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Elites: A General Model



Elites: A General Model

Murray Milner Jr.

ISBN: 978-0-745-68952-4 January 2015 Polity 216 Pages

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At a time when significant social status, economic resources, and political opportunities seem to become ever more unequally distributed and only available to a few, this book represents the first systematic effort in recent years to develop a sociological model of elites and non-elites. In outlining a new typology of economic, political, and cultural elites, as well as drawing attention to the important role of non-elites, this accessibly written book provides novel insights into the structure of historical and contemporary societies.


Milner identifies the sources and structures of economic, political, and cultural power, and investigates patterns of cooperation and conflict between and within elite groups. Analyzing politicians and propagandists, landowners and capitalists, national heroes and celebrities, ordinary folks and outcasts, the book applies its model to three distinctly different societies – ancient India, Classical Athens, and the contemporary United States – highlighting important structural commonalities across these otherwise very dissimilar societies.


A significant contribution to scholarship, Elites will also be useful for an array of courses in sociology, political science, and history.
Chapter 1. Introduction
Chapter 2. The General Model
Chapter 3. Traditional India: the Varna Scheme
Chapter 4. Athens in the Classical Period
Chapter 5. The U.S. 1980-2008: Economics and Politics
Chapter 6. The U.S. 1980-2008: Other Actors
Chapter 7. The 2007-2009 Financial Crisis
Chapter 8. Conclusions
Appendix: Some Implications and Elaborations of the Model

"Elites deserves wide attention. Writing with exceptional clarity, Milner balances the simplicity of deep conceptual structures with an empirical complexity spanning three sharply contrasting civilizations. He emphasizes, against purely economic and political approaches, that elite status can be powerfully based on distinctive cultural competences, which in contemporary societies involve increasing visibility. This is the first really new theory of elites in many decades."
Jeffrey C. Alexander, Yale University

"Professor Milner provides a powerful set of social science tools for those keen to understand many of the pressing issues we face today. These include those concerned with the rise of the 1% and the decline of the rest;  legalized corruption that deeply distorts our political process; and the influence of the military industrial complex."
Amitai Etzioni, The George Washington University

"In such historical circumstances, [… Elites: A General Model…] is not only timely and relevant, but also exciting. […] It is a refreshing contribution to the growing volume of elite-focused analyses of power and politics."
Jan Pakulski, Books and Ideas

"A first-class piece of scholarship and a lasting contribution to elite studies and political sociology more generally."
John Higley, University of Texas

“Bringing together insights from Marx, Pareto, Weber, and Bourdieu in a simple but versatile framework, […]  Elites is an important book with interesting theses. […Milner’s] description of the American politician as a hybrid of the celebrity and the fundraiser indicates why Trump succeeded while Sanders failed. Added to these new features of the American political life, there is the near-universal strategy of all political elites according to Milner, used expertly by the Trump campaign: relentless scapegoating of ethnic and religious minori¬ties to mobilize nonelite whites.”
Bogazici Journal: Review of Social, Economic and Administrative Studies