Gaetano Mosca

Italian political scientist and journalist

Gaetano Mosca (1858-1941) was an Italian political scientist, journalist and public servant.


  • I can certainly call myself an anti-democrat, but I am not an anti-liberal; indeed I am opposed to pure democracy precisely because I am a liberal. I believe that the ruling class ought not to be monolithic and homogeneous but ought to consist of elements which are diverse in regard to origin and interests; when, instead, political power originates from a single source, even if this be elections with universal suffrage, I regard it as dangerous and liable to become oppressive. Democratic Jacobinism is an illiberal doctrine precisely because it subordinates everything to a single force, that of the so-called majority, on which it does not set any limits.
    • From a 1904 interview
      • p. 146
        • Finocchiaro, Maurice A. (1999). Beyond Right and Left: Democratic Elitism in Mosca and Gramsci. Yale University Press.

The Ruling Class

3rd edition. 1965. Edited and revised by Arthur Livingston. Translated by Hannah D. Kahn. McGraw-Hill Book Company. (Original work published 1939)
  • In reality the dominion of an organized minority, obeying a single impulse, over the unorganized majority is inevitable. The power of any minority is irresistible as against each single individual in the majority, who stands alone before the totality of the organized minority. At the same time, the minority is organized for the very reason that it is a minority. A hundred men acting uniformly in concert, with a common understanding, will triumph over a thousand men who are not in accord and can therefore be dealt with one by one. Meanwhile it will be easier for the former to act in concert and have a mutual understanding simply because they are a hundred and not a thousand. It follows that the larger the political community, the smaller will the proportion of the governing minority to the governed majority be, and the more difficult will it be for the majority to organize for reaction against the minority.
    • p.53
  • This legal and moral basis, or principle, on which the power of the political class rests, is what we have elsewhere called, and shall continue here to call, the “political formula.’ (Writers on the philosophy of law generally call it the “principle of sovereignty.”) The political formula can hardly be the same in two or more different societies; and fundamental or even notable similarities between two or more political formulas appear only where the peoples professing them have the same type of civilization [...]. According to the level of civilization in the peoples among whom they are current, the various political formulas may be based either upon supernatural beliefs or upon concepts which, if they do not correspond to positive realities, at least appear to be rational. We shall not say that they correspond in either case to scientific truths. A conscientious observer would be obliged to confess that, if no one has ever seen the authentic document by which the Lord empowered certain privileged persons or families to rule his people on his behalf, neither can it be maintained that a popular election, however liberal the suffrage may be, is ordinarily the expression of the will of a people, or even of the will of the majority of a people.
    And yet that does not mean that political formulas are mere quackeries aptly invented to trick the masses into obedience. Anyone who viewed them in that light would fall into grave error. The truth is that they answer a real need in man’s social nature; and this need, so universally felt, of governing and knowing that one is governed not on the basis of mere material or intellectual force, but on the basis of a moral principle, has beyond any doubt a practical and a real importance.
    • p.70-71
  • Spencer wrote that the divine right of kings was the great superstition of past ages, and that the divine right of elected assemblies is the great superstition of our present age. The idea cannot be called wholly mistaken, but certainly it does not consider or exhaust all aspects of the question. It is further necessary to see whether a society can hold together without one of these “great superstitions”—whether a universal illusion is not a social force that contributes powerfully to consolidating political organization and unifying peoples or even whole civilizations.
    • p.71
  • As social organization progresses and the governing class begins to reap the benefits of an improved bureaucratic machine, its superiority in culture and wealth, and especially its better organization and firmer cohesion, may compensate to some extent for the lack of individual energy; and so it may come about that considerable portions of the governing class, especially the circles that give the society its intellectual tone and direction, lose the habit of dealing with people of the lower classes and command them directly. This state of affairs generally enables frivolousness, and a sort of culture that is wholly abstract and conventional, to supplant a vivid sense of realities and a sound and accurate knowledge of human nature. Thinking loses virility. Sentimental and exaggeratedly humanitarian theories come to the fore, theories that proclaim the innate goodness of men, especially when they are not spoiled by civilization, or theories that uphold the absolute preferableness, in the arts of government, of gentle and persuasive means to severe authoritarian measures. People imagine, as Taine puts it, that since social life has flowed blandly and smoothly on for centuries, like an impetuous river confined withing sturdy dikes, the dikes have become superfluous and can readily be dispensed with, now that the river has learned its lesson. […]
    It would seem therefore that there is a frequent, if not a universal, tendency in very mature civilizations, where ruling classes have acquired highly refined literary cultures, to wax enthusiastic, by a sort of antithesis, over the simple ways of savages, barbarians and peasants (the case of Arcadia!), and to clothe them with all sorts of virtues and sentiments that are as stereotyped as they are imaginary. Invariably underlying all such tendencies is the concept that was so aptly phrased by Rousseau, that man is good by nature but spoiled by society and civilization. This notion has had a very great influence on political thinking during the past hundred and fifty years. […]
    [W]hen the ruling class has degenerated in the manner described, it loses its ability to provide against its own dangers and against those of the society that has the misfortune to be guided by it. So the state crashes at the first appreciable shock from the outside foe. Those who govern are unable to deal with the least flurry; and the changes that a strong and intelligent ruling class would have carried out at a negligible cost in wealth, blood and human dignity take on the proportions of a social cataclysm.
    • p.117-9
  • One should note, as an example, that in the course of the nineteenth century England adopted peacefully and without violent shocks almost all the basic civil and political reforms that France paid so heavily to achieve through the great Revolution. Undeniably, the great advantage of England lay in the greater energy, the greater practical wisdom, the better political training, that her ruling class possessed down to the very end of the past century.
