Politics and Society: Power Elites: Sociological Theory of Power and Constant Sum Theory

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Who Are Elites?

  • Privileged or most powerful among the powerful
  • On top of every sector
  • Have influence

Two types of people in society:

1. Elites

2. Commoners

Power circulates between elites and never comes in the hands of common man

Who Are Elites?

Sociological Theory of Power

  • A small minority
  • Economic elite and policy-planning networks
  • Holds the most power
  • By classical elite theorists Vilfredo Pareto, Garteno Mosca, Machiavelli and C. W. Mills

Constant Sum Theory

  • Marx – haves and have nots
  • One gets power at the cost of other
  • Power is constant
  • Both groups try to achieve power
  • Only one gets it

Variable Sum Theory


  • Power can be changed in degree
  • Source of power – Values
  • Values vary with time and society
  • Power is variable
  • Without compromising others need of power, one can be powerful

Power Elite Theory

Two types of elites: Lions and Foxes

Power Elite Theory


  • Take direct action and achieve power the rule by force
  • Example military dictatorship


  • Wheeling and dealing
  • Diplomatic manipulation
  • Cunning and guile
  • E. g. European democracy
  • Because of their personal qualities they become governing elites either lion like or fox-like characteristics

Pareto՚s Views

  • Book, “The Circulation of Elites”
  • The law of circulation of elites
  • Machiavelli՚s view of Lions and Foxes maintained

Two types of elites:

1. Rentiers- no risk

2. Speculators- risk takers or investors

  • “History is the graveyard of aristocracies.”
  • Economic power circulates between the two
  • When one elite replaces another, the “Circulation of elites” takes place
  • Eventually Decay in quality and lose their virtue
  • Become ineffective and lose the power
  • For Pareto, “history of men is the history of the continues replacement of certain elites as one ascends another declines, such is the real phenomenon, though to us it may often appear under another form” (Pareto 1968, p. 36) .

G. Mosca՚s Views

  • The ruling class
  • A class that rules and a class that is ruled

Two types of elites:

Ruling or Governing Elites

Minority is always organized and overcomes the majority.

Non-Ruling or Non-Governing Elites

Two political facts :

  • Supreme power in hand of one leader
  • To get support from mass he should be caring about them

C. W. Mills

C. W. Mills
  • Studied American power structure and claimed that America՚s role were power elites
  • Book – “The Power Elite”

Three types of elites:

1. Political elites

2. Economic elites

3. Military elite

  • All are in nexus and control all the commands and posts
  • Help each other to consolidate their position in the power structure
  • He argued that democracy is for the elites and by the elites in the American democracy there is no space for common man
  • State policies reflect interests of power elites


Book: “In Defense of Elitism” By Joel Stein


Q. 1. According to Pareto________ provided an example of fox type of elite

(A) Military dictatorship

(B) Political democracy

(C) European democracies

(D) Industrial elites

Ans. c

Q. 2. Find out the incorrect match

(a) Pareto: Lions and foxes elites

(b) Marx: Power elite

(c) Weber: Legal, traditional and charismatic authority

(d) Evans Pritchard: study of Nuers of Sudan

Ans. b

Q. 3. According to C. W. Mills, the power elite in America comprises those who hold “command posts” in

1. The major business corporations

2. The military

3. The Federal Government

4. The State bureaucracy

Select the correct alternative:

a) 1,2, 3,4

b) 1,2 and 3

c) 1,3 and 4

d) 2,3 and 4

Ans. B