Chapter 8: Sociological Theory of Vilfredo Pareto



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chapter 8: Sociological Theory of Vilfredo Pareto


Vilfredo Pareto

  • References

  • Coser, L. A. (1977). Masters of sociological thought: Ideas in historical and social context (2nd ed.). New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers.

  • Perdue, W. D. (1986). Sociological theory: Explanation, paradigm, and ideology. Palo Alto, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company.

  • Stephan, E. (n. d.). Sociology 302, history of thought: Vilfredo Pareto. Retrieved on September 9, 2002 from Western Washington University Web site: http://www.ac.wwu.edu/~stephan/Sociology/302/pareto/pareto.html

  • Turner, J. H, Beeghley, L., & Powers, C. H. (1998). The emergence of sociological theory (4th ed.). Cincinnati, OH: Wadsworth Publishing Company.



Vilfredo Pareto

  • 1848-1923

  • Born in Paris, France

  • Family

    • Father
      • Italian nobleman
      • Political exile
    • Mother
      • French
  • Education

    • Polytechnic Institute in Turin
      • Engineering degree


Vilfredo Pareto

  • Pareto’s contributions to sociology were matched by his early efforts in the field of economics.

  • Beginning in 1893, Pareto taught economics at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland

  • (Perdue, 1986)



Vilfredo Pareto

  • Two Major Turning Points in Pareto’s Intellectual Life

  • First, over time the engineer-economist became convinced of the limitations of narrowly down conceptions of economic systems and advanced the need for a general theory of society.

    • 1902-1903 Pareto published The Socialist Systems
    • 1915 Pareto published General Treatise on Sociology
      • 1935 republished under the title of The Mind and Society


Vilfredo Pareto

    • Throughout his writing career, the thrust of Pareto’s work was toward an equilibrium model of society.
      • His conception of the social system came to highly influential at Harvard University, particularly in the work of Talcott Parsons


Vilfredo Pareto

  • The second major turning point in his intellectual develop was in the areas of politics and ideology.

    • In his youth, he was swayed by the democratic and humanitarian ethic. He opposed the authority of the church and the ready resort to military force that swept European history.


Vilfredo Pareto

    • Over time Pareto’s early sentiments were to change.
      • In the last decade of the nineteenth century, he wrote scores of articles calling for the reorganization of society along the lines of laissez-faire economics.
      • In the current Italian politics, the ideals of democracy came to assume a socialist face.
        • Pareto’s fiercely retained his “liberal” conception of free trade, while repudiating political equality.
        • Pareto had decided that his own prior reasoning in support of political liberty was more emotional than rational—he did not support the concepts of democracy and ideology.
        • One of his admirers was Benito Mussolini, who offered him a seat in the Italian senate shortly before Pareto’s death in 1923.


Vilfredo Pareto

  • Pareto’s views were shaped by the history and experience of Italy during his lifetime. The attempt toward democracy was a failed one…and he did not give much to hope in the “masses” due to what actually happened in Italy.



Vilfredo Pareto: Assumptions

  • Pareto’s theory is written in the positivist tradition

  • A very good fit with the ideal type of the order paradigm

  • Pareto assumed sociology to be an empirical discipline, meant to follow the methodological lead of the natural sciences.



Vilfredo Pareto: Assumptions

  • Logico-experimental Method

    • Social investigations are based solely on experience and observation
  • Pareto believed that the highest form of human organization is the social system.

    • It logically follows that the natural state of society is one of dynamic equilibrium.


Vilfredo Pareto: Assumptions

  • Pareto embraced Spencer’s position on noninterference (especially as it applied to laissez-faire economics).

  • Pareto was influenced by both Spencer and Durkheim in the concepts of greater differentiation and interrelationships.

  • Pareto’s conception of society was drawn from his engineering background…replacing the organism concept (biological) with a mechanical image/system concept.



Vilfredo Pareto: Assumptions

  • Of crucial importance was Pareto’s conception of society as a system of elements or variables in a state of reciprocal and mutual interdependence.

  • Pareto did not accept the Enlightenment philosophical influence used by his predecessors—the ideal of unilinear progress. Comte and Spencer held fast to the Hobbesian conception of the antisocial being saved from mutual destruction only through reason.



