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Gaetano Mosca

Gaetano Mosca
Born (1858-04-01)April 1, 1858
Palermo, Italy
Died November 8, 1941(1941-11-08) (aged 83)
Rome, Italy
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Elitism
Main interests
Politics, Economics, Sociology
Notable ideas

Gaetano Mosca (April 1, 1858 – November 8, 1941) was an Italian political scientist, journalist and public servant. He is credited with developing the Theory of Elitism and the doctrine of the Political class and is one of the three members constituting the Italian School of Elitists together with Vilfredo Pareto and Robert Michels.[1]


  • Life 1
  • Political thought 2
  • See also 3
  • Works in English translation 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8


Mosca earned a degree in law from the University of Palermo in 1881. In 1887 he moved to Rome and took a position as editor of proceedings of the Chamber of Deputies of Italy. Having taught occasionally at Palermo and Rome, Mosca became chair of constitutional law at the University of Turin in 1896. He would hold this position until 1924, when he settled permanently in Rome to occupy the chair of public law at the University of Rome. Mosca held several other academic positions throughout his life.

In 1909 Mosca was elected to the Chamber of Deputies of Italy, in which he served until 1919. During this time, he served as Under-secretary for the Colonies from 1914 until 1916. In 1919, Mosca was nominated life senator of the Kingdom of Italy. He served actively in this capacity until 1926. During the Fascist dictatorship, Mosca retired to teach and research.

During this time, Mosca also worked as a political journalist for the Corriere della Sera of Milan (after 1901) and the Tribuna of Rome (from 1911 to 1921).[2]

Mosca is most famous, however, for his works of political theory. These were Sulla teorica dei governi e sul governo parlamentare (Theory of Governments and Parliamentary Government), published in 1884; Elementi di scienza politica (The Ruling Class), published in 1896; and Storia delle dottrine politiche (History of Political Doctrines), published in 1936.

Political thought

Mosca's enduring contribution to political science is the observation that all but the most primitive societies are ruled in fact, if not in theory, by a numerical minority. He named this minority the political class. Although his theory is correctly characterized as elitist, it should be observed that its basis is far different from The Power Elite described by, for example, C. Wright Mills. Unlike Mills and later sociologists, Mosca aimed to develop a universal theory of political society and his more general theory of the Political Class reflects this aim. [3]

Mosca defined modern elites in term of their superior organisational skills. These organisational skills were especially useful in gaining political power in modern bureaucratic society. Nevertheless, Mosca's theory was more liberal than the elitist theory of, for example, Pareto, since in Mosca's conception, elites are not hereditary in nature and peoples from all classes of society can theoretically become "elite". He also adhered to the concept of the circulation of elites, which is a dialectical theory of constant competition between elites, with one elite group replacing another repeatedly over time.

See also

Works in English translation

  • “Sicily.” In Encyclopædia Britannica, (11th ed.), 1911.
  • The Ruling Class, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1939.
    • "On the Ruling Class." In Talcott Parsons, ed., Theories of Society; Foundations of Modern Sociological Theory, Vol. I, Part Two, The Free Press of Glencoe, 1961.
  • "What is Mafia." M&J, 2014. Translation of the book "Cosa è la Mafia," Giornale degli Economisti, Luglio 1901, pp. 236-62.


  1. ^ Robert A. Nye, The Anti-Democratic Sources of Elite Theory: Pareto, Mosca, Michels, Sage, 1977.
  2. ^ A.. Colombo, "L'eredità di Gaetano Mosca", Corriere della Sera, August 8, 2010, p. 38.
  3. ^ C.. Martinelli, "L'organizzazione del potere nel pensiero di Gaetano Mosca", Giornale di Storia Costituzionale, 17, first semester, 2009, pp. 177-205.


  • Albertoni, Ettore, Mosca and the Theory of Elitism. Oxford: Basil Blackwell (1987). ISBN 0-631-15254-7
  • Carlo Lottieri, "Un Élitisme Technocratique et Libéral. L'Autorité et l'État Selon Mosca", L’Année Sociologique, 1994; now this article is also in Raymond Boudon - Mohamed Cherkaoui - Jeffrey C. Alexander (eds.), The Classical Tradition in Sociology. The European Tradition, vol.II (The Emergence of European Sociology: II - The Classical Tradition [1880-1920]), London: Sage Publications (1997).
  • Finocchiaro, Maurice A., Beyond Right and Left. Democratic Elitism in Mosca and Gramsci. New Haven, London: Yale UP (1999).
  • Martinelli, Claudio. "Gaetano Mosca’s Political Theories: a Key to Interpret the Dynamics of the Power," Italian Journal of Public Law, Vol. I, 2009.
  • Meisel, James H. The Myth of the Ruling Class: Gaetano Mosca and the "Elite," University of Michigan Press, 1958.
  • Meisel, James H. Pareto and Mosca, Prentice-Hall 1965.
  • Sereno, Renzo. "The Anti-Aristotelianism of Gaetano Mosca and Its Fate," Ethics, Vol. 48, No. 4, Jul., 1938.

Further reading

  • Acemoglu, Daron. Persistence of Power, Elites and Institutions, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2006.
  • Bottomore, Thomas. Elites and Society, Watts, 1964.
  • Lasch, Christopher. The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy, W. W. Norton & Company, 1996.
  • Lasswell, Harold & Lerner, Daniel. The Comparative Study of Elites, Stanford University Press, 1952.
  • Mills, C. Wright. The Power Elite, Oxford University Press, 2000.
  • Pareto, Vilfredo. The Rise and Fall of Elites, Transaction Publishers, 1991.
  • Putnam, Robert D. The Comparative Study of Political Elites, Prentice-Hall, 1976.

External links

  • Encyclopædia Britannica: Gaetano Mosca
  • What is Mafia: "What is Mafia." M&J, 2014. Translation of the book "Cosa è la Mafia," Giornale degli Economisti, Luglio 1901
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