Theory of Circulation of Elites by Pareto

Wilfred Pareto demonstrated the cyclic theory of social change. His theory is known as The Theory of Circulation of Elites in his book “Mind and Society”. He has explained the categorical system in social change based on the cyclic changes. According to Pareto, there are two categories in every society

  • Upper or elite class
  • Lower class

Both these categories  are not stable, but cyclical order of change is found in them. The people of the lower class assimilate in the elite class by increasing their qualities and efficiency. Similarly slowly and slowly the efficiency and capability of elite class starts declining. And thus by losing their quality they become corrupt and hence move towards the lower class.

To fill the vacant place in upper or elite class, people from lower class who are intelligent, efficient, capable and courageous move in the upper direction. In this way, the process of going from upper class to lower class and from lower class to upper class keeps on going. Because of this cyclical rate, change can also occur in social structure. As the change is cyclical therefore the theory is called ‘Theory of Circulation of Elites’ of social change. Pareto has explained the cyclic theory of social change in political, economical and ideological fields.

In political field

According to Pareto, in the political field we see two types of people – lions and foxes. The ‘lions’ are the people those who have strong faith in ideological goals. Also they take the support of power to obtain these goals. They are the people who are in power. As they use power, hence a serious action can take place in society. They take the support of diplomacy and transform themselves from tiger to foxes. They cunningly rule the governance like foxes and exist in power. But some foxes are also present in lower class who are in search to grab this power. A time comes when the power from the foxes in upper class comes in the hands of foxes of lower class. In such a state, because of power change, a change also occurs in political system and organization.

In the view of Pareto, in all societies, in place of logic, power is used for governance. When there is weakness in the desire and power to use force in governing the people. Then in place of power they cunningly get their work done like foxes. The foxes of the governing class are more cunning, hence they grab power from upper class. Thus when there is change in administrators and power, change also occurs in society.

In Economical Field

Pareto has explained two classes in economical field – Speculators and Rentier. According to him, people of first class do not have definite income. Their income may be some times less and sometimes more. The people of this class earn wealth by their intelligence. They are inventors, industrialists,  or skilled businessmen. Conversely, the income of other class i.e. Rentiers is definite. The people of first class use power and cunningness to protect  their interest. Also they adopt corrupt techniques. Because of this corruption they are ruined and people of second class who are honest occupy their place. Along with this change in class, change also occurs in economy of the society.

In Ideological Field

In ideological field also two types of people are found – trustworthy and mistrustful. Sometimes there is a predominance of trustworthy people in society. But when they get stereotyped then they decline and people of other class take their place.


Although Pareto has presented his cyclical theory in a very systematic and intelligent way. But still he is unable to specify those factors which change the state of classes.


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