The State and the Ruling Class: An Anthology of Key Works of Libertarian/Classical Liberal Class Analysis

Compiled by David M. Hart
Table of Contents of the Anthology: <>

[Created: 16 August, 2016]
[Updated: 7 January, 2017 ]


Gaetano Mosca, "The Ruling Class" (1896)

Editing History

  • Item added: 11 Sept. 2016
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Gaetano Mosca, The Ruling Class (Elementi di Scienza Politica). Translated by Hannah D. Kahn. Edited and Revised with an Introduction by Arthur Livingston (New York; McGraw Hill, 1939). 1st ed. 1896.

  • Chap. II “The Ruling Class,” pp. 50-69.

Editor's Intro



Chap. II “The Ruling Class”, pp. 50-69.

Among the constant facts and tendencies that are to be found in all political organisms, one is so obvious that it is apparent to the most casual eye. In all societies from societies that are very meagerly developed and have barely attained the dawnings of civilization, down to the most advanced and powerful societies two classes of people appear a class that rules and a class that is ruled. The first class, always the less numerous, performs all political functions, monopolizes power and enjoys the advantages that power brings, whereas the second, the more numerous class, is directed and controlled by the first; in a manner that is now more or less legal, now more or less arbitrary and violent, and supplies the first, in appearance at least, with material means of subsistence and with the instrumentalities that are essential to the vitality of the political organism.

In practical life we all recognize the existence of this ruling class (or political class, as we have elsewhere chosen to define it).[1] We all know that, in our own country, whichever it may be, the management of public affairs is in the hands of a minority of influential persons, to which management, willingly or unwillingly, the majority defer. We know that the same thing goes on in neighboring countries, and in fact we should be put to it to conceive of a real world otherwise organized a world in which all men would be directly subject to a single person without relationships of superiority or subordination, or in which all men would share equally in the direction of political affairs. If we reason otherwise in theory, that is due partly to inveterate habits that we follow in our thinking and partly to the exaggerated importance that we attach to two political facts that loom far larger in appearance than they are in reality.

[1] Mosca, *Teorica dei governi e governo parlamentare*, chap. I.

The first of these facts and one has only to open one's eyes to see it is that in every political organism there is one individual who is chief among the leaders of the ruling class as a whole and stands, as we say, at the helm of the state. That person is not always the person who holds supreme power according to law. At times, alongside of the hereditary king or emperor there is a prime minister or a major-domo who wields an actual power that is greater than the sovereign's. At other times, in place of the elected president the influential politician who has procured the president's election will govern. Under special circumstances there may be, instead of a single person, two or three who discharge the functions of supreme control.

The second fact, too, is readily discernible. Whatever the type of political organization, pressures arising from the discontent of the masses who are governed, from the passions by which they are swayed, exert a certain amount of influence on the policies of the ruling, the political, class.

But the man who is at the head of the state would certainly not be able to govern without the support of a numerous class to enforce respect for his orders and to have them carried out; and granting that he can make one individual, or indeed many individuals, in the ruling class feel the weight of his power, he certainly cannot be at odds with the class as a whole or do away with it. Even if that were possible, he would at once be forced to create another class, without the support of which action on his part would be completely paralyzed. On the other hand, granting that the discontent of the masses might succeed in deposing a ruling class, inevitably, as we shall later show, there would have to be another organized minority within the masses themselves to discharge the functions of a ruling class. Otherwise all organization, and the whole social structure, would be destroyed.

2. From the point of view of scientific research the real superiority of the concept of the ruling, or political, class lies in the fact that the varying structure of ruling classes has a preponderant importance in determining the political type, and also the level of civilization, of the different peoples. According to a manner of classifying forms of government that is still in vogue, Turkey and Russia were both, up to a few years ago, absolute monarchies, England and Italy were constitutional, or limited, monarchies, and France and the United States were classed as republics. The classification was based on the fact that, in the first two countries mentioned, headship in the state was hereditary and the chief was nominally omnipotent; in the second two, his office is hereditary but his powers and prerogatives are limited; in the last two, he is elected.

That classification is obviously superficial. Absolutisms though they were, there was little in common between the manners in which Russia and Turkey were managed politically, the levels of civilization in the two countries and the organization of their ruling classes being vastly different. On the same basis, the regime in Italy, a monarchy, is much more similar to the regime in France, a republic, than it is to the regime in England, also a monarchy; and there are important differences between the political organizations of the United States and France, though both countries are republics.

As we have already suggested, ingrained habits of thinking have long stood, as they still stand, in the way of scientific progress in this matter. The classification mentioned above, which divides governments into absolute monarchies, limited monarchies and republics, was devised by Montesquieu and was intended to replace the classical categories of Aristotle, who divided governments into monarchies, aristocracies and democracies. What Aristotle called a democracy was simply an aristocracy of fairly broad membership. Aristotle himself was in a position to observe that in every Greek state, whether aristocratic or democratic, there was always one person or more who had a preponderant influence. Between the day of Polybius and the day of Montesquieu, many writers perfected Aristotle's classification by introducing into it the concept of "mixed " governments. Later on the modern democratic theory, which had its source in Rousseau, took its stand upon the concept that the majority of the citizens in any state can participate, and in fact ought to participate, in its political life, and the doctrine of popular sovereignty still holds sway over many minds in spite of the fact that modern scholarship is making it increasingly clear that democratic, monarchical and aristocratic principles function side by side in every political organism. We shall not stop to refute this democratic theory here, since that is the task of this work as a whole. Besides, it would be hard to destroy in a few pages a whole system of ideas that has become firmly rooted in the human mind. As Las Casas aptly wrote in his life of Christopher Columbus, it is often much harder to unlearn than to learn.

3. We think it may be desirable, nevertheless, to reply at this point to an objection which might very readily be made to our point of view. If it is easy to understand that a single individual cannot command a group without finding within the group a minority to support him, it is rather difficult to grant, as a constant and natural fact, that minorities rule majorities, rather than majorities minorities. But that is one of the points so numerous in all the other sciences where the first impression one has of things is contrary to what they are in reality. In reality the dominion of an organized minority, obeying a single impulse, over the unorganized majority is inevitable. The power of any minority is irresistible as against each single individual in the majority, who stands alone before the totality of the organized minority. At the same time, the minority is organized for the very reason that it is a minority. A hundred men acting uniformly in concert, with a common understanding, will triumph over a thousand men who are not in accord and can therefore be dealt with one by one. Meanwhile it will be easier for the former to act in concert and have a mutual understanding simply because they are a hundred and not a thousand. It follows that the larger the political community, the smaller will the proportion of the governing minority to the governed majority be, and the more difficult will it be for the majority to organize for reaction against the minority?

However, in addition to the great advantage accruing to them from the fact of being organized, ruling minorities are usually so constituted that the individuals who make them up are distinguished from the mass of the governed by qualities that give them a certain material, intellectual or even moral superiority; or else they are the heirs of individuals who possessed such qualities. In other words, members of a ruling minority regularly have some attribute, real or apparent, which is highly esteemed and very influential in the society in which they live.

4. In primitive societies that are still in the early stages of organization, military valor is the quality that most readily opens access to the ruling, or political, class. In societies of advanced civilization, war is the exceptional condition. It may be regarded as virtually normal in societies that are in the initial stages of their development; and the individuals who show the greatest ability in war easily gain supremacy over their fellows the bravest become chiefs. The fact is constant, but the forms it may assume, in one set of circumstances or another, vary considerably.

As a rule the dominance of a warrior class over a peaceful multitude is attributed to a superposition of races, to the conquest of a relatively unwarlike group by an aggressive one. Sometimes that is actually the case we have examples in India after the Aryan invasions, in the Roman Empire after the Germanic invasions and in Mexico after the Aztec conquest. But more often, under certain social conditions, we note the rise of a warlike ruling class in places where there is absolutely no trace of a foreign conquest. As long as a horde lives exclusively by the chase, all individuals can easily become warriors. There will of course be leaders who will rule over the tribe, but we will not find a warrior class rising to exploit, and at the same time to protect, another class that is devoted to peaceful pursuits. As the tribe emerges from the hunting stage and enters the agricultural and pastoral stage, then, along with an enormous increase in population and a greater stability in the means of exerting social influence, a more or less clean-cut division into two classes will take place, one class being devoted exclusively to agriculture, the other class to war. In this event, it is inevitable that the warrior class should little by little acquire such ascendancy over the other as to be able to oppress it with impunity.

Poland offers a characteristic example of the gradual metamorphosis of a warrior class into an absolutely dominant class. Originally the Poles had the same organization by rural villages as prevailed among all the Slavic peoples. There was no distinction between fighters and farmers in other words, between nobles and peasants. But after the Poles came to settle on the broad plains that are watered by the Vistula and the Niemen, agriculture began to develop among them. However, the necessity of fighting with warlike neighbors continued, so that the tribal chiefs, or voivodes, gathered about themselves a certain number of picked men whose special occupation was the bearing of arms. These warriors were distributed among the various rural communities. They were exempt from agricultural duties, yet they received their share of the produce of the soil, along with the other members of the community. In early days their position was not considered very desirable, and country dwellers sometimes waived exemption from agricultural labor in order to avoid going to war. But gradually as this order of things grew stabilized, as one class became habituated to the practice of arms and military organization while the other hardened to the use of the plow and the spade, the warriors became nobles and masters, and the peasants, once companions and brothers, became villeins and serfs. Little by little the warrior lords increased their demands to the point where the share they took as members of the community came to include the community's whole produce minus what was absolutely necessary for subsistence on the part of the cultivators; and when the latter tried to escape such abuses they were constrained by force to stay bound to the soil, their situation taking on all the characteristics of serfdom pure and simple.

In the course of this evolution, around the year 1333, King Casimir the Great tried vainly to curb the overbearing insolence of the warriors. When peasants came to complain of the nobles, he contented himself with asking whether they had no sticks and stones. Some generations later, in 1537, the nobility forced all tradesmen in the cities to sell such real estate as they owned, and landed property became a prerogative of nobles only. At the same time the nobility exerted pressure upon the king to open negotiations with Rome, to the end that thenceforward only nobles should be admitted to holy orders in Poland. That barred townsmen and peasants almost completely from honorific positions and stripped them of any social importance whatever. [1]

[1] Mickiewicz, *Les Slaves*, vol. I, leçon XXIV, pp. 876-880; *Histoire populaire de Pologne*, chaps. I-II.

We find a parallel development in Russia. There the warriors who formed the druzhina, or escort, of the old knezes (princes descended from Rurik) also received a share in the produce of the mirs (rural peasant communities) for their livelihood. Little by little this share was increased. Since land abounded and workers were scarce, the peasants often had an eye to their advantage and moved about. At the end of the sixteenth century, accordingly, the czar Boris Godunov empowered the nobles to hold peasants to their lands by force, so establishing serfdom. However, armed forces in Russia were never composed exclusively of nobles. The muzhiks, or peasants, went to war as common soldiers under the droujina. As early as the sixteenth century, Ivan the Terrible established the order of strelitzes which amounted practically to a standing army, and which lasted until Peter the Great replaced it with regiments organized along western European lines. In those regiments members of the old druzhina, with an intermixture of foreigners, became officers, while the muzhiks provided the entire contingent of privates. [1]

[1] Leroy-Beaulieu, *L’Empire dea tzars et les Russes*, vol. I, pp. 838 f.

Among peoples that have recently entered the agricultural stage and are relatively civilized, it is the unvarying fact that the strictly military class is the political, or ruling, class. Sometimes the bearing of arms is reserved exclusively to that class, as happened in India and Poland. More often the members of the governed class are on occasion enrolled always, however, as common soldiers and in the less respected divisions. So in Greece, during the war with the Medes, the citizens belonging to the richer and more influential classes formed the picked corps (the cavalry and the hoplites), the less wealthy fought as peltasts or as slingers, while the slaves, that is the laboring masses, were almost entirely barred from military service. We find analogous arrangements in republican Rome, down to the period of the Punic Wars and even as late as the day of Marius; in Latin and Germanic Europe during the Middle Ages; in Russia, as just explained, and among many other peoples. Caesar notes repeatedly that in his time the backbone of the Gallic armies was formed by cavalrymen recruited from the nobility. The Aedui, for example, could not hold out against Ariovistus after the flower of their cavalry had been killed in battle.

