The Ruling Class 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.
Every political entity has a ruling class, and a class that is ruled.
Ch. I: Policial Science -- In The Ruling Class Gaetano Mosca attempts to develop a "political science" of the ruling class: what are ruling classes and they and how do they function?
Ch. II: The Ruling Class -- He begins with the notion that 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 by a US president that rules by the will of the people. There is always a "political formula."
Ch. III: 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.
Ch. IV: 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.
Ch. V: Juridical 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.
Ch. VI: Suffrage and Social Forces -- The rise of universal suffrage has deeply changed the role of the ruling class. Despite the assumption that voting would put power in the hands of the people, he believes that the opposite is true and that democracy perfects the power of the ruling class. The representative system does not result in government by the majority, but it does allow certain social forces to "become organized and so exert an influence on government."
Ch. VII: 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 a well-organized directing nucleus... of individuals who consecrate their lives" to the faith.
Ch. VIII: Revolution -- Political change is normally managed by the ruling class. But sometimes other social elements succeed in defeating the previously ruling element in "revolution." In the old days such revolutions were the conflict of "cliques" but in Republican Rome it ended as a civil war between armies. In feudal Europe, revolution was a war between factions of barons.
In China, with an early bureaucratic regime, a dynasty would decline and then by replaced by a governor or intrepid adventurer.
Then there were subject peoples rising against oppressors and peasant rebellions.
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."
Ch. IX: 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.
At the end of the Middle Ages, the gradual centralization of monarchy "gradually replaced feudal militias with standing armies." The last general call for the feudal host in France took place at the beginning of the reign of Louis XIV and it was found that the feudal army was ineffective. The new standing armies mixed social elements. Officers became more and more a "sort of bureaucratized nobility."
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."
Will the existing "dogmatic religions" survive the drift towards revolution and rationalism? Many people believe that science is bound to destroy religion. But maybe religion responds not to the demands of reason, but other psychological needs. Maybe people need illusion. And what about the return of hard times?
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.
But what is to be done about the weaknesses of parliamentary government? Mosca has a package of ideas, from unsalaried officials to more independence for judges.
But all reform proposals come up against the democratic philosophy "which recognizes no political act, no political prerogative, as legitimate unless it emanates directly or indirectly from popular suffrage."
Ch. XI: 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 is Rousseau that declares that absolute justice must be the basis for all political institutions, that condemns all sorts of political and economic inequality, and hates the rich and the powerful. All of which are front and central to socialism today.
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, or whether the strong will still be strong. For Mosca, the socialist boss will be "far more powerful that the ministers and millionaires we know today." In other words a despot. And no human organization will ever realize "absolute justice."
The idea that there is a "parasite class" and a "class that does everything" just for "the bare necessities of life" is false. The modern economy needs the cooperation and contribution of all walks of life.
Mosca looks at causes of the socialist phenomenon, and finds universal suffrage, the revolutionary tradition, and the need for young people to worship a model of virtue and perfection.
Will social democracy eventually triumph? Mosca asserts that the implementation of collectivism is "impossible" and even social democracy would be damaging over time. And there are powers of resistance: the bureaucracy, the standing army, and all the bankers, merchants, manufacturers that would fight it.
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.
Ch. XII: Theory of the Ruling Class -- Most everyone agrees that societies are ruled by a special class, and people credit the ruling class for successes and blame it for failures. But few people have thought to develop a theory of the ruling class, the whys and wherefores of ruling class successes and failures.
We need to learn how ruling classes are formed and organized, and why certain ways succeed and others fail.
Most thinkers write about the head of state or the "masses" at the bottom. But what about the people in the middle of the pyramid? 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" and "the principal merit of the lower classes" depends on their ability to produce "new elements that have been able to rule them wisely."
Ch. XIII: 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.
If Europe's system is different from the old Near Eastern empires, the credit goes to Greece and Rome. It was the classical thinkers who wrote about the political institutions they experienced that inspired the Europeans and enabled them to colonize the world. And in three hundred years, Greece went from Homeric kings to the cities of the classical era. Their thinkers imagined three forms of government: monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy.
Governed by an assembly of citizens, Greek government was designed to be small, and Greeks could not conceive of a larger state. At its largest, Athens probably had no more than 45,000 citizens. Instead of forming a large state, the larger cities dominated over the smaller ones. But 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 through intellectual contacts with the East, "they are reverberating in Japan and China" and others.
