Vilfredo Pareto: The Karl Marx of Fascism

James Alexander

Vilfredo Pareto Italian contributions to political and social thought are singularly impressive and, in fact, few nations are as favored with a tradition as long and as rich. One need only mention names such as Dante, Machiavelli, and Vico to appreciate the importance of Italy in this respect. In the twentieth century too, the contributions made by Italians are of great significance. Among these are Gaetano Mosca's theory of oligarchical rule, Roberto Michels' study of political parties, Corrado Gini's intriguing sociobiological theories, and Scipio Sighele's investigations of the criminal mind and of crowd psychology. [1] One of the most widely respected of these Italian political theorists and sociologists is Vilfredo Pareto. Indeed, so influential are his writings that "it is not possible to write the history of sociology without referring to Pareto." [2] Throughout all of the vicissitudes and convulsions of twentieth-century political life, Pareto remains to this day "a scholar of universal reputation." [3]

Pareto is additionally important for us today because he is a towering figure in one of Europe's most distinguished, and yet widely suppressed, intellectual currents.That broad school of thought includes such diverse figures as Burke, Taine, Dostoyevsky, Burckhardt, Donoso Cortés, Nietzsche, and Spengler and stands in staunch opposition to rationalism, liberalism, egalitarianism, Marxism, and all of the other offspring of Enlightenment doctrinaires.

Life and Personality

Vilfredo Federico Damaso Pareto was born in Paris in 1848. [4] He was of mixed Italian-French ancestry, the only son of the Marquis Raffaele Pareto, an Italian exiled from his native Genoa because of his political views, and Marie Mattenier. Because his father earned a reasonably comfortable living as a hydrological engineer, Pareto was reared in a middle-class environment, enjoying the many advantages that accrued to people of his class in that age. He received a quality education in both France and Italy, ultimately completing his degree in engineering at the Istituto Politecnico of Turin where he graduated at the top of his class. For some years after graduation, he worked as a civil engineer, first for the state-owned Italian Railway Company and later in private industry.

Pareto married in 1889. His new spouse Dina Bakunin, a Russian, apparently loved an active social life, which was rather in conflict with Pareto's own love of privacy and solitude. After twelve years of marriage Dina abandoned her husband. His second wife, Jane Régis, joined him shortly after the collapse of his marriage and the two remained devoted to one another throughout the remainder of Pareto's life.

During these years Pareto acquired a deep interest in the political life of his country and expressed his views on a variety of topics in lectures, in articles for various journals, and in direct political activity. Steadfast in his support of free enterprise economic theory and free trade, he never ceased arguing that these concepts were vital necessities for the development of Italy. Vociferous and polemical in his advocacy of these ideas, and sharp in his denunciation of his opponents (who happened to be in power in Italy at that time), his public lectures were sufficiently controversial that they were sometimes raided and closed down by the police, and occasionally brought threats of violence from hired thugs. Making little headway with his economic concepts at the time, Pareto retired from active political life and was appointed Professor of Political Economy at the University of Lausanne (Switzerland) in 1893. There he established his reputation as an economist and sociologist. So substantial did this reputation eventually become that he has been dubbed "the Karl Marx of the Bourgeoisie" by his Marxist opponents. In economic theory, his Manual of Political Economy [5] and his critique of Marxian socialism, Les Systèmes socialistes, [6] remain among his most important works.

Pareto turned to sociology somewhat late in life, but he is nonetheless acclaimed in this field. His monumental Treatise on General Sociology, and two smaller volumes, The Rise and Fall of the Elites and The Transformation of Democracy, are his sociological masterworks. [7] Subsequently, we will consider the nature of some of the theories contained in these books.

The title of Marquis was bestowed on Pareto's great-great-great- grandfather in 1729 and, after his father's death in 1882, that dignity passed to Pareto himself. He never used the title, however, insisting that since it was not earned, it held little meaning for him. Conversely, after his appointment to the University of Lausanne, he did use the title "Professor," since that was something which, he felt, he merited because of his lifetime of study. These facts point to one of the most dominant characteristics of this man -- his extreme independence.

Pareto's great intelligence caused him difficulties in working under any kind of supervision. All of his life he moved, step by step, towards personal independence. Because he was thoroughly conscious of his own brilliance, his confidence in his abilities and in his intellectual superiority often irritated and offended people around him. Pareto, in discussing almost any question about which he felt certain, could be stubborn in his views and disdainful of those with divergent opinions. Furthermore, he could be harsh and sarcastic in his remarks. As a result, some people came to see Pareto as disputatious, caustic, and careless of people's feelings.