5. Everywhere in Russia and Poland, in India and medieval Europe the ruling warrior classes acquire almost exclusive ownership of the land. Land, as we have seen, is the chief source of production and wealth in countries that are not very far advanced in civilization. But as civilization progresses, revenue from land increases proportionately. With the growth of population there is, at least in certain periods, an increase in rent, in the Ricardian sense of the term, largely because great centers of consumption arise such at all times have been the great capitals and other large cities, ancient and modern. Eventually, if other circumstances permit, a very important social transformation occurs. Wealth rather than military valor comes to be the characteristic feature of the dominant class: the people who rule are the rich rather than the brave.

The condition that in the main is required for this transformation is that social organization shall have concentrated and become perfected to such an extent that the protection offered by public authority is considerably more effective than the protection offered by private force. In other words, private property must be so well protected by the practical and real efficacy of the laws as to render the power of the proprietor himself superfluous. This comes about through a series of gradual alterations in the social structure whereby a type of political organization, which we shall call the "feudal state," is transformed into an essentially different type, which we shall term the "bureaucratic state." We are to discuss these types at some length hereafter, but we may say at once that the evolution here referred to is as a rule greatly facilitated by progress in pacific manners and customs and by certain moral habits which societies contract as civilization advances.

Once this transformation has taken place, wealth produces political power just as political power has been producing wealth. In a society already somewhat mature where, therefore, individual power is curbed by the collective power if the powerful are as a rule the rich, to be rich is to become powerful. And, in truth, when fighting with the mailed fist is prohibited whereas fighting with pounds and pence is sanctioned, the better posts are inevitably won by those who are better supplied with pounds and pence.

There are, to be sure, states of a very high level of civilization which in theory are organized on the basis of moral principles of such a character that they seem to preclude this overbearing assertiveness on the part of wealth. But this is a case and there are many such where theoretical principles can have no more than a limited application in real life. In the United States all powers flow directly or indirectly from popular elections, and suffrage is equal for all men and women in all the states of the Union. What is more, democracy prevails not only in institutions but to a certain extent also in morals. The rich ordinarily feel a certain aversion to entering public life, and the poor a certain aversion to choosing the rich for elective office. But that does not prevent a rich man from being more influential than a poor man, since he can use pressure upon the politicians who control public administration. It does not prevent elections from being carried on to the music of clinking dollars. It does not prevent whole legislatures and considerable numbers of national congressmen from feeling the influence of powerful corporations and great financiers. [1]

[1] Jannet, *Le istituzioni politiche e sociali degli Stati Uniti d’America*, part II, chap. Xf.

In China, too, down to a few years ago, though the government had not accepted the principle of popular elections, it was organized on an essentially equalitarian basis. Academic degrees gave access to public office, and degrees were conferred by examination without any apparent regard for family or wealth. According to some writers, only barbers and certain classes of boatmen, together with their children, were barred from competing for the various grades of the mandarinate.[2] But though the moneyed class in China was less numerous, less wealthy, less powerful than the moneyed class in the United States is at present, it was none the less able to modify the scrupulous application of this system to a very considerable extent. Not only was the indulgence of examiners often bought with money. The government itself sometimes sold the various academic degrees and allowed ignorant persons, often from the lowest social strata, to hold public office. [3]

[2] Rousset, *A travers la Chine*.
[3] Mas y Sans, *La Chine et les puissances chrétiennes, vol. II, pp. 332-334; Hue, *L’Empire chinois.

In all countries of the world those other agencies for exerting social influence personal publicity, good education, specialized training, high rank in church, public administration, and army are always readier of access to the rich than to the poor. The rich invariably have a considerably shorter road to travel than the poor, to say nothing of the fact that the stretch of road that the rich are spared is often the roughest and most difficult.

6. In societies in which religious beliefs are strong and ministers of the faith form a special class a priestly aristocracy almost always arises and gains possession of a more or less important share of the wealth and the political power. Conspicuous examples of that situation would be ancient Egypt (during certain periods), Brahman India and medieval Europe. Oftentimes the priests not only perform religious functions. They possess legal and scientific knowledge and constitute the class of highest intellectual culture. Consciously or unconsciously, priestly hierarchies often show a tendency to monopolize learning and hamper the dissemination of the methods and procedures that make the acquisition of knowledge possible and easy.) To that tendency may have been due, in part at least, the painfully slow diffusion of the demotic alphabet in ancient Egypt, though that alphabet was infinitely more simple than the hieroglyphic script. The Druids in Gaul were acquainted with the Greek alphabet but would not permit their rich store of sacred literature to be written down, requiring their pupils to commit it to memory at the cost of untold effort. To the same outlook may be attributed the stubborn and frequent use of dead languages that we find in ancient Chaldea, in India, and in medieval Europe. Sometimes, as was the case in India, lower classes have been explicitly forbidden to acquire knowledge of sacred books.

Specialized knowledge and really scientific culture, purged of any sacred or religious aura, become important political forces only in a highly advanced stage of civilization, and only then do they give access to membership in the ruling class to those who possess them. But in this case too, it is not so much learning in itself that has political value as the practical applications that may be made of learning to the profit of the public or the state. Sometimes all that is required is mere possession of the mechanical processes that are indispensable to the acquisition of a higher culture. This may be due to the fact that on such a basis it is easier to ascertain and measure the skill which a candidate has been able to acquire it is easier to "mark" or grade him. So in certain periods in ancient Egypt the profession of scribe was a road to public office and power, perhaps because to have learned the hieroglyphic script was proof of long and patient study. In modern China, again, learning the numberless characters in Chinese script has formed the basis of the mandarin's education. [1] In present-day Europe and America the class that applies the findings of modern science to war, public administration, public works and public sanitation holds a fairly important position, both socially and politically, and in our western world, as in ancient Rome, an altogether privileged position is held by lawyers. They know the complicated legislation that arises in all peoples of long-standing civilization, and they become especially powerful if their knowledge of law is coupled with the type of eloquence that chances to have a strong appeal to the taste of their contemporaries.

[1] This was true up to a few years ago, the examination of a mandarin covering only literary and historical studies as the Chinese understood such studies, of course.

There are examples in abundance where we see that longstanding practice in directing the military and civil organization of a community creates and develops in the higher reaches of the ruling class a real art of governing which is something better than crude empiricism and better than anything that mere individual experience could suggest. In such circumstances aristocracies of functionaries arise, such as the Roman senate, the Venetian nobility and to a certain extent the English aristocracy. Those bodies all stirred John Stuart Mill to admiration and certainly they all three developed governments that were distinguished for carefully considered policies and for great steadfastness and sagacity in carrying them out. This art of governing is not political science, though it has, at one time or another, anticipated applications of a number of the postulates of political science. However, even if the art of governing has now and again enjoyed prestige with certain classes of persons who have long held possession of political functions, knowledge of it has never served as an ordinary criterion for admitting to public offices persons who were barred from them by social station. The degree of mastery of the art of governing that a person possesses is, moreover, apart from exceptional cases, a very difficult thing to determine if the person has given no practical demonstration that he possesses it.

7. In some countries we find hereditary castes. In such cases the governing class is explicitly restricted to a given number of families, and birth is the one criterion that determines entry into the class or exclusion from it. Examples are exceedingly common. There is practically no country of long-standing civilization that has not had a hereditary aristocracy at one period or another in its history. We find hereditary nobilities during certain periods in China and ancient Egypt, in India, in Greece before the wars with the Medes, in ancient Rome, among the Slavs, among the Latins and Germans of the Middle Ages, in Mexico at the time of the Discovery and in Japan down to a few years ago.

In this connection two preliminary observations are in point. In the first place, all ruling classes tend to become hereditary in fact if not in law. All political forces seem to possess a quality that in physics used to be called the force of inertia. They have a tendency, that is, to remain at the point and in the state in which they find themselves. Wealth and military valor are easily maintained in certain families by moral tradition and by heredity. Qualification for important office the habit of, and to an extent the capacity for, dealing with affairs of consequence is much more readily acquired when one has had a certain familiarity with them from childhood. Even when academic degrees, scientific training, special aptitudes as tested by examinations and competitions, open the way to public office, there is no eliminating that special advantage in favor of certain individuals which the French call the advantage of *positions déjà prises*. In actual fact, though examinations and competitions may theoretically be open to all, the majority never have the resources for meeting the expense of long preparation, and many others are without the connections and kinships that set an individual promptly on the right road, enabling him to avoid the gropings and blunders that are inevitable when one enters an unfamiliar environment without any guidance or support.

The democratic principle of election by broad-based suffrage would seem at first glance to be in conflict with the tendency toward stability which, according to our theory, ruling classes show. But it must be noted that candidates who are successful in democratic elections are almost always the ones who possess the political forces above enumerated, which are very often hereditary. In the English, French and Italian parliaments we frequently see the sons, grandsons, brothers, nephews and sons—in-law of members and deputies, ex-members and ex-deputies.

In the second place, when we see a hereditary caste established in a country and monopolizing political power, we may be sure that such a status de jure was preceded by a similar status de facto. Before proclaiming their exclusive and hereditary right to power the families or castes in question must have held the scepter of command in a firm grasp, completely monopolizing all the political forces of that country at that period. Otherwise such a claim on their part would only have aroused the bitterest protests and provoked the bitterest struggles.

Hereditary aristocracies often come to vaunt supernatural origins, or at least origins different from, and superior to, those of the governed classes. Such claims are explained by a highly significant social fact, namely that every governing class tends to justify its actual exercise of power by resting it on some universal moral principle. This same sort of claim has come forward in our time in scientific trappings. A number of writers, developing and amplifying Darwin's theories, contend that upper classes represent a higher level in social evolution and are therefore superior to lower classes by organic structure. Gumplowicz we have already quoted. That writer goes to the point of maintaining that the divisions of populations into trade groups and professional classes in modern civilized countries are based on ethnological heterogeneousness. [1]

[1] *Der Rassenkampf*. This notion transpires from Gumplowicz's whole volume. It is explicitly formulated in book II, chap. XXXIII.

Now history very definitely shows the special abilities as well as the special defects both very marked which have been displayed by aristocracies that have either remained absolutely closed or have made entry into their circles difficult. The ancient Roman patriciate and the English and German nobilities of modern times give a ready idea of the type we refer to. Yet in dealing with this fact, and with the theories that tend to exaggerate its significance, we can always raise the same objection that the individuals who belong to the aristocracies in question owe their special qualities not so much to the blood that flows in their veins as to their very particular upbringing, which has brought out certain intellectual and moral tendencies in them in preference to others.

Among all the factors that figure in social superiority, intellectual superiority is the one with which heredity has least to do. The children of men of highest mentality often have very mediocre talents. That is why hereditary aristocracies have never defended their rule on the basis of intellectual superiority alone, but rather on the basis of their superiorities in character and wealth.

It is argued, in rebuttal, that education and environment may serve to explain superiorities in strictly intellectual capacities but not differences of a moral order — will power, courage, pride, energy. The truth is that social position, family tradition, the habits of the class in which we live, contribute more than is commonly supposed to the greater or lesser development of the qualities mentioned. If we carefully observe individuals who have changed their social status, whether for better or for worse, and who consequently find themselves in environments different from the ones they have been accustomed to, it is apparent that their intellectual capacities are much less sensibly affected than their moral ones. Apart from a greater breadth of view that education and experience bring to anyone who is not altogether stupid, every individual, whether he remains a mere clerk or becomes a minister of state, whether he reaches the rank of sergeant or the rank of general, whether he is a millionaire or a beggar, abides inevitably on the intellectual level on which nature has placed him. And yet with changes of social status and wealth the proud man often becomes humble, servility changes to arrogance, an honest nature learns to lie, or at least to dissemble, under pressure of need, while the man who has an ingrained habit of lying and bluffing makes himself over and puts on an outward semblance at least of honesty and firmness of character. It is true, of course, that a man fallen from high estate often acquires powers of resignation, self-denial and resourcefulness, just as one who rises in the world sometimes gains in sentiments of justice and fairness. In short, whether a man change for the better or for the worse, he has to be exceptionally level-headed if he is to change his social status very appreciably and still keep his character unaltered. Mirabeau remarked that, for any man, any great climb on the social ladder produces a crisis that cures the ills he has and creates new ones that he never had before. [1]

[1] *Correspondance entre le comte de Mirabeau et le comte de La Marck*, vol. II, p. 228.

