Gaetano Mosca Critical Essays


(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Gaetano Mosca 1858-1941

Italian political scientist.

Mosca is most often credited with bringing modern political science to Italy with the publication of his Elementi di scienza politica (The Ruling Class) and for developing the theory of democratic elitism. Along with the writings of such other notable Italian political thinkers as Vilfredo Pareto and Benedetto Croce, Mosca's works are considered to have been a major impetus to Italian fascism, although this result was both unforeseen and unintended on his part.

Biographical Information

Mosca was born in Palermo, Sicily, in 1858. During his childhood, Italy, and the region of Sicily in particular, experienced one of the most turbulent periods in its political history, and some critics speculate that Mosca's later repudiation of parliamentary governments may have been a reaction against the unrest he witnessed as a young man. Mosca earned his law degree at the University of Palermo in 1881, where he went on to lecture beginning in 1885. Despite his work at the university, Mosca experienced little success in academia, which he blamed on his rejection of the popular political ideologies of the time. In response to what he considered his academic failure, Mosca accepted the position of editor of the proceedings of the Chamber of Deputies in 1887, where he remained for ten years. The publication of his Elementi di scienza politica (The Ruling Class) in 1896 won him the chair of constitutional law at the University of Turin. In 1908 Mosca became active in politics for the first time, with his election to the Chamber of Deputies. In 1914 he served as undersecretary for the colonies, and in 1919 he became a senator. During this time, fascism was gaining popularity in Italy, and Mosca initially took a distant but tolerant position on it. Eventually his stand changed to one of unqualified rejection. In 1923 Mosca published an updated edition of The Ruling Class, which earned him a position at the University of Rome, where he assumed Italy's first chair of the history of political institutions and doctrines. Mosca remained at the University of Rome until he reached Italy's mandatory retirement age in 1933. He died in 1941.

Major Works

Mosca's first publication, Teorica dei governi e governo parlamentare (1884) was an antiparliamentary polemic aimed against the Italian politics of Mosca's time. In this work he began to formulate his differentiation between what he considered democratic "myths" and genuine liberty, which would become an integral part of the development of his later theories on democratic elitism and the myth of the ruling class. In 1896 Mosca published the first edition of The Ruling Class, his most important work; the second, expanded, edition appeared in 1923. In The Ruling Class Mosca delineated his contention that in all forms of government the organized minority is always in a position of power over the majority. This ruling class justifies its power by developing for itself a "political formula," which is a guiding principle that follows the common ideals of the community. The majority, or those being ruled, are thus implicitly in compliance with their rulers, and order is maintained. The political formula propagated in any given society is the "myth of democracy" according to Mosca, wherein the image of rulers and ruled working together toward a common moral or legal goal is offered as democratic freedom. Mosca also posited that two opposing social forces are always in action in any governmental situation: the desire to keep power within a particular, aristocratic group who inherited it by virtue of their ancestors, and the desire to bring new leaders up from the majority class to renew the political process (the latter was known as the "circulation of the elites"); Mosca favored a balance between the two political courses.

Critical Reception

Mosca's work did not generally receive much attention during his lifetime. Although many fascist intellectuals at the time credited him as one of the seminal ideological fathers of the movement, critics today believe that this was due to a misunderstanding of Mosca's theories, which are now considered to lean toward classical European liberalism because of his emphasis on representative rather than parliamentary governments, and his preference for the circulation of the elites. After World War II, Mosca's theories took on new life as Marxism moved to the world political forefront and class awareness became a major intellectual issue.