The Iron Law of Oligarchy
Guest post by John L. Kachelman, Jr.
The Shakespearean idiom “there is method in madness” refers to the fact that there is a rational purpose in one’s action, even though it may appear crazy to another person. The chaos and apparent insanity of the action masks a reasoned course of action.
I am not a lone voice bemoaning the “crazy” state of our society—civility has been erased; political governing has been replaced by selfish profiteering; judicial restrictions have been compromised and restraint has devolved into vigilantism; legislation has become hobbled by bitter bias. Many identify with the ancient who declared, “I cry out Violence! Strife exists; contention arises; the Law is ignored; justice is never upheld. The wicked surround the righteous; and justice comes out confused.”
The anger of the population is stirred by this “craziness.” However, that anger will be incensed when the curtain is pulled back, and the truth of the madness is recognized. What is happening is neither isolated nor unique. Our nation (world) is in the throes of evil, and many blithely shrug and say “This is crazy!”
An explanation for the madness enveloping our culture is “The Iron Law of Oligarchy” is reigning in our executive, legislative and judicial government. This brief article cannot fully develop this intriguing fact, but it highlights the machination and hopes it stimulates further study.
A concept of Political Theory
The “Iron Law of Oligarchy” is a “political theory.” “Political Theory” is a discipline that sets the foundations for justice, legitimacy, and power in the governed population. Among the topics discussed and implemented are democracy, equality, rule of law, global justice, international relations, realism and idealism, education, deliberation, institutional innovation, and the organization of knowledge. Thus, those governing a nation follow a controlling political theory. Such governing may appear “crazy” but there is method in their madness! Many are willingly ignorant about the political theories impacting the governed.
“The Iron Law of Oligarchy” was developed by the German-born Italian sociologist Robert Michels in his 1911 book Political Parties. This book is often viewed as “the book” for political theorists and is recommended in many political science courses. The majority of politicians and bureaucrats are trained by this theory. There are many bullet points highlighting the horrors of this malignant theory, but notice a few which are easily observed as our nation is thus guided by Michels’ iron law…
- Rule by an Elite, or oligarchy, is inevitable as an “iron law” within any organization is a necessity.
- Large-scale organizations give their officers a monopoly of power.
- The masses are incapable of taking part in the decision-making process and desire strong leadership.
- Political parties are oligarchical and dominated by a small leadership group.
- The “rule by a few” is a power structure in which power rests with a small number of people who may be distinguished by such traits as nobility, fame, wealth, education, or corporate, religious, political, or military control.
- A radical political party “loses” its radical goals under the dynamics of electoral participation (think of today’s “defund the police” radical agenda and how such has become mute because of electoral pushback). As it seeks to remain in control the radical messaging is removed so the electorate will continue to accept them. But, if that control is threatened then that political Elite group becomes nasty in its operations.
- Inevitably a division occurs by which those involved in politics and bureaucracy envision themselves as the Elite and all others as subservient to the Elites’ cause.
- Michels suggests the incompatibility of democracy and large-scale social organizations. He observed that contrary to democratic and egalitarian principles, both society and organizations are dominated by the leadership—the oligarchy. Hence the name “the Iron Law of Oligarchy.”
- Socio/Political systems must be organized along bureaucraticlines, managed by departments staffed with non-elected officials, and bureaucracies inevitably develop oligarchies.
- Michels concluded that in any complex organization, and such dominate the modern world, it is impossible to escape domination of oligarchy. This became known as the “iron law of oligarchy.”
A few disturbing highlights
The following reveal the insidiousness of a governing political theory based upon the Iron Law of Oligarchy…
The Iron Law of Oligarchy is based on the following logic. First, large-scale organizations necessitate the development of bureaucracy for efficient administration. Such bureaucratic leaders amass resources (communication control, slow-walking requests, etc) giving them power at the expense of rank-and-file members.
