Elites and People: Challenges to Democracy: Volume 34

Cover of Elites and People: Challenges to Democracy

Table of contents

(12 chapters)


Pages i-xii
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Part I: Political Elites and Populations


The chapter compares the survival of old regime elites in Tunisia and Egypt after the 2011 uprisings and analyses its enabling factors. Although democracy progressed in Tunisia and collapsed in Egypt, the countries show similarities in the old elite’s ability to survive the Arab Spring. In both cases, the popular uprisings resulted in the type of elite circulation that John Higley and György Lengyel refer to as ‘quasi-replacement circulation’, which is sudden and coerced, but narrow and shallow. To account for this converging outcome, the chapter foregrounds the instability, economic decline and information uncertainty in the countries post-uprising and the navigating resources, which the old elites possessed. The roots of the quasi-replacement circulation are traced to the old elites’ privileged access to money, network, the media and, for Egypt, external support. Only parts of the structures of authority in a political regime are formal. The findings show the importance of evaluating regime change in a broader view than the formal institutional set-up. In Tunisia and Egypt, the informal structures of the anciens régimes survived – so did the old regime elites.


The contribution starts out from the question whether the political legitimacy of the Third Wave democracies has suffered in the wake of the Great Recession. The expectation of a damaging effect of an economic or political crisis on legitimacy is based on Lipset’s assumption that established democracies with a high degree of political legitimacy are better capable of coping with such crises than young democracies. The database includes two surveys of members of parliament conducted in 2007 and 2013 in Sweden, Germany and five Third Wave democracies located in different world regions (Chile, South Korea, Poland, South Africa and Turkey). Waves 5 and 6 of the World Values Survey that were conducted at about the same time were used for comparing the legitimacy beliefs among MPs and citizens. The data show that the scores for all indicators of political legitimacy are higher among MPs than among citizens and that the differences between the two groups of respondents are considerably larger in the five young democracies. Confidence in political parties is fairly low, especially among citizens, while the evaluation of the quality of democracy in the respondents’ country is much higher. Both evaluations have been rather stable over time. In the two established democracies, support for democracy among citizens is nearly as high as among MPs. In the five young democracies, the MP-citizen differential is larger and support for democracy in the population shows a steady increase only in Chile, while it has remained low in Poland and Turkey and even decreased in Korea and South Africa. This indicates that democracy has not taken deep roots in four of the five new democracies included in the study. In Korea and South Africa, the decline in support for democracy started already before the onset of the economic crisis and therefore cannot be attributed to the recession. This is confirmed by the lack of a statistical relationship between political legitimacy on one side and economic evaluations on the other side. A multiple regression analysis shows strong country-specific effects, while individual-level variables have only minor effects.


The chapter examines the evolution of individual attitudes of the national political (parliamentarian) elite towards a supranational entity such as the European Union in the changing political context during times of economic crisis. General attitudes towards the European integration process and federal/intergovernmental preferences for governance are analysed with a hierarchical approach taking into account individual level data, party characteristics and the country context with a comparative perspective across three time points during the period of the economic crisis. Contrary to expectations, results show that supranational attitudes of the national political elites remained quite stable and the increasing presence of extremist parties in national parliaments did not have a significant effect, while individual drivers of attitudes, such as an instrumental evaluation of the benefits of EU membership and attachment to Europe remained key determinants.


Around 2006, dissensus became predominant in the Hungarian elite concerning internal affairs. Regarding evaluations of the European integration, however, there were no considerable differences between elite groups at that time. The Hungarian political elite supported the integration process and trusted in EU institutions. The present chapter addresses the issue to what extent the elite attitudes regarding European integration prevailed following the economic crisis of 2008. After a brief overview of the Hungarian context, the authors discuss political elites’ (national MPs’) trust in supranational institutions in 2007 and 2014 in the European countries. Our analyses find that the Hungarian political elite became one of the most sceptical elites towards the EU.

Next, the supranational trust of political elite and other (economic, administrative and media) elite groups within Hungary is compared. Results reveal that among Hungarian elite segments there is a hidden tension: political elites are critical towards the EU, while economic and media elites are not.

Finally, turning to the international stage again, the elite–population opinion gap is investigated. It is usually the case that elites are more pro-European than the public. Recently, however, in some respects the Hungarian political elite has shown less trust in EU institutions than the population.

