Political Parties: A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracy

By Robert Michels; Cedar Paul et al. | Go to book overview

B. Psychological Causes of Leadership

Chapter 1
The Establishment of a Customary Right to the Office of Delegate

ONE WHO holds the office of delegate acquires a moral right to that office, and delegates remain in office unless removed by extraordinary circumstances or in obedience to rules observed with exceptional strictness. An election made for a definite purpose becomes a life incumbency. Custom becomes a right. One who has for a certain time held the office of delegate ends by regarding that office as his own property. If refused reinstatement, he threatens reprisals (the threat of resignation being the least serious among these) which will tend to sow confusion among his comrades, and this confusion will continue until he is victorious.

Resignation of office, in so far as it is not a mere expression of discouragement or protest (such as disinclination to accept a candidature in an unpromising constituency), is in most cases a means for the retention and fortification of leadership. Even in political organizations greater than party, the leaders often employ this stratagem, thus disarming their adversaries by a deference which does not lack a specious democratic color. The opponent is forced to exhibit in return an even greater deference, and this above all when the leader who makes use of the method is really indispensable, or is considered indispensable by the mass. The recent history of Germany affords numerous examples showing the infallibility of this machiavellian device for the maintenance of leadership. During the troubled period of transition from absolute to constitutional monarchy, during the ministry of Ludolf Camphausen, King Frederick William IV of Prussia threatened to abdicate whenever liberal ideas were tending in Prussian politics to gain the upper hand over the romanticist conservatism which was dear to his heart. By this threat the liberals were placed in a dilemma. Either they must accept the king's abdication, which would involve the accession to the throne of Prince William of Prussia, a man of ultra-reactionary tendencies, whose reign was likely to be initiated by an uprising

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