Essay: According to Roberto Michels the institutions of modern, mass societies require hierarchical forms of organization. Does this mean that democracy is an impossible goal in modern worlds?

Essay by vashtiCollege, UndergraduateA-, May 2004

download word file, 9 pages 4.3

Downloaded 118 times

The German political theorist, Roberto Michels introduces the idea of an "iron law of oligarchy," the application of a hierarchy of power. This establishes the idea that democratic institutions are naturally hierarchal in nature, with inflexible organisational processes. His theory states that "democratic" institutions, such as political parties, take away the right for the mass membership to participate in the policy process. The natural conclusion of this argument is that democracy is not an attainable goal, as any inherent elite leadership are granted the power to dominate over members. However, it is the definitions of democracy, leadership and accountability in leadership, which are pivotal to this theory. It is with changed notions of these crucial ideas, that democracy is certainly a realistic and even realised goal in contemporary society.

According to his book, Political Parties, Michels asserts that the strategic and policy decisions required of political leaders in democracies are too complex to directly involve large groups of people.

As a result, decisions are made by a small group of people (the oligarchy) and broadly consented to by the party's mass members. Michels' states: "Organization implies the tendency to oligarchy, " meaning that no movement could succeed without organising itself. Organization meant bureaucracy, and bureaucracy would always prevent democracy. Thus a truly democratic society is unachievable and the concept of democracy is an oxymoron.

Michels comes to this conclusion as he examined the German Socialist Party and other 'democratic' institutions - as organizations and not from ideological perspectives. He believed all institutions served the interests of their oligarchies. However, Michels is not the only scholar who believed institutions are hierarchical, Ostrogorsky , Weber and Duverger , are theorists who agreed that the organizational structures of democracies are essential, as working classes can only achieve privileges by combining into organizations. Michels...