Courage in battle, impetuousness in attack, endurance in resistance such are the qualities that have long and often been vaunted as a monopoly of the higher classes. Certainly there may be vast natural and if we may say so innate differences between one individual and another in these respects; but more than anything else traditions and environmental influences are the things that keep them high, low or just average, in any large group of human beings. We generally become indifferent to danger or, perhaps better, to a given type of danger, when the persons with whom we daily live speak of it with indifference and remain cool and imperturbable before it. Many mountaineers or sailors are by nature timid men, yet they face unmoved, the ones the dangers of the precipice, the others the perils of the storm at sea. So peoples and classes that are accustomed to warfare maintain military virtues at the highest pitch.

So true is this that even peoples and social classes which are ordinarily unaccustomed to arms acquire the military virtues rapidly when the individuals who compose them are made members of organizations in which courage and daring are traditional, when if one may venture the metaphor they are cast into human crucibles that are heavily charged with the sentiments that are to be infused into their fiber. Mohammed II recruited his terrible Janizaries in the main from boys who had been kidnapped among the degenerate Greeks of Byzantium. The much despised Egyptian fellah, unused for long centuries to war and accustomed to remaining meek and helpless under the lash of the oppressor, became a good soldier when Mehemet Ali placed him in Turkish or Albanian regiments. The French nobility has always enjoyed a reputation for brilliant valor, but down to the end of the eighteenth century that quality was not credited in anything like the same degree to the French bourgeoisie. However, the wars of the Republic and the Empire amply proved that nature had been uniformly lavish in her endowments of courage upon all the inhabitants of France. Proletariat and bourgeoisie both furnished good soldiers and, what is more, excellent officers, though talent for command had been considered an exclusive prerogative of the nobility. Gumplowicz's theory that differentiation in social classes depends very largely on ethnological antecedents requires proof at the very least. Many facts to the contrary readily occur to one — among others the obvious fact that branches of the same family often belong to widely different social classes.

8. Finally, if we were to keep to the idea of those who maintain the exclusive influence of the hereditary principle in the formation of ruling classes, we should be carried to a conclusion somewhat like the one to which we were carried by the evolutionary principle: The political history of mankind ought to be much simpler than it is. If the ruling class really belonged to a different race, or if the qualities that fit it for dominion were transmitted primarily by organic heredity, it is difficult to see how, once the class was formed, it could decline and lose its power. The peculiar qualities of a race are exceedingly tenacious. Keeping to the evolutionary theory, acquired capacities in the parents are inborn in their children and, as generation succeeds generation, are progressively accentuated. The descendants of rulers, therefore, ought to become better and better fitted to rule, and the other clashes ought to see their chances of challenging or supplanting them become more and more remote. Now the most commonplace experience suffices to assure one that things do not go in that way at all.

What we see is that as soon as there is a shift in the balance of political forces when, that is, a need is felt that capacities different from the old should assert themselves in the management of the state, when the old capacities, therefore, lose some of their importance or changes in their distribution occur then the manner in which the ruling class is constituted changes also. If a new source of wealth develops in a society, if the practical importance of knowledge grows, if an old religion declines or a new one is born, if a new current of ideas spreads, then, simultaneously, far-reaching dislocations occur in the ruling class. One might say, indeed, that the whole history of civilized mankind comes down to a conflict between the tendency of dominant elements to monopolize political power and transmit possession of it by inheritance, and the tendency toward a dislocation of old forces and an insurgence of new forces; and this conflict produces an unending ferment of endosmosis and exosmosis between the upper classes and certain portions of the lower. Ruling classes decline inevitably when they cease to find scope for the capacities through which they rose to power, when they can no longer render the social services which they once rendered, or when their talents and the services they render lose in importance in the social environment in which they live. So the Roman aristocracy declined when it was no longer the exclusive source of higher officers for the army, of administrators for the commonwealth, of governors for the provinces. So the Venetian aristocracy declined when its nobles ceased to command the galleys and no longer passed the greater part of their lives in sailing the seas and in trading and fighting.

In inorganic nature we have the example of our air, in which a tendency to immobility produced by the force of inertia is continuously in conflict with a tendency to shift about as the result of inequalities in the distribution of heat. The two tendencies, prevailing by turn in various regions on our planet, produce now calm, now wind and storm. In much the same way in human societies there prevails now the tendency that produces closed, stationary, crystallized ruling classes, now the tendency that results in a more or less rapid renovation of ruling classes.

The Oriental societies which we consider stationary have in reality not always been so, for otherwise, as we have already pointed out, they could not have made the advances in civilization of which they have left irrefutable evidence. It is much more accurate to say that we came to know them at a time when their political forces and their political classes were in a period of crystallization. The same thing occurs in what we commonly call " aging" societies, where religious beliefs, scientific knowledge, methods of producing and distributing wealth have for centuries undergone no radical alteration and have not been disturbed in their everyday course by infiltrations of foreign elements, material or intellectual. In such societies political forces are always the same, and the class that holds possession of them holds a power that is undisputed. Power is therefore perpetuated in certain families, and the inclination to immobility becomes general through all the various strata in that society.

So in India we see the caste system become thoroughly entrenched after the suppression of Buddhism. The Greeks found hereditary castes in ancient Egypt, but we know that in the periods of greatness and renaissance in Egyptian civilization political office and social status were not hereditary. We possess an Egyptian document that summarizes the life of a high army officer who lived during the period of the expulsion of the Hyksos, He had begun his career as a simple soldier. Other documents show cases in which the same individual served successively in army, civil administration and priesthood. [1]

[1] Lenormant, Maspero, Brugsch.

The best-known and perhaps the most important example of a society tending toward crystallization is the period in Roman history that used to be called the Low Empire. There, after several centuries of almost complete social immobility, a division between two classes grew sharper and sharper, the one made up of great landowners and high officials, the other made up of slaves, farmers and urban plebeians. What is even more striking, public office and social position became hereditary by custom before they became hereditary by law, and the trend was rapidly generalized during the period mentioned. [2]

[2] Marquardt, *Manuel des antiquités romaines*; Fustel de Coulanges, *Nouvelles recherches sur quelques problèmes d'histoire*.

On the other hand it may happen in the history of a nation that commerce with foreign peoples, forced emigrations, discoveries, wars, create new poverty and new wealth, disseminate knowledge of things that were previously unknown or cause infiltrations of new moral, intellectual and religious currents. Or again as a result of such infiltrations or through a slow process of inner growth, or from both causes it may happen that a new learning arises, or that certain elements of an old, long forgotten learning return to favor so that new ideas and new beliefs come to the fore and upset the intellectual habits on which the obedience of the masses has been founded. The ruling class may also be vanquished and destroyed in whole or in part by foreign invasions, or, when the circumstances just mentioned arise, it may be driven from power by the advent of new social elements who are strong in fresh political forces. Then, naturally, there comes a period of renovation, or, if one prefer, of revolution, during which individual energies have free play and certain individuals, more passionate, more energetic, more intrepid or merely shrewder than others, force their way from the bottom of the social ladder to the topmost rungs.

Once such a movement has set in, it cannot be stopped immediately. The example of individuals who have started from nowhere and reached prominent positions fires new ambitions, new greeds, new energies, and this molecular rejuvenation of the ruling class continues vigorously until a long period of social stability slows it down again. We need hardly mention examples of nations in such periods of renovation. In our age that would be superfluous. Rapid restocking of ruling classes is a frequent and very striking phenomenon in countries that have been recently colonized. When social life begins in such environments, there is no ready-made ruling class, and while such a class is in process of formation, admittance to it is gained very easily. Monopolization of land and other agencies of production is, if not quite impossible, at any rate more difficult than elsewhere. That is why, at least during a certain period, the Greek colonies offered a wide outlet for all Greek energy and enterprise. That is why, in the United States, where the colonizing of new lands continued through the whole nineteenth century and new industries were continually springing up, examples of men who started with nothing and have attained fame and wealth are still frequent all of which helps to foster in the people of that country the illusion that democracy is a fact.

Suppose now that a society gradually passes from its feverish state to calm. Since the human being's psychological tendencies are always the same, those who belong to the ruling class will begin to acquire a group spirit. They will become more and more exclusive and learn better and better the art of monopolizing to their advantage the qualities and capacities that are essential to acquiring power and holding it. Then, at last, the force that is essentially conservative appears the force of habit. Many people become resigned to a lowly station, while the members of certain privileged families or classes grow convinced that they have almost an absolute right to high station and command.

A philanthropist would certainly be tempted to inquire whether mankind is happier or less unhappy during periods of social stability and crystallization, when everyone is almost fated to remain in the social station to which he was born, or during the directly opposite periods of renovation and revolution, which permit all to aspire to the most exalted positions and some to attain them. Such an inquiry would be difficult. The answer would have to take account of many qualifications and exceptions, and might perhaps always be influenced by the personal preferences of the observer. We shall therefore be careful not to venture on any answer of our own. Besides, even if we could reach an undebatable conclusion, it would have a very slight practical utility; for the sad fact is that what the philosophers and theologians call free will in other words, spontaneous choice by individuals has so far had, and will perhaps always have, little influence, if any at all, in hastening either the ending or the beginning of one of the historical periods mentioned.





Gaetano Mosca, “Principles and Tendencies in Ruling Classes” (1896)

Editing History

  • Item added: 11 Sept. 2016
  • 1st Edit:


Gaetano Mosca, The Ruling Class (Elementi di Scienza Politica). Translated by Hannah D. Kahn. Edited and Revised with an Introduction by Arthur Livingston (New York; McGraw Hill, 1939). 1st ed. 1896.

  • Chap. XV “Principles and Tendencies in Ruling Classes,” pp. 394-429.

Editor's Intro



Chap. XV. Principles and Tendencies in Ruling Classes, pp. 394-429.

1. In his dialogue on the Laws, which was one of his last, Plato wrote that monarchy and democracy are the two fundamental forms of government, and that from them all others derive through more or less happy combinations. In the first lines of the Prince Machiavelli wrote that "all states, all dominions which have held or do hold empire over men have been and are republics or monarchies." Thus he too recognizes two fundamental forms of government, one in which sovereign power is exercised in the name of an individual and another in which it is exercised in the name of the people.

If that concept is properly interpreted and supplemented, it may be accepted even today. For, really, in any form of political organization, authority is either transmitted from above downward in the political or social scale, or from below upward. Either the choice of the lower official is left to the one above him, till we reach the supreme head, who chooses his immediate collaborator — the case of the typical absolute monarchy; or else the authority of the governor derives from the governed, as was the case in ancient Greece and in republican Rome.

The two systems may be fused and balanced in various ways, as happens in representative governments today. The present form of government in the United States would be a good example. There the president is chosen by the citizens as a whole, and he in turn appoints all the principal officials of the executive branch of the federal government and the magistrates of the Supreme Court.

The type of political organization in which authority is transmitted from the top of the political ladder to officials below Plato calls "monarchical." It might more accurately be styled "autocratic," because a monarch, in the broad sense of the term, is just the head of a state, and there is always such a head, whatever the political system. It is more difficult to choose the word that is exactly suited to Plato's second type. Following his example, one might call it "democratic.” We consider it more satisfactory to call it "liberal," for by "democracy" today we commonly mean a form of government in which all citizens have an equal share in the creation of the sovereign power. That has not always been the case in the past in systems in which "the people" chose their governors, because "the people" often meant a restricted aristocracy. One need only recall what happened under the constitutions of Greece and Rome. Some of them were unquestionably "liberal.” In many medieval communes only men who were enrolled in the major trade guilds were full-fledged citizens. The designation "liberal" seems to us all the more appropriate in that it has become the custom to regard as "free" peoples those whose rulers, according to law at least, must be chosen by all, or even by a part, of the governed, and whose law must be an emanation of the general will. In autocratic systems, the law either has something immutable and sacred about it or else it is an expression of the autocrat's will or, rather, of the will of those who act in his name.

