Michels Robert

Michels Robert

(1876-1936) German sociologist and political scientist, best remembered for his book Political Parties (1911), in which he formulated the tendency for an IRON LAW OF OLIGARCHY to operate in formal democratic political organizations. It was a work which arose from Michels’ disillusionment with the leadership of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) (see also POLITICAL PARTY). A tension existed between Michels’ critical indictment of the ‘class betrayal’ and reformism of the leadership of the German SPD and his suggestion that such a betrayal was perhaps inevitable, given the operation of the ‘iron law of oligarchy’. In his later work, Michels’ position achieved greater coherence, and he was one of a number of theorists (including his friend, Max WEBER) to advance a theory of the social benefits of limited representative democracy This theory can be seen as the forerunner of the modern theory of STABLE DEMOCRACY. See also ÉLITE THEORY.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000