Michels, Robert

(1876-1936)
A German sociologist and economist who wrote on a wide range of issues including nationalism, fascism, secularism, power, élites, intellectuals, and social mobility. His is most famous for the study of the leadership of left-wing democratic parties to be found in Political Parties (1911).
With particular reference to the Social Democratic Party in Germany, Michels explored the role of political leaders in shaping demands and aspirations, and in mobilizing popular support for Party initiatives. He was particularly interested in the ways in which organizational dynamics inhibit the realization of radical objectives. He concluded that all organizations have oligarchical tendencies, a proposition which he formulated as an ‘iron law of oligarchy’, which states that ‘it is organization which gives birth to the domination of the elected over the electors, of the mandatories over the mandators, of the delegates over the delegators. Who says organizations says oligarchy.’ According to Michels, as a political party grows and becomes more bureaucratic, it is increasingly dominated by officials who are committed to internal organizational goals rather than social change, and by middle-class intellectuals who pursue their own personal objectives which are usually different from those of the party rank-and-file. He also noted the process of embourgeoisement within parties, as working-class leaders become more middle-class as a result of social mobility, and so less committed to radical objectives. As a consequence, even in democratically governed organizations, a schism develops between the rulers and the ruled. Organizational procedures are often employed to stifle popular initiatives. Michels championed more heroic, principled forms of leadership, which would withstand incorporation. He was highly critical of political compromise.
Empirical researchers of Michels's iron law have found it difficult to demonstrate that the institutionalization of radical parties is in fact the product of the embourgeoisement of their leaders. It has also been argued that Michels's theory may have been valid for the early period of the development of socialist parties in Europe, and as a description of the élitist tendencies of the Bolshevik Party which sponsored a form of bureaucratic domination in Russia, but that the theory has since been undermined by widespread awareness of the dangers of oligarchy itself. A host of other processes have also intervened to create revisionist rather than revolutionary left-wing parties. Michels's theory has also been applied to trade unions , and used to explore the way in which, as organizations, they have become ends in themselves rather than a means to an end. Much of this secondary literature is summarized in’s ‘Introduction’ to the English-language translation ofPolitical Parties (1962).

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Michels, Robert — ▪ German Italian sociologist born Jan. 9, 1876, Cologne died May 3, 1936, Rome       German born Italian political sociologist and economist, noted for his formulation of the “iron law of oligarchy,” which states that political parties and other… …   Universalium

  • Michels — Michels, Robert …   Dictionary of sociology

  • Robert Michels — (9 January 1876, Cologne, Germany 3 May 1936, Rome, Italy) was a German sociologist who wrote on the political behavior of intellectual elites and contributed to elite theory. He is best known for his book Political Parties , which contains a… …   Wikipedia

  • MICHELS (R.) — MICHELS ROBERT (1876 1936) Il appartient à l’école de sociologie élitiste, qui regroupe également Gaetano Mosca et Vilfredo Pareto. Comme ces derniers, il pense que tous les régimes politiques sont oligarchiques et que la démocratie est le plus… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Robert Michels — (n. 9 de enero de 1876, en Colonia; m. 3 de mayo de 1936, en Roma) fue un sociólogo alemán, especializado en el comportamiento político de las élites intelectuales. Es mejor conocido por su libro Los partidos políticos, que contiene una… …   Wikipedia Español

  • Robert Michels — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Michels. Robert Michels Naissance 9 janvier 1876 Cologne Décès 3 mai 1936 (à 60 ans) Rome Robert Michels est un sociologue italien, d origine Allemande né le 9 janvier …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Michels — ist der Familienname folgender Personen: Alexander Michels (1891–1968), deutscher Vizeadmiral Ana Cláudia Michels, (* 1981), brasilianisches Supermodel Gödeke Michels († 1402), Pirat, Likedeeler, Vitalienbruder Gustav Michels (1836–1909),… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Robert Michels (physician) — Robert Michels, M.D., is University Professor of Medicine and of Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weill Cornell Medical College] and a Training and Supervising Psychoanalyst at the Columbia University… …   Wikipedia

  • Robert Michel (Künstler) — Robert Michel (* 27. Februar 1897 in Vockenhausen; † 11. Juni 1983 in Titisee Neustadt) war ein deutscher Typograf, Grafiker, Werbegrafiker, Architekt und zu Beginn seiner Karriere Testpilot. Inhaltsverzeichnis 1 Leben und Werk 2 Ausstellungen …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Robert Michel (Schriftsteller) — Robert Michel (* 24. Februar 1876 in Chaberitz (Chabeřice), Bezirk Kuttenberg, Böhmen; † 12. Februar 1957 in Wien) war ein österreichischer Schriftsteller. Inhaltsverzeichnis 1 Leben 2 Werke 3 Einzelnachweise …   Deutsch Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.