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What’s wrong with the elite theory of democracy?

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  1. Introduction.
  2. Fundamental assumptions of the elite theory of democracy.
  3. Various theories of democracy.
  4. Schumpeter's view.
  5. The concept of 'circulation of elites'.
  6. Procedural democracy.
  7. The classical theory of democracy.
  8. The concept of 'consensus of elites'.
  9. Critics against elite theory of democracy.
  10. Clarification of the relationship between mass and elites.
  11. Conclusion.
  12. Bibliography.

The elite theory of democracy has emerged out of two major concerns of its precursors: no theory of democracy until now has given leadership the importance it ought to have, and none has really settled the issue of whether the common man is up to the task of governing a modern and large society. From empirical facts, some theorists have argued that every single modern society is ruled by a class that knows better and has better skills to govern: the elite. Primarily aimed at explaining the on-going structure of our societies, the elite theory of democracy can also result in some normative statements. Indeed, the participative form of democracy is clearly rejected by the theorists, who argue that too much participation would actually weaken democracy rather than reassert it. They argue that masses are incompetent, and thus unable to act ?in default of an initiative from without and from above?.

[...] New York : Atherton Press Peter Bachrach, The theory of democratic elitism : a critique , Washington, D.C. : University Press of America, c1980. Jean L. Cohen and Andrew Arato, Civil Society and Political Theory, Cambridge, Mass. ; London : MIT Press Geraint Parry, Political Elites, London: Allen & Unwin Kenneth Prewitt and Alan Stone, The Ruling Elites : elite theory, power, and American democracy, New York : Harper & Row Robert D. Putnam, The Comparative Study of Political Elites, Chapter 6 ?Elite-Mass Linkage?, Englewood Cliffs, N.J; London : Prentice-Hall, c1976. [...]


[...] What is at stake here is to determine to what extent the elite theory of democracy permits a smooth functioning of a democratic system, and to establish whether its normative implications can reasonably be accepted. This essay will at first attempt to define what is meant by the elite theory of democracy, and in a second part criticizes some incoherence in its core assumptions. In a third part, the theory shall be considered as a tool for empirical studies and assessed in this respect. [...]


[...] The elite theory of democracy appears to be weakened by its setting some criteria not easy to fulfil. It also fails the test of empirical study. The elite theory of democracy primarily aims at an explanatory dimension. However its precision in empirical studies, is rather uncertain. The whole elite theory of democracy revolves around the concept of elite. However, it is striking how vague the term can be. Indeed, while all theorists agree on the existence of a ruling class in every society, ?from societies that are very meagrely developed and have barely attained the dawning of civilization, down to the most advanced and powerful societies?[29], it remains hard to determine where the limit between elite and mass is. [...]

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