Mosca's "Ruling Class"
The Ruling Class by Gaetano Mosca is an attempt to understand ruling classes: how they function, how they stay in power; how they fall from power; how they keep themselves from decay and decline; and what they should do to perfect themselves in the twentieth century.
Ruling Class — All societies have "a class that rules and a class that is ruled." Moreover, the ruling class is a minority, ruling over a majority: it must be so.
Typically the ruling class is headed by a single individual, the chief of the leaders of the ruling class, and he is supported by "a numerous class," the rest of the ruling class that enforces respect for him and his orders.
A ruling class usually advertises its excellence, and continues in power by inheritance. But when the political and/or economic and social forces change then the ruling class needs to change too.
Ruling classes do not rule by power alone, but invent a moral or legal basis for their power. Mosca calls this a political formula. The ruler might be a king that rules as God's Anointed, or he might be a US president that rules by the will of the people. There is always a "political formula."
Feudal and Bureaucratic Systems — Mosca differentiates between "feudal" societies and "bureaucratic" societies.
In a feudal society a single set of individuals direct traffic — economic, judicial, administrative, military.
In a bureaucratic society the central power runs an extensive taxation system and uses the monies to fund the military and, later, public services.
Mosca defines and develops the notion of a "social type:" a community of like-minded people with the same language, religion, interests, that propagates itself down the generations unless interfered with.
Ruling Class and Social Type — Every "social type has a tendency to concentrate into a single political organism." Equally, "[T]he political organism, in expanding, almost always aims at spreading its own social type, and often succeeds in doing so."
Sometimes a ruling class disperses the other social types; sometimes it assimilates them. Sometimes social types will live side-by-side.
But a ruling class will always come from a single, dominant social type.
To maintain its supremacy a ruling class must maintain energy, practical wisdom, political training in every generation. Otherwise it declines and submits to another ruling class.
Juridicial Defense — Vital to every society are the social mechanisms (e.g., "respect for law, government by law") that regulate the disciplining of the "moral sense," institutions like religion and government that institutionalize respect and obedience for law and government. Mosca calls this "juridical defense."
The question is how a society organizes itself to provide its juridical defense. He discusses mixed government, separation between church and state, the importance of a ruling class that is economically secure, the power of the bureaucracy, the question of the standing army, the danger of the state commanding a large share of national wealth, the problem of big business and finance versus small business.
A key factor is bringing the unconscious "moral sense" to consciousness.
Churches, Parties and Sects — Humans are like deer: they form into factions and then they fight. They fight over religion and they fight over politics.
Each great reformer in politics or religion seems to go through three stages. First, he is conceiving his doctrine in his mind, and is basically honest. Second, he begins to preach, and becomes a poseur. Third, putting his teachings into practice, compromising his principles even more.
The success of a faith or party depends on three factors. First, "it must be adapted to the historical moment;" second, "it must satisfy the greatest number of human passions, sentiments and inclinations... [currently] rooted in the public;" third, "it must have… individuals who consecrate their lives" to the faith.
Revolution — Political change is normally managed by the ruling class. But sometimes other social elements succeed in defeating the previously ruling element in "revolution."
The French revolution "was a real collapse of the classes and political forces that had ruled France down to that time."
Revolutionary societies like the Masons do a lot to prepare the ground for revolution.
However in Mosca's day, because of standing armies and their enormous expense, "no government can be overthrown by force unless the men who are in charge of it are themselves irresolute or lose their heads" or shrink from "repression involving bloodshed."
Standing Armies — In small bands all the men are warriors, while peaceful activities are women and slaves. In ruling classes there tends to be a predominance of warriors.
But once government becomes more extensive, and war ceases to be a loot and plunder operation, then the warrior class supports itself by extracting its income from serfs and farmers.
The more citified, the less that the ruling class goes into the field to fight.
Standing armies have usually been officered by "the politically dominant ranks of society" ordinary privates and petty officers from lower classes. This seems to be the pattern all over the world.
There seems to have been a reaction against large standing armies after World War I, led by radical elements.
Mosca wonders if war is not necessary from time to time if our western societies are "not to decline and retrogress to lower types of juridical defense."
Parliamentarism — Will the current government by elected parliaments last very long? Representative government is based partly on the "liberal current" based on Montesquieu, that "sought to set up a barrier against bureaucratic absolutism by means of a separation of powers," and partly on the "democratic current" whose parent was Rousseau, that proclaimed that "the legal basis of any sort of political power must be popular sovereignty." There are endless objections to parliaments, from their "prattlings" to their support of wealthy classes, and that members interfere in the proper functioning of government.
Collectivism — For Mosca, Rousseau, not Marx, is the father of socialism for Rousseau declared that man is good by nature and that society makes him bad. It was Marx that helped amp up the emotional temperature, so that now there is a perception of social evil in current political arrangements "and confidence in the possibility of promptly alleviating it" with socialism.
The question is whether justice, truth, love and reciprocal toleration among men will in fact be better under socialism. Hardly, because the socialist boss will be far more powerful that a monarch. The modern economy needs the cooperation and contribution of all walks of life.
