Sociology Index

IRON LAW OF OLIGARCHY

Civil Service is a self-perpetuating oligarchy, the Iron Law of Oligarchy. Many writers believe that any political system eventually evolves into iron law of oligarchy. According to writers, Zulma Riley, Keith Riley, and Robert Michels, modern Democracy should be considered as elected Oligarchy. They called this theory the iron law of oligarchy. James Madison, the fourth President of the United States said: "Never fear. The iron law of oligarchy always obtains." In iron law of oligarchy, actual differences between viable political rivals are small, the oligarchic elite impose strict limits on what constitutes an 'acceptable' and 'respectable' political position. Iron Law of Oligarchy was first defined by German sociologists like Robert Michels (1876-1936). Michels discovered that in the Iron Law of Oligarchy, even in the most egalatarian movements, elites will call most of the shots.

Iron Law of Oligarchy refers to the inherent tendency of all complex organizations to develop a ruling clique of leaders with interests in the organization itself rather than in its official aims. It became difficult for the mass membership to provide any effective counterweight to this professional, entrenched, leadership, the Iron Law of Oligarchy. Aristotle used the term oligarchy as a synonym for rule by the rich. Oligarchy is not always a rule by wealthy people, for which the term is plutocracy.

Oligarchy means "the rule of the few" and monarchy means "the rule of the one". Such power-sharing from one person to a larger group of persons happened when English nobles got together in 1215 to force King John of England to sign the Magna Carta, a recognition of failure of oligarchy. Magna Carta guaranteed greater rights to greater numbers of people, thus setting the stage for English constitutional monarchy.

Oligarchy can also be compared with aristocracy. In an aristocracy, a small group of wealthy or socially prominent citizens control the government. Members of this high social class claim to be, or are considered by others to be, superior to the other people because of family ties, social rank, wealth, or religious affiliation.

Breaking the iron law of oligarchy: union revitalization in the American labor movement. Voss, Kim and Sherman, Rachel - The American Journal of Sociology [AJS], 106(2), 303 - 49.
ABSTRACT: This article addresses the question of how social movement organizations are able to break out of bureaucratic conservatism. The article concludes by drawing out the theoretical implications of the finding that bureaucratic conservatism can sometimes be overcome in mature social movements.