Vilfredo Pareto 1848-1923
Italian sociologist, economist, and political theorist.
One of the preeminent figures of modern social science, Pareto was among the first to unite the discipline of mathematics with the sciences of sociology and political economics. Throughout his career, Pareto strove to develop an inductive sociological system based upon "logico-experimental reason." The most enduring example of his efforts, his four-volume treatise Trattato di sociologica generale (1916, The Mind and Society), contains Pareto's controversial contributions to the field, including his theories of nonrational motivation and of the circulation of elites. The former theory schematizes the interior and exterior forces that influence human behavior. According to the latter theory, the rulers of society attempt to legitimize their authority by masking imbalances of power with a veneer of reason; when the deception is revealed a new elite takes power, displacing the old. In the view of many early commentators, Pareto's political beliefs—which favored absolutism and opposed democracy—allied him with fascism. Critics have since acknowledged that Pareto, rather than laying the groundwork for fascism, outlined a thoroughly individual and iconoclastic theory of social behavior. A prominent economist as well as a sociologist, Pareto is also remembered for his ideal model of economic efficiency and for his law of the distribution of wealth, which notes the invariability of income inequality in all economic systems.
Pareto was born in Paris, France, on August 15, 1848. His father was an Italian aristocrat whose sympathies with the democratic movement in Italy forced him to flee his homeland and live in exile for more than two decades. In 1858 Pareto returned with his parents to Italy. There he was educated in mathematics and classical literature. Graduating from the Polytechnic Institute of Turin in 1870, Pareto embarked on an engineering career, and eventually rose to the position of Director of National Railways in Rome in 1874. Later, he served as the superintendent of Florence's iron mines, and in the 1880s undertook an ill-fated political career. Meanwhile, he accepted the position of lecturer in mathematics and engineering at Florence and Fiesole, and in 1889 married Alessandra Bakunin, daughter of the renowned Russian political theorist. In 1893 Pareto was selected by the economist Leon Walras to fill his vacated post as professor of political economy at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. He moved with his wife to nearby Céligny.
Several years later Pareto published the Cours d' économiepolitique (1896-97), his first significant work on the subject of economics. In 1900, after inheriting a large sum of money from an uncle, Pareto limited his teaching activities and withdrew to his villa at Céligny in order to write. In 1907 he retired from his professorship and, now separated from his wife and largely reclusive, devoted himself to his sociological studies, which culminated in his Trattato di sociologica generale. In 1922, during the rise of fascism in Italy, Pareto was appointed a senator by Benito Mussolini, who considered the aging sociologist the father of fascist ideology. Pareto reluctantly accepted the post but died shortly after the appointment, on August 19, 1923, of heart disease.
Trattato de sociologica generale contains most of the salient elements of Pareto s sociological thought. In it he constructed a general theory of social behavior based upon what he called sentiments, residues, and derivations. According to Pareto's definitions, most human behavior is determined by nonrational and typically unobservable qualities of the mind called sentiments, though vestiges of these sentiments can be observed in a more concrete manifestation as residues. In light of what Pareto observed as the nonlogical basis of social behavior, human beings have developed a tendency to rationalize their actions whenever possible, employing a variety of rhetorical structures, or derivations, to do so. Elsewhere in his treatise, Pareto elucidated his theory of the circulation of elites. Beginning with the observation that all advanced cultures in history have demonstrated some form of social hierarchy in which an elite group wields authority, Pareto argued that the elite class justifies its non-rational authority over the lower classes by employing rationalizing derivations. The process is continued into perpetuity as one group of elites is expelled when its derivations are exposed and a new elite class takes its place. As a political economist, Pareto's priniciples are contained in his Manuale di economica politica (1906, Manual of Political Economy), which includes the Cours d' économie politique and his article "Economie mathématique," pub lished in the Encyclopédie des sciences mathématique.