In contrast, Pareto could be generous to those he perceived as "underdogs." He was always ready to take up his pen in defense of the poor or to denounce corruption in government and the exploitation of those unable to defend themselves. As author and sociologist Charles Powers writes,

For many years Pareto offered money, shelter, and counsel to political exiles (especially in 1898 following the tumultuous events of that year in Italy]. Like his father, Pareto was conservative in his personal tastes and inclinations, but he was also capable of sympathizing with others and appreciating protests for equality of opportunity and freedom of expression [8]. Pareto was a free thinker. In some respects, he is reminiscent of an early libertarian. He was possessed of that duality of mood we continue to find among people who are extremely conservative and yet ardent in their belief in personal liberty. [9]
Since he was an expert in the use of the sword, as well as a crack shot, he was disinclined to give way before any threats to his person, a mode of behavior he considered cowardly and contrary to his personal sense of honor. More than once he sent bullies and thugs running in terror. [10]

Pareto suffered from heart disease towards the end of his life and struggled through his last years in considerable ill health. He died August 19, 1923.

Les Systèmes socialistes

A lifelong opponent of Marxism and liberal egalitarianism, Pareto published a withering broadside against the Marxist-liberal worldview in 1902. Considering the almost universal respect accorded the more salient aspects of Marxism and liberalism, it is regrettable that Pareto's Les Systèmes socialistes has not been translated into English in its entirety. Only a few excerpts have appeared in print. In an often quoted passage that might be taken as a prophetic warning for our own age, Pareto writes:

A sign which almost invariably presages the decadence of an aristocracy is the intrusion of humanitarian feelings and of affected sentimentalizing which render the aristocracy incapable of defending its position. Violence, we should note, is not to be confused with force. Often enough one observes cases in which individuals and classes which have lost the force to maintain themselves in power make themselves more and more hated because of their outbursts of random violence. The strong man strikes only when it is absolutely necessary, and then nothing stops him. Trajan was strong, not violent: Caligula was violent, not strong.

When a living creature loses the sentiments which, in given circumstances are necessary to it in order to maintain the struggle for life, this is a certain sign of degeneration, for the absence of these sentiments will, sooner or later, entail the extinction of the species. The living creature which shrinks from giving blow for blow and from shedding its adversary's blood thereby puts itself at the mercy of this adversary. The sheep has always found a wolf to devour it; if it now escapes this peril, it is only because man reserves it for his own prey.

Any people which has horror of blood to the point of not knowing how to defend itself will sooner or later become the prey of some bellicose people or other. There is not perhaps on this globe a single foot of ground which has not been conquered by the sword at some time or other, and where the people occupying it have not maintained themselves on it by force. If the Negroes were stronger than the Europeans, Europe would be partitioned by the Negroes and not Africa by the Europeans. The "right" claimed by people who bestow on themselves the title of "civilized' to conquer other peoples, whom it pleases them to call "uncivilized," is altogether ridiculous, or rather, this right is nothing other than force. For as long as the Europeans are stronger than the Chinese, they will impose their will on them; but if the Chinese should become stronger than the Europeans, then the roles would be reversed, and it is highly probable that humanitarian sentiments could never be opposed with any effectiveness to any army. [11]

In another portion of this same work that calls to mind the words of German philosopher Oswald Spengler, Pareto similarly warns against what he regarded as the suicidal danger of "humanitarianism":
Any elite which is not prepared to join in battle to defend its position is in full decadence, and all that is left to it is to give way to another elite having the virile qualities it lacks. It is pure day-dreaming to imagine that the humanitarian principles it may have proclaimed will be applied to it: its vanquishers will stun it with the implacable cry, Vae Victis [="woe to the vanquished"]. The knife of the guillotine was being sharpened in the shadows when, at the end of the eighteenth century, the ruling classes in France were engrossed in developing their "sensibility." This idle and frivolous society, living like a parasite off the country, discoursed at its elegant supper parties of delivering the world from superstition and of crushing l'Infâme, all unsuspecting that it was itself going to be crushed. [12]


A substantial portion of Les Systèmes socialistes is devoted to a scathing assessment of the basic premises of Marxism. According to historian H. Stuart Hughes, this work caused Lenin "many a sleepless night." [13]

In Pareto's view, the Marxist emphasis on the historical struggle between the unpropertied working class -- the proletariat -- and the property-owning capitalist class is skewed and terribly misleading. History is indeed full of conflict, but the proletariat-capitalist struggle is merely one of many and by no means the most historically important. As Pareto explains:

