Elites in the New Democracies

by Matevž Tomšič (Author)
©2016 Monographs 140 Pages


The book deals with the analysis of key political actors in the ‘new democracies’ from Central and Eastern Europe. It is focused on character of elites, particularly political ones, and their role in the process of societal change. The author argues that elite configuration in terms of relationships between different elite factions as well as their cultural profile has strong impact on developmental dynamics of these societies. Although – at least in some countries from the region – political elites have managed to build the institutional foundations of systems of a market economy and a parliamentary democracy, with only small chances of any reverses taking place, they have been much less successful in establishing mechanisms for society’s self-organisation.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of contents
  • Introduction
  • I. Elites in modern societies
  • 1. Elites as social phenomenon – between power and knowledge
  • 2. Thematisation of elites
  • 2.1 Classical elite theory
  • 2.2 Theories of elites in contemporary societies
  • 3. Elites and social differentiation
  • 3.1 The complexity of modern societies
  • 3.2 Differentiation of ‘strategic elites’
  • 3.3 Elite recruitment
  • 4. Political spheres and the political elite
  • 4.1 Politics and steering of society
  • 4.2 Modern polity as democratic polity
  • 4.3 Types of real-existing democracies
  • 4.4 Modern non-democratic regimes
  • 4.5 Mature democracy as an ‘extended polyarchy’
  • 4.6 Political elite as the ruler of society
  • 4.7 The political elite and the character of the political regime
  • 5. Elites and social change
  • II. The political system in transition
  • 6. Post-communist transformation as systemic modernisation
  • 6.1 Communism and its ‘fake’ modernity
  • 6.2 Societal modernisation
  • 6.3 Introduction of democracy as political modernisation
  • 7. The political system and systemic transformation of society
  • 8. Character of the political elite and dynamics of the systemic transformation
  • III. Political elites in post-communist societies
  • 9. Formation of post-communist political elite
  • 9.1 The role historical legacy
  • 9.2 The pre-communist tradition in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe
  • 9.3 Main traits of the communist nomenklatura
  • 9.4 Formation of the counter-elite during communist period
  • 9.5 Communist party, opposition and the dismantling of the ‘old regime’
  • 9.6 Configuration of the post-communist political elite
  • 10. Political elite and civil society in transition
  • 10.1 The relationship between the political elite and other societal agents
  • 10.2 Dominant role of political elite in relation to other social actors
  • 11. Cleavages and conflicts
  • 11.1 Nature of societal conflicts: the prevalence of symbolic conflicts?
  • 11.2 Conflict resolution and political (dis) trust
  • 12. Elites and integration into the European institutional setting
  • 13. The rise of person-based politics
  • 13.1 Personalisation of politics in modern democracies
  • 13.2 Berluscionisation of political life
  • 13.3 Personalisation of politics in the new democracies
  • 14. Culture or politics: Dilemmas of the intellectual elites in Central and Eastern Europe
  • 14.1 Intellectuals and intelligentsia – the generators and transmitters of knowledge and ideas
  • 14.2 Intellectuals and dismantling of communism
  • 14.3 The position of intellectuals after the fall of communism
  • 14.4 The role of intellectuals in the process of European integration
  • 15. Elite profiles and the type of socio-economic regulation: The story of two post-communist countries
  • 15.1 Political dynamics in Slovenia and Estonia
  • 15.2 Left-wing and right-wing hegemony
  • 15.3 Type of socio-economic regulation: liberalism vs. neocorporatism
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Index

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The collapse of the communist system and its logic of social development, followed by the comprehensive transformation of societies once belonging to the Soviet bloc, were events that importantly determined the shape of the world at the end of the 20th century. In that particular historical moment, the subordinated countries of Central and Eastern Europe were liberated from an empire that seemed monolithic and an unbeatable stronghold (Tiryakian 1994, p. 253). This resulted in a new social situation that could have led in different directions regarding to the development of these countries.

