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The young Lipset on the iron law of oligarchy: a taste of things to come

By Patrick McGovern


Lipset's ‘Democracy in Private Government’ was a remarkable publication for three reasons. It was his first attempt to challenge Michels' ‘iron law of oligarchy’ and would lead to a programme of research that that would culminate with the publication of the widely admired classic study Union Democracy. Second, the inspiration for this work came from Lipset's student days when he was a socialist activist trying to understand why leftist governments often failed to carry out substantial programmes of social reform. Third, although it was one of his earliest publications it bears all the hallmarks of the work that would subsequently make Lipset a giant of political sociology: the enthusiasm for classic sociological problems; the appreciation of history; and the ingenious use of the small n comparative approach. Finally, I would argue that Lipset's study of democracy within private government represents a missed opportunity for sociology though there are signs that this is being rectified in recent years

Topics: HM Sociology, JC Political theory
Publisher: The London School of Economics and Political Science
Year: 2010
DOI identifier: 10.1111/j.1468-4446.2009.01283.x
OAI identifier:
Provided by: LSE Research Online

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