Summary and Assessment

Although Pareto seems to have believed that his theory of residues andderivations constituted his major contribution to sociological thought, it wouldseem difficult to concur in his appraisal. Writing from the perspective of anage that has been deeply marked by Freud, contemporary analysts feel by andlarge that the doctrine of residues and derivations lacks psychological depth.It does not amount to much more than another classification of allegedly basichuman drives and propensities, like so many produced in the nineteenth andearly twentieth centuries. The alleged explanations turn out, upon inspection,to be tautologies or mere pseudo-explanations; at best they can lead to a classi-fication of character types such as have more recently been advanced by ErichFromm or David Riesman.

Pareto's enduring importance lies elsewhere. We owe to him the firstprecise statement of the idea of a social system that can be analyzed in termsof the interrelations and mutual dependencies between constituent parts. Weowe to him a theory of the elite and of the circulation of elites, a theory thathas continued to inspire concrete investigation into the functions of the upperstrata of both governmental and nongovernmental units and that has givenmajor impetus to studies of the origins of and recruitment into such upperstrata. The analysis of elites has come to be seen as a vital counterpart of, butemphatically not as a substitute for, analyses of class factors. Theories ofstratification would be seriously amiss were they to neglect, say, the ideologies,propensities, and interests of such elite groupings as technocrats, military pro-fessionals, or top legal practitioners. Pareto's distinctions between types of non-logical theories, and between utility of and utility for the community, haveconsiderable analytical power.

Much of what Pareto wrote is only the fruit of the labors of an embittered,disillusioned, and resentful man who felt that his times had let him down.But many of his ideas can be put to use by those who reject his ideologicalstance while profiting from his genius.

From Coser, 1977:401-402.


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