The Circulation of Elites by Vilfred Pareto (1916) (part three)

The theory provides a deep, yet cyclical, understanding of the processes of society. He emphasised how societal variety and internal group dynamics cause the unavoidable shifts in the realm of power and influence. This brief examination of the theory reveals that it is more than just a set of sociological precepts; rather, it also tells the story of persistent human behaviour and society structure. A story with a great deal of depth and realism that continues to advance in the examination of contemporary cultures, where different elite groups rise and fall and social heterogeneity occasionally contributes to this cycle that is still evident now.

This idea is being used in the current world, and it is important to comprehend the changes that are occurring in both authoritarian and democratic governments. According to Pareto’s concept, outsiders who gain political power frequently upend the existing political structures, which can be understood as new elites consolidating power. Similarly, elite attrition—the process by which established elites become less influential and effective—can be used to explain the demise or replacement of conventional political parties in a number of different countries.

This is also visible when viewed through the lenses of globalisation and economic elites. The traditional industrial and some financial elites have been supplanted by new economic elites in the technology and artificial intelligence (AI) sectors as a result of the dynamics of globalisation. The quick evolution of AI and technology, as well as how it has affected economic power structures, is a prime example of how elites circulate and how adaptive, creative, and inventive organisations outperform those that are incapable of changing with time.

Using this lens, social movements can also be examined and understood. Effectively becoming new elites, leaders of successful social movements frequently advance into positions of authority. This change emphasises the flow of people from the non-elite to the elite, which is caused by the accumulation of intellectual, social, and other capital.

Following the introduction of this theory, a large number of sociologists and political scientists adopted it, expanded upon it, and used it to analyse the dynamics of elites and social stratification. For instance, the focus has been on how media and technology might spread elites more quickly, recognising that these “tools” can both strengthen the ranks of emerging elites and accelerate the ageing of established ones.

Naturally, others with bad intentions attacked this idea, especially for its deterministic undertone and cynical perspective of human progress, even if many had accepted and advanced it. They contend that the idea inherently precludes the possibility of real advances in society through democratic or moral reforms. Furthermore, they contend that the focus on the unavoidable replacement of the elite may obscure the potential for a more egalitarian and inclusive system of government.

In conclusion, Vilfred Pareto’s seminal work continues to be a crucial analysis of power dynamics in social institutions. Understanding the cyclical rise and fall of elitist organisations provides a useful foundation for comprehending the intricacies of leadership, power, and societal transformation. In addition to providing a theory, Patero also provided a perspective through which to examine the continuous narrative of human social organisation, which is characterised by strategy, ambition, and a never-ending struggle for dominance.


Pareto, V., 1916, The Rise and Fall of Elites: An application of theoretical sociology. Transaction Publishers.

The updated version of the circulation of Elitists by Vilfred Pareto:

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