The class struggle, to which Marx has specially drawn attention, is a real factor, the tokens of which are to be found on every page of history. But the struggle is not confined only to two classes: the proletariat and the capitalist; it occurs between an infinite number of groups with different interests, and above all between the elites contending for power. The existence of these groups may vary in duration, they may be based on permanent or more or less temporary characteristics. In the most savage peoples, and perhaps in all, sex determines two of these groups. The oppression of which the proletariat complains, or had cause to complain of, is as nothing in comparison with that which the women of the Australian aborigines suffer. Characteristics to a greater or lesser degree real -- nationality, religion, race, language, etc. -- may give rise to these groups. In our own day [i.e. 1902] the struggle of the Czechs and the Germans in Bohemia is more intense than that of the proletariat and the capitalists in England. [14]
Marx's ideology represents merely an attempt, Pareto believes, to supplant one ruling elite with another, despite Marxist promises to the contrary:
The socialists of our own day have clearly perceived that the revolution at the end of the eighteenth century led merely to the bourgeoisie's taking the place of the old elite. They exaggerate a good deal the burden of oppression imposed by the new masters, but they do sincerely believe that a new elite of politicians will stand by their promises better than those which have come and gone up to the present day. All revolutionaries proclaim, in turn, that previous revolutions have ultimately ended up by deceiving the people; it is their revolution alone which is the true revolution. "All previous historical movements" declared the Communist Manifesto of 1848, "were movements of minorities or in the interest of minorities. The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority." Unfortunately this true revolution, which is to bring men an unmixed happiness, is only a deceptive mirage that never becomes a reality. It is akin to the golden age of the millenarians: forever awaited, it is forever lost in the mists of the future, forever eluding its devotees just when they think they have it. [15]
Residues and Derivations

One of Pareto's most noteworthy and controversial theories is that human beings are not, for the most part, motivated by logic and reason but rather by sentiment. Les Systèmes socialistes is interspersed with this theme and it appears in its fully developed form in Pareto's vast Treatise on General Sociology. In his Treatise, Pareto examines the multitudes of human actions that constitute the outward manifestations of these sentiments and classifies them into six major groups, calling them "residues." All of these residues are common to the whole of mankind, Pareto comments, but certain residues stand out more markedly in certain individuals. Additionally, they are unalterable; man's political nature is not perfectible but remains a constant throughout history.

Class I is the "instinct for combinations." This is the manifestation of sentiments in individuals and in society that tends towards progressiveness, inventiveness, and the desire for adventure.

Class II residues have to do with what Pareto calls the "preservation of aggregates" and encompass the more conservative side of human nature, including loyalty to society's enduring institutions such as family, church, community, and nation and the desire for permanency and security.

Following this comes the need for expressing sentiments through external action, Pareto's Class III residues. Religious and patriotic ceremonies and pageantry stand out as examples of these residues and will include such things as saluting the flag, participating in a Christian communion service, marching in a military parade, and so on. In other words, human beings tend to manifest their feelings in symbols.

Next comes the social instinct, Class IV, embracing manifestations of sentiments in support of the individual and societal discipline that is indispensable for maintaining the social structure. This includes phenomena such as self-sacrifice for the sake of family and community and concepts such as the hierarchical arrangement of societies.

Class V is that quality in a society that stresses individual integrity and the integrity of the individual's possessions and appurtenances. These residues contribute to social stability, systems of criminal and civil law being the most obvious examples.

Last we have Class VI, which is the sexual instinct, or the tendency to see social events in sexual terms.

Foxes and Lions

Throughout his Treatise, Pareto places particular emphasis on the first two of these six residue classes and to the struggle within individual men as well as in society between innovation and consolidation. The late James Burnham, writer, philosopher, and one of the foremost American disciples of Pareto, states that Pareto's Class I and II residues are an extension and amplification of certain aspects of political theorizing set down in the fifteenth century by Niccolo Machiavelli. [16] Machiavelli divided humans into two classes, foxes and lions. The qualities he ascribes to these two classes of men resemble quite closely the qualities typical of Pareto's Class I and Class II residue types. Men with strong Class I residues are the "foxes," tending to be manipulative, innovative, calculating, and imaginative. Entrepreneurs prone to taking risks, inventors, scientists, authors of fiction, politicians, and creators of complex philosophies fall into this category. Class II men are "lions" and place much more value on traits such as good character and devotion to duty than on sheer wits. They are the defenders of tradition, the guardians of religious dogma, and the protectors of national honor.