Commentators on Pareto's Trattato di sociologica generale have noted that the chaotic style of this massive work has made it difficult to understand, and have criticized its sometimes imprecise vocabulary. Also, his sociological writings have been interpreted as proto-fascist, though most scholars now agree that this is not the case. Additionally, many of his works have not been translated, and consequently his overall influence outside of France and Italy has been relatively limited. Still, his methods, economic ideas, and theories on nonrational behavior have enjoyed considerable critical attention in Europe and America, leading many to place him next to Max Weber and Émile Durkheim as one of the fathers of modern sociological thought.
Il portezionismo in Italia ed i suoi effetti (sociology) 1891
Programme d'économie politique (economics) 1892
Théorie mathématique des changes étrangers (economics) 1895
Cours d'économie politique (economics) 1896-97
La Libertééconomique et les événements d' Italie (sociology) 1898
Les Systémes socialistes (sociology) 1901-02
Manuale di economica politica [Manual of Political Economy] (economics) 1906
La Mythe vertuiste et la littérature immorale (sociology) 1911
Trattato di sociologica generale [The Mind and Society] (sociology) 1916
I sistemi socialisti (sociology) 1917-20
Compendio di sociologica generale (sociology) 1920
Fatti e teorie (sociology) 1920
II problema dei cambi e l' industria nazionale (sociology) 1920
Transformazione della democrazia [The Transformation of Democracy] (sociology) 1921
Alcune lettere di Vilfredo Pareto (letters) 1938
Corrispondenza (letters) 1948
The Ruling Class in Italy Before 1900 (sociology) 1950
Scritti teorici (sociology) 1952
Pareto-Walras da un carteggio...
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SOURCE: "General Works, Theory and Its History," in The American Economic Review, Vol. 25, No. 3, 1935, pp. 502-8.
[In the following essay, Parsons reviews the English-language translation of Trattato di sociologia generale.]
The final appearance, after being heralded for so many years, of the English translation of Pareto's Trattato di Sociologia Generale is surely an event of the first importance for the social sciences of the English-speaking world, though perhaps not altogether for the reasons most generally heralded. The editor, his collaborators and the publishers are to be congratulated upon the successful completion of so monumental a task.
The particular form which Pareto's venture into sociology takes happens to be of the greatest importance to all economists who are interested in the general status of their science relative to the other social sciences. Pareto's experience has a peculiar relevance to the current methodological controversies in American economics between "orthodox" and "institutionalist" schools. For he took a way out of the situation underlying the controversy which is not very widely accepted, at least in any systematic, methodologically self-conscious form, but which is in my opinion exceedingly fruitful.
In this connection Pareto's personal history is interesting. His concern with economic problems began from a practical, political...
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SOURCE: "The Sociology of Pareto," in Reason and Unreason in Society: Essays in Sociology and Social Philosophy, Harvard University Press, 1948, pp. 84-103.
[In the following essay, which was first published in 1936, Ginsberg challenges the central points of Pareto's sociological theories.]
Pareto's sociology falls naturally into two parts. The first is devoted to an analysis and classification of the elementary constituents of human nature as manifested in social life. The second is concerned with the interactions of these elementary traits and the changes which occur in their distribution in the different classes of society. The method followed is inductive and comparative, that is to say, it starts with empirical facts such as beliefs actually held in different societies, maxims of conduct accepted by them and the like, and it seeks to analyse out the constant and variable elements in these forms of behaviour and to discover the laws or uniformities which determine their mutual relations. Incidentally, Pareto discusses at great length the nature and importance of what he calls the "logico-experimental" method in social science, but he hardly lives up to his own requirements. The defini tions given of fundamental terms are obscure, and they are not, as they might be expected to be, gradually clarified by "successive approximations." Further, what appears to me the most interesting portions of the...
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SOURCE: "Pareto's Republic," in Ideas Are Weapons: The History and Uses of Ideas, The Viking Press, 1939, pp. 348-55.
