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

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  116 ratings  ·  17 reviews
This is a book by the sociologist Robert Michels, published in 1911 and first introducing the concept of iron law of oligarchy. It is considered one of the classics of social sciences, in particular sociology and political science.

This work analyses the power structures of organizations such as political parties and trade unions. Michels's main argument is that all organiz
Paperback, 380 pages
Published April 1st 1966 by Free Press (first published 1911)
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Griffin Wilson
Dec 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is now probably one of my favorite books of political theory. It contains some excellent insights into the oligarchical nature of democracies (and of human organization in general) from a psychological and sociological point of view.

The author, Robert Michels, was a member of the Social Democratic Party in Germany and later the Italian Syndicalists until he left both in 1907. This book was published in 1911. Later in life (in 1924) Michels joined the fascist party in Italy.

The book sets ou
Great commentary on the crustiness of political parties, the emergence and maintenance of political power. Makes a great foundation for current literature by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson ("Why Nations Fail").

Great quotes:

"It is not the principal aim of science to create systems, but rather to promote understanding."

"Democracy leads to oligarchy, and necessarily contains an oligarchical nucleus."

"With democratic mien he must descend into the electoral arena, must hail the farmers and the agr
Jul 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Really interesting and lots of great information that shows, things have not changed a lot. Everything you think is new or cool in the modern socio-political sphere, isn't. It has all been done and thought of before, and more than once. You should have a dictionary,and a translation program, Michels quotes a number of people in their original language. That is something that has changed, I am sure he thought people would still learn other languages. This has some dry sections, and you may want a ...more
Andy Oram
Jun 21, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: politics
It's provocative to assign two stars to one of the classics of political theory, but I am just reacting to the arguments as I found them. I was hoping for something that went deeper than standard left-wing criticisms of staid, bureaucratic Social Democratic parties of pre-war Europe, but found uninspiring polemics. One would probably say to me that the arguments seem familiar today but were novel when the book was written in 1915. But how novel is it to suggest that working people are too busy a ...more
Steven Peterson
Feb 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
The iron law of oligarchy. Who says organization says oligarchy. Roberto Michels enunciated such thoughts. This work, Political Parties, is a real classic in the study of politics.

He examined democratic (socialist) political parties, assuming that here democratic practices would be at their zenith. However, he found a small cadre of party leaders most influential. He used these observations to develop his theory of hierarchical leadership. The end result? The iron law of oligarchy, stating that
Nov 26, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Groundbreaking in its time and still worth delving into, if you can stomach the near constant bombardment of repetition about various minutia of long dead political parties that is.
Dec 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Michels' work is undoubtedly one of the cornerstones of elite theories in political sociology - his greatest contribution being the "iron law of oligarchy" which ha has set out in this work. Although his work largely centers around the socialist party structures, himself being one and thus having the experience to write on these parties specifically, the lessons learnt and conclusions drawn are definitely of a more universal nature. Although his focus leaves out solutions to the oligarchical ten ...more
Fernando del Alamo
Feb 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
Este es un libro antiguo que habla de las interioridades de los partidos políticos y, en general, las grandes empresas o asociaciones donde hay una serie de líderes que mandan y una masa que está sometida a su voluntad. Pero aunque el libro tenga más de 100 años, lo que dice es totalmente actual, aunque cambiando los nombres.

Y es que, en toda asociación de muchas personas se crea una oligarquía que son quienes realmente mandan. Y aunque haya democracia, realmente no la hay en el interior de un p
Etienne OMNES
Jan 31, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Etude sociologique du début XIXe siècle sur la nécessaire dérive oligarchique de tout parti politique: par une analyse froide et très lucide du fonctionnement des associations politiques, il montre que non seulement la démocratie directe est impossible, mais qu'elle dérive nécessairement vers une oligarchie. L'analyse est très complète, et très accessible. La connaissance intime de l'auteur avec les partis socialistes de la fin XIXe est un gros bonus de ce livre.

Au final, le livre pose davantag
Jared Tobin
Nov 28, 2017 rated it it was ok
This book has some important stuff in it, but it is not an easy nor particularly pleasant read. Probably most useful for researchers doing serious work on late 19th-early 20th century socialist political parties in Europe. There is some useful and easily-gleaned content, e.g. Michels' "Law of Oligarchy", but I think the summary of his work in Burnham's The Machiavellians is sufficient, to be honest.
Dec 03, 2012 rated it did not like it
Why this is considered some sort of landmark text in any sort of genre is beyond me. At best its an early text in political science (not sociology), and a fairly demagogic version at that. Think the first Ann Coulter not the first Hannah Arendt. Political Parties is less an analysis of how political organizations form and evolve based on specific metrics or a scientific analysis of populations, and more a tirade against Socialists (capital S). The pertinence of these arguments today is on the on ...more
Tiago Saraiva
Aug 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Este estudo é um excelente trabalho sobre a dinâmica dos partidos políticos. Apesar de parcialmente escrito antes da primeira Guerra Mundial, e depois publicado numa versão mais completa no momento em que o fascismo alastrava na Europa, o diagnóstico e as conclusões continuam atuais.
Começa por mostrar a incoerência dos partidos que representam a burguesia, pois estes em campanha eleitoral posicionam-se como se fossem socialistas/social-democratas quando se encontram na oposição apelando aos elei
Fred R
Nov 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
I am desperate for a serious and comprehensive (and non-partisan) modern exploration of elite theory, which to me at this point looks obvious and grossly under-explored.

The issue is: due to division-of-labor efficiencies (Smith), the logic of collective action (Olson), and uneven quality distributions across a population (Plato, Aristotle, Pareto, Murray, etc etc.), human society of any scale will require an elite to coordinate behavior (even a free market economy seems to require substantial no
Jun 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
It is amazing how current a book first published in 1915 can be! If you haven't heard of the Iron Law of Oligarchy, or if you've heard of it, but don't know how it works, this is the source.

Basically, Michels describes how organizations all end up being run by a small number of people at the top. This is true even of organizations which are ostensibly dedicated to democratic principles. There are passages in this book which could be set to have predicted the outcome of the recent dustup at the N
Mar 18, 2009 rated it liked it
Michels makes a persuasive argument here for democracy as veiled oligarchy through a logical yet seemingly nihilistic analysis of democracy's history. This book is a challenge for all intellectual proponents of democracy.
Jul 30, 2009 rated it liked it
i have my doubts about the iron law of oligarchy. there are always corner cases where the law deteriorates and leadership does not become corrupted. admittedly hard to think of, but that's the virtue of charismatic irruption and leadership (cf weber)
Brian Mcleish
Jan 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Critically important work - the iron law of oligarchy is a concept that is vital to understanding the nature of our democracy.
Marco Faganello
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