly tend to disrupt moral habits of good character and/or the practices constitutive of the normative and governing purposes of institutions.
Structures favorable to “economic elite domination”12 may be public, semi-public or private. But in any case of corrupt, domination over public or private interests, there will likely and typically be some “ring,” “combine,” “boodle gang,” syndicate or circle (however tightly organized or tacit and diffuse) of self-serving insiders who ignore or discount the common, public interest or the overt, declared and approved purposes of semi-public or private organizations. More generally, “The pattern of corruption … exists whenever a power-holder who is charged with doing certain things, … is by monetary or other rewards, such as the expectation of a job in the future, induced to take actions which favor whoever provides the reward and thereby damages the group or organization to which the functionary belongs, … .”13
Although legal definitions enter into our concept of corruption, the concept is basically moral and normative. “No man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause,” wrote James Madison in Federalist Papers, No. 10, “because his interest would certainly bias his judgment, and, not improbably, corrupt his integrity.”14 The law, a judge and jury are there to see to it that no one is the judge in his own legal case; and we need to be morally concerned with anyone being the judge in a moral conflict of interests to which the same person is also a party. This has a corrupting effect on personal integrity.15 Some degree of cognitive or emotional bias seems to come with the limits of human intelligence and moral sympathy, but persistent, conscious habits and policies based on acceptance or acquiescence in insider bias and favoritism contribute to corruption of every sort.
10. Steffens 1904, Shame of the Cities, H.G. Callaway ed. 2020, p. 141; 141n. The contemporary colloquial phrase in Philadelphia, often critical, is “to go along in order to get along”: a matter of acquiescence.
11. Michael Johnston 2005, Syndromes of Corruption, p. 11.
12. See Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page 2014, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” on usage of this term.
13. Cf. Carl J. Friedrich 1972, “Corruption Concepts in Historical Perspective,” in Friedrich 1972, The Pathologies of Politics, pp. 127ff:
14. James Madison 1787/1937, in The Federalist Papers, No. 10, p. 56.
15. Cf. Zephyr Teachout 2014, Corruption in America, p. 9, Giving a sufficient condition: “a person is corrupt when they use public power for their own ends, disregarding others.”
Can knowledge and communication stop corruption?
Discussion
328 replies
  • Quan Hoang NguyenQuan Hoang Nguyen
Here is a small challenge:
In a research community (e.g., uni faculty, conferences) consisting of researchers (e.g., professors, etc), every researcher knows each other. There are good researchers and a corrupt one. Each researcher knows about some other researchers and whether each of them is good or corrupt, but s/he doesn't know whether her/himself is corrupt or not. One day, a queen who has the power to know everything about all communities, came to the research community and told that "there is one corrupt researcher in this community. You should not exchange with each other what you already know about the corruption. I ask any of you to leave in the midnight of the day once you know that yourself is corrupt."
Version 2: In a committee of n researchers, each researcher interacts with exactly k other researchers each day and finds out whether any of the k is corrupt. The researcher then gossips the new finding with 1 other research on that day. Note that, the corrupt researcher can also gossip, but his/her message can be true/wrong each time. If the queen comes and tells that there is one corrupt researcher, can the committee spot it out? in how many days? if there is no such queen, can the committee still find it out?
=======
Corruption detection in Distributed Network
In computer science, if a 'good entity' doesn't act under the rule nor communicate their knowledge, it is said malfunctioned, compromised or corrupted. Theoretically, those entities actually become no different from the corrupt ones who actually targets the network. Mathematically, if many such 'good' entities existed, the whole network is compromised, it can no longer distinguish what is good or not. When the network comes to that state, it is irreversible. Detected corruption is as important as the knowledge, and sharing detected corruption must be part of the rules.
Only computer science is given in this example, readers may get their own intuition in the matters they are concerned.
========
My conjecture
Given: there are rules (law) for every good entity to follow, and assume they all follow.
Conjecture: If all good entities still act (do, follow, obey) based on the common rules (law) and share knowledge (communication), then corruption can be uncovered if not dominant.
========
Summary of discussions
Knowledge and communication may be not sufficient to stop corruption. It needs rules and transparency.
