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 ]


Vifredo Pareto, “The Decline of the Old Elite” (1900)

Editing History

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


Vifredo Pareto, The Rise and Fall of the Elites: An Application of Theoretical Sociology. Introduction by Hans L. Zetterberg (Totowa, New Jersey: The Bedminster Press, 1968). 1st ed. 1900.

Originally published as Vilfredo Pareto, "Un' applicazione di teorie sociologiche," Rivista Italiana di sociologia, 1900, p. 402-456.

  • Chap. 3 “The Decline of the Old Elite,” pp. 59-71.

Editor's Intro



3. The Decline of the Old Elite, pp. 59-71 [FN: 29-41]

The elite which is still dominant, consists principally of the bourgeoisie and, to a small extent, of the remnants of the other elites.
When an elite declines, we can generally observe two signs which manifest themselves simultaneously:

1. The declining elite becomes softer, milder, more humane and less apt to defend its own power.
2. On the other hand, it does not lose its rapacity and greed for the goods of others, but rather tends as much as possible to increase its unlawful appropriations and to indulge in major usurpations of the national patrimony.

Thus, on one hand it makes the yoke heavier, and on the other it has less strength to maintain it. These two conditions cause the catastrophe in which the elite perishes, whereas it could prosper if one of them were absent. Thus, if its own strength does not weaken but grows, its appropriations too may increase, and if these decrease, its dominion may, though less frequently, be maintained with a lesser force. Thus the feudal nobility, at the time it arose, could increase its usurpations because its force was growing; thus the Romans and the English elites could, while yielding where yielding was called for, maintain their own power. The French aristocracy on the other hand, eager to maintain its own privileges, and perhaps also to increase them, while its force to defend them Was diminishing, provoked the violent revolution of the end of the eighteenth century. In short, there must be a certain equilibrium between the power a social class possesses and the force at its disposal to defend it. Domination without that force cannot last.

Elites often become effete. They preserve a certain passive courage, but lack active courage. It is amazing to see how in imperial Rome the members of the elite committed suicide or allowed themselves to be assassinated without the slightest defense, as long as it pleased Caesar. We are equally amazed when we see the nobles in France die on the guillotine, instead of going down fighting, weapon in hand.[29]

Rome marveled greatly seeing the vigor of the old elite flower anew in Silano. Locked up in Bari, he answered the centurion who tried to persuade him to let his veins be opened (*suadentique venas abrumpere*) that he was ready to die, but also to fight. Although unarmed, he never ceased to defend himself and to strike out as he could with his bare hands, until he fell as it were in combat, pierced by stabs received from the front.[30]

If Louis XVI had had the spirit of Silano, he would have saved himself and his family, and perhaps spared the nation much blood and pain. Even on August 10 he could still have fought a battle with hope to win. "If the king had wanted to fight he could still have defended himself, he could have saved himself and even won," says Taine.[31] But the elite of that time resembled the bourgeoisie of today, as can be observed in countries like France, where the democratic evolution is most accentuated. Although Taine speaks of that time, his language precisely describes present conditions in France when he says: "At the end of the 18th century, a horror of blood prevailed in the upper, and even in the middle class; refinement of manners and idyllic dreams had weakened the militant will power (and today again the French bourgeoisie indulges in sweet dreams). Everywhere the magistrates were forgetting that the maintenance of society and civilization is infinitely more valuable than the lives of a handful of offenders and fools. They forgot that the primary objective of government, as it is of the police force, is the preservation of order through force." [32] The same phenomenon could be seen in Rome, where it prepared the, downfall of the empire,[33] and now that it is being repeated for our bourgeoisie, it seems likely that the end will not be different from that which has been observed in the past.[34]

At present this phenomenon can be seen in almost all the civilized states, but is best observed in France and Belgium, which are more advanced in the radical-socialist evolution and show in some manner the goal toward which the evolution tends in general.

A superficial study is sufficient to show that the dominant class in these countries is weighed down by sentimental and humanitarian tendencies quite similar to those which existed toward the end of the eighteenth century. The sensibility of that class has become almost morbid and threatens to deprive the penal laws of all efficacy. Every day new laws are being devised to help poor thieves and amiable assassins, and where a new law does not exist, a convenient interpretation of the old one will do. At Chateau-Thierry, a now famous judge simply ignores the law and judicates according to the blind passion of the crowd.[35] The bourgeoisie resigns itself and remains silent. If another judge wishes to do his duty, he is eyed with distrust and perhaps ridiculed on the stage. In the absence of every repression, the vagabonds have become a real scourge of the countryside; in isolated cottages, they threaten while they beg; out of revenge, or an evil impulse, or simply by imprudence, they burn down the castles of the rich; arson has by now become a frequent occurrence. The authorities look on and remain inactive; they know that if they performed their duty punctiliously the results would be interpellations in Parliament and perhaps the downfall of the Cabinet. Even stranger to watch is the demeanor of the victims, who are silent and resigned, as if faced by an evil to which there is no remedy. The most courageous content themselves with the hope that some general will re-enact the operation of Napoleon III and, in the process, liberate them from the plague.

The crimes committed during strikes remain unpunished; the judges will sometimes pass a guilty verdict but it is a formal verdict at best, soon to be followed by an acquittal, imposed by the workers or spontaneously conceded by the government "to pacify." The workers have inherited the privilege of the nobleman of the past, they are in fact above the law. They have even a special tribunal of their own, the court of arbitration, which will definitely condemn the "boss" and the "bourgeois" even if these had all the right on their side. Where this parody of justice is being enacted, the honest attorney will advise his client not to seek litigation because he would be sure to lose. Of course, social democracy wishes to extend the jurisdiction of this exceptional tribunal. The ecclesiastic court has been abolished - and the workers' court was born. Athenian democracy, which was ruining the rich through lawsuits, was imitated by the Italian republics, and is now being imitated by modern democracy.[36] The old elite, when it was in power, did even worse, so that one cannot conclude from these facts anything against one or the other regime; [37] they are simply signs indicating which class is declining and which is on the rise. Where class A enjoys legal privileges and the laws are wrongly interpreted in its favor and against class B, it is obvious that A has, or is about to have, the advantage over B, and vice versa.

The decisions of the jury are also signs in this direction and show that the bourgeoisie adopts the worst sentiments of the common people.