For society to function properly there must be a balance between these two types of individuals; the functional relationship between the two is complementary. To illustrate this point, Pareto offers the examples of Kaiser Wilhelm I, his chancellor Otto von Bismarck, and Prussia's adversary Emperor Napoleon III. Wilhelm had an abundance of Class II residues, while Bismarck exemplified Class I. Separately, perhaps, neither would have accomplished much, but together they loomed gigantic in nineteenth-century European history, each supplying what the other lacked. [17]

From the standpoint of Pareto's theories, the regime of Napoleon III was a lopsided affair, obsessed with material prosperity and dominated for almost twenty years by such "foxes" as stock-market speculators and contractors who, it is said, divided the national budget among themselves. "In Prussia," Pareto observes, "one finds a hereditary monarchy supported by a loyal nobility: Class II residues predominate; in France one finds a crowned adventurer supported by a band of speculators and spenders: Class I residues predominate." [18] And, even more to the point, whereas in Prussia at that time the requirements of the army dictated financial policy, in France the financiers dictated military policy. Accordingly, when war broke out between Prussia and France in the summer of 1870, the "moment of truth" came for France. Napoleon's vaunted Second Empire fell to pieces and was overrun in a matter of weeks. [19]

Justifying "Derivations"

Another aspect of Pareto's theories which we shall examine here briefly is what he calls "derivations," the ostensibly logical justifications that people employ to rationalize their essentially non-logical, sentiment-driven actions. Pareto names four principle classes of derivations: 1) derivations of assertion; 2) derivations of authority; 3) derivations that are in agreement with common sentiments and principles; and, 4) derivations of verbal proof. The first of these include statements of a dogmatic or aphoristic nature; for example, the saying, "honesty is the best policy." The second, authority, is an appeal to people or concepts held in high esteem by tradition. To cite the opinion of one of the American Founding Fathers on some topic of current interest is to draw from Class II derivations. The third deals with appeals to "universal judgement," the "will of the people," the "best interests of the majority," or similar sentiments. And, finally, the fourth relies on various verbal gymnastics, metaphors, allegories, and so forth.

We see, then, that to comprehend Pareto's residues and derivations is to gain insights into the paradox of human behavior. They represent an attack on rationalism and liberal ideals in that they illuminate the primitive motivations behind the sentimental slogans and catchwords of political life. Pareto devotes the vast majority of his Treatise to setting forth in detail his observations on human nature and to proving the validity of his observations by citing examples from history. His erudition in fields such as Greco-Roman history was legendary and this fact is reflected throughout his massive tome.

Natural Equilibrium

At the social level, according to Pareto's sociological scheme, residues and derivations are mechanisms by which society maintains its equilibrium. Society is seen as a system, "a whole consisting of interdependent parts. The 'material points or molecules' of the system ... are individuals who are affected by social forces which are marked by constant or common properties." [20] When imbalances arise, a reaction sets in whereby equilibrium is again achieved. Pareto believed that Italy and France, the two modern societies with which he was most familiar, were grossly out of balance and that "foxes" were largely in control. Long are his laments in the Treatise about the effete ruling classes in those two countries. In both instances, he held, revolutions were overdue.

We have already noted that when a ruling class is dominated by men possessing strong Class I residues, intelligence is generally valued over all other qualities. The use of force in dealing with internal and external dangers to the state and nation is shunned, and in its place attempts are made to resolve problems or mitigate threats through negotiations or social tinkering. Usually, such rulers will find justification for their timidity in false humanitarianism.

In the domestic sphere, the greatest danger to a society is an excess of criminal activity with which Class I types attempt to cope by resorting to methods such as criminal "rehabilitation" and various eleemosynary gestures. The result, as we know only too well, is a country awash in crime. With characteristic sarcasm Pareto comments on this phenomenon:

Modern theorists are in the habit of bitterly reproving ancient "prejudices" whereby the sins of the father were visited upon the son. They fail to notice that there is a similar thing in our own society, in the sense that the sins of the father benefit the son and acquit him of guilt. For the modern criminal it is a great good fortune to be able to count somewhere among his ancestry or other relations a criminal, a lunatic, or just a mere drunkard, for in a court of law that will win him a lighter penalty or, not seldom, an acquittal. Things have come to such a pass that there is hardly a criminal case nowadays where that sort of defense is not put forward. The old metaphysical proof that was used to show that a son should be punished because of his father's wrongdoing was neither more nor less valid than the proof used nowadays to show that the punishment which otherwise he deserves should for the same reasons be either mitigated or remitted. When, then, the effort to find an excuse for the criminal in the sins of his ancestors proves unavailing, there is still recourse to finding one in the crimes of "society," which, having failed to provide for the criminal's happiness, is "guilty" of his crime. And the punishment proceeds to fall not upon "society," but upon one of its members, who is chosen at random and has nothing whatever to do with the presumed guilt. [21]
Pareto elucidates in his footnote: "The classical case is that of the starving man who steals a loaf of bread. That he should be allowed to go free is understandable enough; but it is less understandable that "society's" obligation not to let him starve should devolve upon one baker chosen at random and not on society as a whole." [22]

