The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Political Science

Authors: Bogdanor
Summary: In about 1000 words, this entry defines elites and elitism, describes the origins and significance of each concept, and introduces some political research specifically focused on elites.
The entry offers Pareto's definition of elites as an accurate conception. Pareto, drawing from Mosca, calls elites those who have the highest ability in every human activity, and he distinguishes the "governing elite" from lower classes in society. Most original elite doctrines were at least in part a reaction against socialism, particularly Marxist socialism, and democracy. Thus, they also had significant influence on the work of Max Weber and Michels. Studies of elites have increased since the 1950s, and they are conducted in a variety of academic disciplines, including political science, sociology and history.
Elitism, as distinct from elites, refers to social, political and cultural attitudes, and became a popular term of reference during the 1960s. This concept refers broadly to forms of authority and domination, and not to a specific social or political class. This attention to elitism has diminished somewhat, but it has also refocused on inequalities between specific social classes, genders and ethnic minorities.