Pareto, Residues, and The Circulation of the Elite



Neoreactionary and related analysis of politics and meta-politics

This is the full script for the video “Pareto, Residues, and The Circulation of the Elite.”

Vilfredo Pareto, Italian polymath of the 20th century, studied human action in detail. Pareto is very relevant to Neoreaction, in that he is one of the key Machiavellians, as identified by James Burnham, whose ideas are studied in Burnham’s essential book, The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom. Burnham, and this book in particular, was one of the major influences behind Mencius Moldbug’s blogs.

Pareto divided human action into logical and non-logical conduct. Human action is logical when it is motivated by a deliberate goal, the goal is possible, and the steps taken to reach the goal are appropriate for reaching it. Most human action fails to meet one or more of these criteria, and falls into the category of non-logical action. Pareto examines in particular non-logical action that is associated with words. Verbal action has a particular social and political significance, and Pareto divides the behaviors in this domain into two types: Residues, and Derivations, or Derivatives.

A Residue is a constant and invariant feature of human beings. Residues are named as such because they are essentially what remains when all Derivatives are stripped away. Residues are not the sentiments or instincts of humans, but the manifestations of those sentiments and instincts.

Pareto describes Derivatives as the work of the mind in accounting for Residues. Derivatives are all behaviors derived from Residues, and they are not permanent. They can vary within a culture over time, and between cultures across space, unlike Residues, which remain stable to the point of being nearly unchanging throughout human history. The existence of the family is a Residue, but between cultures, different explanations will be derived to explain this structure, and the specifics of intra-familial and inter-familial relationships will be different. The persistence of the family is a Residue, and the particulars of some culture or other’s familial relations are Derivatives.

It is Residues that we are more interested in here, as Residues allow us to make determinations about human action that will remain true at any time and place.

Pareto classifies Residues into six classifications.

Class I: Instinct for Combinations.

Class II: Group-Persistences.

Class Ill: Residues of Self-Expression

Class IV: Residues Connected with Sociality. 

Class V: Integrity of the Individual.

Class VI: The Sex Residue.

The two Residues that are most relevant to us are Class I and Class II. These two types correspond roughly to the progressive and conservative tendencies in people, and are decisive in the social and political sphere for a society.

Class I Residues are the tendencies for human beings to combine or manipulate various elements taken arbitrarily from experience. Many magical practices are a product of this residue. It is also the residue that leads to financial manipulations, merging and combining various economic enterprises, efforts to entangle and disentangle political units, and to make and remake empires. It is the “system-making”- residue, that of elaborating pseudo-logical combinations of ideas into theologies, metaphysics, and ideologies of all sorts. It is this class of residue that chiefly accounts for “Derivations,” expressing the need for man to make his own behavior seem rational.

Class II Residues, group persistences, are the tendencies of humans to keep a combination, once formed, persistent. Examples of such a combination are the family, tribe, city, or nation, and it is the conservative impulse that is encapsulated in Class II residues. The feeling that property is part of a person’s being is also accounted for in Class II residues, as well as abstractions such as God, natural law, progress, and the State. Class II residues tend to be accompanied by a willingness to use force in order to maintain these entities.

Now, we will begin examining elite theory properly. Pareto divides Elites into two types: the governing elite and the non-governing elite. Pareto determines that the character of a society is first and foremost the character of its elite. The accomplishments, history, and future predictions for a society are primarily a factor of the composition of its elite.

An elite class can be more open or closed in any given society, at any given time. As Pareto puts it, there are “ties” in the elite class that prevent it from ever being perfectly open. The closedness of an elite restricts what Pareto calls “the circulation of the elite.” This circulation keeps an elite class healthy, and when it becomes too closed, the elite weakens, and if they become unfit to rule and stray too far, a social revolution occurs, wherein a massive number of individuals previously barred from the elite suddenly enter the elite class, as people properly fit to the roles.

When the elite, through its special limiting principles, such as the aristocratic principle, becomes nearly or entirely closed, it degenerates into a condition in which it is particularly vulnerable to internal revolution or external threat. It is important to observe here, that Pareto is interested not in the theory of the openness or closedness of the elite, but the actual facts. In The United States, theoretically the elite class is open to all, particularly through financial means, but in practice, this is not in effect. We will make observations on the state of our own elite in this regard shortly.

The elite in any society will tend to accumulate and express Class I and Class II residues. Class I and Class II residues are the chief influence on the social equilibrium, and as a society’s character tends to be an expression of the character of its elite, the distribution of these residues in relation to the various classes of a society will determine the character of a given society.