Finally, where a little romance enters the picture, bourgeois sentimentality reveals itself as foolishly wicked. From among many instances, it is sufficient to mention this recent one. A gentleman, who was boyishly sentimental, married a prostitute in order to "rehabilitate" her; after life in common had become impossible, he wished to divorce his wife - whereupon she killed him. The jury acquitted her, and here are some of the good reasons the accused proffered: "One does not regret a man who, at the decline of his life, fails to complete the good deed he has begun. What I regret is the fact that I had to kill him because he had left me. I also killed him because he had asked for a divorce, because he has covered me with shame and at the same time defiled his own name. I, a divorcée? never! So, there was only one solution left." [38] The influence of feminism and of theatrical eloquence is clearly seen in the novel and in the press, all in favor of the prostitute. The victim was infected by similar theories, he had written to his wife: "I have taken you as Fantine of *Les Miserables* and I believed in your rehabilitation." This good man, instead of paying attention to Victor Hugo, Dumas Fils and other eulogists of the fallen woman, would have done better to marry a decent girl; and certainly his fault of giving credence to such empty declamations deserved punishment. However, the death penalty was perhaps a little too harsh, and moreover, the manner how and by whom it was administered is an affront to justice. It would seem to anyone not completely intoxicated with "humanitarian" doctrines that those good, sentimental and feminist panel members should have doubted somewhat the theory according to which he who "fails to complete a good deed he began" deserved to be killed by the person who had benefited from such a deed.

The fate of this ill-rewarded *humanitarian* reflects the fate that befell the humanitarian French aristocracy at the time of the revolution. It reflects also the fate that is in store for our bourgeoisie, which will have to expiate, by loss of property if not by the guillotine, the fault of "not having completed the good deed" to which it is now so dedicated, at least in words, while it endeavors to relieve, to rehabilitate and glorify the wretched and degenerate, the vicious and delinquent. "As long as the sun shall shine upon man's misfortunes, the sheep will be eaten by the wolf." [39] All that is left is, for those who know and can, to avoid becoming sheep.

At the banquet of the republican Committee of Commerce and Industry, which took place on June 22, 1900, Millerand began with the usual phrases, and declared that he was moved by the acknowledgment "of the efforts which I attempted toward some progress along the road of social justice, which road the republic must forever follow without fail, and toward the work of social rehabilitation, which means to bend in compassion toward the most unfortunate and to try to give them more justice and well-being." And then he addressed these bourgeoisie in friendly tones, speaking about an alliance: "Our ministry has shown the necessity of an alliance between the bourgeoisie and the workers, and we must prove that we are proud of it." Not one among those present remembered the old fable:

*Nunquam est fidelis cum potente societas*, and dared answer the citizen, "the comrade," and minister: “After we shall have helped you defeat the nationalists, you will act like the lion in the fable and take everything":

*Sic totam praedam sola improbitas abstulit*. "You have already made a beginning. You call us allies but you permit that we be robbed with impunity. For good measure, your friend Jaurès, whom you have made a member of the Labor Department, proposes that, if the majority of the workers wish to strike, the minority must be constrained by the police to obey, and management is forbidden to keep part of the striking labor at work or to hire others not involved in the strike." There were many industrialists present, and not one had the courage even to whisper. People with so little spirit do not rightly deserve any regard. Thinking of them, Millerand could have remembered the words of Tiberius about another degenerated elite: “*O homines ad servitutem paratos*.

It is pitiful to observe how all the parties flatter and adulate the people. Even a man like Galliffet proclaims, in the French Parlement, that he is a socialist! They all prostrate themselves at the feet of the new sovereign and debase themselves before him.[40]

It is, in part, from this steadily growing weakness of the bourgeoisie that the new religious fervor which pervades that class stems. Hence this weakness is also one of the many causes of the present religious crisis. It has often been said that the devil, when he grows old, becomes a monk; often a courtesan on whom the years begin to weigh gives up her wicked ways and turns into a bigot. The case of the bourgeoisie is not at all similar, for though it has become bigoted, it has not given up its wicked ways.

The humanitarian sentiments and the sensibility which it exhibits are inflated, artificial, and false. Admittedly, prostitutes, thieves, and murderers deserve compassion, but is not an honest mother of a family, is not a man of honor and integrity equally worthy? It is good and noble to enter into the sufferings of the poor of today and try to alleviate them. But the sufferings of tomorrow's poor, those who live in ease today and are to be despoiled and reduced to misery, are they made of different stuff? In reality the bourgeoisie of today does not look to the future; it exploits the present and thereafter - the deluge. Its sensibility gives vent in words, often concealing base profits. The weak are usually also vile; they practice skillful larceny but do not venture to commit armed robbery.

Elites in a stage of decline generally display humanitarian sentiments and great kindness; but this kindness, provided it is not simply weakness, is more seeming than real. Seneca was a perfect stoic, but he possessed great riches, splendid palaces, innumerable slaves. The French noblemen who applauded Rousseau knew how to make their "fermiers" pay; and the new love of virtue did not prevent them from dissipating in orgies with whores, the money extorted from the peasants, who were starving to death. Today in France a landowner collects, thanks to the duties on grain and cattle, thousands of lire from his fellow citizens; he donates a hundred lire or a little more to a "People's University," and with his purse thus fattened, appeases his conscience and hopes in addition, to be elected at the polls. To be moved with compassion for the poor and destitute in the midst of luxuries agreeably stimulates the senses. Many are landowners today and socialists in the future, and so they feed from two mangers at a time. That future is so far away, who knows when it will come! In the meantime it is sweet to enjoy one's wealth and to discuss equality, to pick up friendships, public offices, sometimes also to find good opportunities for making money, and to pay with words and future promises. There is always a profit to gain by bartering a sure asset for a promissory note signed for so long and uncertain a term.

The sums which the ruling class appropriates illicitly, thanks to protective duties, from premiums on navigation, on sugar, and many related products, to enterprises subsidized by the State, the syndicates, trusts, etc., are enormous and certainly comparable to the sums which, during other periods, were extorted by other ruling classes. The only advantage for the nation is the fact that the method of clipping the sheep has been perfected; hence, for the same amount of extorted wealth the amount squandered is smaller. The feudal lord who robbed the wayfarers obstructed the expansion of commerce; he stole a few soldi and indirectly destroyed several lire; his successor, who benefits from protective duties, illicitly appropriates a large amount of wealth but indirectly destroys less.