    • p.119
  • [W]hen the class that monopolizes wealth and arms embodies its power in a centralized bureaucracy and an irresistible standing army, we get a despotism in its worst form – namely, a barbarous and primitive system of government that has the instruments of an advanced civilization at its disposal, a yoke of iron which is applied by rough and reckless hands and which is very hard to break, since it has been steeled and tempered by practical artisans.
    • p.142
  • There is no use either in cherishing illusions as to the practical consequences of a system in which political power and control of economic production and distribution are irrevocably delegated to, or conferred upon, the same persons. In so far as the state absorbs and distributes a larger and larger portion of the public wealth, the leaders of the ruling class come to possess greater and greater facilities for influencing and commanding their subordinates, and more and more easily evade control by anybody.
    • p.143
  • Down to a few generations ago—and even today in the eyes of many writers and statesmen—all flaws in representative government were attributed to incomplete or mistaken applications of the principles of representation and suffrage. Louis Blanc, Lamartine and indeed all the democratic writers in France before 1848 ascribed the alleged corruption of the July Monarchy and all the drawbacks of the French parliamentary system to interference by the monarch with the elective bodies and, especially, to limited suffrage. Similar beliefs were widely current in Italy down to thirty years ago. For instance, they formed, as they still form, the groundwork of the Mazzinian school [...] [And yet precisely] [w]hat happens in other forms of government — namely, that an organized minority imposes its will on the disorganized majority — happens also and to perfection, whatever the appearances to the contrary, under the representative system. When we say that the voters “choose” their representative, we are using a language that is very inexact. The truth is that the representative has himself elected by the voters, and, if that phrase should seem too inflexible and too harsh to fit some cases, we might qualify it by saying that his friends have him elected. In elections, as in all other manifestations of social life, those who have the will and, especially, the moral, intellectual and material means to force their will upon others take the lead over the others and command them.
    • p.154
  • From our point of view there can be no antagonism between state and society. The state is to be looked upon merely as that part of society which performs the political function. Consider in this light, all questions touching interference or non-interference by the state come to assume a new aspect. Instead of asking what the limits of state activity ought to be, we try to find out what the best type of political organization is, which type, in order words, enables all the elements that have a political significance in a given society to be best utilized and specialized, best subjected to reciprocal control and to the principle of individual responsibility for the things that are done in the respective domains.
    • p.159
  • The day can hardly come when conflicts and rivalries among different religions and parties will end. [...] Even granting that such a world could be realized, it does not seem to us a desirable sort of world. So far in history, freedom to think, to observe, to judge men and things serenely and dispassionately, has been possible—always be it understood, for a few individuals—only in those societies in which numbers of different religious and political currents have been struggling for dominion. That same condition [...] is almost indispensable for the attainment of what is commonly called “political liberty’” — in other words, the highest possible degree of justice in the relations between governors and governed that is compatible with our imperfect human nature. In fact, in societies where choice among a number of religious and political currents has ceased to be possible because one such current has succeeded in gaining exclusive control, the isolated and original thinker has to be silent, and moral and intellectual monopoly is infallibly associated with political monopoly, to the advantage of a caste or of a very few social forces.
    • p.197
  • The feeling that springs spontaneously from an unprejudiced judgment of the history of humanity is compassion for the contradictory qualities of this poor human race of ours, so rich in abnegation, so ready at times for personal sacrifice, yet whose every attempt, whether more or less successful or not at all successful, to attain moral and material betterment, is coupled with an unleashing of hates, rancors and the basest passions. A tragic destiny is that of men! Aspiring ever to pursue and achieve what they the good, they ever find pretexts for slaughtering and persecuting each other. Once they slaughtered and persecuted over the interpretation of a dogma, or of a passage in the Bible. Then they slaughtered and persecuted in order to inaugurate the kingdom of liberty, equality and fraternity. Today they are slaughtering and persecuting and fiendishly torturing each other in the name of other creeds. Perhaps tomorrow they will slaughter and torment each other in an effort to banish the last trace of violence and injustice from the earth!
    • p.198
  • We must not infer from [the decline of religion] that rationalistic or scientific education has made any great progress in the lower classes. A person may not only question the truth of religious doctrines — he may also be convinced that all religions are historical phenomena born of innate and profound needs of the human spirit, and that attitude may be arrived at through a realistic mental training based on comprehensive studies that have gradually accustomed the mind not to accept as true anything that is not scientifically proved. In such a case, on losing one system of illusions, the individual is left so well balanced that he will not be inclined to embrace another, and certainly not the first that comes along. But the mass of lower-class unbelievers that we have in nations of European civilization today — and also, it must be confessed, the great majority of unbelievers who are not exactly lower-class, do not arrive at rationalism over any such road. They disbelieve, and they scoff, simply because they have grown up in environments in which they have been taught to disbelieve and to scoff. Under those circumstances, the mind that rejects Christianity because it is based on the supernatural is quite ready to accept other beliefs, and beliefs that may well be cruder and more vulgar. [...] Instead of believing blindly in the priest they believe blindly in the revolutionary agitator. They pride themselves on being in the vanguard of civilization, and their minds are open to all sorts of superstitions and sophistries. The moral and intellectual status which they have attained, far from being an enlightened positivism, is just a vulgar, sensuous, degrading materialism — it is “‘indifferentism,” if one prefers to call it that.
    • p.247-8

