Issue n° 39

Opening, Vilfredo Pareto

In his lectures delivered at the University of Lausanne and published in 1903 under the title, Les systèmes socialistes, Vilfredo Pareto develops the elements of a theory of the mechanisms of social evolution. In the pages from the Introduction provided below, he analyses the questions of the distribution of wealth, social hierarchies and the reproduction of elites. His descriptive and explanatory models draw from economics, biology, demography and political philosophy.

Moral chronicle : National elites in a context of globalisation, Brigitte Frelat-Kahn (University of Amiens)

The Bologna declaration and the Lisbon protocol ratify the need to develop in Europe levels of competence (economy of knowledge) in an environment of international competiveness. The evaluations and international rankings (Shanghai, PISA, QS) reveal the weak performances of European universities and Anglo-American domination. The systems of formation of national elites and their recognition find themselves turned upside down, but the study conducted by Brigitte Frelat-Kahn shows also that if the formation of elites occurs in a space of global hierarchies, recruitment and the top responsibilities retain an underlying national dimension.

Notion : Freedom, Alain Vergnioux (University of Caen)

Between the reflections of Montesquieu and Rousseau and these of Kant our conceptions of freedom, essentially as an end of education, declined in the eighteenth century. The author outlines the notions of natural freedom, civil freedom and of political freedom and recalls the republican ‘programme’ inspired by Condorcet: social and political emancipation occur through education (and its universal extension: free and obligatory). In a second part, he analyses the different orientations assumed in the twentieth century by the projects of education for freedom, the priority conferred on the autonomy of pupils in their learning, the implementation of democracy in the classroom, education for citizenship and their potential paradoxes.

Actuality : In the name of a people, Anwar Moghith (University of Helouan, Egypt)

Reflecting again on some key moments in the contemporary history of Egypt, the author questions the relations between the existence and the function of elites, on the one hand, and the setting up of a modern democratic state, on the other hand. Some other factors must be added that explains the very complex reality of the current situation. These are the movement for independence won in 1922 form the Ottoman state and then from England, the relations between the State and religion and a secularisation in respect of the public space, the games of alliance and of opposition between the intellectual and economic elites embracing liberal Western models and from 1952 the other elites – political, nationalist, ‘socialist’, military and technocratic. The ‘people’ were never absent from the scene.

Report: On the formation of elites

Presentation, Brigitte Frelat-Kahn

Intellectual elites and democracy, Denis Meuret (University of Bourgogne)

In a democracy, the question of elites is related to that of excellence. The author proposes a response to the issue based on the work of Dewey and Walzer and argues that there is no reason why excellence should lead to social hierarchies nor that superiority in one social domain should lead to superiority in another; the multiplicity of experiences and the continual nature of hierarchies should protect society from this. According to the republican model, it is a matter of reconciling elitism and the equality of citizens and of avoiding the reproduction by the school system of social hierarchies. The analysis then draws on the Rawlsian conception of justice. For Rawls individual excellences can be developed if they have as their aim, apart from personal satisfactions, the common good. The question then is to determine on what conditions the construction of academic excellence is compatible with a just distribution of education. Fair equality of opportunity is an element of the response.

The formation of Moroccan elites: a mirror of globalisation?, Pierre Vermeren (Paris I University)

Building on his range of historical works on the countries of the Maghreb, the author shows how in Morocco especially the formation of elites is a complex result of a colonial heritage with paradoxical aspects, of ideological aims with contradictory effects and of the badly controlled impact of globalisation. These aspects include the French language, the French model of education, the contemporary impact of French and international schools and above all education in France or abroad. Such is the landscape that predominates in Morocco and it is the result of a paradoxical history. The policy of Lyautey aimed to promote a Moroccan elite by avoiding the French educational system ended by conferring a value on French education in the eyes of the managerial classes. The politics of independence and of arabisation (1977-1989) stopped at the university and established a linguistic partition that discriminates symbolically and in the political and social sphere. This strong dualism has had the effect of delegitimising national education, leading to unemployment of those with high level qualifications from native institutions and to a search for foreign qualification that fomented a desire for emigration on the part of those who seek a meritocratic system.