Our ruling class is insatiable; as its power wanes, its fraudulent practices increase. Every day in France, in Italy, in Germany, in America, it demands new tightenings of duties, new provisions to safeguard trade, new obstacles to commerce under the pretext of sanitary provisions, new subsidies of every kind. In Italy, under Depretis, the government used to send soldiers to mow the fields of landowners who refused to pay the wages requested by free mowers; today this fine practice is being renewed. It seems the feudal corvées are on their way back. The soldiers, instead of being used solely for the defense of the country, serve the landowners to keep down wages that would otherwise be fixed by free competition.

Such is the method of despoiling the poor, applied by our foremost "humanitarians." Congresses against tuberculosis are fine, but it would be even better not to steal the bread from those who starve and it would also be preferable, either to be a little less "humanitarian," or to respect the property of others a little more.

There is not the least sign to indicate that the dominant class is about to abandon the bad road, and it is to be assumed that it will continue to tread it until the days of final catastrophe. This could already be seen in France as regards the old aristocracy. To the very eve of the revolution they were besieging that unfortunate Louis XVI, clamoring for money.[41] In Italy one could see, under Depretis, systematically ordered robbery and pillage. From the elector to the elected, all were selling and buying each other. The tightening of protectionism in 1887 was used as a means to auction off to the highest bidder the right to impose private levies on the citizens; others made their profits on railroads, banks, steel mills, and the merchant marine. The entire ruling class crowded around the government demanding, with great outcries, at least a bone to nibble on. It was then that the bad seed was sown; its fruits were the tears and the blood of May 1898, and even bitterer fruits may ripen in the future. The unlawful appropriations of the ruling class were countered by the violence of the people, subdued but not conquered by unjust repression. I say unjust, because it was intended, not to protect order and property, but to defend privileges, to perpetuate robbery, and to render possible such scandalous acts as the Notarbartolo trial.

We wish to caution the reader that where we speak of the diminishing strength of the dominant class, we by no means refer to a decrease in violence; it even occurs very frequently that the weak are precisely those who are also violent. None is more cruel and violent than the coward. Strength and violence are two entirely different concepts. Trajan was strong and not violent; Nero was violent but not strong.

If, as is probable, the contrast between the evil deeds, which are forever increasing, and the spirit, courage, and strength, which are progressively declining, should become more acute, the end can only be a violent catastrophe, which will restore the equilibrium that has been so gravely disturbed.


Notes for Chap. 3. The Decline of the Old Elite, pp. 59-71 [FN: 29-41]

[29] Duruy, *op. cit.*, IV, p. 522, narrating the cowardice of the aristocratic conspirators under Nero, adds: "Here is the great courage of these proud republicans! Faced with torture, with the least test of courage, they lose all their dignity and, to save their own lives, they relinquish their friends and their loved ones to the executioner. Is not Lucian a parricide just as Nero, when he accuses his innocent mother? How much cowardice did despotism and corruption sink into the souls that had seemed so utterly steeled! Never was the moral level of the world so low."

These last remarks are simply rhetorical declamations. If the aristocracy was cowardly. the people manifested courage. Duruy himself indicates it: "A woman, a courtesan, put these unworthy Romans to shame. … The soldiers too showed some vestiges of the ancient virtues."

There we have on one hand Piso, who allows his veins to be opened and in his last will adulates Nero: “*Testamentum foedis adversus Neronem adulationibus amori uxoris dedit*” Tacitus, Cornelius, *Annalium ab excessu divi Augusti quae supersunt* ab I.G. Baitero, editio altera (Turici, sumptibus ac typis Orellii Fuesslini et Sociorum, 1859, Liber XV, Cap. 59, p. 531); on the other, a simple centurion, Subrio, who has the courage to confront Nero with the crimes of which he was guilty: “*odisse coepi, postquam parricida matris et uxoris, auriga et histrio et incendiarius extitisti*” (idem, Cap. 67. p. 537). Who could fail to see in this contrast an aristocracy about to die and another new one that was
being born?

Taine, *L’anc. reg.*, p. 219 - Translation into English by John Durand (New York: Henry Holt, 1876, Ch: II, p. 169).: "An all-powerful education repressed, modified enfeebled instinct itself. About to die, they (the French gentlemen) experience none of the reactions of blood and rage, the universal and sudden restoration of the forces, the murderous spasm, the blind irresistible need of striking those who strike them. If a gentleman is arrested in his own house by a Jacobin, we never find him splitting his head open. (In nota: The following is an example of what armed resistance can accomplish for a man in his own house. A gentleman of Marseille, proscribed and living in his country domicile, has provided himself with gun, pistols and sabre, and never goes out without his armament, declaring, that he will not be taken alive. Nobody has dared to execute the order of arrest.') They allow themselves to be taken, going quietly to prison; to make an uproar would be bad taste, it is necessary above all things to remain what they are, well-bred people of society. … They preserve their dignity and their smile before their judges and on the cart; the women, especially, mount the scaffold with the ease and serenity characteristic of an evening entertainment.”

Taine comes nearer to the truth than Duruy, but he does not quite hit the mark. It was not only education which deprived them of active courage, it was a combination of circumstances, including, among others, their sentimental follies. Thus, the bourgeois of today who, in their speeches and their writings flatter the enemy and lick the boots "of the poor and humble,” are ripe for the rope, and they will let themselves be despoiled and killed without offering resistance.

[30] *Nec omisit Silanus obniti et intendere ictus, quantum manibus nudis ralebat, donec a centurione vulneribus adversis, tamquam in pugna, caderet* (Tacitus, *op. cit.*, Liber XVI, Cap. 9).

[31] *La conq. Jacob*, p. 240.

[32] *Ibid*., p. 242.

[33] Renan, *op. cit.*, p. 296: "Everybody's condition improved … to bring relief to those who suffer became the universal concern. … The cruel Roman aristocracy was being replaced by a provincial aristocracy of honest people who wanted to do good. The force and superiority of the ancient world were being lost. [Most true; once the force is lost what reason for dominion remains?] People became kind, gentle, patient, human [in a word: weak, but then it is only rIght to quit and leave the field to the strong]. As always happens, socialist ideas taking advantage of this broadmindedness, made their appearance. …”

[34] Le Bon, *Psych. du soc.*, p. 384: “… the enemies of the new barbarians think of nothing but negotiating with them and thus prolonging their existence a little by a series of conversations, which only serve to encourage those leading the attack against them and to provoke their contempt."