Ch. XIV: Evolution of Political Organization -- covering Rome thru European civilization. Initially Rome had its kings, its senate of the heads of the patrician clans, and a popular assembly. Then the kings were replaced by consuls and other magistrates that were elective, temporary, and "multiple," meaning the same office was entrusted to multiple persons.
Rome developed a four-stage citizen assimilation policy, from private rights, to marriage, to participating in the assembly, to the right to be a public official.
Rome was an aristocratic republic, but expanded senate and assembly membership by going downscale.
At some point the city-state republic could not work with an empire. Citizens scattered over the empire could not in practice attend the assembly. And annual election of magistrates could not work when incumbents were absent for years in the provinces. Nor could the army be an annually recruited citizen militia. Thus, at the end of the civil wars, the republic was transformed into the Empire.
In the empire, executive and judicial powers were divided between the senate and the emperor, with the senate influential for Italian questions. But in "imperial provinces" the power of the emperor was absolute from the beginning; he ruled through a bureaucracy.
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. Feudalism created the political supremacy of a warrior class, and the religious supremacy of the Church. An important feature of feudalism was that local leaders were bound by loyalty to their immediate feudal superior, not to the king. So they would fight for their liege lord against the king.
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.
The new bourgeois class might have pushed the nobility aside without radical change in the absolute state had not England developed a practical model that blended aristocratic power and middle-class aspirations. It preserved the absolute state model, with no intermediate baronial powers.
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.
Ch. XV: Principles and Tendencies in Ruling Classes -- Mosca proposes two dichotomies for understanding politics. There are the two political principles of autocracy vs. liberalism, that determines the type of political system. 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.
The autocratic principle is the basis of the first great empires: Asia, Egypt, Persia, Arab caliphates. Early post-feudal European nations were autocratic. That autocracy occurs all over the world tells us 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 believes that only with a limited electorate confined mainly to the ruling class can the liberal principle really work, with those who represent responsible to the represented.
An advantage of the liberal principle is the public discussion of the acts of the rulers, "in political assemblies and administrative councils and it the daily press and periodicals."
The great political thinkers all believed that the best government was a balance between competing principles. Plato in the Laws believed in a balance between autocracy and democracy. Aristotle proposed a modified democracy where workers, slaves and metics would not be allowed public office.
To support this doctrine 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.
It is only an opposition -- or competition -- between these contrary principles and tendencies that can prevent an accumulation of the vices in each one.
Ch. XVI: Ruling Class and Individual -- Individuals can influence a ruling class and its future, but mostly the man who rules and his officials are creatures of the ideas, sentiments, passions, and therefore, polices of the ruling class in general.
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." The first Roman emperor Augustus is the prime example, transforming the Roman republic into an empire that lasted for 400 years.
But a superior man at the head of a collapsing ruling class will fail to keep things going, e.g., at the end of the Roman and Byzantine Empires.
People agree on the importance the moral and intellectual qualities of the ruling clique. But Mosca feels that this rule applies even more strongly between the ruling class "and the gross mass of the governed."
Mosca pushes back strongly against Marx's historical materialism and the idea that the political system is determined by the economic system.
Mosca notes that plenty of regimes have changed their nature without any change in the structure of economic production, including the transformation from the Roman republic to Augustan empire. So economic transformation can be one of the factors in political change, but certainly not the only one.
Human history is so complex that a "single-track" doctrine "necessarily leads to erroneous conclusions and false applications" and encourages fantastical predictions of the future.
But should a king be a philosopher, and a philosopher a king as Plato proposed?
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." But nations do not just "die." Nations die when their ruling classes are incapable of reorganizing in such a way as to meet the needs of the changing times.
If political ruin is to be avoided, perhaps political science can help, with knowledge about the social nature of mankind.
Ch. XVII: Future of Representative Government -- The previous century lived and died by the notions of "liberty, equality, and fraternity." The concept of liberty was implemented through the practical experience of England in the eighteenth century as brilliantly interpreted by Montesquieu although not all the classical concepts were implemented.
The concept of equality is harder to put into practice, "for equality is contrary to the nature of things." Little can be done with natural inequalities, or with disparities in wealth, upbringing and education.
The failure to achieve equality must have contributed to 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? Mosca wants the ruling class to raise its game, improve its political competence and understanding, and try "to see a little beyond its immediate interest."