Quotes about Mosca

  • What is the secret of the amazing subordination of the armies of the West? Mosca finds the answer in the aristocratic character, so to say, of the army, first in the fact that there is a wide and absolute social distinction between private and officer, and second that the corps of officers, which comes from the ruling class, reflects the balance of multiple and varied social forces which are recognized by and within that class. The logical implications of this theory are well worth pondering. If the theory be regarded as sound, steps toward the democratization of armies—the policy of Mr. Hore-Belisha, for instance—are mistaken steps which in the end lead toward military dictatorships; for any considerable democratization of armies would make them active social forces reflecting all the vicissitudes of social conflict and, therefore, preponderant social forces. On the other hand, army officers have to be completely eliminated from political life proper. When army officers figure actively and ex officio in political councils, they are certain eventually to dominate those councils and replace the civil authority — the seemingly incurable cancer of the Spanish world, for an example.
  • Mosca, founder of the "Italian elitist" school, arguably the Darwin of his field, today known only even to specialists as a precursor of fascism, saw that within every governed society, all human beings can be divided into three clear sets.
    One is the officials, people “in the loop” who have the power to control or affect government decisions. Anyone who isn’t an official is a subject. The set of all officials is the regime. The set of all nonofficials is the public.
    Subjects are divided into two sets by a simple accounting: clients, who are economically dependent on the regime; commoners, on whom the regime is economically dependent. Clients naturally admire the regime; commoners naturally resent it.
    Individual human opinion is never deterministic. But these three human perspectives—regime, commons, and clientele—nourish three kinds of political cultures, classes, or traditions. And while there may be many distinct common and client cultures, there is almost never more than one official culture: the people who govern, plus the people who think like them. Every objective political theory is a theory of this official class.
    Sovereignty, the absolute power of all officials over all subjects, is conserved. All government is unconditional. All “freedoms” are conditional privileges granted by the regime — what are “judges” but officials?
  • The psychological sword of the state is the political formula. A political formula is any thought—good or bad, true or false, crazy or sane—that convinces the subject to love, serve, and obey the officials.
    For instance, the slogan “Black Lives Matter” is a political formula. It exhorts us to support those forces, persons, and institutions that promote, or are purported to promote, “Black Lives.”
    ...The ideal formula has a message for each culture. For the regime, the best formula is self-affirming; it convinces the official class that it is doing the right thing. For the clientele, the best formula is self-interested; it convinces the clients that the regime is working for them. For the commons, the best formula is self-deprecating; it convinces the commoners to stay humble and pay their taxes.