[35] In one of his latest decisions, involving a case against an alleged false witness, he said: "Considering that, in committing thIS abominable act of perjury, X became, knowingly. the tool of a family, and more particularly of an individual, who thought that, thanks to his fortune - *the origin of which went back, according to the mayor of his town, to the invasion of 1870—1871* - he would find it easy, by misleading justice, to ignore his obligations. etc. …”

How does the insinuation regarding the origin of the patrimony enter here, juridically speaking? What relation is there between that origin, which incidentally was not proved and is only re~ £erred to as hearsay, and the fact, on which alone the magistrate was supposed to pass; namely, whether a witness was or was not corrupt? But it must be pointed out that the testimony which is said to be false refers to a seduction. What we have here, therefore, is not a verdict but a drama for the stage. On one side there is the traitor, the tyrant, whose every word and every action is a crime, and to complete the picture, the poet shows him to be the heir of a patrimony acquired through the betrayal of his country; on the other, we have the innocent persecuted dove, in whom everything breathes supreme virtue.

That judge is now to preside over the *Congrès de l'humanité*. His harangues will be much more suitable there.

[36] Salvemini, G. (*Magnati e popolani in Firenze dal 1280 al 1295*, p. 178), remarks that in Florence a double penalty is fixed for crimes committed by magnates against workmen "only in case of a grave injury with bloodshed; in other cases the penalty is multiplied by five or even by six. Also in the People's Charter of Orvieto, at the beginning of the thirteenth century, it is stated as a general rule that the penalty for a nobleman who offends a workman is four times greater than that imposed in ordinary cases; and in the State of Lucca in 1308, the penalty was doubled for some crimes, for others it was multiplied by three, or by four, or by five" (p. 23). "When a workman accused a magnate, the rectors could not very easily absolve him, because they were at once accused of partiality toward the magnates … therefore the judges always passed guilty verdicts and always decided in favor of the injured party or the one that styled himself so." This is exactly what happens in certain arbitration courts or in courts with ordinary justices directly or indirectly elected by the people. One of these justices apologized for a decision which he himself had recognized as iniquitous, by saying: "I could not harm my party and be ungrateful toward those who had elected me."

Our author continues: "Therefore the magnates complained and said: “A horse, while galloping, hits with its tail a workman's face; or, in the middle of a crowd, you hit somebody in the chest, without malice; or small children will pick a quarrel, must these, in themselves small matters, become crimes?'" And an example of how the laws were interpreted, is offered in Neri Strinati, *Cronichetta*, p. 122 *et seq.* In 1294 Neri had gone bail with the Scali Company, for M. Lamberto Cipriani, for an obligation of 550 pounds, together with five other associates, among them two workmen. When, because of the principal's failure, the guarantors were obliged to pay, one of the two workmen was dead, and the other refused to pay, "giving as a reason that I and Maffeo Brunelleschi (another guarantor) were magnates and that we could not bring action against Gone and the heirs of Goso (the two workmen) who were of the people. … Ordinances had been issued by the people against the magnates." At least the victims voiced their complaints. Now they are silent. I know more facts, but cannot enumerate them here for want of courage, which is characteristic of those who, having suffered injustice, are afraid lest the mere complaint will be ascribed to them as a new proof of guilt.

[37] If in Rome the senators were as corrupt as judges. the knights were even more so. "The right to administer justice elevated the knights to the rank of masters and reduced the senators to the rank of subjects. The new judges voted with the Tribunes of the People, and in exchange obtained from the Tribunes whatever they wanted [exactly what is happening now]. They did not content themselves with political domination. In the tribunals they committed open acts of injustice against the senators [just as the arbiters do now against the bourgeois]. They became used to corruption, and as soon as they tasted the pleasure of huge gains they treated the one-time judges in an even more shameful manner." Belot, *Hist. des chev. rom.*, II, p. 238.

[38] The man was called Victor Buurmans; he was assassinated at Courbevoie by the woman who, in order to reach him, had disguised herself as a man. A letter by Elisée Reclus, read at the trial, was reprinted in *Figaro* of April 13, 1900. The illusustrious geographer and utopian said: "I saw Buurmans frequently in his home; I always admired the kindness, the gentleness, the nobility of his attitude toward his wife and the dignified reserve he observed when he had occasion to speak of her. He never complained and his suffering must have reached a climax before he decided to write the distressing letter in which he explained to his friends the reason why he was leaving his marital home. …”

The above-mentioned journal says: "Involved in the events of the Commune, a poet in his leisure hours, Victor Buurmans married 37 years ago the inmate of one of those houses where romance is seldom born. But the humanitarian philosopher had dreamed the generous dream of saving Elisa from shame. …”

[39] It was well said by G. Le Bon, *op. cit.*, p. 475: “Nor is it by flattering them (the crowds) with the most humiliating servility, as is done today, that one succeeds in seducing them. They back those who flatter them, but they back them with a just contempt, and as the flatteries become more excessive, they raise the level of their demands." And on p. 369: "If the proletarian could doubt his own logic, there would be no want of rhetoricians, more servile to him than the courtiers of oriental despots, ready to remind him incessantly of his imaginary rights."

Le Bon says correct things about socialism; however, he is simply the adherent of a certain anthropological patriotic religion, and therefore speaks with the enthusiasm of a believer. He fights against socialism because it is a rival religion. He resembles somewhat the Emperor Julian, who fought against
Christianity, not as a free thinker, but as the believer of a certaIn
pagan religion of his own.

[40] Why waste words in order to describe anew what has already been excellently described? I prefer to quote here a few verses from Aristophanes, *The Knights* (translated by Benjamin Bickley Rogers, *Great Books of the Western World*, Vol. V, p. 479, lines 773-778, 906-911:

*Paphlagon*: O Demos, how can there be ever a man who loves you as dearly as I?

When on me you relied your finances to guide, your Treasury never was dry,

I was begging of these, whilst those I would squeeze and rack to extort what was due,

And naught did I Care how a townsman might fare, so long as I satisfied you.

*Sausage-Seller*: Why. Demos, there's nothing to boast of in that; to do it I'm perfectly able.