Vilfredo Pareto: Assumptions

  • However, Pareto went beyond Hobbes. When the promise of progress in his native Italy fell far short of fruition, he was drawn to perhaps the starkest portrait of human nature in Western philosophy, that of Niccolo Machiavelli, author of The Prince.



Vilfredo Pareto: Assumptions

    • In The Prince, Machiavelli argued that the ordinary sentiments of humankind are those of greed and selfishness. In concrete terms, those who are subject to political authority are without gratitude, honesty, and courage. The subject population by nature is unable to resist the passions of the moment and will violate both principles and rights of other. At an intellectual level, there is no creative thought but only the imitation of authority. It is this imitation of authority, together with the desire for self-preservation, that represents the only hope for human redemption.


Vilfredo Pareto: Assumptions

      • Machiavelli did not specify precisely how those in power came to avoid the disaster of such a nature. However, he found in the despicable conditions of the subject population a mandate for political action. He wrote that rulers are required to employ means that are beyond the pale of personal morality. These include a mastery of legal forms of social control but may also include deception, brute force, and the evaluation of all strategies by means of the ultimate end to which they are put.


Vilfredo Pareto: Assumptions

        • Therefore, the ruler is advised to give the appearance of virtue, piety, and thrift, thus behaving as the fox. Or when necessary, the ruler must resort to power and cruelty as does the lion. In the words of Machiavelli, it is “safer to be feared than loved.” The power of such imagery had a striking impact on Vilfredo Pareto.


Vilfredo Pareto: Assumptions

  • Pareto witnessed a terrible, messy change in Italy’s move toward democracy. He saw that the disenfranchised workers and peasants of Italy press for land reform, union organization, and public works. While Pareto was a laissez-faire revolutionary, he did not see democracy as the best political means to achieve an ideal economic system for the country. The masses were not logical in their decision-making processes.



Vilfredo Pareto: Theoretical Content

  • The general logic of Pareto’s work follows from his conception of society as a systematic whole made up of interdependent parts. He argued forcefully that the introduction of change at any point affecting any part will necessarily produce change in other parts, as well as in the total system.



Vilfredo Pareto: Theoretical Content

  • Forces within society work to maintain the existing form of social organization and to ensure that change is orderly and compatible with the nature of the social system. Hence, for Pareto, change is not conceived in terms of dramatic institutional response. To the contrary, action and reaction within the system represent a process of maintaining order in the presence of threats. As with homeostasis in physiology, the components of society compensate automatically for alterations or strain in the external environment.



Vilfredo Pareto: Theoretical Content

  • The relationships among variables in Pareto’s system are not unilateral. As a rule, relationships involve reciprocal dependence. For this reason, Pareto rejected the traditional conception of cause and effect as both one-sided and simplistic. He believed that the association of social variables could be best understood as functional, but he appears to have employed a mathematical conception of function.



Vilfredo Pareto: Theoretical Content

    • By this we mean that the state of the variable depends on and changes with another (or other) variable(s). In a quantitative sense, fluctuations in the system can best be conceived as correlation, as a matter of the degree of relative correspondence. This is different from Durkheimian functionalism, where the focus is on the purposes of social practices.


Vilfredo Pareto: Theoretical Content

  • For Pareto, the most important elements of a social system are those that are universal, that is, found in all systems. These constant elements tend to be regular and uniform and to demonstrate continuity over time. He argued that the identification and measurement of the constant components that comprise the social system represent sociology’s reason for being.



Vilfredo Pareto: Theoretical Content

  • Logical and Nonlogical

  • Turning his attention to the members of society, Pareto held that human action within the system can be classified as logical or nonlogical. Logical action occurs when a preponderance of rigorous evidence is employed by the actor to a assess (a) whether an end be realistically achieved, and if so, (b) what the best means are to reach that goal.



Vilfredo Pareto: Theoretical Content

    • Influenced heavily by Machiavelli, Pareto argued that logical action is unusual (confined typically to such rational behavior as economic and scientific conduct). Rather, it is nonlogical action, reflective of underlying human sentiments or innate instincts, that dominates the range of human behavior. Pareto did not separate human action from the social system. Rather, he incorporated both the logical and nonlogical within its internal dynamics.


