Elites and the Masses

Topics: Max Weber, Sociology, Authority Pages: 5 (1937 words) Published: October 8, 1999
Elites and the Masses

There are many theories pertaining to the nature of power in society. In modern society, it is important to identify where and when power is exercised, who benefits and who suffers from it being exerted upon them. In this tradition, it is useful to examine the managerialist perspective. Managerialism focuses on organizations as the basis, or unit of analysis of society, to which all other aspects of society are subordinate to. These organizations use their resources in an attempt to dominate each other and society. Managerialism tells us that power is concentrated among a group of elites who control organizations, and use them as an instrument to gain more power and expand their realm of control. Organizational power is increasingly the most important force that explains the direction of change in both state and society (Alford and Friedland, p.174). Thus, elites are becoming the most important factor that determines our society, and do not serve the full interests of society, but rather attempt to manipulate the masses to better serve itself. Max Weber’s theory of bureaucracy lends itself to the notion of the managerialism. He claims that as society becomes more integrated and complex, organizational elites come to be more dependent on specialists and experts, or bureaucracies to advise and influence them on decisions. Bureaucracies are groups of individuals doing specialized tasks which blend into a cohesive and efficient unit. Power becomes increasingly centralized within bureaucracies and the elites who control them because as they grow, becoming more powerful, they use that power to gain more control over the masses. Weber saw the historical development of societies as a movement toward rational forms of organization, that is, groups organized not on the basis of the authority of personalities and traditions but on the basis of specific functions to perform or objectives to meet (Marger p. 72). Weber often used the notion of a machine to illustrate what he meant by modern organizations, referring to people as “cogs” that serve the machine, losing their identity and creativity in the process. Although Weber admitted that both mechanization and bureaucracy together created an extremely efficient and productive economic system, they also worked to build an iron cage around the individual. The iron cage is the idea that increased mechanization and bureaucracy alienates and removes the individual from direct control over their environment and depersonalizes them to the point of being like machines. The increased use of assembly lines in production is a prime example of depersonalization within bureaucracy. Weber identifies several different types of authority. One is traditional legitimacy, which states that authority is bestowed upon someone based on traditional roles of authority, such as the pope or even the parents of children. Charismatic authority tells us that some are granted legitimacy to have authority over our lives by sheer charisma, such as Martin Luther King jr., Adolf Hitler and Gandhi. The third type of authority is rational-legal authority. This states that we grant legitimacy based upon the office they serve. An example of this is the inherent authority of Jesse Ventura over the people of Minnesota, simply because he holds the title of governor. In the managerial perspective, the economy is seen as a process of three different factors: industrialization, elite competition and bureaucratic rationalization. Industrialization is characterized by the increased role of technology as an integral factor of production. As industrialization and science further blend together, the economy becomes increasingly large and complex, making bureaucratic organizations more and more of a necessary function to the advancement of the economy and society at large. The advance of large scale corporations with more coordination within markets forces...

Bibliography: Alford and Friedland, Chapter Seven, “State and Society in Managerial Perspective,” in Powers of Theory, 1985, p.161-83.
Martin Marger, Ch.4, “The Elite Model,” in Elites and Masses (New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1981).
George Ritzer, “The Weberian Theory of Rationalization and the McDonaldization of Contemporary Society,” p 37-62 in P. Kivisto (ed.), Illuminating social like (Thousand Oaks, Pine Forge Press, 1998).
C. Wright Mills, “The Structure of Power in America,” in James Farganis (ed.), Ch. 11 “Conflict Theory,” Readings in Social Theory (NY: Mcgraw-Hill, 1996).
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