But how to make collectivism and social democracy go away? Force will not do it, writes Mosca. The only thing is science, to develop a political science, to oppose the metaphysical system of collectivism with a scientific system.
Theory of the Ruling Class — Most everyone agrees that societies are ruled by a special class. But what makes or breaks it? Mosca believes that it is the "intermediate strata" in the ruling class that make or break it.
Moreover the success of heads of state often depends on their success in "timely reforms of the ruling class."
Types of Political Organization — Mosca presents a history of the ruling class, primarily Greek, from the time of Homer to the age of classical Greece. He sees the formation of a ruling class with the settling from nomad life into the first group of huts, with specialization and "a certain order of social ranking."
But then a tribe absorbed the neighboring tribes and made a nation. Starting in the Near East rulers created a civilization, formed an army, built buildings and maybe developed irrigation systems, formalizing development in agriculture, arts, rudimentary capital and writing. E.g., Sargon, in Mesopotamia. Then they developed law: the Code of Hammurabi and the Egyptian Book of the Dead.
Classical thinkers in Greece and Rome wrote about the political institutions they experienced that inspired the Europeans and enabled them to colonize the world. Their thinkers imagined three forms of government: monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy.
Governed by an assembly of citizens, Greek government was designed to be small — Athens probably had no more than 45,000 citizens. They developed the idea of the right of a people to govern itself. In the eighteenth century these concepts were applied to European societies, and then across the world.
Evolution of Political Organization — Mosca covers Rome thru European civilization. Initially Rome had its kings, then elected consuls. Rome was an aristocratic republic, but expanded senate and assembly membership by going downscale.
At some point the city-state republic could not work as the center an empire mostly because citizens scattered over the empire and the army could not be an annually recruited citizen militia. Thus, at the end of the civil wars, the republic was transformed into the Empire.
For the decline of Rome, Mosca has mainly questions: why the decline in the supply of superior men? Why the artistic and literary decadence?
The barbarian invaders were unable to maintain the Roman system and its bureaucracy. By 1000 the western empire had regressed to feudalism.
But civilization would rise again, this time reabsorbing local powers into the central organ of the national monarchy. Meanwhile the medieval town of middling people neither nobles nor serfs began to rise, most powerful in northern Italy, Germany, and Flanders.
The absolute bureaucratic state is fully established with Louis XIV in 1661, with central authority absorbing local authorities. Inside it, new forces and intellectual and moral conditions — the bourgeoisie — rapidly grew up, so that in less than a century and a half its transformation into the modern representative state became inevitable.
With Rousseau comes legitimate authority issuing from a numerical majority of citizens. With Montesquieu comes the separation of powers between legislative, executive, and judiciary. Their influence helped create constitutional systems that blended the separated powers of the English model with "a thread or two of principles of pure democracy."
All in all, the modern state is "the most complex and delicate type of political organization" in world history. It might be a bit lacking in "artistic and literary forms," but features wise economic policy and exploitation of nature. The only problem is organized minorities that can prevail over the majority.
Principles and Tendencies in Ruling Classes — For Mosca there are the two political principles: autocracy vs. liberalism, that determines the type of political system.
The autocratic principle is the basis of the first great empires: Asia, Egypt, Persia, Arab caliphates and in the early post-feudal European nations were autocratic. Its ubiquity means that it "must somehow correspond to the political nature of man."
The liberal principle has a shorter record and less widespread. In states organized on the liberal principle, the law is based upon the consent of the majority of citizens and the officials who apply the law are named by their subordinates to temporary posts and that they are personally responsible for the lawfulness of their acts.
Mosca proposes that violent upheavals — such as the fall of the Roman Empire and the Russian revolution — with their associated "unutterable suffering arise primarily from the virtually absolute predominance of one of the two principles, or one of the two tendencies," whereas stability and absence of catastrophe require a balance of principles and tendencies.
There are two political tendencies of aristocracy vs. democracy, how the system changes over time.
He defines "aristocracy" as tending to "stabilize social control and political power" to the descendants of the current ruling class, and "democracy" as tending "to replace the ruling class with elements derived from the lower classes.
Ruling Class and Individual — Individuals can influence a ruling class and its future. So, for Mosca, the real achievement of heads of state is "their success in transforming ruling classes by improving the methods by which they were recruited and by perfecting their organization."
Really, all we can hope for is for politicians not to fall below the average for the ruling class, and "to understand and appreciate the ideas of thinkers who study political problems intensively."
Perhaps the most important question for political science is how to eliminate or reduce "those great catastrophes" that thrust people "back into barbarism." Nations die when their ruling classes are incapable of reorganizing in such a way as to meet the needs of the changing times.
The Future of Representative Government — The previous century lived and died by the notions of "liberty, equality, and fraternity." The concept of liberty came from Montesquieu. Bu the concept of equality is harder to put into practice, "for equality is contrary to the nature of things." Then there is the failure of fraternity, for "that disappointment has intensified rivalries between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the helpless, the happy and the unhappy."
Is there hope for a better ruling class? Only if the ruling class to raise its game, and tries "to see a little beyond its immediate interest."