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Elites in French Society: The Politics of Survival

Elites in French Society: The Politics of Survival

Copyright Date: 1978
Pages: 318
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    Elites in French Society: The Politics of Survival
    Book Description:

    Why do some elites survive while others do not? How do certain institutions manage to preserve their importance in the face of crises, instability, and change? How does a democratic society legitimize elitist institutions? Combining the use of important social theories-particularly those of Mosca, Schumpeter, Tocqueville, and Pareto-with empirical analysis, Ezra Suleiman tries to answer these questions in his examination of the dominance and stability of France's governing elites.

    The author draws on original survey data, historical evidence, and specialized documentary sources. His three part discussion deals, first, with the state institutions that nurture the French elite; second, with the organization, legitimization, and adaptation of the elite and its institutions; and third, with some of the policy and political implications of France's elitist system. In the final section of his book, he closely examines the relationship between elites in the public and private sectors.

    In his investigation of France's "state-created" elites, Professor Suleiman shows the great importance of thegrandes écolesin training and promoting the elites, and thegrand corpsin providing a base from which the elites launch themselves into extra-governmental careers. He also finds that the elites' capacity to adapt to an evolving social, political, and economic environment is a major factor in their ability to survive.

    Originally published in 1979.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-7130-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-2)
    Ezra N. Suleiman
    (pp. 3-14)

    Why do some elites endure whereas others die? This is a question to which historians and social theorists have addressed themselves in trying to explain the severe conflicts that have plagued particular societies. It is, of course, a truism that certain societies are more prone to conflicts and to instability than others. But even within such societies there often lies, beneath the all-too-evident turbulence, a considerable stability of certain groups and institutions. The changes that occur in the wake of crises often distribute their impact on different sectors of society so unevenly that they completely bypass, or are successfully resisted...


      (pp. 17-30)

      A distinction needs to be drawn between societies that possess elite-creating mechanisms and societies that make no institutional provisions for the creation of their elites. The more established the mechanisms are, the more likely are the elites to be characterized by or grouped into a series of small circles, as well as by a well-regulated system of networks among these circles. Moreover, the offices which these elites occupy are likely to be endowed with considerable prestige, even with a certain degree of charisma.

      France has one of the most clearly established mechanisms for the creation of its elites of any...

      (pp. 31-56)

      The analysis of the recruitment and training of elites has understandably emphasized the degree of openness of the educational system both in quantitative terms and in the degree of representation of society’s social classes in the student population. Invariably, regardless of the type of political system that prevails, it has been found that those who attain the diplomas conferred by higher education and who gain entry into the various elites are usually endowed with economic and social advantages that are not available to those who do not attain these positions. This is evidently as true of France, Britain, and the...

      (pp. 57-92)

      The parallel system of higher education that exists in France is as entrenched today as it was in the past. The system has innumerable detractors, but even among these, few would tamper with a system that is only half bad, or, depending on how one views the matter, half excellent. As had rarely happened in the past, the events of May 1968 brought the problem of higher education into the realm of public debate in which most people could participate. This was not the case with the debate that preceded World War I, which was confined for the most part...

  7. Part Two SURVIVAL

    • Chapter Four POSITIONS
      (pp. 95-125)

      The previous chapters have pointed to the importance as well as the endurance of the parallel system of higher education in France. We have confined our discussion to the significance of this system for the formation of elites. It becomes important now to examine the positions that the state-created elites occupy in French society. This is the task of the present chapter. The chapters that follow will attempt to explain why these elites have not only been able to hold on to their positions but have actually succeeded, over the past century and a half, in extending their influence over...

      (pp. 126-157)

      In order properly to understand the role of the dominant elite in French society it is not sufficient merely to describe its position in the society. Nor, as we indicated at the outset of the study, can one understand the bases of its power by merely examining its social composition. What is essential, and what has been lacking in studies of governing elites, is an understanding of the elements on which the elite bases and in turn justifies its dominant position. All the more does this need explaining in view of the fact that elitist ideas and organizations have maintained...

      (pp. 158-192)

      The previous chapters have illustrated the diversity of posts which the elite has come to occupy and examined the elite’s belief that its competence entitles it, and prepares it, to direct almost every activity within the public and private sectors. The question that we must now try to answer is how the elite’s multifarious activities can be reconciled with the general view that one of its distinguishing features is its specialized competence. Certainly no country has been more admired (or criticized) than France for the manner in which it trains specialists and technicians destined to occupy the highest posts. It...

    • Chapter Seven ADAPTATION
      (pp. 193-220)

      The institution that is able to change and yet remain intact has clearly achieved a remarkable feat. Such, at any rate, are the aims and the habitual self-characterizations of any well-organized institution that seeks to preserve its position over a long period. The church, no less than communist parties, has always tried to see itself as “evolving” while not deviating from its dogma in the least. One can regard the twin aims of change and stability as an attempt to stand still and walk at the same time. However, rather than being antithetical, it is also possible that each is...

  8. Part Three CONSEQUENCES

      (pp. 223-250)

      This study has thus far been concerned with the elitist institutions in France and the ways in which these institutions have preserved themselves. To explain the coexistence of the powerful elitist system with democratic institutions, we have had to concentrate on the problems and strategies of the elites and of their institutions. As we noted at the outset, the imperative of analyzing the problem from the point of view of the elite is dictated by the nature of the questions that underlie this study. There is simply no way to treat the problem of the stability and transformation of elites...

      (pp. 251-275)

      The relationship between the private sector and the state is a complex one. It is also a relationship that changes since it is affected by the variations in the society’s and in the economy’s goals. The drive toward industrialization in France in the last two decades has undoubtedly altered the relationship that the state had established with both big and small business. Indeed, the state used to be criticized in France not so much for its interventionism as for its coddling of the small businessman and its desire to save him from being crushed by the giant corporations. The picture...

    • Chapter Ten CONCLUSION
      (pp. 276-282)

      This study has been largely concerned with the remarkable resilience and adaptability of France’s elite-forming institutions. A number of general hypotheses concerning the transformation of elites can be derived from our analysis.

      (i) Transformation is facilitated by the continual renewal of the elite’s legitimacy.

      (ii) The elite’s legitimacy must be anchored in a concrete achievement which gives “charisma” to the offices occupied.

      (iii) The size of the elite must remain small. This enables the elite to be well organized.

      (iv) The career success of the individual members of the elite must depend to a very, large extent on their corporate...

    (pp. 283-294)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 295-299)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 300-300)