I've only to steal from my comrade a meal, and serve it up hot on your table.

*Sausage-Seller*: And I'll this gallipot provide, and healing cream within it;

Whereby the sore upon your shins you'll doctor in a minute.

*Paphlagon*: I'll pick these grey hairs neatly out, and make you young and fair.

*Sausage-Seller*: See here; this hair-scut take to wipe your darling eyes with care.

*Paphlagon*: Vouchsafe to blow your nose, and clean your fingers on my hair.

*Sausage-Seller*: No, no; on mine, on mine, on mine!

[41] Augeard says: "As soon as he entered upon the scene, M. de. Calonne took up a loan of 100 million, one quarter of which was never put into the royal treasury; the rest was swallowed up by the people at court; what he handed out to the Count of Artois has been estimated at 56 million, the portion of Monsieur at 25 million, etc.” And Ch. Gamel, *Les derniers receveurs généraux*, p. 155: "He multiplied his generosities toward the courtiers; he never refused a request for money; the financial favors did not seem to cost him anything at all … profusion handed out bounties; a prince later said: 'When I saw that everybody was stretching out his hand, I tendered my hat.’ Millions
were thus distributed among all those who addressed themselves to the Controller General (Calonne), and sometimes he took the initiative himself in dispensing liberalities. … Since the war was over and commerce prospered, the prodigality of Calonne, far from provoking astonishment or blame, was generally considered proof of the immensity of the State's resources." The same thing occurs also at other times and in other countries.

And further, on page 197: "In order to oblige other grandees, he soon proceeded to make acquisitions or else exchanges, and he showed himself extremely accommodating in the evaluations: his objective in approving these acts was in effect not to augment or to enrich the royal domain, but to satisfy the solicitations of sellers and exchangers. … Pamphlets have asserted that the complaisance of the minister of finance had been dearly bought. … This accusation was indignantly rejected by Calonne … and does not seem to be justified." The same can be said of other ministers who generously distributed favors of customs and banking patronage, while they received little or no compensation in exchange. It often occurs, by the way, that the most corrupt classes have more or less honest ministers to serve them.



Vifredo Pareto, "The Rise of the New Elite" (1900)

Editing History

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


Vifredo Pareto, The Rise and Fall of the Elites: An Application of Theoretical Sociology. Introduction by Hans L. Zetterberg (Totowa, New Jersey: The Bedminster Press, 1968). 1st ed. 1900.

Originally published as Vilfredo Pareto, "Un' applicazione di teorie sociologiche," Rivista Italiana di sociologia, 1900, p. 402-456.

  • Chap. 4 “The Rise of the New Elite,” pp. 72-89.

Editor's Intro



4. The Rise of the New Elite, pp. 72-89 [FN: 42-52]

It is an illusion to believe that it is the people who stand at the head of the dominant class today. Those who stand there - and this is a very different matter - are part of a new and future elite which leans upon the people. Already there are some slight signs of contrast between the new elite and the rest of the people, which indicates that with the passing of time these signs will become similar to those which could be noticed in Rome as the contrast between the aristocracy of the *plebs* and the others; or in the Italian republics between the major and the minor crafts. These latter contests resemble, at least in part, those in England between the old *Trade-Unions* and the new ones.

Everywhere the workers who profit from lucrative trades try to exclude the rest of the population from these trades by severely restricting the number of those permitted to learn a particular craft. The glass blowers, the printers, and the workers of other similar trades constitute closed castes. Many strikes spring from the fact that organized labor rejects workers that are not organized. In short, one can observe how the amorphous matter separates and becomes stratified, the upper strata forming precisely the new elite.

It is noteworthy that until now the political leaders of the new elite have almost without exception been bourgeois; that is, they hail from the ranks of the old aristocracy, which is decadent in character, but not in intelligence. The reason for this is the misbehavior of our bourgeoisie, which compels its better part to be drawn to the side of the adversaries whoever they are, thus weakening the dominant class still more, so that it becomes impoverished and loses its strongest, most moral, and honest men. When, as happens in Italy, a gentleman is faced with the dilemma of either approving the malpractices of his class, such as embezzlements of banks and the facts of the Notarbartolo trial, or of his joining the socialists, he is irresistibly driven toward the latter.

It seems probable that the present proportion between the leaders of bourgeois origin and the leaders hailing from the working class forming the new elite, will be modified and that the number of the latter will grow, for the reason that the working class is now be
coming more active, more educated, and stronger.

The present evolution could be foreseen from the very beginning of the nineteenth century. It is an unfailing law for living organisms and for social organisms as well, that a close relationship exists between the organs of nutrition and the general shape of the body.[42] Nobody will believe that a carnivorous and an herbivorous animal should have entirely similar forms. Nor can anyone believe that a warlike and an industrial society should have the same social order. Our societies are certainly much more industrialized and less warlike than the societies of the past century, and so their order had to change. Where industry is highly developed, the working class is bound, sooner or later, to acquire great power. We need only watch what is happening in the countries where political elections take place: when a city becomes industrialized it is almost certain that it will send socialist or at least radical deputies to the parliament. In Italy, we see that Milan, where previously the "consorti" were in the majority, and Turin, which was monarchist, now vote socialist, republican, radical, because industry has grown exceedingly in these cities. Florence, where industrial growth is much slower, remains more faithful to the moderate party.

This general movement has been noted so many times that it is unnecessary to dwell upon it at any length; but, another movement, also of great importance is more recent and can be studied. I refer to the movement which enables part of the working class to earn high wages; which group therefore constitutes a first nucleus of the new elite.

The principal cause of this situation can be found in
the enormous increase in savings and capital. After 1870 there were no great European wars which would have resulted in a grave diminution of savings, and if the growth of such savings was curbed by the waste due to state socialism or to graft and other malpractices of the dominant class, nevertheless all these causes combined could not prevent an overall increase in their total amount. As the proportion between capital and labor changes, the former becomes less precious, while the latter grows in value. Wherever technically possible, the machine replaces man's physical energy. This can be done economically, among civilized nations precisely because there is no shortage of capital; among the other nations the conversion, though technically possible, is not often economical, and therefore man has a greater share in the physical work. Hence, where there is great abundance of capital, man turns necessarily to work in which the machine cannot compete with him, that is, work which requires judgment and intelligence. Moreover, there is also the added advantage of rigorous selection, since the incentive of high wages will secure the services of men with better than average intelligence to direct the machines. Two arms are sufficient for a digger, and if he is a Hercules with the strength of two ordinary men, he can be paid double, but not more, since his work could be done equally well by two other men. To drive a locomotive, on the other hand, one needs a man with judgment and intelligence. Should he be but a little deficient in these qualities, the situation could not be remedied by putting two engineers into the locomotive instead of one; two, three or even four mediocre engineers cannot achieve the output of one capable and intelligent engineer. Ten ignorant chemists in a chemical factory are not at all equivalent to one good chemist. And so we have here a very potent force incessantly at work, which divides labor into various strata, assigning great advantages to the superior ones. This is a principal factor in the formation of a new elite.

