With an understanding of the historical antecedents and the assumptions that informed Pareto’s knowledge in mind, we can now turn to his theory proper. We have compiled his “propositions” from the major works mentioned earlier, The Socialist Systems and The Mind and Society. Two volumes of selections from Pareto’s Treatise edited by Joseph Lopreato (1965) and the work on Pareto by S. E. Finer (1966) are also important references.
The general logic of Pareto’s work follows from his conception of society as a systematic whole made up of interdependent parts. He argued forcefully that the introduction of change at any point affecting any part will necessarily produce change in other parts, as well as in the total system. Forces within society work to maintain the existing form of social organization and to ensure that change is orderly and compatible with the nature of the social system. Hence, for Pareto, change is not conceived in terms of dramatic institutional response. To the contrary, action and reaction within the system represent a process of maintaining order in the presence of threats. As with homeostasis in physiology, the components of society compensate automatically for alterations or strain in the external environment.
The relationships among variables in Pareto’s system are not unilateral. As a rule, relationships involve reciprocal dependence. For this reason Pareto rejected the traditional conception of cause and effect as both one-sided and simplistic. He believed that the association of social variables could be best understood as functional, but he appears to have employed a mathematical conception of function. By this we mean that the state of the variable depends on the changes with another (or other) variable(s). In a quantitative sense, fluctuations in the system can best be conceived as correlational, as a matter of the degree of relative correspondence. This is different from Durkheimian functionalism, where the focus is on the purposes of social practices.
For Pareto, the most important elements of a social system are those that are universal, that is, found in all systems. These constant elements tend to be regular and uniform and to demonstrate continuity over time. He argued that the identification and measurement of the constant components that comprise the social system represent sociology’s reason for being.
Turning his attention to the members of society, Pareto held that human action within the system can be classified as either logical or nonlogical. Logical action occurs when a preponderance of rigorous evidence is employed by the actor to assess (1) whether an end can be realistically achieved, and if so, (2) what the best means are to reach that goal. Influenced heavily be Machiavelli, Pareto argued that logical action is unusual (confined typically to such rational behavior as economic and scientific conduct). Rather, it is nonlogical action, reflective of underlying human sentiments or innate instincts, that dominates the range of human behavior. Pareto did not separate human action from the social system. Rather, he incorporated both the logical and nonlogical within its internal dynamics.
Pareto held that systemic equilibrium is a consequence of the constancies of external conditions and internal elements. External conditions consist of two major categories: the impact upon society by its natural environment (geography) and the influences represented by other systems or by the same system at an earlier historical stage. Internal elements can be classified into principle types. These are economic interests, residues, derivations, social stratification, and the circulation of the elite. For Pareto, economic interests represent logical action directed toward the maximization of satisfaction. He did not consider this internal element of value in the understanding of the social system.
Another internal element consists of nonlogical actions that are manifestations of underlying mental or psychic states of sentiments. Termed residues, such manifestations correspond with innate dispositions that appear to be bioinstinctual in essence. At the individual level, residues seem synonymous with drives or basic impulses that ordinarily culminate in social interaction. Such an interpretation has to be inferred from Pareto’s classification of residues as well as his general usage of the concept.
Pareto identified 51 residues and combined them into six distinct classes: (1) combinations, or the impulse to form associations and categories of things, events, and ideas; (2) persistence of aggregates, or the impulse to preserve abstractions, symbols, and social relationships over time; (3) sentiments through exterior acts, or the impulse to express powerful underlying emotions through religious rituals, political agitation, and so forth; (4) sociability, or the impulse to impose uniform standards of behavior to realize popularity, prestige, and standing; (5) integrity of personality, or the impulse to preserve the personality; and sexuality, or the impulse toward all sexually related action.
Derivations constitute the next constant and internal element of social systems. Derivations are a form of nonlogical action. And just as residues are manifestations of sentiments, so too are derivations manifestations of residues. Derivations are in effect ideologies or “pseudo-logical” defenses that are subject to further classification. These are assertions, appeals to authority, claims that are in accordance with prevailing sentiments or the conventional wisdom, and verbal proofs that employ ambiguity, abstractions, and analogies in lieu of hard evidence.
It is crucial at this juncture to make note of Pareto’s theoretical intent. By means of his residues and derivations, he sought not only to identify constant elements of the social system but to construct a basis for criticizing rival theories that did not measure up to his “logico-experimental” conception of science. Thus, for Pareto, both the social system and his theoretical attempts to explain it were based on logical action. Alternative theories, especially those that seemed to offer an alternative vision of society, were dismissed as mere “derivations,” ideologies masquerading as science. They sought legitimacy through assertion, authority, “what everybody knows,” and verbal obtuseness.
For Pareto, still another constant element found in all social systems is social stratification. By such, Pareto meant that residues are differentially distributed among individuals, groups, and classes in society. Such a state of affairs, when combined with real moral, intellectual, and physical differences, represents the basis for inequality. This fundamental component of society means that all theories of political democracy, classlessness, and mass government are contradicted by the systemic imperative of social stratification. Therefore, egalitarian conceptions of society can be nothing more than derivations (unfounded ideologies) used by ruling circles to control the lower strata.
The final internal element for Pareto is the circulation of the elite. History, he argued, is the “cemetery of aristocracies.” By this he sought to show that although stratification is a part of the natural order of things, the composition of its elite circles does not remain unchanged. According to Pareto, those on the top often resort to measures of repression that sustain them for long periods. However, sooner or later the “more fit” members of the subject classes will demand their place. If they are not assimilated into the existing elite, then the historical stage is set for the revolution or coup d’etat.
As expected, Pareto found specific residues at the base of the circulation of the elite. These are the residues of combinations and persistence. Combination residues are the basis for the grand schemes of political and financial empire building, or the bringing together of state power and the interests of economic enterprise. The elite act in the style of Machiavelli’s foxes, and although they are willing to innovate and assume risks, they prefer deception to force.
Persistence residues, on the other hand, dominate a contending body of elite. For Pareto, these were Machiavelli’s lions
with their strong and enduring attachment to family, class, country, and other traditional social relationships. Here we find the patriots and nationalists who fear neither the use of violence nor the raw exercise of power. Pareto’s world saw the predominance of foxes. Soon, he predicted, the day of the lion would dawn (Perdue, 1986, pp. 99-102).