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Alfred de Grazia: Discovering National Elites





Most national states retain a religious elite today, though in many the power of religion and of its elite has been seriously undermined. One can expect to find the religious elite in one or three roles in relationship to power: (1) the top elite, as in a theocracy or as in a nominally secular state dominated by religious institutions; (2) members of the top elite sharing power with other influentials with different institutional bases; (3) in a subsidiary role, either because of effective separation of church or state, effective domination of religious institutions by state and other institutions, or because of the fractionating of religious institutions into many small groups.


XIX-1. Internal structures. The authoritarian nature of most large religious groups is often reflected in their power structure, which makes the identification of their elite a relatively simple task. As Lasswell observed: "There are one Pope, 55 cardinals, 22 apostolic delegate, 256 vicars apostolic, 245 archbishops, 1, 578 bishops." The discovery of the Catholic elite is not quite as simple as getting the names of these 2,157 persons, but much of the job would have been done at that point.

It almost goes without saying that a religious movement which is not hierarchical will rarely produce an elite which is within shouting distance of the top power structure. The informal, non-institutionalized religions of the world have demonstrated this. Religious movements which have eschewed institutionalization have attained power for their leaders, but have generally disappeared after relatively brief periods of prominence. The temporary power of a revival leader in an American community provides an example of this.

But the hierarchical arrangement of a religious institution does not necessarily tell the full story of its elite. It may be necessary to observe the specialized subsidiary organizations within the institution, which can have special powers. It may also be necessary to observe lay organizations outside the main structure which nevertheless provide some of the elite of the total church organization. And it may be necessary to examine organizations which appear to be divorced from the church, but which in reality are quite close by reason of duplication of memberships, commonality of goals, and close relationships between the hierarchical elite and the subsidiary organization elite. Thus the example of the Catholic church just cited is not complete until one has examined the special orders within the church (as the Jesuits), the lay groups identified directly (as the Knights of Columbus), and the groups predominantly of Catholic membership (as the various Catholic political parties of several European states). The top elite of the total Catholic church may well include representatives of several of these subsidiary and allied organizations, and may well omit some of the 2,157 who are in the official pyramid.

XIX-2. Localism of structural components. If one is searching for the religious elite in a particular community, he may find quite different combinations of the several factors important in the national or international hierarchy. Thus a dominant local order may overshadow lay groups or the lack of influential representatives of the hierarchy may mean that religious party officials are the dominant members of local religious elite; or the special abilities of an individual priest or minister may project him into the elite. If the local pattern is quite different from that of the national-international pattern, the overall power potential of the religious elite may be weakened. Usually such differences relate to a lack of control by the central elite over its local parts. In any event, conflicts of this type will often have a divisive effect, analogous to that introduced into the bureaucracy by arguments over centralization versus decentralization (SeeXVII-1).

XIX-3. Competing sects. Another factor which will influence the constitution of a religious elite, even though there may be a well defined hierarchy, is the presence of competing factions or sects. The Mohammedan church is divided into sects of this nature. As a result the composition of the religious elite of a given Mohammedan state or region reflects the predominance of one or another. (The Shiites of Lebanon, of example, are by far the dominant Muslims of he country.) Depending upon circumstances and local conditions it may well be that the operator finds himself faced with the problem of dealing with a single sect, or a dominant order, or a religious political party as the base of the local religious elite. His analysis then must shift from the total group (and from its hierarchy) to the part of the group important in the target.

As has been remarked about other special elites, when they are the dominant influential group the operator will have no special problems in locating them. It is when a special elite shares power or is in a subsidiary role that the problem of determining its relationship and degree of power becomes more difficult. Thus, in considering the second role of a religious elite, that of sharing power with influentials representing other institutions, special problems do arise.

XIX-4.Formal status of church-state relations. The sphere of influence of the secular elite in comparison with that of a religious elite has been a continuing source of conflict for many centuries.. In the main, this has been resolved by the domination of the religious elite or the limitation of its sphere of influence to minor matters. However, in many areas, this conflict continues. Thus the status of any given religious elite can often be determined by examining the current status and background of this conflict in the target area. What is the status of religion in the target? Is it a state religion? Does it have a monopoly position? Are minority groups tolerated? Was the religion the dominant force in the community in the past? How severe was the power conflict in which secular authorities asserted their predominance? Are church-state relations formalized in law? Or are they governed by unwritten custom? Do religious leaders take a direct part in government, or do they stay within the framework of their religious institutions?

XIX-5. Discovering government’s position on communism versus religion. The atheistic doctrine of international communism, though considerably tempered in recent years, remains a central problem to religious elites. Thus the policy of government towards communism may provide indices of the proximity of religious leaders to power. Is the government, even though secular, effectively Christian or Mohammedan in its outlook? Do religious rituals have a part in government activities? Are there political parties which are independent of the church, but possessed of similar goals and linked by various informal means? In postwar Europe there are several Christian political parties, which have arisen largely because of the concern of religious elites over the atheistic characteristics of communism and its direct attack upon religious institutions.

XIX-6. Participation of church groups in non-religious activities. The strength of a religious elite is often shown by the extent of the non-religious activities in which it engages. If the religious institution controls the education of an area it will have more power than if it is restricted to matters more directly spiritual. If the church owns property, operates industry, and publishes newspapers and magazines, it will usually be more involved in the decision-making process than if it does not engage in such temporal activities. The power of Catholic elites has often been directly related to the wealth of the church or of its orders.