Conversely, the term "democratic" seems more suitable for the tendency which aims to replenish the ruling class with elements deriving from the lower classes, and which is always at work, openly or latently and with greater or lesser intensity, in all political organisms. "Aristocratic" we would call the opposite tendency, which also is constant and varies in intensity, and which aims to stabilize social control and political power in the descendants of the class that happens to hold possession of it at the given historical moment

At first glance it might seem that the predominance of what we call the "autocratic" principle should go with what we call the "aristocratic" tendency; and that the opposite principle which we call "liberal" should go with the tendency that we call "democratic." Examining a number of types of political organizations, one might conclude that a certain affinity does exist between autocracy and aristocracy on the one hand, and between liberalism and democracy on the other. That, nevertheless, would be a rule that is subject to a great many exceptions. It would be easy to find examples of autocracies that have not recognized the existence of classes on which birth conferred legal privileges. The Chinese empire, during long periods of its history, might be mentioned in that regard. It would be easier still to find examples of elective systems in which the electing group has been made up entirely of hereditary ruling classes. That was the case in Venice and in the Polish republic.

In any event, though it is difficult to find a political system which can be shown to have absolutely precluded one of the two principles or one of the two tendencies, it is certain that a strong predominance of autocracy or liberalism, or of the aristocratic tendency or the democratic, supplies a fundamental and trustworthy criterion for determining the type to which the constitution of a given people, at a given time, belongs;

2. Beyond any doubt, autocracy formed the basis of the first
great human aggregations. All the ancient empires of Asia and Egypt were organized autocratically, and so was the neo-Persian empire of the Sassanids. The Arab caliphates gave lavish recognition to the autocratic principle. The first four caliphs were chosen by the Mussulman community or, more exactly, by the more influential members of the Mussulman community, who were assumed to represent it. Afterward the caliphate became hereditary and remained an appanage of certain families. Nevertheless, however absolute the Mussulman sovereign may have been, he could not change the fundamental law. That was contained in the Koran, or else could be inferred from the tradition transmitted by the early interpreters of the Koran.

Down to a few years ago the governments of Japan and China were autocratic, as was the old government in Turkey, which might be considered an Asiatic country from the nature of its civilization. As regards Europe, the government of the Roman Empire after Diocletian's time, and the government of the Byzantine Empire, may be called autocratic. Under Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great and Alexander III, and during the early days of Nicholas II, Russia was governed by a pure autocracy. As we have seen, even in western Europe as our great modern state developed, the intermediate sovereignties that had grown up under the feudal system collapsed, and that gave rise to autocratic governments, which later evolved into our modern representative systems. In the Americas, finally, the two great states which the Europeans found in existence on the new continent, Mexico and Peru, were organized autocratically. In Mexico, to be sure, the Spanish conquerors found one republic of a sort. The state of Tlaxcala seems to have been ruled by a council of tribal chiefs. It struck an alliance with Cortez and provided him with a base of operation for his conflict with the Aztec empire. [1 ]

[1] De Solis, *Historia de la conquista de México.*

A political system that has been so widely recurring and so long enduring among peoples of the most widely various civilizations, who often have had no contacts material or intellectual with one another, must somehow correspond to the political nature of man. The artificial or exceptional thing never shows such great tenacity. In fact, whether the supreme head, who stands at the vertex of the political pyramid, exercises his authority in the name of God or of the gods, or receives it from the people or from those who presume to represent the people, autocracy supplies a political formula, a principle of authority, a justification of power, that is simple, clear and readily comprehensible to everybody. There can be no human organization without rankings and subordinations. Any sort of hierarchy necessarily requires that some should command and others obey. And since it is in the nature of the human being that many men should love to command and that almost all men can be brought to obey, an institution that gives those who are at the top a way of justifying their authority and at the same time helps to persuade those who are at the bottom to submit is likely to be a useful institution.

But a very sound objection might be raised against autocracy. Autocracy, one might say, may be a system that is well adapted to forming great political organisms such as the ancient empires of Mesopotamia and Persia and in more recent times those of China, Turkey and Russia and to assure their existence for indefinitely long periods. But it does not allow the peoples that have adopted it, and especially their ruling classes, to attain all of the moral and intellectual development of which civilized mankind is capable. The art and thought of Greece and Rome were on the whole superior to the art and thought of the Near Eastern empires. Not one of the Asiatic civilizations, ancient or recent, has had an intellectual life intense enough to bear comparison with what we find in the great nations of central and western Europe, or in nineteenth century America. But the resplendent age of Athens lasted about a century and a half. It opened with the battle of Plataea, which took place in 479 B.C., and extended, at the latest, down to the Lamian war, which began in 828 B.C. Rome could begin to be considered a great state and a center of culture by the end of the second Punic War, around 208 B.C. But civil conflict was beginning as early as 138 B.C., with Tiberius Gracchus; and in 81 B.C., after a century of almost continuous tumults, proscriptions and domestic struggles, the ancient city-state was reorganized into the empire of Augustus.

Among the great modern nations, England and the United States have lasted longest with governments based on liberal principles. But we have seen that England was fighting absolutism down to 1689, while the birth date of the United States can be fixed as 1783. In power, wealth and intellectual worth the England of 1689 was a very different country from the England of today; and it is well known that virtually down to the middle of the nineteenth century the great North American republic was a largely agricultural country, sober, self-contained, attached to old traditions, and very far from the opulence and world importance that it has attained in our time. It would seem, therefore, as though the liberal principle were likely to prevail at those exceptional periods in the lives of the peoples when some of the noblest faculties of man are able to show themselves in all their intensity and energy, and when seeds are ripening that will shortly produce considerable increases in political power and economic prosperity. But it also would seem as though those periods, which mark some of the most important milestones on the road of civilization, were followed by other periods during which human societies feel, as it were, an overpowering need for a long sleep. This they find in the political field by slowing down to an autocracy that is more or less masked and more or less well-adapted to the level of development and culture that they have attained.

The autocratic system naturally assumes the existence of an autocrat of a man, that is, who personifies the institution in the name of which all who are invested with any part or particle of public authority act. Now autocracy may be hereditary, in which case we get a combination of the autocratic principle with the aristocratic tendency; or it may be elective, in which case we get a combination of the autocratic principle with the democratic tendency. However, autocrats who secure life tenure invariably tend to make their positions hereditary. As happened in Rome under the empire, the autocrat who has received his mandate nominally from the people is actually created, now by the ruling classes (or rather by that group in the ruling classes which has the most effective means of imposing its will upon other groups and classes), now by a clique of high officials who hold the levers by which the machine of state is guided. The most effective and certain instruments for using power have always been money and, better than money, soldiers. In autocratic governments the successor to the throne has often been chosen by the men with the state treasury and the armed forces of the state at their command, especially that portion of the armed forces stationed in the capital as a guard for the sovereign, for the court and for the central organs of government (see above, chap. IX, 3).

When inheritance is so well regulated that there can be no doubt as to the heir to the throne, the hereditary principle certainly has the advantage of automatically assuring the stability and continuity of power, and of avoiding the situation where each accession supplies a ready pretext for civil wars and court intrigues for or against a number of pretenders. From this point of view the system that has been adopted by the European monarchies, whereby the legal family has always been, and still is, monogamous, and succession always falls to the first-born male child, has yielded better results than the systems that have been used in Near Eastern monarchies. In the East the right of succession has never been regulated in such clear and definite terms, and there has always been the assumption that the reigning sovereign was at liberty to change it. This, naturally, has opened the door to intrigues by the favorite sultana, by high officials and even by menials in the court personnel who have daily access to the sovereign. For example, eunuchs in the personal service of the sultan often had great influence in the court at Constantinople; and eunuchs appear not rarely in the history of China in periods of decline in one dynasty or another.

Autocratic dynasties often originate with some strong and energetic individual who attains supreme power and then manages to acquire prestige with the ruling class, and also with the masses, weaving such an intricate network of interests and loyalties among high officials as to make it seem wise and natural that the succession should be transmitted to his descendants. In China new dynasties have as a rule been founded by energetic and lucky adventurers who have led victorious revolts and overthrown earlier dynasties. The dynasty of the Tokugawa shoguns originated in just that way in Japan. In India during the first decades of the sixteenth century a Turk, one Baber, placed himself at the head of a great band of adventurers, also Turks, and succeeded in founding the empire of the Grand Mogul. Such things have occurred in Europe more rarely. Napoleon did not succeed in handing on his throne to the King of Rome. The son of Oliver Cromwell held the post of Lord Protector for less than a year. The case of Gustavus Vasa might be cited as a western illustration of the general rule. Son of a Swedish nobleman, but reduced to becoming a shepherd and then a miner in the Dalecarlia in his youth, Vasa headed a revolt of his countrymen against the Danes and became the founder of a dynasty which reigned in Sweden from the first decades of the sixteenth century down to the coming of the Bernadottes, also adventurers. The more frequent case in Europe is the dynasty that is small and weak at first but little by little strengthens its position and expands through the consistent efforts of a number of generations. Examples would be the Capets, the house of Savoy, the Hohenzollerns and perhaps even the Hapsburgs.

There is little likelihood that the person designated by birth to hold the difficult post of supreme head of a great state will have the qualifications required for filling it effectively. Heredity, family tradition and education may contribute greatly toward enabling a hereditary sovereign to develop the outward demeanor and to learn the formalities that go best with the station that he is to occupy. Such things undoubtedly have their importance, since every bodily movement and every word of a sovereign may attract the attention of a whole people. But they are not enough to make up for deficiencies in more substantial qualities — capacity for work, energy, will to rule, knowledge of men and, also, a certain affective insensibility that is very helpful to rulers. They must not be too greatly stirred by the sufferings of others. They must know how to repress pangs and impulses of the heart and must sedulously avoid those critical moments when the human soul is irresistibly impelled to speak its innermost feelings and thoughts. There is the saying of Louis XI of France, “*Qui nescit dissimulare nescit regnare*.” Yet some malicious critic might feel that that sovereign would have done better to rest content with practicing the precept, as he did, without formulating it so neatly and handing it down to history. " *N’ayez jamais d’attachment pour personne,” Louis XIV wrote with his own hand in the advice he penned for his nephew Philip, who was going off to be king in Spain. [1 ]

[1] Michels, *Parteiwesen*, p. 365.

The deficiencies mentioned are compensated for in the great majority of cases by dividing the functions of autocracy between two individuals. The titular autocrat is given the representative, decorative part of the office, while the actual power is wielded by another person, who is called now major-domo, now prime minister, now vizier. Often, again, the task of governing is committed not to a single person but to a council made up of a small group of notables. Such were the councils of ministers that assisted European monarchs under the old regime, such the Tsong-li-yamen in China, the divan in Turkey, the Ba-ku-fu in the Japan of the Tokugawas. [2] But ordinarily in such groups there is one individual who couples a greater capacity for work with a stronger and firmer will to rule and who, therefore, comes to overshadow the others. When the titular prince reigns and the prime minister governs, and circumstances require a radical change in policy, the change can be affected by changing ministers and leaving the dynasty and the reigning sovereign as they were. That advantage, of course, involves a danger too. The de facto sovereign, the man who is actually governing, may try to retain his power for life and even pass it along to his children. That happened in France in the days of the Merovingian mayors of the palace. It has taken place repeatedly in Japan where, long before the shogunate of the Tokugawas was instituted, the power of the mikado had become nominal and was exercised in reality by the head of one or another of the great feudal families the Tairas, the Minamotos, the Hojos, or the Ashikagas. [3]

[2] La Mazelière, *Le Japon*, vol. Ill, book VI.
[3] *Ibid.*, vol. II, book II.

