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Thread: Robert Michels and the Iron Law of Oligarchy

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    Post Robert Michels and the Iron Law of Oligarchy

    The German sociologist Robert Michels (1876-1936) wrote on the political behavior of intellectual elites and on the problem of power and its abuse. He started out as a Syndicalist/Socialist, but toward the end of his life he joined the Italian Fascists.

    Michels is best known for his study of the inner workings of the German Social Democratic party. His first thesis is that political parties always will end up with being led by an elite. His second thesis is that this elite will always develop interests that are contrary to those of their members.

    The main reason for this is the bureaucratic structure of large parties, that demands a division of labor. Thus giving birth to a professional party bureaucracy, that controls the means of communication in the party. At the same time, the members are characterized by low competence and low activity (given little time and few possibilities for education). Michels also believes in psychological factors in the process. The masses have a psychological need to worship their leaders, and the leaders allow themsleves to be intoxicated by this worship.

    The reasons that the party elite develops contrary interests to those of the members are mainly three. To begin with, they become a part of the broader elite. Secondly, they will become conservative, and wish to keep the organization (that gives them wages and power) at any cost. Thirdly, they will become anxious to keep their position, and hence be aggressive against opposition.

    Michels study, Political parties, online:
    http://socserv2.socsci.mcmaster.ca/~...s/polipart.pdf

    Personally I find Michels interesting for two reasons. The first is that he so obviously gives ammunition for critique against the current establishment. The second is that he raises hard questions that have to be dealt with by anyone who wishes to replace that establishment.

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    Sv: Robert Michels and the Iron Law of Oligarchy

    A nice summation of Michels theory of the iron-law of oligarchy can be found here:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_law_of_oligarchy

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