In general, Class II residues tend to predominate in the non-elite, and Class I residues more in the elite. The elite thus tends to be more like Machiavelli’s “Foxes.” As Burnham puts it on Foxes: 

“They live by their wits; they put their reliance on fraud, deceit, and shrewdness. They do not have strong attachment to family, church, nation, and traditions (though they may exploit these attachments in others). They live in the present, taking little thought of the future, and are always ready for change, novelty, and adventure. In economic affairs, they incline toward speculation, promotion, innovation. They are not adept, as a rule, in the use of force. They are inventive and chance-taking.”

For those in which Class II residues predominate, they are like Machiavelli’s “Lions.” Again, as Burnham puts it:

“They are able and ready to use force, relying on it rather than brains to solve their problems. They are conservative, patriotic, loyal to tradition, and solidly tied to supra-individual groups like family or Church or nation. They are concerned for posterity and the future. In economic affairs they are cautious, saving and orthodox. They distrust the new, and praise “character” and “duty” rather than wits.”

Athens is an example where Class I residues were present in unusually large portions in both the elite and non-elite. Sparta, likewise, was a society where Class II residues strongly dominated in both the elite and non-elite. Both of these combinations were suboptimal for the security of these civilizations.

Based on Pareto’s descriptions on the effects of these residues, such as his elaboration on the examples of Athens and Rome, Burnham provides four criteria for an optimal state of elites:

(1) Class II residues are widespread and active among the non-elite.

(2) the individuals with a high level of Class I residues are concentrated in the elite.

(3) a fair percentage of Class II residues nevertheless still remains within the elite.

(4) the elite is comparatively open, so that at least a comparatively free circulation can take place.

He also translates these criteria into clearer functions:

(1) The masses have faith in an integrating myth or ideology, a strong sense of group solidarity, a willingness to endure physical hardship and sacrifice. 

(2) The best and most active brains of the community are concentrated in the elite, and ready to take advantage of whatever opportunities the historical situation presents. 

(3) At the same time the elite is not cynical, and does not depend exclusively upon its wits, but is able to be firm, to use force, if the internal or external condition calls for it. 

(4) The elite is prevented from gross degeneration through the ability of new elements to rise into its ranks.

Examining these four points in relation to American civilization, we can make the following judgements:

(1) Class II residues are not nearly as widespread among the masses as they once were – the integrating myths, the sense of group solidarity, and the willingness to endure physical hardship in America are eroded.

(2) It is certainly not the case that the best and most active brains are concentrated in the elite, keeping in mind here that we speak of the elite generally. The special limiting principle of the elite, the fashionability of progressivism, prevents many qualified people from participating in elite activities in their field, and elevates people distinctly unqualified if they are sufficiently fashionable.

(3) The elite is quite cynical in relation to the ideologies it opposes and those that prop it up. The ruling elite, in particular, are willing to associate with any progressive minority interest, including mutually contradictory ones, in order to protect their elite status. Privately, the elite are not ideologically aligned with most of these groups, perhaps even none of them, and are much more self-interested than in governing in any way that has to do with the traditions of the society.

The elite also depend very strongly on wit. When force is used, it tends to be indirect, such as in the case of the 2020 riots, an internal threat. They are also unable to even rattle the sword at effectively China, an external threat.

(4) The elite is very closed, both ideologically, as well as via the enormous wealth disparity between the highest tier of elite and all others. Even being fashionably progressive and of high achievement is not enough to allow one to enter this tier of elite.

We can clearly see that, by these criteria, our elite, and thereby society, is not in a particularly healthy condition.

Let us now read a passage from Burnham that relates very strongly to our current crisis:

“A combination of this sort does not, however, as a rule last long. The typical, though not universal, pattern of development of organized societies goes along some such lines as these: The community (nation) becomes established and consolidated after a period of wars of conquest or of internal revolutions. At this point the governing elite is strongly weighted with Class II residues – revolutions and great wars put a premium on faith, powers of endurance, and force. After the consolidation, activities due to Class I residues increase in importance and are able to flourish. The relative percentage of Class I  residues in the elite increases; the Foxes replace the Lions. The proportion of Class II residues remains high, as always, in the masses. A time of great material prosperity may follow, under the impulse and manipulations of the Class I residues. But the elite has lost its faith, its self-identification with the group; it thinks all things can be solved by shrewdness, deceit, combinations; it is no longer willing and able to use force. It reaches a point where it cannot withstand the attack from an external enemy, stronger in Class II residues; or from within, when the masses, one way or another, get a leadership able to organize their potential strength. The combinationist elite is destroyed, very often carrying its whole society to ruin along with it.”