It is not easy to formulate a theory as to how and when this dividing of autocratic power becomes necessary. It is inevitable, certainly, when the autocratic dynasty has aged and deteriorated, so that the legal autocrat remains shut up in his palace amid enervating sensual pleasures, loses all contact with his nobles and people and forgets the art of making the wheels of the state machine go round. But in Europe especially there have been many examples of descendants of old dynasties who have managed to run the governments of their states effectively. One thinks of Charles V and Philip II of Spain, Louis XIV of France, Victor Amadeus II of Savoy, Peter the Great of Russia and Frederick the Great of Prussia. Studying one by one such characters, or others that might be mentioned, we can make out that, among widely differing personal traits, they have had two fundamental qualities in common, namely, a great capacity for sustained physical and intellectual exertion and a strong will to rule.

One might surmise offhand, that in the beginning the choice of the autocrat coadjutor who exercises actual power should rest with the titular autocrat, and that the former must first have succeeded in winning the confidence of the latter. As time goes on, however, a strong character is likely to acquire such ascendancy over a weaker character that the latter will not dare to recall what was once freely conceded. In that case the mandatory who was voluntarily chosen may become the guardian who has to be endured. The first and most pressing task of the vicegerent is to fill all high positions with persons bound to him by ties of family, gratitude or, better still, complicity in questionable acts or actual crimes. He can then count on the fidelity of the clique that comes into frequent contact with the ruler and sedulously keep him away from anybody who does not belong to the clique.

The formation of a clique, perhaps of two or three dozens of persons, or even as many as a hundred, according to the case, who monopolize the management of the state and occupy the more important offices, sometimes in rotation, is a thing that occurs in all autocracies and, in fact, in all forms of government. What varies is the criterion by which this group, which makes up the highest stratum of the ruling class, is selected; for the criteria will be different according as the system is autocratic or liberal, or as the democratic or aristocratic tendency prevails. But in all cases and in all systems, there is one criterion that never varies, and it is always of great importance: Those who already belong to the clique have to be satisfied. In normal times, when it is a question of securing one of the positions that involve actual control over part of the forces of a state, and so over the fates of many individuals, the consent, or at least the tacit approval and acquiescence of those who are already in similar posts, is almost always necessary. Rightly enough the proverb says that one cannot enter paradise over the veto of the saints.

In countries where the autocratic principle and the aristocratic tendency jointly prevail, the group mentioned is usually made up of members of the highest nobility, who are appointed by birth to occupy the more important offices and exercise the more important functions of state. In such cases the court is usually the arena in which rivalries between the great families for preeminence in the realm unfold. So it was in France in the days of the conflict between the counts of Armagnac and the dukes of Burgundy, in Sicily during the latter half of the fourteenth century, and in Spain under the weakling Charles II. But when the titular sovereign has talent and strength of will, he sometimes succeeds in breaking the ring of aristocratic cliques that serve him or, more often, rule him and he snaps it by elevating to the highest positions persons who are of ordinary birth, who owe him everything and who therefore are loyal and effective instruments of his policies. The two outstanding ministers of Louis XIV were Colbert and Louvois. They did not belong to the high French nobility. Peter the Great of Russia often appointed adventurers of foreign origin to important offices, or even Russians of humble extraction. In the Near Eastern autocracies, cases where persons of very humble origin first attained high office and then supreme power were not unheard-of. One might mention Basil the Macedonian, who became emperor at Byzantium in the ninth century, and a certain Nadir who became shah of Persia in the eighteenth century.

Basil the Macedonian died in 886. He was the son of a peasant. He got his start through his skill at managing horses. Becoming squire to one of the court nobles, he succeeded, by his wits and tireless energy, in making himself first the favorite and then the colleague of the emperor Michael III. When Michael was thinking of getting rid of him, he got rid of Michael by murdering him, and succeeded in taking his place on the throne. Apart from the craft and crime by which he made his way in the world, he may be considered one of the best emperors Byzantium ever had. Nadir was the son of a Turkoman tribal chief. He began life as leader of a band of brigands. After many adventures he entered the service of Tahmasp II, shah of Persia in the Safawid dynasty. Finally he deposed Tahmasp and had an infant son of the latter proclaimed shah, becoming his guardian. Soon after that he had both the father and the son killed and he himself was proclaimed shah. That was in 1736. Energetic, exceedingly cruel, he enhanced the prestige of Persia abroad and succeeded in taking Delhi, capital of the Grand Mogul's empire. He is said to have won booty at Delhi to the value of half a billion dollars. He was assassinated in his turn in 1747. Basil and the shah Nadir would both have been magnificent materials for Machiavelli's *Prince*. Agathocles and Cesare Borgia seem tame in comparison.

Needless to say, in such exceptional careers extraordinary good fortune plays a large part, along with unusual mental gifts and, especially, a faculty for taking advantage of every propitious circumstance that will lift one a bit higher. This faculty comes down, more than anything else, to knowing how to make oneself useful, or shall we say necessary, to those who already are where one wants to be, and then in playing to all their qualities, good and bad.

3. Below the highest stratum in the ruling class there is always, even in autocratic systems, another that is much more numerous and comprises all the capacities for leadership in the country. Without such a class any sort of social organization would be impossible. The higher stratum would not in itself be sufficient for leading and directing the activities of the masses. In the last analysis, therefore, the stability of any political organism depends on the level of morality, intelligence and activity that this second stratum has attained; and this soundness is commonly the greater in proportion as a sense of the collective interests of nation or class succeeds in exerting pressure on the individual ambitions or greeds of the members of this class. Any intellectual or moral deficiencies in this second stratum, accordingly, represent a graver danger to the political structure, and one that is harder to repair, than the presence of similar deficiencies in the few dozen persons who control the workings of the state machine. To use a comparison: The strength of an army depends primarily on the intellectual and moral value of the officers who come into direct contact with the soldiers, beginning with the colonel and ending with the second lieutenant. If, by some improbable accident, all the generals and staff officers of an army were to disappear at one stroke, the army would sustain a very serious shock, but it would still be on its feet and the lost leaders could be replaced in a few months' time by promoting the better regimental commanders and raising other officers, from among the more competent, to the staff. But if all the officers who actually lead the soldiers were to disappear the army would dissolve before they could possibly be replaced. The higher stratum in the ruling class corresponds to the generals and staff, the second stratum to the officers who personally lead the soldiers under fire.

In primitive autocratic systems, and in the more ancient ones in general, this second stratum in the ruling class was almost always made up of priests and warriors, the two groups of persons who had the material forces of the society at their disposal, exercised intellectual and moral leadership and, as consequence rather than as cause of that leadership, were economically preeminent. Under social conditions of that sort, it was natural that autocracy in government should be combined with a prevalence of the aristocratic tendency. But as time goes on, in countries where class differentiation rests originally on invasions by foreign peoples, the conquering and conquered races fuse completely. The level of civilization rises. Wealth and culture therefore increase, and technical preparation becomes necessary for the satisfactory performance of public duties. Aristocratic autocracies therefore almost always develop into more or less bureaucratic autocracies. That was the case with the Roman Empire, especially after Diocletian, with the Byzantine Empire, with the Chinese Empire, at least during the last centuries of its existence, with Russia after Peter the Great, with the principal European states in the eighteenth century and, with certain reservations, with Japan after the creation of the Tokugawa shogunate. As is well known, after Iyeyasu, who reigned in Japan from 1598 to 1616, had founded the shogunate of the Tokugawas, the power of the daimios, or great barons, was greatly curtailed. [1] All the regimes mentioned may be considered bureaucratic autocracies.

[1] La Mazelière, *Le Japon*, vol. III, book VI.

Before an autocracy can begin to bureaucratize a great state, the political organization must be so strong that it can regularly levy on the income of private individuals a portion that is large enough to pay the salaries of public officials and defray the expenses of a permanent armed force. But then, as is often the case with social phenomena, a series of action and reactions follow. Once bureaucratization is well advanced, it in turn enhances the coercive efficiency of the state machine and so enables the ruling class, and especially the leading group in it, to exercise greater and greater influence over the governed masses and to direct the efforts of the governed more and more efficiently toward the purposes that their governors wish to achieve. In other words, a bureaucratized autocracy is a perfected autocracy and it has all the advantages and disadvantages of that perfection.

Among the advantages, one may mention the possibility of assigning the various functions of leadership to specialists and the possibility of opening all doors to talents that are forging upward from the lower strata in society, and therefore of making room for personal merit. So homage is paid to a principle of distributive justice that has always had a grip on the hearts of men and is especially cogent in our time, a feeling that there should be an exact and almost mathematical correspondence between the service an individual renders to society and the position which he comes to hold in the social ranking.

But, as Ferrero well notes, [2] personal merit is one of the things that the passions and interests of men best manage to counterfeit. In autocratic systems, where success depends upon the judgment of one person, or of a few persons, intrigue may be enough to produce the counterfeit semblance of personal merit. In liberal systems, especially when the democratic tendency is also prevalent and the regard and active sympathy of many people are necessary if one is to get on in the world, intrigue has to be coupled with a good dose of charlatanry. At any rate, quite aside from such a prejudicial and, if one will, such an over-pessimistic objection, it is certain that the judgment of a person's merits and aptitudes will always be more or less subjective, and that, therefore, each judge will in all good faith give a candidate a higher rating for intellectual and moral qualities which he likes or happens to possess himself. That is one of the chief reasons for the blind conservatism, the utter incapacity to correct one's faults and weaknesses, that is so frequent in exclusively bureaucratic regimes.

[2] *Memorie e confessioni di un sovrano deposto*, p. 29.

The example of China is apt to this point. In China the higher mandarinate was made up of educated persons, but they were educated in the old traditional culture of the country. In the second half of the nineteenth century the mandarinate strenuously opposed a new method of recruiting public employees based on knowledge of European languages and European sciences. In Japan, on the other hand, the men who led the great reform of 1868 grasped the necessity of acquiring European culture at once. These men came almost all from the samurai class. They were educated people, but they were not scholars and scientists by profession.

To avoid distortions in judgments on merit, it is not enough that the higher officials on whom the choice and advancement of the lower functionaries depend should be individuals of great intelligence. They have to be generous and noble of heart. Sometimes the person who is endowed with the rarest and loftiest qualities of mind prefers people of mediocre or second-rate talents. They give him less cause for jealousy and they better supplement his own capacities, for the mediocre man does things that, the first-rate one cannot do, or scorns to do. Furthermore, the mediocre man is almost always flattering and smooth: he is without, or at least is better able to dissimulate, a certain youthful cocksureness frequently encountered in men of green age and lively talents a sort of presumptuousness, real or apparent, typical of those men who seem to see at a glance things that other men, even old and experienced ones, either do not see at all or see very tardily.

Suppose, then, that in our distrust of human impartiality we try to replace choice and appointment by superiors with automatic rules of advancement. Such rules can be based only upon the principle of seniority. In this case, unfailingly, the lazy and the diligent, the intelligent and the stupid, get along equally well. The public employee knows perfectly well that it will not help him to do any more or any better than others. He will therefore do the minimum that is indispensable if he is not to lose his position or his promotion. In such circumstances the bureaucratic career tends to become the refuge of the talentless, or of people who absolutely need to have salaried positions in order to provide for their daily wants. If an intelligent man does happen to stray into the bureaucracy, he devotes only a part of his activity and his talent to his office, and often it is not the best part.

Though a bureaucracy may be legally open to all social classes, in fact it will always be recruited from the middle class, in other words from the second stratum of the ruling class. For one thing, those who are born into the second stratum find it easier to secure the education that is required of them, and in their family background they develop a practical sense of the best ways of getting started in the bureaucratic career and of advancing in it. How helpful the guidance and influence of a father, of an influential relative or of family friends can be, one can easily imagine. For this reason it can in general be said that in a purely autocratic system, or in systems that combine autocracy and liberalism, the moral level of the bureaucracy is the moral level of the ruling class. That level will be higher when the ruling class has deep-rooted traditions of probity and honor because it has been formed and disciplined over long periods of time, and has devoted itself for many generations to the service of the state, now in civil, now in military capacities. The level will be lower when the ruling class is of more recent date and stems either from rustling, bustling and lucky adventurers, or from families of peasants and shopkeepers who have acquired, at best, the first rudiments of manners and education. Even if such people have developed a certain competence, they are still often without a spark of idealism and retain an inveterate and sordid greed for large, and even for petty gains.