The conditions for the emergence of an elite: Scouts in France in the decade of 1920, Nicolas Palluau (Lycée F. Mistral, Avignon)

The history of the scouts in France provides a particular case-study and example of another side of the formation of elites in France. Nicolas Palluau analyses the dynamics of the origins of this movement. The original promoters envisaged a social context beginning with the most privileged classes in society but they try to establish a social continuity by extending their activities and ideas towards the working classes. Inspired by the social of Fréderic Leplay, the director of the very elitist and privileged Ecole des Roches, Bertier took over the presidency of the scout movement in France that he had worked to build up as an instrument of an alliance between democracy and aristocracy. Very critical of the elites of their time, these liberal educators sought to forge an elite capable of bringing about social regeneration. Together with the Christian social movement, they undertook to influence the rest of society. They extended this influence by shaping even those who came from very working class backgrounds as can be seen by the ‘House for everyone’ on the rue Mouffetard.

Jesuit schools and the formation of elites: the impact of the Debré law, Bruno Poucet (University of Amiens)

While a large proportion of private institutions undertook the formation of social elites, the Debré law of the 31 December 1959 played an important role in the development of Catholic education. Referring especially to the Jesuit colleges, Bruno Poucet shows in which ways and how this law led to ‘deconfessionalisation’ and to the adaptation of the structure of institutions. Two measures highlight the policy of De Gaulle in educational matters. These were the extension of the school leaving age to 16 and the importance accorded to scientific and technical subjects in the formation of elites. This policy fitted with the direction taken by the Generalate of the order that sought to work among less privileged more susceptible to the order’s the pastoral mission. In this way a practical alliance was shaped with the process of educational democratisation and of adaptation to social demands that assumed unique forms. Bruno Poucet thus distinguishes three models: a diocesan educational centre, a classical college, and an Ignatian college situated close by. All of these bear witness to a profound transformation in the forms of motivation that led today to private education.

European elites between cosmopolitanism and nationalism, Vittorio Cotesta (Roma III University)

How should we understand the formation of elites in the European context? Taking his inspiration from Wittgenstein, Vittorio Cotesta highlights what he calls three moments of a ‘semantic configuration’ that express a form of Europe-national-nationalism and that allows for the postulation of a European ‘community’ beyond spontaneous identification (religion, importance of nations and colonial domination, the moment of the construction of Europe). Each time Europe comes to be identified by taking into account the view of the other, bearing witness in this way to the centrality of exchanges. At every stage a new form of travel emerges in which elites form and develop. Religious and business journeys, universalism and cosmopolitanism dominate among the elites of the nation states of the ‘old’ Europe, all subscribe, each in their own way, to the supposed superiority of European over other cultures. The recent changes in the world and the loss of influence of European nations call into question the status of the elites of the ‘old continent’, between national identities, European culture and spirit and the globalised spaces of action

Document: Elite, its role and its formation, Abbé L. Rouzic

We are in the aftermath of the Great War. L’abbé Louis Rouzic, chaplain in the Ecole Sainte-Geneviève in Versailles, taught and supported young people preparing for the competitive entry examination to the Ecole polytechnique, ‘soul of the elites’, as he describes it in his introductory letter, a series of short lectures that he brought together in the form of a short volume entitled L’Élite, son rôle et sa formation. It is time to set the country to rights and he argues for a renewal of elites by enlarging the recruitment base within society. We include chapters one, two and three below.

Etude : Sources of contemporary sexism: Cabanis and the weakness of women, Nicole Mosconi (Paris X University)

The thesis upheld by Nicole Mosconi is that the backwardness of women in education that obtained in the nineteenth century is greatly attributable to medicine which located the inferiority of women in comparison with men in their physiology. To understand it, it is necessary to see how the ‘ideologues’ conceived the project of a ‘science of man’ on empirical and materialist bases, free of any theological reference. Among them, Cabanis wishes, on the model supplied by Condillac, to develop a science of ideas, as much intellectual as moral which allows for macro-physiological differences between the sexes that are accentuated by puberty. Women are physically less strong, their intelligence is orientated more towards the imagination than towards science, their sensibility towards seduction, etc. with all of this explained as ‘laws of nature’. From this flows the distribution of social roles (with women being given the private sphere and the care of children) and in this Cabanis shares the view of Rousseau. It was no longer a case of the divine order legitimising the relations of force and power. Nature assumed this role. If the reference to nature had an emancipatory virtue in the eighteenth century, the science of the nineteenth reinforced (with the supremacy of biology) the old hierarchies and created from them new one (between races, social groups, etc.).