Modern Italian Social Theory
Modern Italian Social Theory
Pareto, when studied at all, is generally interpreted in two apparently mutually exclusive ways. Economists regard him as a classical liberal, who made important contributions to the theory of rational choice underlying the defence and analysis of market mechanisms. Sociologists and political theorists, by contrast, tend to dismiss his ideas as crude and illiberal - as attacking the role of reason and democracy in politics, and exalting the use of force by an elite to impose its will on the populace. 1 The two images are said to correspond to different periods of his life. The first belongs to the early phase when, as an engineer and later a captain of industry, he threw himself into the movement for free trade. The second resulted from disillusionment at the frustration of his early hopes. An exile and recluse in Switzerland, he became the bitter and cynical commentator and dissector of contemporary events. The two divergent views are thereby reconciled by the thesis of an historical break between the early and the late Pareto. 2
This chapter challenges this view by exploring the development of his sociology in the context of his political opinions and involvements. 3 If disappointment with Italian politics is indeed the key to his sociological thought, then the ideals of the early period repay study by providing the background to his later criticisms. This constitutes the first section of this chapter. I then turn, in section two, to the examination of his system to show how the principles of his economic liberalism governed those of his sociology. Finally, in section three, I demonstrate the continuity between the supposed two Paretos, revealing how his use of the insights of the Trattato to describe political developments from the First World War to his death in 1923, echoes his analysis of events before the war.
I claim that the similarity between Pareto's earlier and later views derives from the conceptual scheme he employed to interpret human behaviour. Pareto's liberal principles led him to shrink the political spectrum drastically, reducing all human activity to certain sharply-defined and contestable types - essentially 'rational' or'irrational'. These categories were then enshrined within his sociology. This, in turn, had the effect of legitimizing a particular form of political practice - namely fascism. Pareto's development thereby illustrates the central issue of this book - namely, the nature of the relationship between social theory and political action.
THE POLITICS OF PARETO'S SOCIOLOGY
Pareto was born in Paris in the year of liberal revolutions, 1848. His father, the Marquis Raffaello Pareto, had been exiled from Genoa to France in 1835 or 1836 for his Mazzinian opinions, and had taken a French wife. An amnesty enabled him to return in 1855. A civil engineer, he rose to high rank in the service of the Piedmontese (later Italian) government. Pareto followed his father's career, graduating in engineering in 1869 with a thesis on 'The fundamental principles of equilibrium in solid bodies', which inspired a number of his later ideas on economics and sociology. He was appointed a director of the Florence branch of the Rome Railway Company in 1870 and held this post until 1874, when he became managing director of the Società Ferriere d'Italia.
During these years he increasingly took part in political debates as an ardent supporter of universal suffrage, republicanism, free trade and disarmament. Borkenau and H. Stuart Hughes regard his later debunking of humanitarian and democratic ideas as a reaction to his father's Mazzinian beliefs. Yet, as Finer has pointed out, there is no evidence for this interpretation. 4 On the contrary, he was plainly attracted by these ideas, regretting the 'inauspicious circumstances' that led to his being born in France rather than Italy, and regarding someone opposed to t