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Vilfredo Pareto (1848–1923) was an Italian aristocrat and social scientist. His contributions to economics and sociology include, among others, a welfare measure (Pareto optimality), a measure of income inequality (Pareto’s law), and a theory of elites. According to Pareto, people in every society have always been and will always be dominated by an aristocracy (which he called the “best”), the elite.

Pareto’s theory of elites was developed in four main publications, three of which are available in English translation: Rise and Fall of Elites, Les Systèmes Socialistes, Manual of Political Economy, and A Treatise on General Sociology. In this entry, we will review Pareto’s early theory of elites, his mature theory of elites, his conception of the circulation of elites, and various critiques of his theories ...

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