In cases such as these bureaucratic organization yields its worst results. One notes brazen favoritism in superiors, base servility in subalterns and, in superiors and subalterns both, a tendency to exchange for favors of any sort such influence as their positions put at their disposal. In the more serious cases, bargaining turns into outright sale, and then we get a system of pecuniary corruption which disrupts and paralyzes every state activity once it has become common in the higher and lower grades of the bureaucratic scale.

Another defect common to bureaucracies, even when their moral level is high, is a disposition to believe in their own infallibility. Bureaucrats are by nature exceedingly loath to accept criticisms and suggestions from persons who are not of their calling, and even from those who are.

4.1 As we have seen (2 above), the liberal principle has had a more brilliant record than the autocratic principle, but it is certainly a shorter record and it is less widespread over the world's surface and through history. To the examples of liberal countries, ancient and modern, that we have mentioned, one might add Poland, Holland, the Hanseatic cities, Genoa, Florence, Switzerland — places all where liberal regimes have lasted, in one era or another, for considerable lengths of time. Finally there is Venice, where a system that was liberal, in the sense that we attach to the term, and at the same time oligarchical, prevailed for a good thousand years. But almost all the other states just mentioned, apart from some few cantons in Switzerland, were governed by aristocracies of more or less limited membership. In Poland, the country where the liberal system was applied over a considerable territory, aristocracy degenerated very soon into turbulent anarchy.

Looking for the essential characteristics of the system which we call "liberal," one may say that in such systems the law is based upon the consent of the majority of citizens, though only a small fraction of the inhabitants may be citizens; and then that the officials who apply the law are named directly or indirectly by their subordinates, that their posts are temporary and that they are personally responsible for the lawfulness of their acts. In the great liberal states, in general, citizens do not exercise legislative power personally. They delegate it to assemblies which are directly or indirectly named by them, and the work of the elective officials is supplemented and coordinated by the work of a bureaucracy proper. Furthermore, in cases where the liberal principle prevails, the state customarily recognizes certain limits to its powers in its relations to individual citizens and to associations of citizens. Such limits were not entirely unknown to classical Greece and ancient Rome. They are almost always recognized in modern constitutions. They relate to such things as freedom of worship, of the press, of education, of assembly and of speech. They guarantee personal liberty, private property and inviolability of domicile.

In states where the liberal principle prevails we also find the two strata of the ruling class which we found in autocratic systems, the first very small, the second much more extensive and deeper reaching. The elective system, in fact, does not preclude the formation of more or less closed cliques which compete for the highest offices in the state, each of them tapering up to some aspirant to the highest office it may be the presidency of a republic or the presidency of a council of ministers. These parties correspond to the court cliques in autocracies, from among which the immediate coadjutors of the supreme head of the state are chosen. The methods used are of course different. In order to reach high station in an autocracy it is sufficient to have the support of one or more persons, and that is secured by exploiting all their passions, good and bad. In liberal systems one has to steer the inclinations of at least the whole second stratum of the ruling class, which, if it does not in itself constitute the electorate, at least supplies the general staffs of leaders who form the opinions and determine the conduct of the electing body. From within it come the committees that direct political groupings, the speakers who address assemblies and meetings, the men who make and publish the newspapers and, finally, that small number of persons who are capable of forming opinions of their own as to people and events of the day, and therefore exercise great influence on the many who are not capable of having opinions of their own and are ready, perhaps without knowing it, always to follow the opinions of others.

The results which applications of the liberal principle yield vary according as the electorate, with which rests the choice of those who are to occupy the highest public offices, varies from narrowly exclusive to broadly inclusive.

In the former case, a large part of the ruling class, or of those who have the requisites for belonging to it, are kept out. This exclusion makes a liberal system look very much like masked autocratic rule by a narrowly limited class of people at times by a few powerful or virtually omnipotent families. That was the case in Poland in the decades just preceding the partition of that country. Furthermore, when the electorate is narrowly limited, almost all the voters are or may be regarded as eligible for office. In fact, almost all of them do become candidates. In other words they are offered for judgment but without there being a sufficient number of judges.

Something of the sort happens in elective chambers in countries with parliamentary governments. There the frequency of cabinet crises and the difficulty of forming new ministries depend, to an extent at least, on the fact that large numbers of deputies want to be ministers or undersecretaries of state. The candidates being too many, judges become too scarce, for judges should be men who share none of the interests that are at issue.

As a rule, therefore, in narrowly limited electorates, either a single clique forms, made up of those already in office and of their associates or partisans, or else there are two cliques, one of which is in power, while the other offers a spiteful and systematic opposition. The few who hold aloof from both cliques ordinarily are left isolated and are ignored. They can exert an effective influence only at critical moments, when a series of startling scandals or serious failures makes the fall of the clique that is in power probable or inevitable.

In the second case in other words, in systems where everybody, or almost everybody, can vote the chief task of the various party organizations into which the ruling class is divided is to win the votes of the more numerous classes, which are necessarily the poorest and most ignorant. These classes ordinarily live in submission to a government which often they do not care for, and the aims and workings pf which more often still they do not understand. Their first, their natural, their most spontaneous desire is to be governed as little as possible, or to make as few sacrifices as possible for the state. Their second desire, which develops more especially with the exercise of suffrage, is to profit by government in order to better their economic situation, and to vent the repressed resentments and envies which often not always the man who is below feels for the man who is above, especially for the man who is his immediate superior.

When success in the struggle between the different groups in the ruling class depends upon the support and sympathy of the masses, the group that has the less effective means of influence at its disposal will unfailingly avail itself of the two desires mentioned, especially of resentments and envies, in order to draw the lower strata of society along with it. Connected with the group, now as a matter of sentiment, now as a matter of interest, are individuals who were born in the less favored classes but have managed by special talent and energy, or by exceptional cunning, to climb out of them. Michels has examined with great acumen the contribution to the management and organization of the socialist parties in the various countries that has been made by elements deriving from the middle classes and by elements issuing from the working classes themselves, and the rivalries and competitions that often arise between those two categories in the socialist general staffs. [1]

[1] *Parteiwesen,* part IV.

Whatever their origins, the methods that are used by the people who aim to monopolize and exploit the sympathy of the masses always have been the same. They come down to pointing out, with exaggerations of course, the selfishness, the stupidity, the material enjoyments of the rich and the powerful; to denouncing their vices and wrongdoings, real and imaginary; and to promising to satisfy a common and widespread sense of roughhewn justice which would like to see abolished every social distinction based upon advantage of birth and at the same time would like to see an absolutely equal distribution of pleasures and pains.

Often enough the parties against which this demagogic propaganda is directed use exactly the same means to combat it. Whenever they think they can profit by doing so, they too make promises which they will never be able to keep. They too flatter the masses, play to their crudest instincts and exploit and foment all their prejudices and greeds. A despicable competition, in which those who deliberately deceive lower their intellectual level to a par with those they deceive, while morally they stoop even lower!

The oldest example of demagogic eloquence is the speech that Homer puts into the mouth of Thersites, a man who was in the habit of baiting leaders of the Greeks. [2] He accuses Agamemnon of waxing rich on the labors and perils of the common soldiers and of passing his time amid the allurements of beautiful slave girls. Then he incites the Greeks to a sort of military strike, urging them to leave their leader to his own resources, that he may come to realize how much he owes to the sufferings of the soldiers. Unsurpassable models of demagogic eloquence are the speeches ascribed to Caius Marius by Sallust [1] and a speech that Machiavelli has an unknown workingman deliver on the occasion of rioting by the wool carders in Florence. [2] Modern demagogues almost always fall short of these classic models, in which all the arguments that can be advanced against those who owe wealth or high position to birth are set forth in such masterly fashion as to arouse deep echoes in the hearts of all the disinherited.

[2] *Iliad* II.
[1] *Bellum Jugurthinum* III, 76.
[2] *Storie fiorentine* III.

All in all, then, the liberal principle finds conditions for its application most favorable when the electorate is made up in the majority of the second stratum of the ruling class, which forms the backbone of all great political organizations. When it is sufficiently large, no very great proportion of the voters can aspire to candidacies, and the candidates therefore can find judges in them and not rivals or accomplices. At the same time, when the electorate is fairly limited, success does not depend on paying homage to the beliefs and sentiments of the more ignorant classes. Only under such circumstances can one of the chief assumptions of the liberal system be made, we do not say complete, but not wholly illusory namely, that those who represent shall be responsible to the represented.
Another advantage, presumed or real, of the liberal principle, is that the acts of rulers can be publicly discussed, either in political assemblies and administrative councils or in the daily press and in periodicals. But if this last and very effective means of control is really to enlighten public opinion, the newspapers must not be organs of political or financial cliques nor blind instruments of faction. If they are, the public should know about it and be in a position to take due account of the fact.


5. The democratic tendency — the tendency to replenish ruling classes from below — is constantly at work with greater or lesser intensity in all human societies. At times the rejuvenation comes about in rapid or violent ways. More often, in fact normally, it takes place through a slow and gradual infiltration of elements from the lower into the higher classes

In the past, violent renovations not infrequently came about as a result of foreign invasions, A conquering people would settle on the territory of the conquered and, without destroying the old inhabitants or driving them out, force its rule upon them. That happened in western Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire, in the Persia of the Sassanids after the Arab invasion, in England after the victory of William the Conqueror, in India after the invasion of the Mohammedans, in China after the invasion of the Mongols and again, later on, after the invasion of the Manchu Tatars. In such cases, remnants of the old native aristocracies have almost always crept into the new aristocracies of foreign origin. In the examples mentioned, also, the conquest by foreigners was usually facilitated by an incipient domestic decline. The indigenous ruling class had either weakened or disintegrated, or else had become alienated spiritually from the rest of the population.

In times more recent, violent and far-reaching renovations of old political classes have sometimes come about through internal upheavals. These would be "revolutions" proper. They occur when a wide breach opens between a people's official political organization and its customs, ideas and sentiments, and when many elements which would be competent to participate in government are artificially held in a subordinate status. The classic example of that situation would be the French Revolution. Another example is developing before our eyes in Russia today.

But cases where violent crises radically alter the criteria of selection for ruling classes, and change or modify their composition profoundly in the course of a few years, may be regarded as exceptional. They are characteristic of a few particular periods in history. Such overturns sometimes give a vigorous impetus to intellectual, moral and material progress. At other times they have been the beginnings, or else the results, of periods of decay and disintegration in civilizations. Even in normal times, one can almost always observe that a slow and gradual renewal of the ruling class is going on through infiltrations into the higher strata of society of elements emerging from the lower. But this tendency, which we have decided to call democratic, sometimes is outstanding in a civilization and operates in a more effective and rapid manner. At other times it proceeds covertly and therefore more blandly, because of the thousand obstacles that laws, habits and customs put in its way.

As we have seen (chap. II, 8), the democratic tendency is more likely to prevail in unsettled times, when new manners of thinking and feeling are undermining the old concepts on which the structure of social rankings has been based, when scientific and technical progress have created new ways of making money or produced changes in military organization, or even when a shock from outside has forced a nation to rally all the energies and capacities which, in quiet times, would have remained in a potential state. Revolutions and long wars give many new men a chance to assert themselves and make use of their talents. Had there been no French Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte would probably have lived to be a good colonel of artillery, and had it not been for the wars of the Revolution and the Empire, some of his marshals would certainly have remained lieutenants. In general, changes in religion, new movements in philosophy and political thinking, invention of new weapons or new instruments of warfare, application of new discoveries to economic production and corresponding increases in economic production, are all elements that favor rapid translations and interchanges of the molecules, that make up the various social strata. Such changes and interchanges come about more readily in new countries, where natural resources have not been very much exploited and still abound, permitting energetic and enterprising men to attain wealth and reputation with ease, or at least with less difficulty. The examples of Australia and the different countries in the Americas are apt to this point.

