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

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

Chapter 1
Introductory. The Class Struggle and Its Disintegrating Influence upon the Bourgeoisie

THE MASSES are not easily stirred. Great events pass before their eyes and revolutions are accomplished in economic life without their minds undergoing profound modifications. Very slowly do they react to the influence of new conditions.

For decades, and even for centuries, the masses continue to endure pasively outworn political conditions which greatly impede legal and moral progress.1 Countries which from the economic point of view are fairly well advanced, often continue to endure for lengthy periods a political and constitutional regime which derives from an earlier economic phase. This is especially noteworthy in Germany, where an aristocratic and feudal form for government, the outcome of economic conditions which the country has outlived, has not yet been able to adapt itself to an economic development of the most advanced capitalist character.

These historical phenomena, which at first sight appear paradoxical, arise from causes of two different orders. In the first place it may happen that classes or sub-classes representing an extinct economic form may survive from a time in which they were the authentic exponents of the then dominant economic relationships; they have been able to save from the wreck a sufficiency of moral prestige and effective political force to maintain their dominion in the new phase of economic and civil development, and to do this even in opposition to the expressed will of the majority of the people. These classes succeed in maintaining themselves in power by the strength of their own political energy and with the assistance of numerous elements essentially foreign to themselves, but which they can turn to their own advantage by suggestive influences. Most

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1
"Unreflectingly, sometimes with a sigh, but often without a thought of the possibility of better things, the nations have borne for centuries, and continue to bear, all the burdens and all the shames imposed upon them by tyranny, like the lower animals, who with satisfaction and even gratitude accept a bare subsistence from the hand of the master to whom they belong, and who makes use of them and chastises them at his will" ( Carl von Rotteck, Allgemeine Geschichte, etc., ed. cit., p. 81).

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