ibn-Khaldun, Macchiavelli and Pareto on the Rise and Fall of Elites

Fascism, Historia, Okategoriserade, Samhälle

Följande är en liten text jag skrev på ett engelskspråkigt forum:

During history, a cyclic view on various phenomena has been very common. Our Indo-European ancestors believed that history moves through the yugas/eras, going from the Golden Age to the Iron Age, and then back to the Golden Age after some sort of cataclysm/final war. Civilizations have been viewed as living entities as well, going through the stages of birth, youth, senility and finally death. And the same perspective can be found in political sociology, concerning the rise and fall, or birth and death, of elites. The area is interesting for two reasons: 1. Is the current elite on the final stage, and soon to die? Have it lost all its virtues, both intellectual and moral? I think so, and in that case it will soon be replaced by a new elite. And that will either be Muslim, or Nationalist. [fråga 2 är irrelevant här]

We will start with the North African scholar ibn-Khaldun (1332-1406). Khaldun is known for his use of the concept ”group solidarity”, and his description of cycles of conquest and decay. At first there is the bedouins/nomads, with a strong group solidarity. These then conquer the weaker city-dwellers, and instate their own dynasty. But given time, the dynasty looses its group solidarity and is corrupted by power and luxury. And then a new wave of nomads conquer again.

It can easily be argued that the current West has lost group solidarity, both on a national, a pan-national and on a local level, and that this has enabled various strangers to invade and immigrate. It can also be argued however, that group solidarity is reborn among the ”inner barbarians”, the Nationalists. Who will replace the corrupted elite, Nationalists or Muslim new-comers, is an open question, to be decided by action.

More on ibn-Khaldun can be found here:
A good introduction. It has a definition on the concept of group solidarity: – ”the state of mind that makes individuals identify with a group and subordinate their own personal interests to the group interest. Without willingness to subordinate self to the group, peace and social development are not possible. Ibn Khaldun expects the sense of solidarity to be based originally and normally on kinship. A sense of solidarity can be powerfully supported by religion, and conversely no religion can make an impact unless its members have a strong sense of solidarity.”

An in-depth introduction.

Claims that Khaldun came up with the Labor Theory of Value before Adam Smith.

Machiavelli and the concept of virtú

Italian thinker and diplomat Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) wrote along similar themes as Khaldun. Today he is best known for The Prince, in which he gave various advice based on Realpolitik and stripped from morality, to leaders of state.

But Machiavelli also wrote the work Discorsi, in which he comments upon the history of the early Rome. In that book, he is a Republican.

The most important value for Machiavelli is virtú (Latin virtus), which is related to our word, ”virtue.” Machiavelli means it more in its Latin sense of ”manly,” but individuals with virtú are primarily marked by their ability to enforce their will on volatile social situations. They do this through a combination of strong will, strength, and brilliant and strategic calculation. His thesis is, that what made early Rome so strong and expansive, was the virtu of the people, a people who took active part in the State. Conflicts make a people strong, in that they keep the qualities of virtu alive (it should be added that some of the classic virtues are not central to Machiavelli, among them honesty).

It can be argued that the modern West has lost the quality of virtu. The people is no longer really part of the State, they are instead ruled by a political elite that is not even of their own blood. As a result, virtu has abandoned them, and instead of expansive and manly individuals, we have a mass of pacified, cowardly and obese consumers. With the erosion of security and welfare, virtu is however reborn.

Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923) was an Italian aristocrat, economist, sociologist, and socialist eventually turned conservative. He was therefore celebrated as a source of inspiration by the Italian Fascists, and did not seem to mind.

Pareto used his time at Céligny to write his Trattato di sociologia generale, which was finally published, after wartime delays, in 1916. This was his great sociological masterpiece. He explains how human action can be neatly reduced to residue and derivation. People act on the basis of non-logical sentiments (residues) and invent justifications for them afterwards (derivations). The derivation is thus just the content and form of the ideology itself. But the residues are the real underlying problem, the particular cause of the squabbles that leads to the ”circulation of élites”. The underlying residue, he thought, was the only proper object of sociological enquiry.
Residues are non-logical sentiments, rooted in the basic aspirations and drives of people. He identifies six classes of residues, all of which are present but unevenly distributed across people — so the population is always a heterogeneous, differentiated mass of different psychic-types. The most important residues are Class I the ”instinct for combining” (innovation) and Class II, the ”persistence of aggregates” (conservation). Class I types rule by guile, and are calculating, materialistic and innovating. Class II types rule by force and are more bureaucratic, idealistic and conservative.

Pareto’s theory of society claimed that there was a tendency to return to an equilibrium where a balanced amount of Class I and Class II people are present in the governing élites. People are always entering and leaving the élite thereby tending to restore the natural balance. On occasion, when it gets too lopsided, an élite will be replaced en masse by another If there are too many Class I people in a governing élites, this means that violent, conservative Class II’s are in the lower echelons, itching and capable of taking power when the Class I’s finally make a mess of things by too much cunning and corruption (he regarded Napoleon III’s France and the Italian ”pluto-democratic” system as an example). If the governing élite is composed mostly of Class II types, then it will fall into a bureaucratic, inefficient and reactionary mess, easy prey for calculating upwardly-mobile Class I’s (e.g. Tsarist Russia).

The current situation can probably be described as an example of a Class I ”pluto-democratic” elite, corrupted but desperately trying to hold on to power, but threatened by Class II elites-to-be from all directions. Probably the current elite started as Class II, being more idealistic, but since lost that quality.

More on Pareto is to be found here:
Pareto’s Rule states that 20% of the population usually owns 80% of the wealth, and apparently it is often true.