If it is confined within moderate limits, the democratic tendency is in a sense indispensable to what is called "progress" in human societies. If all aristocracies had remained steadfastly closed and stationary, the world would never have changed, and mankind would have stopped developing at the stage that it had attained at the time of the Homeric monarchies, or the old Near Eastern empires. The struggle between those who are at the top and those who are born at the bottom but aspire to climb has been, is and will ever be the ferment that forces individuals and classes to widen their horizons and seek the new roads that have brought the world to the degree of civilization that it attained in the nineteenth century. That high level of civilization made it possible to create in the political field the great modern representative state, which, as we have seen (chap. XIV, 8), is of all political organisms the one that has succeeded in coordinating the largest sum of individual energies and activities and applying them to purposes that are related to the collective interest.

When the democratic tendency does not exert too great an influence, to the exclusion of other tendencies, it represents a conservative force. It enables ruling classes to be continually replenished through the admission of new elements who have inborn talents for leadership and a will to lead, and so prevents that exhaustion of aristocracies of birth which usually paves the way for great social cataclysms. Nevertheless, beginning with the end of the eighteenth century and continuing through the nineteenth, the dogma of human equality, modernized to accord with modern ways of thinking, has been taking on new vigor, and it has been deemed possible to make a complete application of it on this earth. Many people have believed and still believe, and not a few have feigned to believe and still feign to believe, that every advantage due to birth can, in time and by appropriate changes in our social system, be eliminated, and that the future will see human associations in which there will be an exact correspondence between the service a person renders to society and the rung he occupies on the social ladder.

The notion that in an ideally organized state there would be absolute correspondence between the service rendered by an individual to society and the rank he comes to occupy in it was clearly formulated for the first time by Saint-Simon. He presses the doctrine in many of his works under one form or another. Later on the same concept became one of the tenets of the Saint-Simonian school, which in other respects ranged far afield from the master's teachings, [1] This aspiration has never, perhaps, been so widely held and so clearly formulated as it is today, but it would be absurd to imagine that it was first conceived in Saint-Simon's time, or even a little less than two centuries ago. It has been the moral basis of every attack that has ever aimed at renewing or rejuvenating ruling classes. Whenever an effort has been made to remove the barriers that have separated an aristocracy, hereditary by law or in fact, from the rest of society, the appeal has always been to the claims of individual merit as against the privileges of birth, now in the name of religion, now in the name of the natural equality of all men or at least of all citizens. In this respect, the democracies of Greece and Rome, the Ciompi (wool carders) of Florence, the Anabaptists of Münster — without, to be sure, having the Bill of Rights at their fingers' tips — thought and acted like the French reformers of the eighteenth century and like the communists of today. Wat Tyler was the leader of a famous rebellion of the English peasants against the lords which broke out in 1381. Some years before, while the insurrection was brewing, a priest named John Ball wrote the often quoted couplet that exactly expresses this attitude:

>When Adam delved and Eve span
Who was then the gentleman?

[1] *Oeuvres*, and see Bernardo Mosca, "Il pensiero di Saint-Simon considerato dopo un secolo."

But every time the democratic movement has triumphed, in part or in full, we have invariably seen the aristocratic tendency come to life again through efforts of the very men who had fought it and sometimes had proclaimed its suppression. In Rome, after forcing the doors that barred their access to high office, the rich plebeians fused with the old patriciate and formed a new nobility to which access by outsiders was legally permitted though in practice it was left very difficult. In Florence an oligarchy of "fat proletarians" supplanted the noble families whose political influence they had seen fit to destroy by the famous "ordinances of justice.” In France the bourgeoisie of the nineteenth century in part replaced the nobility of the old regime. Everywhere, the moment the old barrier has been cast down a new one has been raised in its place, perhaps lower at times and less bristling with brambles and thorns, but high enough and hard enough to cross to offer fairly serious obstacles to anyone disposed to leap over it. Everywhere, those who have reached the top rungs on the social ladder have set up defenses for themselves and their children against those who also wished to climb. [1]

[1] Mosca, "II principle aristocratico ed il democratico nel passato e avvenire."

It will be said that all that is a necessary product of private property, which makes wealth hereditary and smooths the road for those who inherit it to attain power and stay there. In that objection there is certainly a large element of truth we do not say the whole truth, because the cultural level and the family connections of a parent can be passed on in part to his children, even when the family has no patrimony proper. But few people realize today that in a collectivist state the drawback mentioned, for which private property is at present held responsible, will not disappear. It will simply present itself in a graver form. As we have already demonstrated (chap. XI, 3) (and as is now happening in Russia), the governors of a state that is organized along collectivist lines will have far greater resources and means of action than have the rich and powerful of today. The rulers of a collectivist state pile economic power on political power and so, controlling the lots of all individuals and all families, have a thousand ways of distributing rewards and punishments. It would be strange indeed if they did not take advantage of such a strategic position to give their children a start in life.

In order to abolish privileges of birth entirely, it would be necessary to go one step farther, to abolish the family, recognize a vagrant Venus and drop humanity to the level of the lowest animalism. It is interesting that in the *Republic* Plato proposed abolishing the family as an almost necessary consequence of the abolition of private property. He seems to have been inclined, however, to confine the two abolitions to his ruling class the class of philosophers and warriors. He was not in favor of what would now be called "free love." He envisaged temporary unions, in which choice of the temporary mate was to be made by his philosophers. He further arranged that the children born of such unions should not know their parents, or be known by them, since the state should form one single family. A similar system is expounded and defended in Campanella's *City of the Sun*. Campanella also wanted to abolish private property and the family.

But we do not think that even provisions as radical as these would suffice to establish in the world an absolute justice that will never be realized, but which will always be appealed to by those who are trying to upset the system of social rankings that prevails in a given country at a given time. The Catholic clergy have not been allowed to have legal children. But whenever they have come to wield great economic and political power, nepotism has arisen in the Church. And we may well imagine that if nephews as well as sons were to be suppresse the human being would still find among his fellow men. some whom he would love and protect in preference to others.

It is not so certain, meantime, that it would be altogether beneficial to the collectivity to have every advantage of birth eliminated in the struggle for membership in the ruling class and for high position in the social hierarchy. If all individuals could participate in the scramble on an equal footing, struggle would be intensified to the point of frenzy. This would entail an enormous expenditure of energy for strictly personal ends, with no corresponding benefit to the social organism, at least in the majority of cases. [1] On the other hand, it may very well be that certain intellectual and, especially, moral qualities, which are necessary to a ruling class if it is to maintain its prestige and function properly, are useful also to society, yet require, if they are to develop and exert their influence, that the same families should hold fairly high social positions for a number of generations.

[1] Mosca, *op. cit*.

6. In this twentieth century of ours, there are few people indeed who do not make public profession of an enthusiastic support of democracy. It might seem superfluous, therefore, to linger very long on the evils and disadvantages of an excessive predominance of the aristocratic tendency or of stabilizing political power and social influence in certain families. Yet just such stabilization is a common trait in civilizations that have disappeared, and in civilizations that have remained outside the sphere of present-day European progress. Social stabilization has been considerably weakened in the West but it is far from being a thing of the past. The aristocratic spirit is not entirely dead among us, and probably will never die. Now that tendency has its dangers and disadvantages.

When a people has long been ruled by a closed or semiclosed aristocracy, almost inevitably a group spirit, a sense of caste, arises and asserts itself, so that the members of the aristocracy come to think of themselves as infinitely superior to the rest of men. This pride often goes hand in hand with a certain frivolousness of spirit and an excessive attention to external forms. Those who are at the top are likely to feel that everything is automatically due to them, without their having any definite obligations toward those who do not belong to their caste. They look upon outsiders as in a way created to be blind instruments of their aims, passions and caprices. That state of mind comes easily to the human being. It is amazing, sometimes, to note how quickly people who have managed to climb to high position from humble origins come to consider themselves superior to the rest of mankind.

This manner of thinking and feeling develops spontaneously in individuals who are destined to occupy conspicuous positions from the day of their birth and who enjoy many privileges and receive much adulation from their earliest childhood. But it prevents them in general from understanding, and therefore from sympathizing with, the sorrows and tribulations of those who live on the lower rungs of the social ladder; and they are equally insensitive to the toils and efforts of those who have managed to climb a rung or two on the ladder by their own achievement. Exaggeration of the aristocratic spirit, moreover, brings people to avoid contacts with the lower strata of society. They are at no pains to make any close study of them, and are left in complete ignorance of real psychological conditions in the lower classes. Those conditions are sometimes portrayed to them in literature, especially in novels, as something very close to the primitive simplicity and goodness of man, and then again as something that takes directly after the brutes. Whatever their inner process, both exaggerations have the one result of depriving the ruling classes of any influence whatever on mental and sentimental developments in the masses, and so of unfitting the ruling classes for managing them.

Rarely in history do we find examples of hereditary upper classes that have been conscious, as they should properly be, of their intellectual and moral superiorities, and yet have been spontaneously and equally conscious of the obligations toward the lower classes which those superiorities lay upon them. More rarely still among individuals belonging to hereditary ruling classes has there been any widespread distribution of the sentiments of real brotherhood and oneness of man that have been the foundation and the glory of the great world religions, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam — sentiments, in other words, which enable the man of high station to recognize and sincerely feel that the lowliest human being is also an integral part of the common humanity to which they both belong. This feeling, after all, is the one sound element that lies embedded in that great conglomerate of dreams and falsehoods which is going about today under the name of "democracy."

The most insidious enemy of all aristocracies of birth is undoubtedly, idleness. Idleness generates softness and sensuality, stimulates frivolousness of mind and creates an aspiration to a life of pleasures unaccompanied by duties. When there is no daily pressure from an obligation to do a set task, and when the habit of work has not been formed in early years, it is hard to escape the traps of that deadly enemy. Yet aristocracies that cannot defend themselves adequately from idleness decline rapidly. They may succeed in retaining their ranks and offices nominally for some time, but when such functions are actually exercised by subalterns, the subalterns soon become the actual masters. It can only turn out that the man who acts, and knows how to act, will eventually succeed in commanding.

Exemption from physical labor, the assurance of being able to live and retain one's social position without a corresponding and compelling need of attending to an onerous daily occupation, may in certain cases yield results that are excellent from the standpoint of the collective interest. The fact that a certain number of people have been in that position has been one of the main factors in the intellectual and moral progress of mankind. The Spanish critic Unamuno once wrote a witty and very learned eulogy on laziness. In it he tried to show that the world owes much to the loafer, for had there not been among our ancestors a certain number of people who did not have to work with their hands, and who had at their disposal all the time there was, neither science, nor art, nor morality would have come into being. [1]

[1] "En defensa de la haraganería."

Unamuno's thesis is a daring one, and it contains a considerable amount of truth. But the question might be stated in a better form. In the case in point, what the uninitiate calls laziness — and the uninitiate may belong to the upper classes as well as to the lower — is often very far from being any such thing. It may be the noblest form of human labor. It may be a form of labor that envisages no immediate utility to the individual who devotes himself to it, or even to any other specified individuals. It may simply seek to discover the laws that regulate the universe of which we are part, or to learn what the development of human thought and human institutions has been. It may have no other motive than a disinterested passion for widening to some extent the confines of the known at the expense of the unknown. It may have no other end in view than to clarify somewhat, within the limits of the possible, those grave and tormenting problems that try the souls and minds of men, and to endow men with the characteristic truths that lift them above the status of the animals. Now those impulses have expressed themselves most readily, and have had the best chance to develop, in people who have belonged to ruling classes classes which have been so firmly established in their rule that some of their members could be exempted from the material cares of life and from the worries that go with defending one's social position from day to day. Under any other conditions these same impulses would not have asserted themselves at all. We are obliged to admit that science and social morality originated in aristocracies, and that even today they normally find their most consistent practitioners in aristocracies.

It would be untrue and unfair to maintain that a disinterested passion for knowledge is not to be found in individuals belonging to the lower strata of society. Modern civilized nations are products of a very ancient culture, and their social classes have undergone so many upheavals and so many amalgamations that it is not surprising that most aristocratic instincts should sometimes appear in individuals of low status, who may have inherited them from remote ancestors. One of the happiest applications of the democratic tendency would lie in enabling such individuals to develop their superior qualities. That, however, is not an easy thing to do, and we do not believe that compulsory elementary education will alone be sufficient to accomplish it.