The great socialists, intent on squandering capital, pay no attention to all this. They do not understand the process by which they become unwittingly the helpmates of the old elite, obstructing the emergence of the new one, which can become strongly established only where capital is present in great abundance. The Marxists have a much clearer concept of this phenomenon, and they have understood, if not scientifically at least intuitively that their victory can only be realized if it is prepared by abundance of capital; or as they say: the socialist evolution must pass through a "capitalist phase."

Another rather rigorous selection, which is also instrumental in creating the new elite, is being accomplished by the workers' unions and syndicates. This in turn may be considered a consequence of the preceding facts, since these unions and syndicates can exist and thrive only where abundance of capital has permitted large-scale industry to develop and prosper, for at the source there must always be abundance of savings and capital. Let us not forget, however, that this very abundance appears to be, and in fact partly is, the cause of the phenomenon of which it is also a partial effect; for it is precisely the development of industry and the formation of the workers' new elite that contributes toward the growth of savings and capital.

Paul de Rousiers has very well observed the character of the evolution of labor in England, and in studying this evolution carefully, we will notice the same characteristics in the formation of the new elite. Speaking of trade union leaders, he says: "the quality that strikes you first about them is a practical mind, clear and precise, a realistic approach, a firm common sense resulting in a successful effort.”[43] These are exactly the qualities that are disappearing in the old elite which is about to die. "Precisely those who believe in the necessity of a profound overthrow of society, those who are seduced by the most advanced socialist theories, preserve within their minds the ideal of their dreams, while concentrating their efforts within the realm of facts so as to be successful in the details. … Moreover many among them are completely wrapped up on the pursuit of advantages which do not require in any way a revision of social institutions." They argue as strong men and do not indulge in the weak sentiments of humanitarianism that mark our bourgeoisie; they say "the condition of the weak cannot be bettered unless they struggle against their own weakness. … They need an energetic conscience, a virile sense of their moral responsibility. … A practical mind, high moral standards, and education, these are the three main qualities which assure the success of the trade union leaders." [44] Are these not precisely the qualities which distinguish the elite (meaning 'the best') from the rest of mankind?

After the generals come the captains, the non-commissioned officers, the soldiers, and they are all selected men. There is never, to be exact, one elite stratum, there are only various strata which together constitute the elite.

"One must go down to the ordinary personnel, to the simple workers, in order to realize how deep are the
causes to which a union owes its success. First there is
regularity in the payment of weekly dues; this creates financial prosperity, the first indispensable material basis. In England, the organized workers enter into a serious agreement and carry it out punctiliously. If an organized member has been in arrears for several weeks he is simply removed from the list, unless of course he receives relief because of unemployment, accident, sickness, etc." And where does this one go from there? He drops into a new proletariat, which is being formed side by side with the new elite, and where the children of the present bourgeois will probably land after they have let themselves be robbed by the new elite. "I insist on this material fact of regularly paid dues," adds Rousiers, "because, aside from the financial power it assures to the union, it marks the quality of the men who belong to them. We will often have occasion to state it - the union personnel is the result of a selection; 'The best men belong to the union.' These men, joined together voluntarily for a purpose they understand … are the true foundation of success." [45] How else can one describe the birth of an elite?

Italian socialists have said repeatedly that where their doctrine is disseminated the workers *become* more moral, more honest, less violent, they no longer beat their wives, or else they are *excluded*; these latter, on the other hand, learn to get drunk in the tavern. All this is true, except that for the most part they do not *become*, they are *selected* as such, and this is a very different matter. We do not deny that a man can change his habits, but by now everybody knows that this is an exception; the rule is that if the species can slowly, very slowly, be modified, the individual changes very little indeed. To have a good mathematician one must select him; by no means can one *make* a mathematician out of a moron by giving him a good education. Who could ever change a coward into a courageous man, a dissolute woman into a chaste matron, an improvident into a provident man?

Still, we do not mean to deny that the socialists add to the number of good and virtuous workers; they do so because they offer those of them who are good and virtuous the means to manifest themselves as such; let us make the broad assumption, that they do change some of them radically; in the end there still remains a residue of people with deficient character, deficient honesty, morals, and intelligence, who wiII constitute the new proletariat.

An acquaintance of mine, who edits a newspaper in France and who is strongly opposed to trade unions, told me that she had resigned herself to negotiating for her journal with the typographical union, "because the *sarraceni* (migratory despised workers) were absolutely undisciplined people whom one could not trust." This is the very reason why the *sarraceni* are excluded, voluntarily or not, from the syndicate and from work, why they are removed from the elite of their class and driven to the proletariat.

This type of selection will now assume major proportions, because its causes - increase of capital and industrial conversion - are becoming more and more powerful.

The persecutions of Bismarck in Germany, and those of the bourgeois government in Italy, have also proved an advantage in the selection of the new elite. Thanks to these persecutions, many people of doubtful royalty and unsteady character were eliminated and professional politicians kept away. These latter, on the other hand, are already turning up in large numbers among the socialists in France, where socialism has a share in the government. Sooner or later this evil, which always accompanies victory, will catch up with the new elite in other countries as well. It would be better for the new elite if it happened later, when the new elite is firmly established, rather than sooner, while it is in the process of formation and still weak.

