Vilfredo Pareto and Gaetaro Mosca, the two Italian sociologists first developed the elite theory. Elite theory developed as a reaction to Marxist theory.
The Marxist dream of a classless society was rejected by it as an illusion. According to elite theory all societies are divided into two main groups- the ruling minority and the majority of the ruled. .
In a wider sense, elites are those individuals, in society who are at the top in their particular fields. Thus, the categories of political, administrative, martial, industrial, commercial, and intellectual elites have been considered.
According to the concepts of Michel, Mills, and Pareto political elite means the top minority that rules, struggles for power, takes decisions, and influences political conditions by their programmes and actions.
There is not any fixed concept and structure of the elite in any society. It keeps changing according to social needs, political struggle and competition. Pareto calls it as ‘Circulation of Bites.’
Michel opines that inspite of modern democratic system and election in the voluntary organization a few individuals grab important offices. They use the office to consolidate heir position.
Michel calls it the iron rule of aristocracy. Therefore the democratic system also creates a comparatively stable aristocratic group or elite. Pareto holds that the present day political system has two types of elites- ruling and non-ruling elites.
Today’s rulers may loss power tomorrow and non-ruling elites may grab it. The process of circulation of elites goes on continually in the form of competition, conflict and war.
C. Wright Mills published a book entitled “The Power Elite’ in 1956. He developed the concept of ‘power elite’ on the basis of America’s social, political structure. He believes that the elites in the fields of politics, industry and commerce are power elites.
He does not believe that the elite groups find themselves in positions of authority by virtue of their superior fox-like or lion-like qualities which distinguish them from the rest of the population. He identifies three key positions in the U.S.A.- the major business corporations, the military and the federal government.
These institutions occupy ‘pivotal positions’ in society. Those who occupy ‘command posts’ in these three key institutions constitute elite. He names this ruling minority ‘the power elite’. Mill says that American society is dominated by a power elite of “unprecedented power’ and unaccountability”.
Power elite is not accountable for its actions either directly to the public or to anybody which represents public interests. Mills also points out that the power elite has its disposal the media of mass communication which he describes as instruments of psychic management and manipulation.
With a great deal of subtlety and cleverness the power elite uses the mass media to persuade the men in the street to think, act and behave in certain ways. Ideas of consumerism, recreation and leisure grip the minds of the common people.
Mills holds that the terms ‘class’ and ‘elite’ are practically synonymous. Economic resources and power are the two main bases of the structure of this class.
In twentieth century, sociologists guided by Max Weber have attempted to study political power directly, and to examine the ways in which elite groups recruit support, conduct struggles and attain or fail to attain power, as well as the conditions in which a power elite is either controlled or uncontrolled.