Pareto gives another example, about a woman who tries to shoot her seducer, hits a third party who has nothing to do with her grievance, and is ultimately acquitted by the courts. Finally, he concludes his note with these remarks: "To satisfy sentiments of languorous pity, humanitarian legislators approve 'probation' and 'suspended sentence' laws, thanks to which a person who has committed a first theft is at once put in a position to commit a second. And why should the luxury of humaneness be paid for by the unfortunate victim of the second theft and not by society as a whole? ... As it is, the criminal only is looked after and no one gives a thought to the victim. [23]

Expanding on the proposition that "society" is responsible for the murderous conduct of certain people, with which viewpoint he has no tolerance, he writes:

In any event, we still have not been shown why people who, be it through fault of "society," happen to be "wanting in the moral sense," should be allowed freely to walk the streets, killing anybody they please, and so saddling on one unlucky individual the task of paying for a "fault" that is common to all the members of "society." If our humanitarians would but grant that these estimable individuals who are lacking in a moral sense as a result of "society's shortcomings" should be made to wear some visible sign of their misfortune in their buttonholes, an honest man would have a chance of seeing them coming and get out of the way. [24]

Foreign Affairs

In foreign affairs, "foxes" tend to judge the wisdom of all policies from a commercial point of view and usually opt for negotiations and compromise, even in dangerous situations. For such men profit and loss determine all policy, and though such an outlook may succeed for some time, the final result is usually ruinous. That is because enemies maintaining a balance of "foxes" and "lions" remain capable of appreciating the use of force. Though they may occasionally make a pretence of having been bought off, when the moment is right and their overly-ingenious foe is fast asleep, they strike the lethal blow. In other words, Class I people are accustomed by their excessively-intellectualized preconceptions to believe that "reason" and money are always mightier than the sword, while Class II folk, with their native common sense, do not nurse such potentially fatal delusions. In Pareto's words, "The fox may, by his cunning, escape for a certain length of time, but the day may come when the lion will reach him with a well-aimed cuff, and that will be the end of the argument." [25]

Circulation of the Elites

Apart from his analyses of residues and derivations, Pareto is notable among sociologists for the theory known as "the circulation of the elites." Let us remember that Pareto considered society a system in equilibrium, where processes of change tend to set in motion forces that work to restore and maintain social balance.

Pareto asserts that there are two types of elites within society: the governing elite and the non-governing elite. Moreover, the men who make up these elite strata are of two distinct mentalities, the speculator and the rentier. The speculator is the progressive, filled with Class I residues, while the rentier is the conservative, Class II residue type. There is a natural propensity in healthy societies for the two types to alternate in power. When, for example, speculators have made a mess of government and have outraged the bulk of their countrymen by their corruption and scandals, conservative forces will step to the fore and, in one way or another, replace them. The process, as we have said, is cyclical and more or less inevitable.

Furthermore, according to Pareto, wise rulers seek to reinvigorate their ranks by allowing the best from the lower strata of society to rise and become fully a part of the ruling class. This not only brings the best and brightest to the top, but deprives the lower classes of talent and of the leadership qualities that might one day prove to be a threat. Summarizing this component of Pareto's theory, a contemporary sociologist observes that practicality, not pity, demands such a policy:

A dominant group, in Pareto's opinion, survives only if it provides opportunities for the best persons of other origins to join in its privileges and rewards, and if it does not hesitate to use force to defend these privileges and rewards. Pareto's irony attacks the elite that becomes humanitarian, tenderhearted rather than tough-minded. Pareto favors opportunity for all competent members of society to advance into the elite, but he is not motivated by feelings of pity for the underprivileged. To express and spread such humanitarian sentiments merely weakens the elite in the defense of its privileges. Moreover, such humanitarian sentiments would easily be a platform for rallying the opposition. [26]
But few aristocracies of long standing grasp the essential nature of this process, preferring to keep their ranks as exclusive as possible. Time takes its toll, and the rulers become ever weaker and ever less capable of bearing the burden of governing:
It is a specific trait of weak governments. Among the causes of the weakness two especially are to be noted: humanitarianism and cowardice-the cowardice that comes natural to decadent aristocracies and is in part natural, in part calculated, in "speculator" governments that are primarily concerned with material gain. The humanitarian spirit ... is a malady peculiar to spineless individuals who are richly endowed with certain Class I residues that they have dressed up in sentimental garb. [27]
In the end, of course, the ruling class falls from power. Thus, Pareto writes that "history is a graveyard of aristocracies." [28]

