What is an elitist


1. Concept and relevance

For some years now, the term elite (E), which has been discredited for a long time, has also spread in Germany. D is thus approaching societies such as France and the USA, in which the term E. is not only in use, but also has a predominantly positive connotation. The relevance of E. results from v. a. from the fact that their composition, their status and their exchange provide information about the social structure, social mobility and the distribution of power in a society.

However, there is no consensus on what E. is to be understood either in public discourse or in the social sciences. In terms of linguistic history, the term goes back to the Latin word "eligere", which means "to select" or "to select". In line with this, belonging to E. always means being distinguished from a larger social community, regardless of the criteria on which the selection is based and the privileges associated with it. The generally recognized significance of the E. also includes its permanent influence on decisions that are relevant for a larger group of people. The resources underlying these decisions, such as violence, capital or power legitimized by elections, vary over time, in a comparison of cultures and also between individual sectors. The peculiarity of the political E., for example, results from the fact that the decisions they make are binding on society as a whole.

Usually E. are defined in terms of the categories power, function, position or values. The concept of the value elite determines the extent to which they embody the basic values ​​of → society or express them in their speeches and actions. This strongly normative term E., which recognizes the E. as a role model, is widespread among the public. In the social sciences, on the other hand, the functional or position approach has prevailed. According to this, the affiliation to E. is determined after taking on certain management positions equipped with decision-making powers or the performance of management functions that are essential for the company. In the context of the more recent debates about educational reforms, the concept of performance E. experience a resuscitation. According to this reading, access to the E. is acquired through outstanding achievements and special merits.

Who is assigned to the group of E. (or who is assigned to oneself) depends on the underlying understanding of E. as well as on the sector considered. Requirement profiles and recruiting mechanisms are different for top political positions than for management personnel in business, the media or associations. A distinction must be made in all sectors between the E. in the narrower sense (in Germany, for example, the federal ministers and the CEOs of DAX companies) and the so-called sub-elites (in Germany, for example, members of the Bundestag without managerial responsibilities or the board members of medium-sized companies).

2. Elite theory and elite research

Thinking about the selection of suitable management personnel can be traced back to antiquity in terms of the history of ideas. However, one can only speak of E. research in the narrower sense since the end of the 19th century. The elitist school that emerged during this time, to which Mosca, Pareto and Michels in particular are assigned, is characterized by v. a. through three assumptions: First, E. understands it as a universal, constitutive and central phenomenon for societies. Second, linked to this, she assumes a dichotomy between E. and mass. It is therefore the E. who control social processes and bring about social change, for which they may use the mobilization of larger population groups ("masses"). Thirdly, an E. circulation is assumed, which can take place either evolutionarily or through sudden regime changes. It necessarily leads to the formation of new E. (the iron law of the oligarchy according to Michels) who are keen to pursue their own interests and thus alienated from the population.

In its original form, the elitist approach is rarely followed because of the decoupling of E. education from democratic procedures and the one-sided focus on E. action. The fundamental criticism of the E concept, as it was put forward by advocates of participatory democratic concepts in the 1970s, has also ebbed away. Instead it is over the course of the bdt. History has come to convey the E. concept and → democracy by linking E. education to social reference groups. According to Stammer's famous formulation, the E. emerge from social "mother groups" to which they are committed. A further "democratization" of the E. theory has taken place through E. pluralism, which is sometimes traded as a new paradigm. This focuses on the recruitment of E. from different social classes and areas as well as on equal access to management positions. In addition to the investigation of recruitment and circulation, current research is increasingly devoted to questions of integration. Pluralistic, but at the same time structurally and normatively integrated and networked (consensually unified) across sectors are an essential prerequisite for the consolidation of young democracies.

3. Elites in Germany

3.1 Post-war Germany

The perception of an E. failure responsible for the decline of the Weimar Republic and the abuse of the term E. by the National Socialists shaped the history of the FRG in two ways. On the one hand, the term E. remained discredited for a long time and had become unsuitable as a self-attribution. In particular, the political leaders of the young democracy tried to avoid any kind of elitist habitus in order not to expose themselves to social criticism (according to Dahrendorf, a "cartel of fear"). On the other hand, the democratic re-establishment took place in sharp demarcation from the Nazi system, which should also be reflected in the composition of the management staff. In fact, however, the E. circulation was limited to politics and a few other areas of society, and even there was incomplete. In the administrative apparatus and the judiciary, however, there were notable personal continuities after the end of the Third Reich.

Regardless of this, a consensually unified E. has emerged in the FRG across social sectors. This is characterized on the one hand by a pronounced communicative network, on the other hand by common democratic basic convictions. At the same time, the social opening of access to E., which began in the Weimar Republic, continued. For the West German E. before German unification, therefore, a pluralistic composition and successful (horizontal and vertical) integration can be determined. The horizontal E. integration, i.e. i. the integration of the various sector elites has been favored by corporatist tendencies in the political system and cooperative federalism.

E. recruiting in the → GDR followed fundamentally different patterns: as a centralized cadre selection controlled by the SED. The leadership positions in the state and party were primarily assigned on the basis of political loyalty, while professional qualifications played a greater role in the field of business, for example. After initially targeted promotion of candidates from the workforce, over the course of time, self-recruiting from the functionaries took place. In the final phase of the GDR, there was hardly any exchange of information, with the consequence that the state and party leadership was massively aging.

3.2 The elites in a united Germany

While the E. structure of West Germany was hardly affected by German unity, a change took place in the East German states. The exchange of political E. was more extensive than in any other post-communist society. Even vertical reproduction, i.e. the advancement of sub-elites into top political positions, remained the exception. This peculiarity was v. a. owed to E.transfer in the wake of German unification, as management positions, among others. in the executive and judiciary were predominantly occupied by West German personnel. In contrast to the political E, the picture for other E sectors is different. So there has been a far greater reproduction of E. in the economy than in politics. The cultural sector and sub-areas of science, v. a. the engineering and natural sciences.

Source: Andersen, Uwe / Wichard Woyke (ed.): Concise dictionary of the political system of the Federal Republic of Germany. 7th, updated Aufl. Heidelberg: Springer VS 2013. Author of the article: Michael Edinger