XIX-7 Relations between non-church elites and religious elites. Even though power has been "secularized" in an area considerable influence may remain with church elite because of their relations with the top influentials. Study of the top influentials and their religious connections will often provide clues. Table 5 presents materials from Lebanon to illustrate such connections.



(in percentages)

I. In political Assemblies, 1841-1943

1841 1861
Council of the Emirate Administrative Council 1864 Lebanese Assembly of 1937 Lebanes Assembley of 1943 Number of electors registered in 1937 % of total
Maronites 7 5 10 33 45 40 100
Greek Orthodox 7 13 13 27 40 15 100
Greek Catholics 10 20 10 30 30 10 100
Armenians - - - 33 67 3 100
Sunnites 4 8 4 38 46 24 100
Chiites 5 9 5 36 45 22 100
Druzes 20 13 20 20 27 15 100
Other sects - - - 50 50 2 100
TOTAL 8 9 9 32 42 131 100

II. In 24 cabinets. 1926 - 1945 of 3 or more ministers, including the Prime Minister*

Total Maronites Gr. Cath. Gr. Orth. Rom. Cath. Protestants Sunites Chiites Druzes
No of cabinet ministers 134 36 12 20 4 3 26 21 12
Percent from each religious group 100 27 9 15 3 2 19 16 9

III. In the high bureaucracy, April 1946

Total Maronites Gr. Cath. Gr. Orth. Rom. Cath. Protestants Sunnites Chiites Druzes
Director-Generals & Heads of Service 15 40 - 20 - - 33 - 7
District Administrators 5 20 20 20 - - 20 - 20
High Ranking Magistrates 3 67 - - - - 33 - -
High Ranking Diplomats 11 46 - 18 - - 27 9 -
Grand Total 34 41 3 18 - - 29 3 6
Percentage 100

In the U.S., though religious elites have relatively little power because of the proliferation of sects, it has been observed in many communities that top influentials are more often members of the Episcopalian or congregational denominations. The professional elite of these denominations, in turn, are much more likely to be members of the top power group of the community than are minister of other faiths.

The history of the Jesuit order provides a multitude of examples of how a religious elite influenced and directed top temporal influentials. Members of this order assiduously associated with the elite of many European states in the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Jesuits became confessors and advisors to princes, they created schools for the sons of the elite, and they exercised such a profound influence that eventually they were disbanded for a long period because of protests by temporal powers to the Pope.

XIX-8. Attention to issues with a moral or religious facet. When a community is torn by a moral issue, the identity and power of the religious elite will come to the fore. In American cities, the perennial issue of gambling, or of prohibition, unites the religious elite and shows both its strength and weakness. Whenever such an issue becomes prominent in a target, the operator will have an opportunity to re-evaluate information already assembled on the religious elite.

XIX-9. Religious ceremonies and rituals. The hierarchical nature of religious institutions is often publicly demonstrated at the time of important ritual or ceremony. In addition, the participation or lack of it among other elite members and the ranking of non-church personnel in such a ceremony will tell something about the power status of other sections of the elite.

XIX-10. Popular acceptance or rejection of religion. The overall place of religion in a community, as demonstrated by such things as attendance at regular church services, the mere number of churches, the presence of shrines and the worship at them can give the operator a general notion about the power of the religious elite.

XIX-11. Training of religious elite. Much can be discovered about the religious elite by studying the training top church influentials have received. Is it concentrated upon dogma and ritual. Or is it a training involving considerable concern with secular matters? Is the elite practical and flexible or is it self-contained and inflexible? Is it aware of what’s going on in the world or in the rest of its nation or community? Are members of the religious elite schooled to renounce power? Or does their training direct them to seek it actively? Within the Catholic church there are orders that suggest the extremes of this continuum from the non-speaking Trappists to the articulate, politically minded Jesuits. Do religious schools and universities emphasize the introverted, contemplative ideal, or do they use the extroverted, active social leader as a model? The personality of the presently ruling head of the hierarchy may be a clue: his virtues and his approach to problems may represent the emphasis of his past training and may direct current training toward creating a new sub-elite in his image.

XIX-12. Recruitment of church personnel. The characteristics of a religion, and by extension, of its elite, may be inferred from study of the source of its ministers, pastors or priests. Do they reflect the social composition of the broad congregation of the particular church? Or are leaders drawn from a narrower or different base? What is the rate of infusion of new clergy? Is the recruitment process slow and deliberate, or is there opportunity for a religious influential to move up rapidly? Are positions within the clergy sought after? Or is the church faced with a lack of recruits. Is the church elite essentially a combination of many local elites because of recruitment practices? Or is it a national or international organization, drawing its personnel from a broad geographical base and assigning them to duty in accordance with hierarchical needs, rather than in accordance with local interests?

Answers to questions such as these will show whether the church elite is likely to be specially compatible with other institutional elites, whether it is ascending or descending in prestige and possibly in power, and whether it is integrated within its nation or region or has international characteristics that sometimes increase its power or sometimes decrease it, depending upon the changing dispositions of the remainder of the elite.

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