[In the following essay, Lerner offers a highly critical view of P areto 's sociological thought.]
Take a Machiavelli, with his amazing sense of the springs of human conduct and his cynicism about ethics; soak him in the modern worship of scientific method; hard-boil him in a hatred for democracy in all its manifestations; fill him with an intense animus against proletarian movements and Marxian theory; add a few dashes of economic fundamentalism; stir it all with a poetic feeling about the ruling élite; sprinkle thoroughly with out-ofthe-way erudition; season with a good deal of acuteness and homely wisdom; and serve at interminable length. If you follow this recipe you should have something that resembles Pareto's treatise on The Mind and Society.
I do not want to underestimate the personal achievement that these four volumes represent. Here is prodigality—of ideas, of learning, of spleen. Here is a far-flung exploration of history and human foibles, in two thousand pages with an enormous footnotage. Here are a million words, and many of them not at all foolish, poured into the huge mold of an argument. Pareto was an old man, well on toward seventy, when he wrote mis work. He could look back on a career in which he had been successively mathematician,...
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SOURCE: "Demaria on Pareto," in The Development of Economic Thought: Great Economists in Perspective, J. Wiley, 1952, pp. 628-51.
[In the following essay, which originally appeared in an Italian economic journal in 1949, Demaria examines Pareto's economic writings.]
By a consent which is nearly unanimous, Pareto has been given the honor title, "father of contemporary economic science." In order to appreciate the significance of the work of the great Italian thinker, we must pause for a moment to examine the stage at which economic science had arrived during the third quarter of the past century. At this period, economics abounded with historical interpretations which emphasized certain historical factors, claiming a fundamental character for each of these. This was often done in an arbitrary manner, on the basis of simple intuition, and in complete disregard of theoretical considerations. But during this period the reviewer also meets at every turn quantitative postulates and purely mathematical, that is, exclusively hypothetical, formula tions. These were usually expressed in the form of pseudo-universal absolutes, such as the doctrines advanced by English classical economics, and the doctrines of the continental hedonists, which were based on the assumption of personal interest, considered as causa causarum of economic activity, of cost as well as of utility....
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SOURCE: "Pareto and Fascism Reconsidered," in The American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Vol. 19, No. 4, July, 1960, pp. 399-411.
[In the following essay, Jaffe reconsiders the basis for Pareto's reputation as a fascist ideologue.]
From time to time various writers have linked the name of the Italian economist and sociologist, Vilfredo Pareto, with fascism. He has been portrayed by some as the ideological father of fascism ("Marx of the bourgeoisie"), by still others as a precursor of fascism. Accordingly, it would seem well systematically to appraise Pareto's work, especially as it relates to fascist ideology. Here we will attempt this task, singling out four aspects of his work: first, his anti-intellectualism and anti-rationalism; second, his quasi-biological theory of the elite third; his vilification and hatred of democracy; and fourth, his glorification of force as an instrument of rule.
A good many definitions have been advanced for fascism. Most of them have reflected their authors' procliv ity for some particular theory seeking to explain the rise of fascism, theories ranging from the revolt of the middle class to the domination of the militaristic caste. Here we will treat fascism broadly, referring to it primarily in terms of the regimes that characterized Italy under Mussolini and Germany under Hitler.
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SOURCE: "Introduction to Pareto's Sociology," in On Mosca and P areto, Librairie Droz, 1972, pp. 55-78.
[In the following essay, which was originally published in Italian in 1964, Bobbio examines the formal structure of Trattato di sociologia generale.]
