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Pareto's Lions and Foxes of the Ruling Elite

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Aug 26, 2005
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In the last part of his Treatise , Pareto attempts to show how the distribu- tion of residues in a population is related not only to its belief systems and intellectual life, but also, and most importantly, to the state of the polity and of the economy. Here Pareto deals only with the first two residues, those of "combinations" and of "persistence." Residues of the first type impel men to system making, that is, to elaborate pseudo-logical combinations of ideas. Class I residues lead men to manipulate various elements found in experience. They are at the root of magical practices to control, as the case may be, the weather, the course of a disease, or the love of a maiden. At more complex levels, Class I residues lead people to engage in large-scale financial manipulation--to merge, combine, and recombine enterprises. At still more complex levels, they explain the urge of politicians and statesmen to join and fuse political forces, to make political deals, and to build political empires. Men primarily moved by Class I residues are like Machiavelli's "foxes," capable of experiment, innova- tion, and departure from common use, but lacking fidelity to principles and to those conservative virtues that insure stability.

The conservative forces of "social inertia" are represented by men in whom the second class of residues (persistence of aggregates) predominate. Such men have powerful feelings of loyalty to family, tribe, city, and nation; they display class solidarity, patriotism, and religious zeal; and they are not afraid of using force when necessary. These are Machiavelli's "lions."

In the world of his day, more particularly in Italy and France, Pareto be- lieved that the foxes were in the ascendancy. The political and economic scene was dominated by political wheelers and dealers, by unscrupulous lawyers and intellectual sophists, by speculators and manipulators of men. Pareto's concern was that if this condition were to remain unchecked, social equilibrium would be fundamentally upset and the social order would totter. Yet he felt that the chances were high that, as had so often happened in the past, men of conser- vatism and persistence would finally rise, sweep the reign of foxes aside, and make sure that stability could again come into its own. Faith, patriotism, and national honor would once again claim the allegiance of all.

After a certain period of time, the foxes will again infiltrate into the seats of government, for their mental skills and expertise cannot be dispensed with for long. They will slowly undermine the certainties that the lions uphold, and their corrosive intelligence will undermine the uncomplicated faith of the militant lions. As a result, the wheel will come full circle and a new age of deceit and manipulation will dawn.

All belief in progress or evolution was for Pareto so much nonsense. Human society was bound to repeat forever the same cycle from rule by lions to rule by foxes and back again. It is characterized by a continually shifting but ultimately unchanging equilibrium. There is nothing new in history; it is only the record of human folly. Utopia is, literally, nowhere.

From Coser, 1977:395-396.

Read other people's take on Pareto by googling him. Kind of interesting.