With the deconstruction of the ‘ancient regime’, a process of complex and profound social change took place in the these countries since there was a strong consensus on constituting a Western-type institutional system. In order to understand the nature of social change it is necessary to know the character of the key actors in this change and the relations between them. Namely, one of the crucial issues of the problem of society’s system transformation is the following: who are the main actors, the ones with the power to influence the nature of social change? Who can influence the constitution of institutional relationships that define the principles of society? Namely, the successful constitution of a democratic system is not merely an automatic product of certain cultural, historical and material circumstances. Different ‘requisites of democracy’ (Lipset 1959; 1994), such as high levels of economic development and the general education of the population, a numerous middle class, a tradition of mutual respect for differences and reaching compromises etc., have an important impact on the ability to constitute democracy, but must be “chosen, implemented and maintained by its ‘agents’, i.e. political actors with their characteristic interests, passions, memories and virtues”, as stated by Schmitter (1993, p. 425). The key element is to establish institutional relations that determine the principles of the functioning of a particular society.

Given the specific circumstances of the transition from an authoritarian (totalitarian) social order to a democratic one, the role of the political subsystem, i.e. the political elite as its main holders, is particularly important since it holds the responsibility to execute the so-called ‘triple transition’ (Offe 1993), meaning a change of political, economic and social systems – the key to which is above all the reestablishment of structural conditions (systemic infrastructure, legislative framework) for the ‘normal’ functioning and autonomous development of other social areas (Adam 1994). ← 9 | 10 →

These issues are strongly related to the topic of this book, i.e. the topic of elites. Our analysis focuses on the process of the forming of political elites in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, their position and role in the context of post-communist transition, especially their impact on the course of systemic change and this character of a ‘new’ societal setting.

The nature of post-communist society – especially regarding the stabilisation of democracy – depends on many factors. In this regard, as mentioned above, those social actors, whom exert control over the transition process, play the key role. We speak about elites, notably political ones. The primary aim of the post-communist systemic change is to establish institutional conditions for the functional differentiation of society, i.e. the autonomous functioning of different societal spheres (subsystems) in accordance with their own principles. In this regard, the political system with its main agents performs the key role. It is the one that, due to its central position in society, has to provide the proper legal and organisational framework for the ‘normal’ functioning of different social areas. Further, due to the fact that the organised resistance of civil society that appeared in countries of Central and Eastern Europe at the end of the 1980s was directed against the monopoly of the ruling Communist Party, the fastest and most profound change happened in the political field, making political actors the main generator of societal transformation.

This brings us to the issue of the political elite since it is has the central role to play in the transition process. In this context, the political elite is perceived as those individuals and groups that create and control social institutions. It does not only consist of incumbents of ruling positions since, in certain conditions, members of those groups who did not then occupy formal positions of power nor (primarily) belonged to the political sphere could take on the leading role in society. To understand the situation in transition societies, it is important to analyse the configuration of the political elite and the relations between its different factions in terms which of them has a dominant impact on political and social life as well as the relation between the political elite and other elite segments. The key question is how much influence on the course of the systemic transformation those social and political groups have had, groups whose interests are tied to principles incompatible with a system based on political and economic openness and freedom since they serve to maintain their privileges and monopolies.

In terms of contents, the book consists of three parts (besides the introduction and conclusion). The first part deals with general issues and dilemmas related to the phenomenon of elites in contemporary societies. Namely, there is a dual perception of elitism as being the characteristics of certain individuals and groups. ← 10 | 11 → The first one refers to some kind exceptional traits, while the second relates to the possession of resources allowing the exertion of control over society. In the first case, we have ‘the elite of knowledge’ and ‘the elite of power’ in the second. The second label usually applies to the political elite. In a schematic way different theoretical perspectives are presented on the topic of elites, from classical elite theorists (Pareto, Mosca, Michels) to several contemporary socio-political theories. The main issue of interest is the status and role of elites in the context of modern societies, characterised by a high level of structural and functional differentiation. In such a setting, an elite does not represent a homogeneous category, but is internally differentiated. In this way, one can speak about several sectional or functional elites. Modern complex societies are also characterised by a changed way of social regulation, which holds repercussions for the role of the political system and political elite, especially in terms of the exercise of power as its main resource. However, relations between different elite factions strongly determine the character of a political regime. The role of the political elite is particularly important in a situation of profound social change.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (April)
elite configuration political system democratisation post-communist transition
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 140 pp.

Biographical notes

Matevž Tomšič (Author)

Matevž Tomšič is political sociologist and Professor at the School of Advanced Social Studies in Nova Gorica. He is also engaged at the Faculty of Information Studies in Novo mesto and at the Faculty of Media in Ljubljana. His research interests include character of elites, quality of governance, political culture, and democratisation. He was engaged in several international research projects on these topics.


Title: Elites in the New Democracies
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142 pages