The emergence of the new elite manifests itself also in the facts we recalled in connection with the religious crisis. One part of the socialists in France participate in the government; the other part which remained outside dry-mouthed, those who begin to form the new proletariat, shout, clamor, and approve motions against
Millerand and his friends, who laugh at this censure. If Naumann's most daring proposal were to become a reality, a new elite would suddenly emerge; it would press around its Constantine and apply the sabre and shotgun treatment to the new proletarians trying to take the old humanitarian tirades seriously.[46]

During their congresses, the socialist expel anarchists and other dissidents or heretics with force, in London even with the help of the policemen of the bourgeoisie, and they do well and cannot do otherwise, because without the use of force no order can last. Only these unfortunate bourgeois humanitarians can dream of a government, that is nothing but milk and honey, and demand that the carabinieri and soldiers should let themselves be stoned and wait till one of them drops dead before using arms. One can be sure that the police of the future elite will not be so patient, for the concepts of who shall be in command will be the concepts of vigorous youths and not of childish old men.

Let us now turn to countries more advanced in democracy and in socialism, France, for example, and we will soon realize that the outcome of the battle between the new and the old elite cannot be doubtful. The new elite is full of vigor and strength - the old one is worked out; the new elite, bold and courageous, proclaims "the class struggle," - the old one childishly praises "solidarity." It bows its head under the blows and says thank you, instead of paying back in kind.

Look at the press. The emerging elite have newspapers to defend its *honest and general* interests; the people who have scarcely enough to eat, stint themselves in order to support them. The bourgeois did not want, nor did they know how, to make the financial sacrifice necessary to have a paper of this kind. For example, few bourgeois papers can stand a comparison with *Avanti!* Certainly the bourgeoisie finances many newspapers, even too many, but these are backed by interests that are neither *honest* nor *general*. They are being paid for in order to make profits on the Panama Canal, on railroad contracts, on steel contracts, on premiums to the merchant marine, on protective duties; they are supported by fraudulent contractors who rob the public treasury; or by some ambitious gentleman who is, or wants to become, a senator, a deputy, or perhaps merely a city councilor; in short, they serve particular and less than honest interests.

Look at the strikes. The workers keep faith with their comrades; they suffer dismal misery and starvation in order not to return to work unless all their comrades are readmitted, and only when all resistance becomes impossible do they admit defeat. Employers, on the other hand, usually do not keep faith with those they have hired to replace the striking workers; they sacrifice them without scruple, without any shame. Among the innumerable examples it suffices to mention the case of the plastering company in London last year, which having reached an agreement with its striking employees, left the Italian laborers whom it had requisitioned to shift for themselves.

Look at the deputies in certain countries. Look at the socialist deputies in Italy, whose lives are dignified and utterly honest, and compare them with those politicking deputies who keep importuning the ministries, and seeking favors; if they could profit by it, they would sell Christ every day for thirty silver coins.

Look at the vigorous discipline of the new elite. If it finds a culprit among its men he is expelled immediately. The bourgeoisie, on the other hand, believes to act wisely if it closes its eyes on the most despicable offenses of its class. In Italy, the men who robbed the banks, those who protected the assassins of Notarbartala, suffered no penalty; on the contrary, they stand in high places and everybody pays his respect to them.

Rousiers tells this story about the plasterers' union: "The severity of the rules is directed against those who are in arrears with their payments. I personally saw an example one day when I accompanied the secretary of the union, Mr. D., on one of his rounds to the workshops. We had just come to one of those rows of houses hurriedly constructed by the jerry-builders, when we encountered a workman who seemed embarrassed by the arrival of my companion. It was a plasterer engaged in covering a partition with stucco. 'Well,' said Mr. D., 'are you ready to do what you promised me last Saturday?' 'No,' answered the poor devil, lowering his head sadly. 'I have warned you,' went on Mr. D., 'so, if something disagreeable happens to you today you will understand that you alone are responsible and that it is your own fault?' 'Yes: And without regard for his misfortune, Mr. D. said to me: ‘… Here you have one of those poor fellows who are not able to take care of themselves … ‘ Fortunately, the boss arrived … He took five shillings out of his pocket and gave them to the plasterer as an advance on his wages, who, in turn, having handed them to Mr. D. on account of his arrears, could continue his work. 'Without it, I would not have hesitated to suspend his work,' Mr. D. told me.”[47]

If that secretary, that officer paid by the trade-union to see that its laws be obeyed, had been the judge of Chateau-Thierry, paid by a bourgeois government to enforce the law, he would not have acted with such sternness but would have used instead some rhetorical phrase about the misery of that poor devil. If the members of the union resembled our bourgeoisie, instead of backing up their secretary, part of them would engage in excellent ethical debates, invoke "solidarity" with those who do not pay what they owe, and render the rulings ineffective by foolish and inconclusive speeches; part would do even worse: they would ask the secretary to concern himself, not with the honest and general interests of the union, but with the less honest and particular interests of one or the other union member. In that case the secretary, instead of making the above remarks, would have said to the member in arrears on his dues: "At the next election you will vote for Damiani who is Crispi (this is how an Italian general expresses himself); if so, do as you please, otherwise pay."

If somebody told you: "Here are two armies, A and B, confronting each other. In A there is no discipline whatever, little courage, no vigor, no faith in their own flag. These people do not even dare say clearly that they are fighting against B, but wish to pretend that they are at peace in the midst of war. They raise subscriptions to provide arms for B and are unwilling to spend a penny for their own. They prate and lose themselves in vain talk, they bring grist to their mills and seek to get something out. The best soldiers desert their own camp and go over to that of B. On the other hand, the men of B know what they want and they want it strongly, they maintain discipline, they have faith in their flag, they hold it high, they say very clearly that they want to defeat army A, that they want to disperse and destroy it. They are tied together in a close group and each one of them is ready to make any sacrifice for his comrades and for the flag. They never dream of aiding the enemy, they procure arms for themselves and not for others. Their number grows constantly." Then you would be asked: "On whose side do you think will be the victory?" Would you be in doubt what to reply?

Our bourgeoisie spends energy and money only to aid the enemy. Societies to help the vicious, the incapable, and the degenerate, spring up in extraordinary numbers; and among all these societies the bourgeoisie did not have the spirit to establish one, I say a single one, to defend their own rights. But then, do they have rights? It seems that they do not, for they are ashamed to speak of them. It is the owners who negate their right of ownership and donate money to the People's Universities, which teach that everything should be taken from the owners. Viewed from a certain point, it can be said that in effect they have no rights, because they do not know how to defend them.