Burnham wrote and published The Machiavellians: Defenders of Liberty in the years 1941 to 1943, and his world was of course facing its own crisis in World War II; and he was correct in regards to the period of great material prosperity following the resolution of the war. Today, we face new crises, and the analysis holds. As seasoned war veterans have passed out of the elite, the elite has clearly become more Class 1. Especially after The Cold War ended, the elite has come to rely almost entirely on the combinations of Class 1 residues to propagate the global American empire. Force is sometimes used, as The United States has prosecuted many wars since the 1990s, but they are far from the homeland, and of a small scale compared to the other American wars of the 20th century. Even the conflicts themselves are fought more in a Class 1 style, with technological superiority taking precedence over manpower. The battle is configured such that the combination of elements ensures victory before contact with the enemy even occurs.

As Burnham said, after victory comes consolidation, and the consolidation of Class 1 Residues in the elite did produce a period of great prosperity in America, both after World War II, when Burnham was writing, and in the late 20th century, as the Cold War wound down. Economic manipulations made America very powerful, but also, as Burnham noted, to repeat:

“the elite has lost its faith, its self-identification with the group; it thinks all things can be solved by shrewdness, deceit, combinations; it is no longer willing and able to use force. It reaches a point where it cannot withstand the attack from an external enemy, stronger in Class II residues; or from within, when the masses, one way or another, get a leadership able to organize their potential strength. The combinationist elite is destroyed, very often carrying its whole society to ruin along with it.”

We should dwell on this very carefully, word by word.

Has the elite lost its faith? Yes.

Has the elite lost its self-identification with the nation? Yes.

Does the elite think that all problems can be solved with combinations? Yes.

Is the elite unwilling to use force? Yes, despite the oppression levied on dissidents, it is virtually in totality an oppression of combinations, not of force. To use force, of course, as Moldbug noted, would transition the two-story state into a one-story state.

Has the elite lost the ability to withstand an attack from an external enemy, strong in Class 2 residues? This is likely – it seems that China is precisely such a foe.

Has the elite lost the ability to withstand an attack from within, from the masses, organized around a leadership that unleashes their strength? We seem to be somewhere in the midst of this process happening, although where we are exactly yet remains unclear. But it is obviously coming.

Now let us examine the final sentence: “The combinationist elite is destroyed, very often carrying its whole society to ruin along with it.”

While the elite may be destroyed, as it is irreconcilably linked with the health of the society itself, the destruction of the elite may be the destruction of the society.

The threat we see from without, currently the Chinese, is clearly a threat that may lead to this type of destruction.

The threat from within could be just as dangerous, if a challenging Class 2 elite is not able to carefully manage the Class 2 residues of the masses. We are currently waiting to see if President Trump is an elite of this type who will manage these residues effectively. Should he not, the society could very easily suffer great damage, and remain vulnerable to external threat.

We must understand that the Class 2 elites will use force against the ruling Class 1 elites. We must be clear about what this force looks like. Force is initiated and deployed by the elite themselves, not arbitrarily by the masses. It is an elite-on-elite type of force that exemplifies this type of circulation of the elite, even if the Class 2 elite does so by use of the masses; ultimately, it is the elite driving such force. 

The force may be backed by the masses, or not actually utilize them at all. In The United States, there are many, entirely legal means by which The President may make arrests, or seize property – both constitute a use of force, and both are very infrequently done by the ruling Class 1 elite. Why they choose to use force as they do is made clear by Pareto:

“To ask whether or not force ought to be used in a society, whether the use of force is or is not beneficial, is to ask a question that has no meaning; for force is used by those who wish to preserve certain uniformities [e.g., the existing class structure of society, the status quo] and by those who wish to overstep them; and the violence of the one stands in contrast and in conflict with the violence of the others. In truth, if a partisan of a governing class disavows the use of force, he means that he disavows the use of force by insurgents trying to escape from the norms of the given uniformity. On the other hand, if he says he approves of the use of force, what he really means is that he approves of the use of force by the public authority to constrain insurgents to conformity. Conversely, if a partisan of the subject class says he detests the use of force in society, what he really detests is the use of force by constituted authorities in forcing dissidents to conform; and if, instead, he lauds the use of force, he is thinking of the use of force by those who would break away from certain social uniformities.”