Vilfredo Pareto: Theoretical Content

  • (Stephan, n. d.)



Vilfredo Pareto: Theoretical Content



Vilfredo Pareto: Theoretical Content

  • Equilibrium

  • Pareto held that systemic equilibrium is a consequence of the constancies of external conditions and internal elements.

    • External conditions consists of two major categories: the impact on society by its natural environment (geography) and the influences represented by other systems or by the same system at an earlier historical stage.
    • Internal elements can be classified into principal types. These are economic, residues, derivations, social stratification, and the circulation of the elite.


Vilfredo Pareto: Theoretical Content

      • Residues: Another internal element consist of nonlogical actions that are manifestations of underlying mental or psychic states or sentiments. Termed residues, such manifestations correspond with innate dispositions that appear to be bioinstinctual in essence. At the individual level, residues seem synonymous with drives or basic impulses that ordinarily culminate in social interaction. Such an interpretation has to be inferred from Pareto’s classification of residues as well as his general usage of the concept.


Vilfredo Pareto: Theoretical Content

        • Pareto identified 51 residues and combined them into six distinct classes:
          • Combinations: the impulse to form associations and categories of things, events, and ideas
          • Persistence of Aggregates: the impulse to preserve abstractions, symbols, and social relationships over time
          • Sentiments through Exterior Acts: impulse to express powerful underlying emotions through religious rituals, political agitation, and so forth
          • Sociability: the impulse to impose uniform standards of behavior to realize popularity, prestige, and standing
          • Integrity of Personality: impulse to preserve the personality
          • Sexuality: impulse toward all sexually related action


Vilfredo Pareto: Theoretical Content

      • Derivations: constitute the next constant and internal element of social systems. Derivations are a form of nonlogical action. And just as residues are manifestations of sentiments, so too are derivations manifestations of residues. Derivations are in effect ideologies or “pseudo-logical” defenses that are subject to further classification. These are assertions, appeals to authority, claims that are in accordance with prevailing sentiments or conventional wisdom, and verbal proofs that employ ambiguity, abstractions, and analogies in lieu of hard evidence.


Vilfredo Pareto: Theoretical Content

        • It is crucial at this juncture to make note of Pareto’s theoretical intent. By means of his residues and derivations, he sought not only to identify constant elements of the social system but to construct a basis for criticizing rival theories that did not measure up to his “logico-experimental” conception of science. Thus, for Pareto, both the social system and his theoretical attempts to explain it were based on logical action. Alternative theories, especially those that seemed to offer an alternative view of society, were dismissed as mere “deviations,” ideologies masquerading as science. They sought legitimacy through assertion, authority, “what everybody knows,” and verbal obtuseness.


Vilfredo Pareto: Theoretical Content

  • Pareto arrives at his distinctions between residues and derivations by the following procedure: He investigates doctrines that are associated with action, for example, Christian religious doctrine or liberal political theory. From these theories he separates those elements that correspond to the standards of logico- experimental science. Next, he separates the remaining nonscientific elements into constants (residues) and variables (derivations). Derivations only arise when there is reasoning, argument, and ideological justification. When these are present, Paretian analysis looks for the underlying relatively constant elements (residues) (Coser, 1977).

    • Clarification…residues are MORE constant than derivations. Derivations are constant within a specific time of a specific social system. Residues are constant within all social systems over time (Bolender).


Vilfredo Pareto: Theoretical Content

  • For example, we find in all ages a great variety of verbalizations and doctrines connected with the sexual sphere. These may take the form of pornographic literature or of the denunciation of sexual license. There are strict and permissive theories about proper sexual conduct. Ascetic doctrines condemn what hedonistic doctrines extol. But throughout all these manifold derivations runs a common sexual residue, which remains remarkably stable at all times. Styles, modes, fashions, and ethical theories about the sexual sphere vary immensely, but a uniform sexual nucleus always crops up in a variety of new doctrinal disguises (Coser, 1977).

    • The styles, modes, fashions, and ethical theories are derivations of the residues (Bolender).