For the time being, the new elite is flexible and open to all, but after the victory the same that happened to others will happen to it also: after victory, the elite becomes more rigid and more exclusive. It should be noted that Buddism, which proclaimed the equality of all men, has generated the theocracy of Tibet; and the religion of Christ, which seemed especially made for the poor and humble, has generated the Roman theocracy. This was in its turn challenged by a new elite at the time of the Reformation, but since it was not yet entirely decadent, it suffered only partial defeat. The decline of the old elite and its increasing arrogance at the time of the Reformation can be clearly seen in the emergence of the robber barons: Sickingen and Rutten are two types of such a revolutionary knighthood. As usual, the new elite leaned on the poor and humble; as usual, these believed in the promises made to them; as usual they were deceived, and the yoke weighed even heavier on their shoulders than before.[48] Similarly, the Revolution of 1789 produced the Jacobin oligarchy and ended with the imperial despotism.[49] This is what has always happened, and there is no reason to believe that the usual course of events should change now. Many centuries have passed since the day when the Carmi Sibillini promised to man that "there would be no more rich and poor, no more tyrants and slaves, nor would anyone be greater or smaller; no more kings or leaders; all things would be held in common.”[50] The poor wretches still wait for these promises to come true. There is every likelihood that the new big promises will have the same outcome, and this can be expected within an equally short time. After the victory the new aristocracy will perhaps allow some concessions of form and language to the new proletarians; that is, to the weak, the improvident, or the incapable, but actually these latter will probably have to bear an even heavier yoke than the one they are bearing now. The new masters will not, at least for a little while, have the senile weaknesses of our bourgeoisie.

Le Bon says: "The worker of today finds himself in a phase such as he will not see again: he can dictate his own laws and bleed with impunity the hen that lays the golden eggs.[51] This is not true in general - it suffices to mention e.g., Russia and Italy - but it is true for a nation more advanced on the road to state socialism. It is strange to observe how in certain places where there is a progressive tax, this tax is repeatedly pushed upward to the very limit where it provides the greatest advantage to the dominant class. Experience taught the Roman masters that it was profitable for them to let the slave keep a certain nest egg for himself, as this would spur him on to work and produce more for the master. Similarly, experience has taught certain democratic governments that to despoil the contractor and the capitalist entirely was precisely to kill the hen that laid the golden eggs. Therefore they let them keep certain earnings and are satisfied to take from them as much as is possible without discouraging them from using their intellectual gifts and their wealth in the interests of economic production. Thus they exploit them in the best possible manner, just as the master exploited the slave. It is not certain whether the new elite will have as much patience in allowing itself to be robbed as has the present one, hence the remarks of Le Bon strike home, provided they are restricted to these cases.

This author also makes an observation on standing armies, which, too, is true only to a small extent. He believes that the standing armies, in which all the citizens are incorporated, will end by becoming a tool in the socialist war. "Herein lies the danger which the governments do not yet see, and on which it would therefore be useless to insist." And further: "The march of events has sapped the foundations of the edifice of past ages. The army, the last pillar in this edifice and the only one which could stilI support it, is crumbling away more and more every day.”[52] This may be true for France, but not for Germany. Not a single fact would point to a foreseeable crumbling away of the German army. On the contrary, for all we know, this army, with its officers drawn exclusively from the higher classes, appears to be intangible and it seems most probable that the only road on which socialism can achieve a victory in Germany is that indicated by Naumann.

Nevertheless, as regards form, we must not forget that our insufficient scientific knowledge allows us to foresee little or nothing, and we can scarcely have any idea as to the substance of the phenomenon.


Notes for Chap. 4. The Rise of the New Elite, pp. 72-89 [FN: 42-52]

[42] The reader should bear in mind that what is discussed here is interdependence and not simply the relation of cause and effect.

[43] Rousiers, Paul de, *Le trade-unionisme en Angleterre* (Paris: A. Colin et Cit. 1913). p. 29.

[44] *Ibid.*, pp. 29. 34, 38.

[45] *Ibid.*, pp. 40. 41.

[46] There are secondary signs which, however, should not be entirely overlooked. For example, now in France there is the custom of excusing violence and misdeeds that follow in the wake of strikes by accusing the "anarchists." In other words, the new elite uses the new proletarians as scapegoats. *Figaro*, a bourgeois newspaper turned somewhat socialist since Millerand became Prime Minister, printed on June 5, 1900 the following: "The disorders in Châlon-sur-Saône have revealed a fact which is the subject of a very special investigation. It was not the striking workers who had a part in the disorders [but who is the villain who could have imagined that about those perfect and irreproachable human beings?] which almost degenerated into bloody riots. It is only fair to disassociate them from the responsibility: it was, on the contrary, the anarchists [in other times they were called villains, today they are called anarchists; it will be well to keep that in mind]. … These evildoers arrived in the province, some three hundred strong, held secret meetings, fomented the strike [it would have been better not to touch that key, by trying to prove too much the journalist has disclosed his batteries], and it was their sudden intervention which has thrown this industrious province of Saône-et-Loire into turmoil, etc."

[47] Rousiers, Paul de, *op. cit.*, pp. 91, 92.

[48] A popular song of the time, quoted by Janssen, says: "Life was for a long time easy and comfortable, but suddenly they refused to pay the tithe … they wanted to divide the property … but punishment followed fast … this is the end of the song, it is a barbaric tyranny, Oh Lord our God! Give us peace!"

Another song says: "They told us: you will become rich, you will be happy and honored; they promised us all kinds of goods. This is how they deceived us. Did we become rich? May God have pity on us. The little we had is lost. Now we are poor.”

[49] It was little or no use to "the poor and humble" in Rome that the knights. by attaining the judiciary power, had elevated themselves above the senators. Diodorus Siculus tells the story of how Q. Mucius Scaevola, with his questor P. Rutilius Rufus, repressed the greed of the publicans in Asia and curbed the evil rule which they imposed upon the people with the aid of the knights. The knights took revenge by condemning the honest and upright Rutilius. Asconius, *In divinat., 17: "Scaevolam significat. Hujus quaestor, Rutilius Rufus, damnatus est. quod cum praetore consenserit suo, ne publicani aliquid agerent in provincia sua; quo cognito, equites Romani (nam tum ante Sullana tempore iudicabant) damnarunt eum*.”

[50] Pedianus, Quintus II. 322-324

[51] Le Bon, *op. cit.*, p. 356.

[52] *Ibid.*, pp. 389, 391.