Part II: Elite Recruitment and Mobility


Recently, the public and academic discussion on elite education and the selection of top performers in Germany has led to a renewed controversy about social exclusion and inequality. Consequently, the use of terms such as ‘elite’, ‘excellence’ and ‘intellectual giftedness’ have provoked a debate about the necessity, opportunities, and rejection of educational distinctions. This chapter takes a comparative perspective to examine a private boarding school with a rich tradition, and a relatively new state-run public boarding school, examining their status as exclusive educational institutions, including their selection processes, elite aspirations and educational philosophies. The analysis focusses on how the schools construe themselves as elite and how exclusive membership is created and negotiated within the boarding school context. Using a multilevel qualitative approach and empirical data, this chapter offers findings on mechanisms of elite formation in boarding schools between two poles: the reproduction of an existing elite status and the production of elites from scratch. The analyses show the establishment of a distinct composition of students – either selected by milieu affiliation or by cognitive abilities – resulting in specific processes of coherence and distinction within the school communities. Thus, this chapter makes a contribution to a differentiated observation of new educational hierarchies in Germany.


This chapter explores the class identities of upwardly mobile and middle-class members of racial minorities in France and the United States. Through in-depth interviewing with African Americans and descendants of North African immigrants in, respectively, the United States and France, and comparing these with their counterparts of the racially dominant group, the chapter shows that racial processes significantly shape the mobility experiences and the range of dilemmas, challenges and identity negotiations faced by our minority respondents. Drawing on the Critical Race Theory and on the minority culture of mobility theory (Neckerman, Carter, & Lee., 1999), it suggests that the ongoing salience of racial discrimination coupled with the maintenance of ties with socially disadvantaged members of their groups significantly shape the ways in which our respondents make sense of their class location. The chapter further points to under-researched nation-specific ideological repertoires in shaping our respondents’ mobility experiences and class identities.


This chapter focusses on whether women heads of states and governments use their powers of selection to empower women. Compared to their male counterparts, do they appoint greater quantities of women to cabinet positions and to more prestigious posts? Examining Germany and Brazil, two countries constituting diverse cultural and institutional settings, this chapter provides in-depth analysis of cabinet appointments and regional breadth. It confirms that women executives do indeed promote more women to their cabinets overall and to higher powered portfolios. This stands in contrast with prevailing findings from within the global literature but generally reinforces those derived from single country and regional explorations.

Part III: Elites and Populism


History teaches that agreement about the distribution of valued things is seldom deep or widespread in large populations. When distributive issues rise to clear public consciousness, the tendency is towards civil strife. Stable democratic institutions are rarely the result of all or even most social actors cooperating voluntarily, peacefully and with adequate information; nearly always, they are the products of shrewd decisions made by those who are seriously influential – elites. Elites must trust each other to manage politics in ways that prevent distributive issues from reaching acute degrees that impel power seizures. But can elite trust be sustained in advanced post-industrial conditions? The question arises because of steadily declining needs for many kinds of work, exacerbated by large migrations from non-Western countries and a resulting insecurity that populists exploit divisively for political gain. They act as pied pipers offering delusive enticements, making irresponsible promises and exhibiting disdain for rule of law. Disinclined to deal realistically with, or even acknowledge, long-term post-industrial problems of work, populists erode elite trust and weaken the basis of stable democratic institutions.


Critiques of elites define populism, which conceives of power relations as a unified, conspiring elite exploiting the good people. Yet, populism itself is inherently elitist, calling for a strong leader to take power and channel the will of the people. Elite theory, surprisingly overlooked in scholarship on populism, can clarify this apparent paradox and elucidate the dimensions of populism and its risk of authoritarianism in new ways. In contrast to populist ideological conceptions of power relations in society, elite theory points to the possibility that several elites with diverging voices and interests exist. Furthermore, elite theorists argue that such elite pluralism is a necessary component of a well-functioning democracy. Much scholarship on populism, often aiming to understand its causes and focussing on Western Europe and North America, points to the similarities of populist movements. The focus on similarities strengthens the understanding of populism as a uniform phenomenon and populist elite critiques as homogeneous. However, broader comparative studies show that different populist movements target a range of various elite groups. Indeed, the empirical reality of populist elite critiques targeting diverse elite groups is more in line with elite theory than populist ideological conceptions of power relations in society. A key to grasping the democratic challenges posed by the power relations between elites and masses in both populist critiques and populist solutions is an understanding of the institutional conditions for elite integration versus elite pluralism. This central discussion in both classical and modern elite theory is applied to analyse populism in this contribution.


Pages 223-228
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Cover of Elites and People: Challenges to Democracy
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Comparative Social Research
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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