========
Truth, Majority, Transparency and Education
For any sample of population and any person in the sample has an equal chance to access to or deduce the truth, then majority is likely to get closer to the truth than the remainder. In practice, the chances vary and truths sometimes are restricted to only a small portion. That's why majority may not work in such setting. Transparency and education help.
Does Adam Smith's "invisible hand" stop working toward the end of economic expansions?
Question
2983 answers
  • H.G. CallawayH.G. Callaway
Smith's idea of the “invisible hand” is the basis of the belief that large-scale government intervention and regulation of the economy is neither needed nor helpful. Smith put forward the notion of the invisible hand to argue that free individuals acting in a free economy, and making decisions that are primarily intended for their own self-interest, will, in fact, take actions that benefit society as a whole, even though such beneficial results were not the specific focus or purpose of those actions.
The central idea is that by means of the “invisible hand” purely self-interested actions and exchanges produce a large, unintended public good.
Quotations, Adam Smith,
The Wealth Of Nations, Book IV, Chapter V, Digression on the Corn Trade, p. 540, para. b 43.
…THE INVISIBLE HAND…
[rich people] consume little more than the poor, and in spite of their natural selfishness and rapacity…they divide with the poor the produce of all their improvements. They are led by an invisible hand to make nearly the same distribution of the necessaries of life, which would have been made, had the earth been divided into equal portions among all its inhabitants, and thus without intending it, without knowing it, advance the interest of the society, and afford means to the multiplication of the species.
The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Part IV, Chapter I, pp.184-5, para. 10.
Every individual... neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it... he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. ---End quotations
Smith goes on to argue that intentional intervention by government regulation, although intended to protect the common good or benefit society as a whole, in practice is usually less effective and beneficial than is a freely operating market. In many cases, it is actually harmful to the people in general, because it denies them the benefits of the free market. This is especially true if the intervention produces a sort of political feeding frenzy of political favor to special interests.
The general prosperity and economic growth resulting from expanded international trade is part of the evidence for Smith thesis. However, though it is plausible to believe that something like Smith's “invisible hand” provides for the public good by way of growing prosperity in the initial stages of economic growth, it is considerably less plausible that liberalization and expanding markets or expansion of international trade will always produce a public good commensurate with the harm they cause.
This is not a purely economic argument. Instead it suggests a political evaluation. Economic expansions are also known to produce considerable economic dislocations, people go unemployed and entire industries wander away; not all participants benefit equally.
More basically, by shifting and creating wealth both within and between political societies, extensive economic expansions also cause political dislocations that require political adjustments.
The basic problem is that the shifts in economic interests brought about by rapid and extensive economic expansions proceed much more quickly than the slow and laborious, deliberative and political processes required for making needed adjustments and introducing regulations as may be required --to meliorate untoward effects.
In consequence, political societies tend to be thrown into deep political problems and conflicts tending toward factional infighting, in the attempt to control the political process in the interest of various, older or newly established economic interests. The continued pursuit of self-interest then produces something like “crony capitalism” (an age of the “robber-barons”) and social-political strife; and, at the worst, the result is uncontrolled conflict both within and between organized political societies.
Is the distinction Aristotle made between monarchy, oligarchy and democracy always true?
Discussion
200 replies
  • Daniel CourgeauDaniel Courgeau
Aristotle wrote in Politics III the following sentences:
"But there are difficulties about these forms of government, and it will therefore be necessary to state a little more at length the nature of each of them. For he who would make a philosophical study of the various sciences, and does not regard practice only, ought not to overlook or omit anything, but to set forth the truth in every particular. Tyranny, as I was saying, is monarchy exercising the rule of a master over the political society; oligarchy is when men of property have the government in their hands; democracy, the opposite, when the indigent, and not the men of property, are the rulers. And here arises the first of our difficulties, and it relates to the distinction drawn. For democracy is said to be the government of the many. But what if the many are men of property and have the power in their hands? In like manner oligarchy is said to be the government of the few; but what if the poor are fewer than the rich, and have the power intheir hands because they are stronger? In these cases the distinction which we have drawn between these different forms of government would no longer hold good."
