Democracy and Elites

Comparative Studies of Social and Political Elites

ISBN: 978-0-76231-379-2, eISBN: 978-1-84950-466-9

ISSN: 0195-6310

Publication date: 11 December 2006


Elites are the principal decision-makers in the largest or otherwise most pivotally situated organizations and movements in a modern society. By commanding major business firms, large trade unions, state bureaucracies, the mass media, the military, important pressure groups, and mass movements, as well as political parties, elites are the persons and groups who have the organized capacity to affect political outcomes regularly and substantially. Researchers have estimated that elites in this sense number about 10,000 people in the United States (Dye, 2002, p. 139); roughly 5000 in middle-sized democracies like France, Australia, and Germany (Dogan, 2003; Higley, Deacon, & Smart, 1979; Hoffmann-Lange, 1993); and perhaps 2000 in smaller democracies like Denmark and Norway (Christiansen, Möller, & Togeby, 2001; Gulbrandsen et al., 2002). This is a narrow definition and identification of elites. It does not equate high occupational, educational, or cultural status with “elite,” even though this “high status” definition is often employed. I understand elites in a much more restricted sense – as the few thousands of people who occupy a modern society's uppermost power positions.


Higley, J. (2006), "Democracy and Elites", Engelstad, F. and Gulbrandsen, T. (Ed.) Comparative Studies of Social and Political Elites (Comparative Social Research, Vol. 23), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 249-263.

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