Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of Political Science

Content Description

1 online resource (v, 240 pages) : illustrations.

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Peter Breiner

Committee Members

Morton Schoolman, Bruce Miroff, John G. Gunnell


Democratic Theory, Iron Law of Oligarchy, Max Weber, Political Parties, Robert Michels, Socialism, Political parties, Political party organization, Oligarchy, Democracy

Subject Categories

Political Science


This is a reexamination of Robert Michels' work Political Parties: A Sociological Study Of The Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracy and its place in the debate over the rise and role of the mass political party in democracy and democratic thought. It examines Michels' involvement with the German Social Democratic Party and the syndicalist faction around Georges Sorel's Le Mouvement Socialist, as well as his friendship with Max Weber, and his experiences with socialist electoral politics that led him to write Political Parties and explore the nature of political parties and the tension between democracy and oligarchy within them. Time is given to refuting the charge that Political Parties is an anti-democratic work, instead showing that it is profoundly concerned with finding a democratic exit from the problem of oligarchy. Chapters are also devoted to the early twentieth century socialist movement and the debate over the mass strike between Kautsky, Luxemburg, Pannekoek, and the party orthodoxy; later chapters describe liberal writers such as Weber, James Bryce and Moishe Ostrogorski and their works on political parties and political machines. The dissertation shows that all groups were struggling with the ubiquity of political organizations and their relationship to democracy, and that a re-examination of the debate would help democratic theory and political science in understanding democracy and political parties in the contemporary era.