Vilfredo Pareto: Theoretical Content

      • Social Stratification: By such, Pareto meant that residues are differentially distributed among individuals, groups, and classes in society. Such a state of affairs, when combined with real moral, intellectual, and physical differences, represents the basis for inequality. This fundamental component of society means that all theories of political democracy, classlessness, and mass government are contradicted by the systemic imperative of social stratification. Therefore, egalitarian conceptions of society can be nothing more than derivations (unfounded ideologies) used by ruling circles to control the lower strata.


Vilfredo Pareto: Theoretical Content

      • Circulation of the Elite: History, Pareto argued, is the “cemetery of aristocracies.” By this he sought to show that although stratification is a part of the natural order of things, the composition of its elite circles does not remain unchanged. According to Pareto, those on the top often resort to measures of repression that sustain them for long periods. However, sooner or later the “more fit” members of the subject classes will demand their place. If they are not assimilated into the existing elite, then the historical stage is set for the revolution.


Vilfredo Pareto: Theoretical Content

        • Pareto found specific residues at the base of the circulation of the elite. These are the residues of combinations and persistence of aggregates.
          • Combination residues are the basis for grand schemes of political and financial empire building, or the bringing together of state power and the interests of economic enterprise. The elite act in the style of Machiavelli’s foxes, and although they are willing to innovate and assume risks, they prefer deception to force.
          • Persistence of aggregates residues, on the other hand, dominate a contending body of elite. For Pareto, these were Machiavelli’s lions with their strong and enduring attachment to family, class, country, and other traditional social relationships. Here we find the patriots and nationalists who fear neither the use of violence nor the raw exercise of power. Pareto’s world saw the predominance of foxes. Soon, he predicted, the day of the lion would dawn. History fulfilled his prediction.


Vilfredo Pareto: Theoretical Content

  • Pareto’s Basic Argument in The Rise and Fall of the Elites

  • Cyclical changes occur in the sentiments—that is, values, beliefs, and world view—of economic and political elites as well as nonelites.

  • At any time, political processes are dominated by elites, whose members are either lions or foxes. Lions are strong willed, direct, and conservative. They favor adherence to tradition and show little reluctance to use force. On the other hand, foxes are cunning and devious. Their bravado can be toothless posturing and false imagery. They view government as the art of deceit, misinformation, and secret deals, all cloaked behind a veil of propaganda.

  • (Turner, Beeghley, & Powers, 1998)



Vilfredo Pareto: Theoretical Content

  • At any given time, economic processes are dominated by elites, whose members are either rentiers or speculators. Rentiers tend to be conservative, are interested in long-term investments, and tend to favor enterprises that produce tangible goods or provide necessary services. Speculators accept risk, are interested in short-term profitability, and tend to engage in middleman enterprises that make money by transferring things from one set of hands to another without incurring production costs.



Vilfredo Pareto: Theoretical Content

  • Because members of elites tend to recruit others like themselves, excluding those who violate their sentiments, political and economic elites tend to become homogeneous over time.

  • Homogeneous elites destroy economic and political vitality and are vulnerable to overthrow by their opposites. Therefore, a country dominated by one kind of elite loses strength and stature. Lions and rentiers are eventually replaced by foxes and speculators, and vice versa.



Vilfredo Pareto: Theoretical Content

  • The rate at which change occurs is a dual function of how exploitive elites become and the skill with which elites use force, co-optation, and propaganda to maintain their position.

  • As nonelites become alienated by exploitive activities, their alienation eventually creates pressures that exceed the capacity of elites to use forces, thereby resulting in the replacement of one of elite by another type.



Vilfredo Pareto: Theoretical Content

  • The cycles of elites re positively correlated with each other and with economic conditions, with the result that lions and rentiers tend to ascend to elite positions together during times of economic contraction, whereas foxes and speculators tend to ascend to the elite positions during times of economic growth and prosperity.



Vilfredo Pareto: Theoretical Content

  • Accompanying, and roughly corresponding to, these political and economic cycles are cycles are ideological beliefs between conservative and liberal tenets.



Vilfredo Pareto: Theoretical Content



Vilfredo Pareto: Theoretical Content



Vilfredo Pareto: Theoretical Content



Vilfredo Pareto: Theoretical Content




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