Pareto informs us that force is ever-present in society, and the question is not of its utility, but when it is deployed. It is deployed with great caution by the Class 1 elite today. A Class 2 elite could wash away the old elite with great rapidity, were it to do so. Pareto tells us the process of Class 2 elite displacing Class 1:

“The dispute is really as to the relative merits of shrewdness and force, and to decide it in the sense that never never, not even in the exceptional case, is it useful to meet wits with violence, it would be necessary first to show that the use of cunning is always, without exception, more advisable than the use of force. Suppose a certain country has a governing class A, that assimilates the best elements, as regards intelligence, in the whole population. In that case the subject class, B, is largely stripped of such elements and can have little or no hope of ever overcoming the class A so long as it is a battle of wits. If intelligence were to be combined with force, the dominion of the A’s would be perpetual. .  .  . But such a happy combination occurs only for a few individuals. In the majority of cases people who rely on their wits are or become less fitted to use violence, and vice versa. So concentration in the class A of the individuals most adept at chicanery leads to a concentration in class B of the individuals most adept at violence; and if that process is long continued, the equilibrium tends to become unstable, because the A’s are long in cunning but short in the courage to use force and in the force itself; whereas the B’s have the force and the courage to use it, but are short in the skill required for exploiting those advantages. But if they chance to find leaders who have the skill – and history shows that such leadership is usually supplied by dissatisfied A’s – they have all they need for driving the A’s from power. Of just that development history affords countless examples from remotest times all the way down to the present.”

Essentially, Pareto tells us that the mechanisms of the circulation of the elite result in a virtual inevitability of a Class 2 elite displacing a Class 1 elite, as a process that occurs as a result of the distribution of residues in the society. Pareto provides for us a generalized description of a social revolution. The specifics of the revolution, like the Derivatives of Residues, will differ in all cases.

The elite may, merely in the face of the willingness to use force, open itself up to an influx of new elite, and remove the weaker members from its ranks, shifting the balance of residues in the elite more towards Class 2. A social revolution will occur, absent elites using force against one another.

It is also possible that, as has happened frequently, that a true revolution happens, a revolt of the masses. However, we must note that:

“The masses can never successfully revolt until they acquire a leadership, which is always made up in part of able and ambitious individuals from their own ranks who cannot gain entrance into the governing elite, and in part of disgruntled members of the existing elite.”

The masses never revolt as a mass, but rather, as an organized force behind a leadership that intends to replace the existing elite. “Leadership” is not merely used generically here – it is used in the sense of formal leadership of organizations. Elites require such formalizations to provide them power, and no circulation of the elite will occur without them.

These organizations could be existing organizations, such as the government. We can see a path in the near future where President Trump uses the parts of the Red Government that he has effective control of to empower him, in addition to the support of the masses.

Even if such a severe event were to occur, the old elite is rarely ever entirely replaced. Some contingency of the old elite will remain, as shrewdness would dictate that the utility of removing them by force would be negative. Whatever the extent of the use of force, the outcome will be a rebalanced elite and society, with a healthy amount of Class 2 residues in the rejuvenated elite. We expect the elite to still primarily express Class 1 residues, and the masses Class 2, but Class 2 must not be excluded entirely from the elite. If it is, then the society degenerates in the elite’s disregard for tradition and dependency on cunning to solve all problems. Class 2, as well, is to not be concentrated in the elite, as this stagnates the culture, and prevents regeneration from occurring. The Circulation part in the Circulation of the Elite is extremely important to maintaining a civilization.

Burnham reminds us that Pareto wrote just prior to World War I. Analyzing The United States and Europe, Pareto determined that the elite was oversaturated with Class 1 residues, and debilitated by certain humanitarian beliefs.

