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Alfred de Grazia: Discovering National Elites





This section and the several to follow are concerned with the special problems of several functional elite elements: pure political, bureaucratic, military, religious, rural, labor, hereditary, business and intelligentsia. Many methods of identifying these elements have been described in other sections of the manual. separate consideration is given to them here because certain study problems are peculiar to each element. Each is an important segment of most elites and has special modes of behaving that arise from its function.

Any of these functional groupings may be the major basis - indeed, sometimes the exclusive basis - for an elite. At other times, each may be found radically submerged as an unimportant part of an elite that is dominated by another functional group.

The pure political element is least likely to be found in subordinate roles and most likely to be the major basis (rarely the exclusive basis) for the general elite; By the political element of the elite is meant all professional, hereditary, or long-term leaders of political policy who are directly connected with the central policy-making organs. This group than excludes: part-time politicians; functional group leaders; pure power-types of men who operate in groups not relevant to the central organs of state nor the makers of political policies, and career officials (bureaucrats).

One should note, however, that such pure politicians will frequently have formal occupations (lawyers, teachers, army titles, etc.) that may be mainly disregarded. Also, such men are not necessarily pure power types; that is, they need not be pure politicians because they seek power or power alone; they may be interested in wealth, prestige or the effectuation of an ideology or attitude. Furthermore, the fact that a man falls into the category of a pure politician does not mean he has no functional ability. For example, Winston Churchill has skills of a high order in journalism, naval strategy, oratory, and administration; Trotsky was highly skilled as a writer, revolutionary agitator, and military leader. Indeed, positions of pure political leadership demand a combination of similar qualities. The less mobile the elite (ranging from explosively mobile, as with revolutionary violence, down to extremely static, as with a political leadership caste), the more apt the elite is to partake of special functional characteristics such as militarism or priestcraft, and the more apt to be homogeneous in possession of this trait.

In addition, the more a leadership is one of office rather than de facto or achieved, the less the elite possesses unspecialized traits or the traits of the open political struggle - agitation, propaganda, oratory, maneuverability, and bargaining.


XVI-1. General character of political elements. Perhaps the first and most general question to ask of the pure political elite concerns its total configuration. What are the general types of elements composing it? In a totalitarian regime, one is likely to find that the strongest elements are the party, police, army, and bureaucracy. By contrast, in a free political configuration, one is more likely to find parties, interest groups, the public and the bureaucracy as the principal elements of the political elite. These general groupings are easily located through preliminary informants and by superficial scrutiny of newspapers and official pronouncements of the governments.

XVI-2. Socio-economic status of politicians. Once the individuals who have the characteristics of the pure political elite are segregated from the general or special elites, their origins may be compared with those of the remainder of the elite. How do their prestige, manner of life, income, and range of social connections compare with those of the bureaucracy, military, and other special functional groups? There will always be special cases of high income, high prestige, and high status in general among politicians, and the operator should be aware of the range of politicians on those indices, as well as the upper and lower extremes. Is the political group especially addicted to the accumulation of wealth while in office? Do those who have been in office longer have greater wealth than those who are coming in?

XVI-3. Character Analysis. The average or typical character of the purely political leader is likely to lend its tone to the total elite configuration. Yet, although it is crucial to establish this typical character, it would be erroneous to generalize it to the reminder of the elite, or for that matter even the non-typical elements of the pure politicians. It must be remembered that changing orientations and events can call forward from among the politicians characters of quite different types, provided that they are there and ready to go into action from the beginning. It has often been the error of foreign strategists, whether they are intending violence or propaganda or economic measures, to over-generalize the central character type of an elite, and neglect a considerable minority of quit different traits that can easily be substituted, under changing conditions, for the original central type. The transformation of English top leadership in the face of dire Nazi threat is a case in point.

Among the dimensions along which the characters of politicians might be measured are four: the first concerns the extent to which they are volitive or indecisive. Obviously for the operator it means a great deal to know whether the attitudes that are the target of propaganda can result in action or end up in indecision. In fact, a great deal of propaganda effort may be completely wasted upon indecisive characters who will not act one way or the other favorably or unfavorably, no matter what type of attitude change occurs within them.

A second dimension is the flexibility-compulsiveness one. Ordinarily, compulsiveness in political behavior is a product of functional specialization (e.g. bureaucracy, militarism) or of characterological peculiarity, which may be distributed randomly among politicians, or for that matter, people in any group, or maybe, under certain conditions, a trait of even non-specialized political elites. Apparently totalitarian regimes, especially after their revolutionary phase is over, breed high rigidity and compulsiveness. This tends to make them invulnerable to propaganda appeals of a "rational" kind, but not necessarily vulnerable to many other types of symbolic assault. The flexible character that will be receptive to a wider spectrum of messages will, by the same token, have greater resistance to "non-rational" appeals.

Thirdly, one should place the typical character of the political class along a scale of internal consistency of direction. Do they tend to hold to the same line of attitude and ideology and policy consistently or must one be ready to change at the slightest provocation one’s alignment of messages because of the very quick change of target? A final and fourth characterlogical mechanism on which the political elite should be measured, concerns the temporal limits of their planning and vision. Are they solving their problems and planning their policies for short-term or long-term periods?