The Transformation of Democracy

Published as a slim volume near the end of Pareto's life, The Transformation of Democracy originally appeared in 1920 as a series of essays published in an Italian scholarly periodical, Revista di Milano. In this work, Pareto recapitulates many of his theories in a more concise form, placing particular emphasis on what he believes are the consequences of allowing a money-elite to dominate society. The title of this work comes from Pareto's observation that European democracies in the 1920s were more and more being transformed into plutocracies. The deception and corruption associated with plutocratic rule would eventually produce a reaction, however, and lead to the system's downfall. In Pareto's words,

The plutocracy has invented countless makeshift programs, such as generating enormous public debt that plutocrats know they will never be able to repay, levies on capital, taxes which exhaust the incomes of those who do not speculate, sumtuary laws which have historically proven useless, and other similar measures. The principal goal of each of these measures is to deceive the multitudes. [29]
When a society's system of values deteriorates to the point where hard work is denigrated and "easy money" extolled, where honesty is mocked and duplicity celebrated, where authority gives way to anarchy and justice to legal chicanery, such a society stands face to face with ruin.

Pareto and Fascism

Before we enter into the controversy surrounding Pareto's sympathy for Italian leader Benito Mussolini, let us take pains to avoid the error of viewing events of the 1920s through the spectacles of the post-World War II era, for what seemed apparent in 1945 was not at all evident twenty years before. Inarguably, throughout the whole of the 1920s, Mussolini was an enormously popular man in Italy and abroad, with all except perhaps the most inveterate leftists. An American writer puts it as follows:

Postwar [First World War] Italy ... was a sewer of corruption and degeneracy. In this quagmire Fascism appeared like a gust of fresh air, a tempest-like purgation of all that was defiled, leveled, fetid. Based on the invigorating instincts of nationalist idealism, Fascism "was the opposite of wild ideas, of lawlessness, of injustice, of cowardice, of treason, of crime, of class warfare, of special privilege; and it represented square-dealing, patriotism and common sense." As for Mussolini, "there has never been a word uttered against his absolute sincerity and honesty. Whatever the cause on which he embarked, he proved to be a natural-born leader and a gluttonous worker." Under Mussolini's dynamic leadership, the brave Blackshirts made short shrift of the radicals, restored the rights of property, and purged the country of self-seeking politicians who thrive on corruption endemic to mass democracy." [30]
If the Italian Duce was so popular in the 1920s that he received the accolades of the Saturday Evening Post [31] and the American Legion [32], and the highest praises of British and American establishment figures such as Winston Churchill [33] and Ambassador Richard Washburn Child, [34] how much more enthusiastic must have been Italians of Pareto's conservative bent at that time. They credited Mussolini with nothing less than rescuing Italy from chaos and Bolshevism. The coming tragedies of the '40s, needless to say, were far away, over a distant horizon, invisible to all.

Pareto invariably expressed contempt for the pluto-democratic governments that ruled Italy throughout most of his life. His rancor towards liberal politicians and their methods surfaces all through his books; these men are the object of his scorn and sharp wit. Pareto translator Arthur Livingston writes, "He was convinced that ten men of courage could at any time march on Rome and put the band of 'speculators' that were filling their pockets and ruining Italy to flight." [35] Consequently, in October 1922, after the Fascist March on Rome and Mussolini's appointment by the King as Prime Minister, "Pareto was able to rise from a sick-bed and utter a triumphant 'I told you so!'." [36] Yet, Pareto never joined the Fascist Party. Well into his seventies and severely ill with heart disease, he remained secluded in his villa in Switzerland.

