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Political Science 1G06 2012 lecture 4a overhead elites.doc

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McMaster University
Religious Studies
Walter Peace

Political Science 1G06 October 3, 2012 Lecture 4a Elite theory Two questions: 1. Do we have meaningful political equality in modern democratic society? 2. Can we have meaningful political equality in modern democratic society? Elite theory: - Historically, society has been divided into two - those who rule and those who are ruled - Elite theory asks the question of why this has been the case and whether this inequality is a necessary part of human societies - To Sum: For classical elite theorists, this divide between the two is not something characteristic only of the past, but an inevitability in any society Why is elite rule an inevitable part of society? 1. Natural differences - Certain physiological and psychological characteristics confer a political advantage and thereby lead to elite domination - There may be cases of social/political change - Elites may be overthrown - However, the end result is one elite replacing another, rather than the elimination of elite rule as such - A “circulation” of elites at best 2. Elite rule is not a consequence of natural differences between individuals, but of the intrinsic nature of social organization - Robert Michels’ “Iron law of oligarchy” - There are specific structural reasons for why elite rule is a characteristic not just of aristocratic, theocratic, or dictatorial systems, but also of democracies - As organizations become more complex they also, necessarily, become less democratic 1 - Why: - Bureaucracy - It is impossible to have everyone present at every moment when every type of decision needs to be made - There are issues which require immediate decision, unexpected contingencies that have to be dealt with o So certain bureaucratic positions have to be created and designated to a select group of individuals - Specialized knowledge - Specialization is necessary because in most areas actual
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