Comparative Studies of Social and Political Elites: Volume 23


Table of contents

(13 chapters)
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The fruitful development of the theory of elites within the framework of democratic societies, naturally presupposes ample empirical work, allowing broad descriptions of elite structure. Unfortunately, representative data on modern social elites are still relatively scarce. The most ambitious attempt to cover elite formation in Europe is restricted to the political sphere, a large longitudinal data set on parliamentary elites, covering members of parliament in 12 European countries over a period of 150 years (Best & Cotta, 2000). On a more ad hoc basis data sets covering broader sections of European national elites have been collected in Germany, the Nordic countries, and Eastern Europe. These data sets are utilized in several of the articles in the present volume.

In general, factors influencing the level of female representation have been grouped into three broad areas – cultural/historical, socio-economic, and institutional (Matland, 1998). Of those subsumed under the institutional category, one factor has been cited repeatedly as being of particular significance in the success of women as a political representative, i.e., the role played by political parties as gatekeepers to parliamentary access (Rule, 2000; Norris, 1997; Lovenduski, 1993; Duverger, 1955; Christmas & Kjaer, forthcoming).

Theories concerning the recruitment of the political elite traditionally view the composition of parliament as a result of a multi-phased process, as a kind of an elimination race (Norris, 1997; cf. also Best & Cotta, 2000). In each phase, the candidates who best fulfil the demands of the gatekeepers are selected. Who is selected is the outcome of the interplay of the supply and demand factors, meaning that it depends on the characteristics of the candidates and the priorities of the gatekeepers. Comparative studies reveal that this process varies among countries, meaning that the composition of parliaments also varies. New institutionalism (Ostrom, 1986; Norris, 1997) accounts for this variation in terms of the differences in the national recruitment systems, which create differences in supply and demand.

Formal and informal interactions in the political elite and between the political elite and other actors have attracted a great deal of research (Petersson, 1996; Munk Christiansen, Möller, & Togeby, 2001; Moore, Sobieraj, Whitt, Mayorova, & Beaulieu, 2002). However, such research has mainly been concerned with the contacts of leading politicians once they have already become part of the elite, not the role that contacts might have played in their recruitment.

The descriptions of economic policy reforms and performance in the Baltic States and Russia are based on adapted statistical material collected by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Several scholars have maintained that corporatist arrangements may contribute to a national consensus between groups with opposing interests (Katzenstein, 1985; Siaroff, 1999). Some have even described (neo) corporatism as a strategy for consensus building (Woldendorp, 1995). These general viewpoints seem to imply that participation in the various channels and networks in a corporatist system may influence participants to moderate their ideological attitudes, to become more centrist. Participation has a “civilising” effect. In a study of the Swedish industrial relations system Öberg and Svensson (2002) concluded, however, that there is not much trust across the class borders, a finding which questions the validity of these assumptions. It seems therefore appropriate to test these assumptions empirically in a variety of national settings.

What has happened, after 50 years of persistent (deepening, expanding) European integration, to the domestic politics of the nation states involved in this increasingly dense institutional net (whatever its ambiguous nature, inter-governmental or supra-national or both at the same time) is a question of growing importance. This environment, within which the politics of European nation states takes place, has undoubtedly gained a growing importance in itself and a stronger relevance for crucial aspects of domestic political life. More precisely, it must be asked what has been altered in the traditional “setting” within which domestic politics used to develop, how domestic political actors bring into their political calculations the new conditions and how they are affected by them.

All sorts of distinctions can be made concerning prestige goods: for instance, between the most durable like precious stones passed down from generation to generation and the ephemeral ones, or between those which seem to exert a universal fascination, like gold and others valued only in some places. The question of borrowings and possible syncretism is also most appealing for the comparatist and countless illustrations could be given here. In many cases, prestigious goods must be studied by taking both their symbolic and practical value into consideration. What I mean is that a ‘Veblenesque’ approach only paying attention to them as status symbols tends to underestimate their functional dimension. For example, limousines or jets must certainly be analyzed in terms of attributes of power and status enhancement. However, one cannot deny that they also have concrete functions of ‘comfortableness’ and rapidity for ubiquitous elites bound to do extensive traveling. Normally, in modern democracies, top political actors inherit or acquire all kinds of prestigious public assets, but these must be returned at the end of their mandate. Even presents officially given to them are supposed to be surrendered to a public museum. The famous affair of Emperor Bokassa's diamonds offered to Valéry Giscard d’Estaing no doubt discredited the French President and contributed to his defeat in the 1981 elections.

We take as our point of departure Weber's well-known taxonomy of forms of authority (Weber, 1947; 1968). Traditional authority, which first of all characterizes pre-modern societies, is based on inherited privileges and positions. Legal authority, which is often termed rational and bureaucratic, is based on position and competence. In addition, it is impersonal. By contrast, charismatic authority is personal, not positional. It has one main feature, authority legitimated by the appeal of leaders who claim allegiance because of the force of their extraordinary personalities. Weber saw this kind of authority as liberation from the alienation, which the bureaucratic “iron cage” represented. The essence of charisma is a sort of life and vitality, which is the opposite of the formality of bureaucracy and the roles and conventions of traditional society (Weber, 1968, p. 24). Consequently, charisma implies a sort of renewal. According to one of Weber's most heavily quoted passages, charisma is based on “the devotion to the exceptional sanctity, heroism or exemplary character of an individual person, and of the normative patterns or order revealed or ordained by him” (Weber, 1968, p. 46). The charismatic leader has, in other words, exceptional qualities and is accordingly “set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities” (Weber, 1968, p. 48).

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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.

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As far as nation building is concerned, there are substantial differences between the Western and Eastern patterns. In the West nationalism generally developed only after the strong states had been formed, as a consequence of conscious efforts by the central power. In the Eastern European latecomer states in contrast, the process was reversed: ethnic similarities led to national consciousness prior to the formation or re-establishment of a state. Although Finland followed the latter pattern, it approximated the Eastern pattern mainly in terms of the political dependence, but that of Western Europe, especially Scandinavia, as far as the class structure is concerned. This mixture explains the steady advance of national consolidation and nationalism in Finland (Alapuro, 1988, pp. 88–90).

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Comparative Social Research
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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