The new government, however, extended many honors to Pareto. He was designated as delegate to the Disarmament Conference at Geneva, was made a Senator of the Kingdom, and was listed as a contributor to the Duce's personal periodical, Gerarchia. [37] Many of these honors he declined due to the state of his health, yet he remained favorably disposed towards the regime corresponding with Mussolini and offering advice in the formulation of economic and social policies. [38]

Many years before the March on Rome, Mussolini attended Pareto's lectures in Lausanne and listened to the professor with rapt attention. "I looked forward to every one," Mussolini wrote, "...[f]or here was a teacher who was outlining the fundamental economic philosophy of the future." [39] The young Italian was obviously deeply impressed and, after his elevation to power, sought immediately to transform his aged mentor's thoughts into action:

In the first years of his rule Mussolini literally executed the policy prescribed by Pareto, destroying political liberalism, but at the same time largely replacing state management of private enterprise, diminishing taxes on property, favoring industrial development, imposing a religious education in dogmas...." [40]
Of course, it was not only Pareto's economic theories that influenced the course of the Fascist state, but especially the sociological theories: "the Sociologia Generale has become for many Fascists a treatise on government," [41] noted one writer at the time. Clearly, there was some agreement between Pareto and the new government. Pareto's theory of rule by elites, his authoritarian leanings, his uncompromising rejection of the liberal fixation with Economic Man, his hatred of disorder, his devotion to the hierarchical arrangement of society, and his belief in an aristocracy of merit are all ideas in harmony with Fascism. Let us keep in mind, however, that all of these ideas were formulated by Pareto decades before anyone had ever heard of Fascism and Mussolini. Likewise, it may be said that they are as much in harmony with age-old monarchical ideas, or those of the ancient authoritarian republics, as with any modern political creeds.

Some writers have speculated that had Pareto lived he would have found many points of disagreement with the Fascist state as it developed, and it is true that he expressed his disapprobation over limitations placed by the regime on freedom of expression, particularly in academia. [42] As we have already seen, however, it was in Pareto's nature to find fault with nearly all regimes, past and present, and so it would not have been surprising had he found reason occasionally to criticize Mussolini's.

Neither Pareto nor Mussolini, it should be pointed out, were rigid ideologues. Mussolini once declared, perhaps a bit hyperbolically, that "every system is a mistake and every theory a prison." [43] While government must be guided by a general set of principles, he believed, one must not be constrained by inflexible doctrines that become nothing more than wearisome impedimenta in dealing with new and unexplained situations. An early Fascist writer explained, in part, Mussolini's affinity with Pareto in this respect:

"To seek!" -- a word of power. In a sense, a nobler word than "to find." With more of intention in it, less of chance. You may "find" something that is false; but he who seeks goes on seeking increasingly, always hoping to attain to the truth. Vilfredo Pareto was a master of this school. He kept moving. Without movement, Plato said, everything becomes corrupted. As Homer sang, the eternal surge of the sea is the father of mankind. Every one of Pareto's new books or of the new editions of them, includes any number of commentaries upon and modifications of his previous books, and deals in detail with the criticisms, corrections, and objections which they have elicited. He generally refutes his critics, but while doing so, he indicates other and more serious points in regard to which theymight have, and ought to have, reproved or questioned him. Reflecting over his subject, he himself proceeds to deal with these points, finding some of them specious, some important, and correcting his earlier conclusions accordingly. [44]
Though Fascist rule in Italy came to an end with the military victory of the Anglo-Americans in 1945, Pareto's influence was not seriously touched by that mighty upheaval. Today, new editions of his works and new books about his view of society continue to appear. That his ideas endured the catastrophe of the war virtually without damage, and that they are still discussed among and debated by serious thinkers, is suggestive of their universality and timelessness.


[1] See, for example, W. Rex Crawford, "Representative Italian Contributions to Sociology: Pareto, Loria, Vaccaro, Gini, and Sighele," chap. in An Introduction to The History of Sociology, Harry Elmer Barnes, editor (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948), Howard Becker and Harry Elmer Barnes, "Sociology in Italy," chap. in Social Thought From Lore to Science, (New York: Dover Publications, 1961), and James Burnham, The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom (New York: The John Day Company, 1943).

[2] G. Duncan Mitchell, A Hundred Years of Sociology (Chicago: Aldine Publishing Company, 1968), p. 115.

[3] Herbert W. Schneider, Making the Fascist State (New York: Oxford University Press, 1928), p. 102.

[4] Biographical details are taken from Charles H. Powers, Vilfredo Pareto, vol. 5, Masters of Social Theory, Jonathan H. Turner, Editor (Newbury Park, California: Sage Publications, 1987), pp. 13-20.

[5] Appearing originally in 1909, the Manuele di economia politica has been translated into English: Ann Schwier translator, Ann Schwier and Alfred Page, Editors (New York: August M. Kelly, 1971).

[6] (Geneva: Librarie Droz, 1965). Published originally 1902-3. The book has never been fully published in English.