Do you think these three forms always apply to current governments? Are not some of these governments uncorrectly called democracy, for example, as they are really oligarchies? Are there new forms of government which Aristotle omitted?
Have you any helpful parallels, historic or political, or philosophical and/or metaphysical thoughts after the UK decision to leave the EU in Brexit ?
Question
3393 answers
  • Margaret WardMargaret Ward
The UK’s public referendum result means that our democracy has chosen by a small margin to leave the European Union, following a movement termed Brexit. See the media links included.
Our Prime Minister immediately announced his resignation. The country is In the throes of instability, political, economic and social. Far Right terrorism resulted in the assassination of a Member of Parliament, immediately before the Referendum. The national mood is unsettled and divided. The international reverberations of Brexit will last for decades and more. There are many uncertainties, on many levels.
On the political level, does little England still see itself as the leader of Great Britain and the global power that it once postured as? Or are these little islands now a Dis-United Kingdom, which Scotland will now elect to leave?
On the social and societal level, should the English who strongly agree with Scotland consider moving to that beautiful country? Or is there hope that xenophobia, egocentricity and the short-sighted ‘small island mentality’ with its concomitant isolationism will not prevail in England over all that is good in British society?
On the historical levelfor European diplomacy, we may look for parallels in periods such as that of Offa and Charlemagne: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0004f1c
Please post any positive responses – and be respectful of others' views.
Is the modern approach to cosmology fundamentally flawed?
Question
2675 answers
  • Michael PeckMichael Peck
With the substantial amount of anomalies, paradoxes and unexplained phenomenon in mainstream cosmology, one must question whether the modern approach in this field is sufficient. In most fields of science, development proceeds according to the scientific method: A phenomenon is observed, a hypothesis is made, scientific test(s) are conducted and the simplest answer is sought after. However, this does not appear to be the path that modern cosmology is following (as demonstrated by the attached figure).
Subjects such as naturalness and fine-tuning have been highly debated in the areas of quantum field theory and cosmology. The argument is that if a theory must be fine-tuned, then there should be an underlying physical reason for such values. However, the vast majority of fine-tuned theories lack explanation and only seem to exist for the purpose of reproducing reality in terms of ad-hoc mathematical formulations. Thus my question is really three parts.
  • Do you believe the modern approach to cosmology is fundamentally flawed?
  • Is a fine-tuned theory that is fundamentally wrong, but can still produce correct predictions useful?
  • Was Richard Feynman correct when he stated “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts”?
Examples in cosmology:
  • Redshift versus Luminosity Distance: Requires accelerated expansion via dark energy
  • The Faint Blue Galaxy Problem: Requires disappearing galaxies
  • Dark Matter Cusp Problem: Requires unnatural arrangements of dark matter in galaxies
  • Local Galaxy Counts: Requires a local "hole" that extends beyond 0.05z
  • Horizon Problem: Inflation theorized
  • Size of Distant Objects: Unexplained or significant evolution
  • Planck Sigma_8 Problem: Hypothetical sterile neutrinos proposed
  • Hemispherical Power Asymmetry: ?
  • Directional Dependence of Cosmological Constants: ?
  • The Dark Flow: Theorized interaction with another universe
  • CMB Cold Spots: Massive voids proposed

Related Publications

Article
Violations of rights, a weak Duma, political parties dominated by bureaucrats, and corrupt privatization are ordinarily taken as signs or even causes of the failure of democracy in Russia or at best as normal traits of electoral politics in a middle-income state. Yet all of these are natural consequences of introducing democracy in a country with t...
Article
Full-text available
Full text http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/1455741/ The paper discusses the state of Czech democracy and current research agendas on democracy in the Czech Republic, focusing in particular on the role of political parties. It considers Czech democracy both in relation to Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) and in the light of the evolving relationship bet...
Article
The most important threats to postcommunist new democracies are the following: persistence of Leninist mentalities and authoritarian practices; cynicism; longing for authoritarian paternalism; nationalism; absence of moral clarity and delays in coming to terms with the totalitarian past; ideological confusion, weakness of political parties, and ris...
Got a technical question?
Get high-quality answers from experts.