Pareto stated several points on these conditions 

“1. A mere handful of citizens, so long as they are willing to use violence, can force their will upon public officials who are not inclined to meet violence with equal violence. If the reluctance of the officials to resort to force is primarily motivated by humanitarian sentiments, that result ensues very readily; but if they refrain from violence because they deem it wiser to use some other means, the effect is often the following: 

2. To prevent or resist violence, the governing class resorts to ‘diplomacy,’ fraud, corruption – governmental authority passes, in a word, from the lions to the foxes. The governing class bows its head under the threat of violence, but it surrenders only in appearances, trying to turn the flank of the obstacle it cannot demolish in frontal attack. In the long run that sort of procedure comes to exercise a far-reaching influence on the selection of the governing class, which is now recruited only from the foxes, while the lions are blackballed. The individual who best knows the arts of sapping the strength of the foes of ‘graft’ and of winning back by fraud and deceit what seemed to have been surrendered under pressure of force, is now leader of leaders. The man who has bursts of rebellion, and does not know how to crook his spine at the proper times and places, is the worst of leaders, and his presence is tolerated among them only if other distinguished endowments offset that defect.

3. So it comes about that the residues of the combination-instinct (Class I) are intensified in the governing class, and the residues of group-persistence (Class II) debilitated; for the combination-residues supply, precisely, the artistry and resourcefulness required for evolving ingenious expedients as substitutes for open resistance, while the residues of group-persistence stimulate open resistance, since a strong sentiment of group-persistence cures the spine of all tendencies to curvature.

4. Policies of the governing class are not planned too far ahead in time. Predominance of the combination instincts and enfeeblement of the sentiments of group-persistence result in making the governing class more satisfied with the present and less thoughtful of the future. The individual comes to prevail, and by far, over family, community, nation. Material interests and interests of the present or a near future come to prevail over the ideal interests of community or nation and interests of the distant future. The impulse is to enjoy the present without too much thought for the morrow. 

5. Some of these phenomena become observable in international relations as well. Wars become essentially economic. Efforts are made to avoid conflicts with the powerful and the sword is rattled only before the weak. Wars are regarded more than anything else as speculations. A country is often unwittingly edged towards war by nursings of economic conflicts which, it is expected, will never get out of control and turn into armed conflicts. Not seldom, however, a war will be forced upon a country by peoples who are not so far advanced in the evolution that leads to the predominance of Class I residues.”

Burnham relates these predictions to the crisis of his own time, World War II, but we can also relate them to ours. 

On 1), we see this effect occurring to some degree from the left. Leftist violence is part of how The Cathedral moves left, and governors and the president alike have demonstrated an unwillingness to prevent rioters from dictating the course of culture.

On 2), we see that diplomacy, fraud, and corruption are all practiced by the elite. The aforementioned rioters are dealt with using diplomacy. Fraud and corruption are used within the elite against one another – one could consider the entirety of The United States political system at this point as an exercise in fraud and corruption. It purely exists to perpetuate its own deceit, with no interest whatsoever in governing in the interest of its citizens.

On 3), the Class 1 residues have created a positive feedback mechanism in which increasingly complex webs of combinations are necessary to deal with new problems that emerge – most notably in the convoluted system of global bureaucratized economics.

On 4), the elite only live for the now, and every problem is solved only in regards to the immediate solution. Individual interests dominate over national interests, as well as material interests of the now over those of the future. Every policy is simply designed to prop up endless economic growth for a little while longer.

On 5), The United States only conducts economic wars. The United States never conducts a war with a powerful nation. It speculates on its economic wars and promotes economic conflict in many countries. Some countries with a preponderance of Class 2 residues are subjected to actual war, replacing their elite with an elite more aligned with Class 1 residues.

Burnham observed in his own time the confirmation of Pareto’s theory of the circulation of the elite, referencing the 1938 Munich Agreement specifically, which prompted Chamberlain’s infamous “peace in our time” speech. Burnham observed that Britain and its allies relied exclusively on Class 1 residues, but no combination of political and economic agreements could defeat the Axis, and Russia. Burnham notes that Germany and Russia, having already gone through a circulation of the elite, were much more well prepared for the kinetic action of the war to come than the other powers.

In our time, we observe that nations such as Russia and China are obviously approaching politics from a more realistic perspective, and that both have recently circulated their elite following the end of their communist revolutions, whereas The United States, Anglo, and European Union nations are approaching politics from a crippling humanitarian angle. It has been 75 years at the shortest since these nations have gone through a circulation of the elite, although we can see one in the making at this very moment.

With that, we will close the video. We have reviewed many concepts within a short time, but this is just an introduction to these ideas. Now you should be able to understand the basic meaning of terms related to elite theory. To understand the deeper substantiation of elite theory, you’ll have to read Burnham, Pareto, or similar authors yourself. The audiobook for The Machiavellians is quite good, and is readily available. Otherwise, this next year of videos will continue to focus more on the roots of modern reactionary thinkers. Thanks for watching.