As is known, the Trattato di sociologia generale was born after a long gestation as a work which can only be described as "monstrous," the word "monster" being used in the triple sense of "prodigy", "deformed creature" and, neutrally, "unusual event". Prodigious in the Trattato is the breadth of design and research; from an introduction to economics, the sociology, as a result of subsequent additions, became a detailed analysis and a complete reconstruction of social equilibrium and of the factors which determine it. The analysis is based on a mass of facts, particularly of ancient and modern history, which have been gathered as a result of a varied and haphazard reading of classics and newspapers. The reconstruction is entrusted to an ambitious description and classification of the constant motives of social action and to a testing based on ample passages of historical interpretation. Pareto put into the Trattato, seemingly in utter confusion, but in reality by following an ideal order whose design was clearly impressed in his mind, everything that happened to occupy his thoughts concerning the vicissitudes of...
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SOURCE: "Vilfredo Pareto, 1848-1923," in Ten Great Economists: From Marx to Keynes, Oxford University Press, 1965, pp. 110-42.
[In the following essay, which first appeared in the Quarterly Review of Economics in 1949, Schumpeter focuses on P areto 's economic theories.]
In a volume devoted to Pareto's life and work, Professor Bousquet relates that the obituary article devoted to Pareto in the socialist daily, Avanti, described him as the ' bourgeois Karl Marx. ' I do not know that a man can rightly be called ' bourgeois' who never missed an opportunity to pour contempt on la bourgeoisie ignorante et lache. But for the rest, the analogy conveys very well the impression that Pareto had made upon his countrymen: they had in fact raised him to an eminence that was unique among the economists and sociologists of his time. No other country erected a similar pedestal for his statue, and in the Anglo-American world both the man and the thinker have remained strangers to this day. There was, indeed, a short Pareto vogue in this country that followed upon the translation of his sociological treatise. But it died out soon in an uncongenial atmosphere. Moreover, so far as the small circle of pure theorists is concerned, Pareto came to exert considerable influence on Anglo-American economics in the 1920's and 1930' s, that is, after the publication of Professor Bowley's Groundwork. But...
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SOURCE: "Vilfredo Pareto: Sociologist or Ideologist?," in The Sociological Quarterly, Vol. 7, No. 1, 1966, pp. 21-38.
[In the following essay, Lopreato and Ness dismiss the view of Pareto as a forerunner of modern fascist ideology.]
In the history of science it has often happened that a scholar's ideas are denied full recognition because ofthat scholar's real or assumed connection to some controversial ideology. The position accorded to Vilfredo Pareto is one illustration of such practice in present-day sociology. This scholar is often said to have been a "Newton of the Moral World," or altogether a fascist ideologist. So Faris informs us that "The book [The Mind and Society] formulates the implicit philosophy of Italian Fascism, advocating the right of the strong to take what they want without apology or appeal to moral principles." In tracing the development of social thought, Bog ardus devotes an entire chapter to "Pareto and Fascist Thought," and authoritatively argues that "While fascism has some of its roots in Nietzsche's concepts and other roots in Machiavellianism, yet Pareto's ideas come even closer to giving an adequate basis." Zanden, in turn, interprets Pareto's sociology to be "a philosophy of society, a social creed, determined mainly by violent and ever purely personal passions. The logical fulfillment of this political manifesto is fascism."
We need not...
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SOURCE: "Vilfredo Pareto: His Life and His Economic Theories," in The Economics of Vilfredo Pareto, Frank Cass, 1979, pp. 7-25.
[In the following excerpt, Cirillo provides a biographical and historical perspective for an examination of Pareto's economic writings.]
Vilfredo Pareto was born in Paris on July 15, 1848 and died at Céligny, in the Canton of Geneva, on August 19, 1923. His family belonged to the Genoese nobility which governed the Republic till it was conquered by Napoleon. His father, Marchese Raffaele Pareto, typical of the youth of the Italian Risorgimento of the first half of the nineteenth century, was involved in a Mazzinian conspiracy, and at the age of twenty-four as a result was forced to leave Italy and live in Paris. Here he took ajob as a civil engineer and married Marie Metenier who bore him two daughters and one son, Vilfredo. One of the daughters, Cristina, died in 1893 of meningitis; the other, Nina, died of heart disease in 1906.
