Principalities & Powersrnby Samuel FrancisrnThe Ruling ClassrnOne of the ironies of American politicalrndiscussion in the last generation or so—rnindeed, of the last century—has beenrnthat, for all our boasting and braggadociornabout being a nation founded on thernproposition that all men are createdrnequal, it is almost impossible to find anyrnsignificant American social thinker whornreally believes it. Power elites, managerialrnelites, cultural elites, media elites, cognitivernelites, the “mandarins,” the “newrnclass,” the “rich and the super-rich,” thern”overclass,” and probably half a dozenrnother, similar minotaurs have creptrnthrough the labyrinthine political sociologyrnof the last 50 years, and eventuallyrneach one has escaped its academic cavernrnand roamed at large through thernmeadows and hamlets of American journalism.rnThe entire history of social andrnpolitical thought in the United Statesrnsince at least the time of Charles Beard’srndubious claim that the Constitution wasrnthe product of a cabal of self-interestedrnproperty owners has been one long retreatrnfrom the Jeffersonian egalitarianismrnthat supposedly rested at the center ofrnour founding national mythology.rnThe constitutional prohibition of therngranting of titles of nobility is strong evidencernthat the Framers and most of theirrncontemporaries did not want anythingrnlike the ruling aristocracies of Europe tornemerge in this country and that they believedrnsuch powdered and privileged ordersrnwere as unnecessary as they were undesirable.rnBut if any of the 20th centuryrntheories of elites and social and politicalrnstratification has merit, the Framers, atrnleast for once, were wrong. Regardless ofrnthe names they take and the wigs theyrnvear, aristocracies—minorities that controlrnthe political, economic, and culturalrnlife of the societies in which they live—rnare inherent in the nature of human society,rnand the oratorical piffle about allrnmen having been created equal does notrnalter this ineluctable fact.rnThe inevitability of elites and of therninequality of human beings and humanrnsociety was a fact conveniently forgottenrnby some of our Framers’ contemporariesrnand successors, here and in Europe, untilrnin the late 19th century various Italianrnsocial theorists, mainly Vilfredo Paretornand Gaetano Mosca, rediscovered whatrnwas then dubbed the “Iron Law of Oligarchy”rnand explained and explored itsrnimplications. Whatever illusions therneggheads of the Enlightenment convincedrnthemselves of, anyone who hasrnever actual!}’ run any kind of human organization,rnfrom a bridge club to a multinationalrnempire, knows the law is true.rnHuman beings do not get organizedrnspontaneously, and things do not happenrnunless someone decides to makernthem happen. In the case of the bridgernclub, someone has to decide who will bernmembers and who won’t, when andrnwhere it will meet, who will provide refreshments,rnand all the other little thingsrnthat most of those who eventually showrnup never suspect have to be done. Mostrnhuman beings have neither the time, therninterest, the opportunity, or the ability tornthink about these matters, take them inrnhand, and actually do them, and if, asrnPareto remarked, “history is a graveyardrnof aristocracies,” then human social lifernis an endless record of bridge clubs thatrnnever played a single trump because nornone ever bothered to decide on a timernand place to meet.rnPareto and Mosca crafted what todayrnis known as the “classical theory of elites”rnlargely in response to the egalitarianismrnof Karl Marx, which was itself an extensionrnof Enlightenment egalitarianismrngone mad. One implication of the classicalrntheory of elites is that the “classlessrnsociety” is no less a creature of mythologyrnthan the Minotaur himself, but anotherrnis that the ancient division of thernforms of government into the three basicrntypes of monarchy, aristocracy, andrndemocracy is also wrong. One man cannotrnrule any more than most men canrnrule, and behind even the most ostentatiousrnOzymandias or the noisiest rabblernthere lie the ranks of your friendly neighborhoodrnoligarchy—priests, warriors,rnclerks, merchants, landed magnates, capitalists,rnbureaucrats, or secret police. Inrnclassical elite theory, there is reall)’ onlyrnone form of government, ever—oligarchy,rnthe rule of the few—and the otherrnforms are simply different costumesrnthat different kinds of oligarchies donrndepending on their internal structures,rninterests, and circumstances. In thernaborning democracies of the late I9thrncentury, in Italy and elsewhere, as in theirrnmore mature descendants a hundredrnyears later, this was a school of thoughtrnthat was fairly easy to formulate and sustain,rnand the divers experiments in classlessrnsocieties founded since Pareto andrnMosca wrote ha’e yielded results that arernnot exactly incompatible with theirrnideas.rnToday, the ideas of Pareto and Moscarnhave entered the language even of suchrnadvanced social thinkers as Dan Quaylernand Bob Dole, who instruct us in the iniquitiesrnof the “cultural elite” and thern”Hollywood elite,” and indeed everyonernseems to have his own favorite elite asrna perennial bugaboo. Hence the cataloguernof elites mentioned earlier, andrnthere is a vast academic literature on thernsubject of elites in American politics andrnsociety, social and political stratification,rnand the various kinds of elites that do orrndo not exist. One conventional academicrndistinction that still prevails is thatrnwhile there certainly are different kindsrnof elites, there is not and cannot be anyrnsuch animal as a “ruling class,” at leastrnin advanced industrialized, democraticrnsocieties.rnThe distinction between an elite and arnruling class is indeed an important one.rnAn elite is simply a dominant minorityrnwithin a particular field—business, politics,rnculture, religion, sports, etc.—whilerna ruling class is a unified dominant minorityrnthat prevails over many differentrnor all fields. The “media elite,” for example,rnmay dominate the major newspapers,rnmagazines, and broadcasting networks,rnbut no one would claim that thernsame elite also controls large corporations,rnuniversities, the political parties,rnthe federal bureaucracy, or other pasturesrnof power where the high and thernmighty happily disport themselves. Priorrnto the Industrial Revolution and thernemergence of mass democracy in thernI9th century, it is held, ruling classes didrnprevail, certainly in European and Britishrnsocieties, where landed and usually titledrnnobilities monopolized political office,rnthe church, the arm’ and navy, and suchrnmedia as then existed. But in our ownrnhappy and progressive days of flush toiletsrnand electronic voting booths, suchrnmonopolization is not possible. ThernJANUARY 1997/37rnrnrn