See also

Social and political philosophers
Classic AristotleMarcus AureliusChanakyaCiceroConfuciusMozi LaoziMenciusMoziPlatoPlutarchPolybiusSeneca the YoungerSocratesSun TzuThucydidesXenophonXun Zi
Conservative de BenoistBolingbrokeBonaldBurkeBurnhamCarlyleColeridgeComteCortésDurkheimDávilaEvolaFichteFilmerGaltonGentileHegelHeideggerHerderHobbesHoppeHumede JouvenelJüngerKirkvon Kuehnelt-LeddihnLandde MaistreMansfieldMoscaOakeshottOrtegaParetoPetersonSantayanaSchmittScrutonSowellSpenglerStraussTaineTocqueville • VicoVoegelinWeaverYarvin
Liberal ArendtAronBastiatBeccariaBenthamBerlinBoétieCamusCondorcetConstantDworkinEmersonErasmusFranklinFukuyamaHayekJeffersonKantLockeMachiavelliMadisonMaineMillMiltonMenckenMisesMontaigneMontesquieuNietzscheNozickOrtegaPopperRandRawlsRothbardSadeSchillerSimmelSmithSpencerSpinozade StaëlStirnerThoreauTocquevilleTuckerVoltaireWeberWollstonecraft
Religious al-GhazaliAmbedkarAugustine of HippoAquinasAugustineAurobindoCalvinChestertonDanteDayanandaDostoyevskyEliadeGandhiGirardGregoryGuénonJesusJohn of SalisburyJungKierkegaardKołakowskiLewisLutherMaimonidesMalebrancheMaritainMoreMuhammadMüntzerNiebuhrOckhamOrigenPhiloPizanQutbRadhakrishnanShariatiSolzhenitsynTaylorTeilhard de ChardinTertullianTolstoyVivekanandaWeil
Socialist AdornoAflaqAgambenBadiouBakuninBaudrillardBaumanBernsteinButlerChomskyde BeauvoirDebordDeleuzeDeweyDu BoisEngelsFanonFoucaultFourierFrommGodwinGoldmanGramsciHabermasKropotkinLeninLondonLuxemburgMaoMarcuseMarxMazziniNegriOwenPaine RortyRousseauRussellSaint-SimonSartreSkinnerSorelTrotskyWalzerXiaopingŽižek
Conservative intellectuals
France Bainvillede BenoistBernanosLe Bonde BonaldBossuetBrucknerCamusCarrelde ChateaubriandFayeFustel de CoulangesFaguetDurkheimGirardGuénonHouellebecqde Jouvenelde MaistreMaurrasRenande RivarolTainede TocquevilleZemmour
Germanosphere von BismarckBurckhardtHamannHegelHeideggerHerderJüngervon Kuehnelt-LeddihnKlagesLorenzLöwithMannNietzscheNolteNovalisPieperRauschningvon RankeRöpkeSchmittSloterdijkSchoeckSpenglervon TreitschkeWeininger
Italy D'AnnunzioEvolaGentileMoscaPareto
Iberia & Latin America de CarvalhoCortésDávilaFernández de la Mora y MonOrtega y GassetSalazar
United Kingdom AmisArnoldBalfourBellocBowdenBurkeCarlyleChestertonColeridgeDisraeliFergusonFilmerGaltonGibbonHitchensHumeJohnson (Paul)Johnson (Samuel)KiplingLandLawrenceLewisMoreMosleyMurrayNewmanOakeshottPowellRuskinScrutonStephenTolkienUnwinWaughWordsworthYeats
USA & Canada AntonBabbittCalhounCoolidgeCrichtonBellBellowBloomBoorstinBuchananBuckley Jr.BurnhamCaldwellConquestDerbyshireDouthatDreherDurantEastmanFrancisGoldbergGoldwaterGottfriedGrantHansonHuntingtonJacobyKimballKirkKristolLaschLovecraftMansfieldMearsheimerMeyerMurrayNockPagliaPetersonRepplierRufoRushtonShockleySowellSumnerThielViereckVoegelinWeaverYarvin
Russia DostoyevskyDuginHavelSolzhenitsyn
Ummah AsadFardidKhameneiKhomeiniQutbShariati
Other / Mixed Alamariu (Bronze Age Pervert)ConradEliadeEysenckHayekHazonyHoppeMannheimMishimaMolnarSantayanaStraussTalmon

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