Due to a political change and also because of his proficiency in hydraulics, the Marchese Pareto was recalled to Italy. A few years later Pareto took a five year course in civà engineering at the University and the Polytechnical Institute of Turin and the first two years were mostly devoted to mathematics. This training was to serve him exceedingly well when he later undertook to work out his...
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SOURCE: "Was Vilfredo Pareto Really a ' Precursor' of Fascism?," in American Journal Of Economics and Sociology, Vol. 42, No. 12, April, 1983, pp. 235-44.
[In the following essay, Cirillo investigates whether or not Pareto was in fact, as is often contended, a "precursor of fascism."]
The fact that Vilfredo Pareto embraced fascism during the last months of his life generated enough prejudice against the man that even scholars sometimes approach his works with an initial bias. Readers will recall that when Arthur Livingston published the English translation of Trattato di sociologia generale in 1935, The New Republic of New York reacted predictably and Mind and Society languished on the bookshelves. Labelling great thinkers fascists, communists, anarchists, panacea-mongers or whatever has always had the unfortunate effect of casting doubts on the integrity and validity of their thoughts. Pareto's great predecessor at the University of Lausanne suffered from a similar fate. Léon Walras' works were ignored for quite a time, particularly by French economists, partly because he preferred to call himself socialist, even though his brand of socialism would not be acknowledged as such by any genuine Marxist socialist and was characterized by Karl Marx himself as "utopianism." Our generation knows it as...
(The entire section is 4080 words.)
SOURCE: "Vilfredo Pareto," in Modern Italian Social Theory: Ideology and Politics from Pareto to the Present, Polity Press, 1987, pp. 12-33.
[In the following essay, Bellamy takes issue with critics who perceive a significant ideological discontinuity between Pareto's earlier and later writings.]
Pareto, when studied at all, is generally interpreted in two apparently mutually exclusive ways. Economists regard him as a classical liberal, who made important contributions to the theory of rational choice underlying the defence and analysis of market mechanisms. Sociologists and political theorists, by contrast, tend to dismiss his ideas as crude and illiberal—as attacking the role of reason and democracy in politics, and exalting the use of force by an elite to impose its will on the populace. The two images are said to correspond to different periods of his life. The first belongs to the early phase when, as an engineer and later a captain of industry, he threw himself into the movement for free trade. The second resulted from disillusionment at the frustration of his early hopes. An exile and recluse in Switzerland, he became the bitter and cynical commentator and dissector of contemporary events. The two divergent views are thereby reconciled by the thesis of an historical break between the early and the late Pareto.
This [essay] challenges this view by exploring the development of...
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Aron, Raymond. "Vilfredo Pareto." In Main Currents in Sociological Thought, Volume II: Durkheim/Pareto/ Weber, translated by Richard Howard and Helen Weaver, pp. 99-176. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1967.
Analysis of Pareto's theories of logical and non-logical actions within the framework of western thought.
Ascoli, Max. "Society through Pareto's Mind." Social Research: An International Quarterly of Political and Social Science 3, No. 1 (February 1936): 78-89.
Critique of Pareto's theories as found in The Mind and Society. Ascoli takes exception to Pareto's loose definitions, vague terminology, pretense of objectivity, and detached use of "logico-experimental reason."
Berger, Brigitte. "Vilfredo Pareto and the Sociology of Knowledge." Social Research: An International Quarterly of Political and Social Science 34, No. 2 (Summer 1967): 265-81.
Examines Pareto's thought, especially his sociological theory of history, as a useful adjunct to American sociological theory.
Blaug, Mark, ed. Vilfredo P areto (1848-1923). Aldershot, England: Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd., 1992, 381 p.
Collection of twenty-three essays from the years 1933-1984 on Pareto's social, economic, and political theory.
Bogardus, Emory S. "Pareto and Fascist Thought." In The Development of Social Thought,...
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