XVI-4. Identifications of politicians. By interview, press analysis, and such devices as may occur for the purpose, politicians may be rated according to the degree to which they identify themselves with an ideology, with a party, with a leader, with a faction, or with the people. Frequently members of the same group differ in their identifications among these several roles. For example, a study of an American state legislature began by asking legislators rather simple questions on the differences between the political parties, and as a result of the interview, the legislator was placed in one of three groups, depending upon whether he saw the parties as divided along essentially class lines, as oriented around leaders, or as rather complex organizations combining leadership, program and tradition. Then the legislators who fell in each group were scored on their ability to perceive which interest groups were active on major issues, to give examples of political activity by the state administrative departments, and to understand how their constituents were worked into pressure groups. The more complex-minded legislators scored highest in their perception of these factors in the legislative process, the party leaders second, and the legislators oriented to the idea that the parties were divided along class lines were least perceptive of the three groups.

One might expect in any society where legislators or politicians have different identifications, that their perceptions, and consequently their receptivity to messages, will vary with the character of their identifications, just as occurred in the study cited. Now in a multi-party system, or in a multi-faction system, where one group of politicians is organized around a leader, another around an ideology, another around a party, and so on, one should be able to discover different postures and stances of the several groups in the face of propaganda. Perhaps the most feasible method of getting at this difference readily would be by interviewing one or two "typical" or "best known" representatives of each group, and comparing them in their attitudes towards specific appeals or the perception of specific facts or conditions. Again, one might follow the differential responses of the several elements in the press on several issues.

XVI-5. Opportunism-consistency measure. The word opportunism is bandied about a great deal, and is especially used to refer to politicians, no matter in what kind of society. On the other hand, one is always given to understand that some politicians are not opportunists, although the majority may be. Objectivity on this point is, of course, quite important. Examination of the action record of an individual is perhaps the most direct way of ascertaining his degree of consistency or opportunism. However, conditions are not always equal, to use the trite phrase, and what may seem from a very superficial survey of a record to be opportunism may be the facade for an underlying consistency. Here resort to a symbol analysis of speeches, writings, etc. to assist in the validating of the action record is useful, although again opportunistic words are frequently used to conceal underlying consistency, and vice versa. Popular opinion regarding the politicians may be given some small credence: if the political group has a universal reputation for opportunism, where there is so much smoke there must be a little fire, at least. Perhaps a better way, and not a much more difficult way, of getting closer to the truth would be to ask one of those politicians reputed to be the most opportunistic to name those he regards as highly opportunistic and highly consistent, and then to ask the same questions of one of those reputed to be the most consistent of politicians.

The knowledge gained by placing a political elite generally on this continuum can be useful in deciding on the extent to which an observed attitudinal change is likely to persist, whether it is significant, or whether the promise of indulgences will result in any firm adherence to a policy. It is good to have men measured by this scale, too, if only to achieve objectivity in the choice of targets, for frequently the opportunist is an obliging target, he seems to react to propaganda readily, whereas it seems as if the barrage is wasted on a consistent group, or a consistent individual.

XVI-6 Autonomy Analysis. Is the political elite really independent of the functionally skilled parts of the general elite or special elite, or is it strongly dependent upon them? Does the functional elite commonly make statements such as "let them talk" (referring to the politicians); "in the end they will have to do what we say." Are the politicians dependent almost completely for the execution of their policies upon unremovable bureaucrats, military men, or other groups formally below them in power? In the course of their work, as seen from accounts, direct observation, interviews, etc., does the political elite consult continuously and invariably with the functionally skilled components of the elite, or does it act independently and seemingly without concern or anxiety about ignoring the functionally skilled? For example, the relations between Hitler and the German General Staff were an absolutely required subject of study; it was not enough to understand one, or both separately, since the fateful decisions of the war emerged from their conflicts.

Here again, there may be no typical behavior on the part of the general elite, for individuals may be greatly dependent upon the staff, advice, power, and prestige of the functional groups, while other individuals proceed directly to their ends with as much ultimate effect without consultation with the same groups. Related to this problem is that of the tenure and stability of the leadership. Do they turn over very rapidly? Are they in office for a short time? Do they hold positions very briefly? If leaders are highly instable, they may be vulnerable. They may lack strong organizational backing and operate as lone wolves: such a condition would immediately suggest the special adjustment of propaganda tactics.

XVI-7. Measures of cohesion. An opportunity to apply measures of solidarity to the various elements of the elite should not be neglected. Sometimes, although the politicians themselves lack an organization behind them, they manage to develop a considerable esprit de corps and concert of action and behavior among themselves, thus compensating for not having a disciplined following. So the operator should be alert to any possibility of defining parties, cliques, sections, or blocs of politicians by the quantitative analysis of voting records, by the analysis of similarity of symbol output, by the extent to which mutual flattery and constructive criticism is engaged in, as against destructivism and negativism.

The basic technical problem in cohesion analysis is the determination of the point of departure, that is, the hundred percent point to which all other individuals being surveyed may be related as proportional percentages. Ordinarily, in determining the existence of a party, or clique, or bloc among the general elite, whether the ultimate index used will be words, votes, or actions, some individual is given an arbitrary score of 100 per cent on the index, and then all others in the universe are described and score insofar as they agree or disagree with him on the selected indices. Then the bloc, party, or clique is defined as those achieving a score of some arbitrary break-off percentage point, say 70 per cent, which denotes their agreement in 70 per cent of the cases with the reference individual. Many varieties of cohesion measures may be devised to distinguish among the several relatively unorganized elements of the political element itself. The same cohesion measures may be used to determine the amount of separatism between the pure political element and other parts of the general elite or the sub-elites or special elites.

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