[7] The Treatise on General Sociology (Trattato di Sociologia Generale), was first published in English under the name The Mind and Society, A. Borngiorno and Arthur Livingston, translators (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Javanovich, 1935). It was reprinted in 1963 under its original title (New York: Dover Publications) and remains in print (New York: AMS Press, 1983). The Rise and Fall of the Elites: An Application of Theoretical Sociology (Totowa, New Jersey: The Bedminster Press, 1968; reprint, New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Books, 1991) is a translation of Pareto's monograph, "Un Applicazione de teorie sociologiche," published in 1901 in Revista Italiana di Sociologia. The Transformation of Democracy (Trasformazioni della democrazia), Charles Power, editor, R. Girola, translator (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Books, 1984). The original Italian edition appeared in 1921.

[8] This term, "equality of opportunity" is so misused in our own time, especially in America, that some clarification is appropriate. "Equality of opportunity" refers merely to Pareto's belief that in a healthy society advancement must be opened to superior members of all social classes -- "Meritocracy," in other words. See Powers, pp. 22-3.

[9] Powers, p. 19.

[10] Ibid., p. 20.

[11] Adrian Lyttelton, Editor, Italian Fascisms: From Pareto to Gentile (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), pp. 79-80.

[12] Ibid., p. 81.

[13] H. Stuart Hughes, Oswald Spengler: A Critical Estimate (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1952), p. 16.

[14] Lyttelton, p. 86.

[15] Ibid., pp. 82-3.

[16] James Burnham, Suicide of the West (New York: John Day Company, 1964), pp. 248-50.

[17] Pareto, Treatise, # 2455. Citations from the Treatise refer to the paragraph numbers that the author uses in this work . Citations are thus uniform in all editions.

[18] Ibid., # 2462.

[19] Ibid., # 2458-72.

[20] Nicholas Timasheff, Sociological Theory: Its Nature and Growth (New York: Random House, 1967), p. 162.

[21] Pareto, Treatise, # 1987.

[22] Ibid. # 1987n.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid., # 1716n.

[25] Ibid., # 2480n.

[26] Hans L. Zetterberg, "Introduction" to The Rise and Fall of the Elites by Vilfredo Pareto, pp. 2-3.

[27] Pareto, Treatise, # 2474.

[28] Ibid., # 2053.

[29] Pareto, Transformation, p. 60.

[30] John P. Diggins, Mussolini and Fascism: The View from America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1972), p. 17. Diggins' quotations in the cited paragraph come from the writings of an American Mussolini enthusiast of the 1920s, Kenneth L. Roberts.

[31] Ibid., p. 27.

[32] Ibid., p. 206. Mussolini was officially invited to attend the San Francisco Legion Convention of 1923 (he declined) and some years later was made an honorary member of the American Legion by a delegation of Legionnaires visiting Rome. The Duce received the delegation in his palace and was awarded a membership badge by the delighted American visitors.

[33] In an interview published in the London Times, January 21, 1927, immediately after a visit by Churchill to Mussolini, the future British Prime Minister said: "If I had been an Italian I am sure that I should have been wholeheartedly with you [Mussolini] from start to finish in your triumphant struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism." See Luigi Villari, Italian Foreign Policy Under Mussolini (New York: The Devin-Adair Company, 1956), p. 43.

[34] The United States Ambassador to Italy in the '20s, Child dubbed Mussolini "the Spartan genius," ghostwrote an "autobiography" of Mussolini for publication in America, and perpetually extolled the Italian leader in the most extravagant terms. Diggins, p. 27.

[35] Pareto, Treatise, p. xvii.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Franz Borkenau, Pareto (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1936), p. 18.

[38] Ibid., p. 20.

[39] Benito Mussolini, My Autobiography (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1928), p. 14.

[40] Borkenau, p. 18.

[41] George C. Homans and Charles P. Curtis, Jr., An Introduction to Pareto (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1934), p. 9.

[42] Borkenau, p. 18. In a letter written to Mussolini written shortly before Pareto's death, the sociologist cautioned that the Fascist regime must relentlessly strike down all active opponents. Those, however, whose opposition was merely verbal should not be molested since, he believed, that would serve only to conceal public opinion. "Let the crows craw but be merciless when it comes to acts," Pareto admonished the Duce. See Alistair Hamilton, The Appeal of Fascism: A Study of Intellectuals and Fascism, 1919-1945 (New York: Macmillan Company, 1971), pp. 44-5.

[43] Margherita G. Sarfatti, The Life of Benito Mussolini (New York: Frederick A. Stokes, 1925), p. 101.

[44] Ibid, p. 102.

A different version of the preceding article appeared in the Journal of Historical Review, 14/5 (September-October 1994), 10-18. The text presented here, however, includes some additional material; the JHR version is not yet online.


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