The rapid expansion of the social sciences in post-war America produced a new approach to research on the theory and practice of democracy. Some of the main themes of this approach were borrowed from early sociological critiques of democracy developed by a group of European social scientists who were later called 'elite theorists' or 'Machiavellians'. This article outlines the set of theoretical motifs found in the works of Gaetano Mosca, Vilfredo Pareto, and Robert Michels that became a foundation for the study of democracy in American post-war social science. Writing in response to the perceived problems of social democracy at the time, Mosca, Pareto, and Michels each identified the goals and ideals of mass popular sovereignty as ill conceived and dangerous based on 'social facts' derived from empirical observation. These 'facts' appeared in later studies of democracy as naturalized or self-evident foundational propositions. Joseph A. Schumpeter's famous critique of democracy's classical ideals is one of the most important examples of a theory built on the 'facts' produced by the early critics. This article therefore presents an analysis of the role these conclusions played in Schumpeter's theory, which characterized democracy as a series of mechanisms designed to mediate and control, rather than give full expression to, popular sovereignty.

Michels, Mosca, Pareto, Schumpeter, social democracy, social facts
Journal of Classical Sociology

Christensen, M. (2013). The social facts of democracy: Science meets politics with Mosca, Pareto, Michels, and Schumpeter. Journal of Classical Sociology, 13(4), 460–486. doi:10.1177/1468795X13480646