The rank-and-file possesses the skills necessary to compete with the leaders. This requires the leaders to involve regular members in various activities of the organizations to keep them from thwarting the oligarchy. Any opportunity for the rank-and-file to challenge the Elites is consumed by assignments diverting any challenge by involvement in the organizational activities and politics.
“A party of the landed gentry which should appeal only to the members of its own class and to those of identical economic interests, would not win a single seat, would not send a single representative to parliament. A conservative candidate who should present himself to his electors by declaring to them that he did not regard them as capable of playing an active part in influencing the destinies of the country, and should tell them that for this reason they ought to be deprived of the suffrage, would be a man of incomparable sincerity, but politically insane.”
The Iron Law of Oligarchy in current politics
This Iron Law is validated by history. The insidious propensity of the Rulers to oligarchy is a historical constant. Recall the ruling “divine right” of Monarchs. This political theory asserted that monarchs derive their authority from God and cannot be held accountable for their actions by human judges. Nothing the Ruling Class did was amenable to the national Rule of Law. This delusional thinking is very much current and is not in the dustbins of history.
George Orwell’s dystopic 1984, relied upon Michels Iron Law. “Throughout recorded time, and probably since the end of the Neolithic Age, there have been three kinds of people in the world. The High, the Middle and the Low…As soon as they have reached their objective, the Middle thrust the Low back into their old position of servitude, and themselves become the High…The aims of these groups are entirely irreconcilable.”
A more recent comment was on January 20, 1999. When asked about a tax cut to the general population, Clinton replied, “We could give it all back to you and hope you spend it right.” The Iron Law required Clinton to defend governmental spending because the Elite are the only ones who can spend the tax payers’ money “right.”
Another Political Theory
In stark contrast, and viewed as a terroristic threat, to the Oligarchy is a political theory that governs peaceful equity. Its principles uphold the dignity of all humanity. It has been threatened and manipulated by evil, but those instances do not compromise the basic principles. Here are the bullet points of this political theory…
- There are situations that demand people to dissolve the oligarchical political bands which have connected them with another.
- There are Laws of Nature and Nature’s God that entitle citizens to share equality with all.
- There are self-evident truths that govern civilization—all men are created equal; they are endowed by their Creator with Unalienable Rights (Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness). And, the government has an obligation to secure these rights for all citizens not just the Elite.
- When any Form of Government becomes destructive to these Unalienable Rights, it is the right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new Government with foundations to effect the safety and happiness of the nation.
- Governments long established should not be changed for transient causes but when a long train of abuses and usurpations evinces a design to reduce the citizens under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
- There are those governing who are defined as a Tyrant, and unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
- There ought to be warnings regarding the unwarrantable jurisdiction pressed upon the governed.
- Those ruling by the Iron Law of Oligarchy are deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity because they are arrogantly guarding their delusional “divine right” of the political party.
- The core principle governing of a nation must be from the population itself—a government controlled by “WE the people.” It is a government by “all” and not just elites, monarchs, or entrenched bureaucrats.
And so…where are we?
Today our nation faces a historic threat to its existence. The political theory that birthed and maintained our national foundation has been compromised and silenced. The Iron Law of Oligarchy is no longer limited to the chronicles of past governments. Today we have a governing Elite that has positioned itself above the Rule of Law and Justice is compromised. The rejection of tyranny that birthed our nation, has now made a full circle and once again Tyrants are in commanding positions.
However! Let the Elite rulers, who are secured by Michels Iron Law of Oligarchy, look closely at the destiny to which his political theory led…In 1924, Michels joined the Fascist Party, led by Benito Mussolini. Michels was convinced that the direct link between Mussolini’s charisma and the working class was the best means to realize a real lower social class government without political bureaucratic mediation. The impact of this political theory destroyed a nation.
How terribly wrong Michels was and how shamefully wrong those today who are deluded by the politics of the Iron Law of Oligarchy think themselves above the Rule of Law. Ironically, they are perched in a position to secure civility, but they are self-consumed and follow a narcissistic delusion that destroys all facets of civility.