It might be objected that we owe great discoveries in the scientific field, and great pronouncements in morals, to men who have been endowed with what is commonly called "genius" — men, that is, who have had exceptional capacities of mind or heart and exceptional strength of will and that genius is rarely hereditary. This is true. But genius more often reveals itself in individuals who belong to peoples and classes that have shown high average levels of intelligence, and it is a fact of common observation that intellectual qualities which are above the average, though not necessarily extraordinary, are readily transmitted from parents to children. It is not farfetched to imagine that in the beginning, the upper classes, on whatever basis they may have been constituted, attracted many of the more intelligent individuals into their membership, and that when such classes are not hermetically sealed they are continuously replenished with intelligent elements deriving from the lower strata of society.

The selective process that goes on in the higher social classes, whereby their average intelligence becomes higher and stays higher than that of the lower classes, has been the subject of careful investigation by Ammon. [1] That scholar soundly attaches great importance to the fact that marriages almost always take place between individuals of the same class, largely because of the aversion that women of the higher classes manifest for marrying men of a class, and therefore of an education, inferior to their own. In this matter we must be on our guard against a wrong appraisal into which we often fall because of the European custom of transmitting names from father to son. As a result of that custom the only visible ancestor is the one whose name is transmitted. From the physiological standpoint, any number of other ancestors have no less right to be taken into account. An individual always has two parents, one male and one female. He has 2 ancestors in the first generation, 4 in the second, 8 in the third, and 1,024 in the tenth. The intellectual and moral type of a family of ancient lineage is to be ascribed, therefore, rather to sustained eugenic crossings than to some particular remote ancestor, who gave the present generation not more than, say, a thousand and twenty-fourth part of its blood.

[1] *Gesellschaftsordnung*, chaps. XX-XXI.

The phenomenon of family inheritance is more striking still in the regard of moral qualities. Home training has a great influence on the development of moral traits, and especially the indirect training that comes from the environment within which one is born and lives. Ancientness of lineage has at all times and everywhere been prized, and the fact that a family has for long generations been able to maintain a high social position. There is a profound reason for that. It is comparatively easy to get to the top when time and fortune favor and an individual has a certain amount of intelligence, hustle, perseverance and, especially, a great and unwavering desire to get there. But in human affairs stability is artificial and change natural. Constant watchfulness and an alert and abiding energy are necessary to preserve through the centuries and over a long series of generations what a distant ancestor acquired — now by merits, now by a stroke of luck, now indeed by an unscrupulous performance.

Families that have long been able to survive that test are usually families in which the majority of individual members, at least, have been able to maintain a sense of restraint and proportion and to resist the temptation to yield to impulsive desires that might at once have been satisfied. They must have been people, in other words, who knew the art of commanding themselves and who practiced it. That art is harder to learn and practice than the art of commanding others, which in its turn is harder to learn and practice than the art of obeying. The Greek historians relate that Dionysius the Elder, tyrant of Syracuse, was once harshly rebuking a son of his for running away with the wife of a citizen. He pointed out that when he was young he would never have done such a thing. "Yes, but you were not born the son of a king," the youth replied. Whereupon the father: "And your sons will not be kings, if you do not change your ways!"

So, automatically, a selective process goes on whereby families that lack the virtues mentioned soon lapse into obscurity and lose the rank they once acquired. If that process of selection is to go on, the ruling class must have a certain stability and not be renewed every generation. That necessity, perhaps, accounts for the tenacious persistence of the aristocratic tendency in the instincts of men* At any rate, it constitutes its soundest justification.

Undoubtedly, one of the strongest and longest-lived organisms that history has any knowledge of is the Catholic Church. The Church has always admitted individuals from all social classes into its clergy, and on occasion it has brought men from the lowest strata of society to the most eminent post in the ecclesiastical hierarchy. One thinks at once of Popes Gregory VII, Sixtus V, Pius X. Now the principle of celibacy for priests has prevented a real hereditary aristocracy from developing within the Church. Nevertheless there have in the past been great families that almost always had some member in the sacred college, and the majority of popes and cardinals have long come, and are still coming, from the upper and middle classes. Perhaps one of the greatest difficulties with which Catholicism has had to contend in recent years lies in the fact that the old aristocracy, and the higher middle classes in many countries, are no longer sending a sufficiently large number of men into the ranks of the clergy.

If a rule could be deduced from this example, and from other examples that might easily be mentioned, one might say that penetration into the upper classes by elements coming from the lower is helpful when it takes place in due proportion and under such conditions that the newcomers at once assimilate the best qualities of the old members. It is harmful when the old members are, so to say, absorbed and assimilated by the newcomers. In that event an aristocracy is not replenished. It turns plebs.
One of the most essential traits in ruling classes is, or should be, honesty in its relations with subordinates. The lie is a defense that is commonly used by the lower against the higher, by the weak against the strong. It becomes doubly repugnant and cowardly when the strong use it to the harm of the weak. It strips the man in command of all title to respect and renders him despicable in the eyes of the subordinate. Simply because men so often resort to lying, the person who abstains from it acquires great prestige. Now abhorrence of falsehood is a a quality which is ordinarily acquired by a long, careful and, one might say, traditional moral training. It is only natural, therefore, that it should be more characteristic of ruling classes, in the development of which the element of inheritance plays a preponderant part.

Another important and almost indispensable requisite in ruling classes, even in relatively peaceful and commercial ages, is personal courage. Men as a rule shun danger and fear death, and they admire those who can risk their lives intrepidly in case of need. When such risks are not undertaken irresponsibly or frivolously they presuppose great strength of will and self-control, which last, perhaps, of all the moral qualities is the one that exacts the greatest respect and deference. When a detailed history of the many ruling classes comes to be written, and we are able to see just how they arose, flourished and decayed, we believe that it will be shown that ruling classes which have had military origins and traditions have been the strongest and that they have, in general, lasted longer than those which have had only industrial or plutocratic backgrounds. Even today, in western and central Europe, one of the best defenses of the ruling class lies in the personal courage that army officers coming from the ruling classes have in general displayed before their soldiers.

The Venetian aristocracy might seem, at first glance, to offer an example to the contrary. That group managed to stay in power for centuries and yet was made up of merchants and bankers. However, Venetian noblemen often commanded the ships and fleets and sometimes, down to the second half of the seventeenth century, even the armies of the Serenissima. They lost touch completely with military life in the eighteenth century. Then, significantly, the republic was in full decline.

To look upon ruling classes as economically unproductive is to succumb to an absurd preconception. In maintaining order and keeping the social structure united they create the conditions under which productive labor can best be prosecuted, and ordinarily they supply production with its technical and administrative personnel. All the same, it is in point to ask, in this regard, whether a ruling class of recent origin contents itself, in the distribution of wealth, with a smaller share than suffices for a ruling class of ancient date, in which, therefore, the aristocratic tendency predominates. That is another way of asking whether democracy is more economical for a society than aristocracy.

Ruling classes, whether democratic or aristocratic, which keep in power by systematically favoring the interests of private individuals or small organized minorities at the expense of the public are always the most costly. There is little to choose between the tendencies in that regard. But otherwise the question is hard to answer, and the answer, moreover, Varies widely according to the times and peoples that happen to be considered. In general, the great are more given to flaunting a blatant luxury in barbarous countries, or in countries that have recently grown rich, and something of the sort happens with individuals in ruling classes. It is a matter of common observation that those who most distinguish themselves by an insensate squandering of the fruits of human toil are the ones who have most recently attained the peaks of wealth and power. But that much granted, one must not overlook a consideration that is often overlooked namely, that in the distribution of the economic production of a country among the various social classes, the class that rules politically has to be allowed a sufficient share to enable it to give its children a long, careful and therefore expensive education and to maintain a dignified standard of living. It must have a large enough share, in a word, to spare it from showing too great an attachment to petty earnings, to small savings and in general to those economies which sometimes lower a man in the eyes of his fellows more than any amount of bad conduct.

7. In his dialogue on the Laws Plato sets forth the thought of his maturer years, and it is significant that he there maintains that the best form of government is one in which autocracy and democracy are fused and balanced. As we have already seen, aristocracy and democracy were, for Plato, the two typical forms of government. In his *Politics*, Aristotle gives an objective description of his three fundamental forms of government, monarchy, aristocracy and democracy, and then goes on to show his preference for a modified aristocracy or, better still, for a modified democracy, in which not even the working classes, let alone slaves and metics, would be admitted to public office. [1] Almost two centuries later, Polybius considered the political organization of Rome the best, because he thought that the three fundamental types of Aristotle found simultaneous application in it. [2] About a century after Polybius, Cicero set forth a somewhat similar view in *De Republica*, and more than twelve centuries after Cicero, at a time when political science was beginning to show signs of new life, St. Thomas also expressed a preference for mixed governments. [1] Montesquieu freed himself of Aristotle's classification and divided governments into despotic, monarchical and republican. His preference lay with a modified monarchy, in which the three fundamental powers, the legislative, executive and judiciary, were entrusted to separate organs, all independent of one another. In that, evidently, Montesquieu was groping toward the concept of a necessary balance between the various political forces and influences. One might add that Cavour, too, declared that in politics he was a believer in the *juste milieu*, which would involve balance and mutual control between the many political forces or doctrines. [2]

[1] *Politics* III, 8, and VI-VII.
[2] *Histories* VI.
[1] After describing the various forms of government, St. Thomas says, *Summa II quaestio XCV, Art. IV: “*Est etiam aliquod regimen ex istis commixtum quod est optimum: et secundum hoc sumitur lex quam majores natu simul cum plebe sanxerunt*. (There is a certain form of government that is a mixture of these, and it is the best. In this form, that law is adopted which the elders along with the plebs have approved.)"
[2] Ruffini, *La giovinezza del Conte di Cavour*.

All these great thinkers or statesmen, then, would seem to have had one common feeling; that the soundness of political institutions depends upon an appropriate fusing and balancing of the differing but constant principles and tendencies which are at work in all political organisms. It would be premature in the present state of political science to attempt to formulate a law, but some such hypothesis as the following might be ventured: that violent political upheavals, such as occurred at the fall of the Roman Empire and are today occurring in Russia, entailing unutterable suffering for large portions of humanity and interrupting the progress of civilization for long years and perhaps centuries, arise primarily from the virtually absolute predominance of one of the two principles, or one of the two tendencies, that we have been studying; whereas the stability of states, the infrequency of such catastrophes, depends on a proper balancing of the two principles, the two tendencies.

This hypothesis could be corroborated by historical experiences in considerable numbers. But it rests primarily upon the assumption that only the opposition — one might almost say only the competition — of these contrary principles and tendencies can prevent an overaccentuation of the vices that are congenital to each of them.

This conclusion would correspond very closely to the old doctrine of the golden mean, which judged mixed governments best. In fact, we would only be reviving that doctrine, though on the basis of the more exact and profound knowledge that our times have attained as to the natural laws that influence and control the political organization of society. To be sure, there would still be the difficulty of determining just where the golden mean lies, and that difficulty would be so great that each of us could feel quite free to locate it as best suits his passions and interests.

But one practical method has occurred to us for helping well-meaning persons, whose exclusive aim is the general welfare and prosperity quite apart from any personal interest, or any systematic preconception. It would be to watch for so to say atmospheric changes in the times and in the peoples who live about us.

When, for instance, a glacial calm prevails, when we can feel no breath of political discussion blowing, when everybody is raising hymns of praise to some great restorer of order and peace, then we may rest assured that the autocratic principle is prevailing too strongly over the liberal, and vice versa when everybody is cursing tyrants and championing liberty. So too, when the novelists and poets are vaunting the glories of great families and uttering imprecations upon the common herd, we may safely consider that the aristocratic tendency is becoming too strong; and when a wild wind of social equality is howling and all men are voicing their tenderness for the interests of the humble, it is evident that the democratic tendency is strongly on the upgrade and approaching the danger point. To put the matter in two words, it is just a question of following a rule that is the opposite of the one that climbers have consciously or unconsciously followed at all times in all countries. If we do that, the little nucleus of sound minds and choice spirits that keep mankind from going to the dogs every other generation may on occasion be able to render a service to its contemporaries, and especially to the children of its contemporaries. For in political life, the mistakes of one generation are almost always paid for by the generation that follows.