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Political Parties [Kindle Edition]

Robert Michels

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Book Description

From Preface: "MANY of the most important problems of social life, though their causes have from the first been inherent in human psychology, have originated during the last hundred and fifty years; and even in so far as they have been handed down to us from an earlier epoch, they have of late come to press more urgently, have acquired a more precise formulation, and have gained fresh significance. Many of our leading minds have gladly devoted the best energies of their lives to attempts towards solving these problems. The so-called principle of nationality was discovered for the solution of the racial and linguistic problem which, unsolved, has continually threatened Europe with war and the majority of individual states with revolution. In the economic sphere, the social problem threatens the peace of the world even more seriously than do questions of nationality, and here "the labourer's right to the full produce of his labour" has become the rallying cry. Finally, the principle of self-government, the corner-stone of democracy, has come to be regarded as furnishing a solution of the problem of nationality, for the principle of nationality entails in practical working the acceptance of the idea of popular government. Now, experience has shown that not one of these solutions is as far-reaching in its effects as the respective discoverers imagined in the days of their first enthusiasm. The importance of the principle of nationality is undeniable, and most of the national questions of western Europe can be and ought to be solved in accordance with this principle; but matters are complicated by geographical and strategical considerations, such as the difficulty of determining natural frontiers and the frequent need for the establishment of strategic frontiers; moreover, the principle of nationality cannot help us where nationalities can hardly be said to exist or where they are intertangled in inextricable confusion. As far as the economic problem is concerned, we have numerous solutions offered by the different schools of socialist thought, but the formula of the right to the whole produce of labour is one which can be comprehended more readily in the synthetic than in the analytic field; it is easy to formulate as a general principle and likely as such to command widespread sympathy, but it is exceedingly difficult to apply in actual practice. The present work aims at a critical discussion of the third question, the problem of democracy. It is the writer's opinion that democracy, at once as an intellectual theory and as a practical movement, has to-day entered upon a critical phase from which it will be extremely difficult to discover an exit. Democracy has encountered obstacles, not merely imposed from without, but spontaneously surgent from within. Only to a certain degree, perhaps, can these obstacles be surpassed or removed."

Product Description


The principle of self-government through political parties, the cornerstone of democracy, has come to be regarded as a solution to the problem of nationality. This is because the principle of nationality entails the acceptance of the idea of popular government. The importance of the principle of nationality is undeniable, and most of the national questions of Western Europe might be solved in accordance with this principle. Matters are complicated by geographical and strategical considerations, such as the difficulty of determining natural frontiers and the frequent need to establish strategic frontiers. Moreover, the principle of nationality cannot help us where nationalities barely exist or where they are entangled in inextricable confusion. The present work is a critical discussion of the problem of democracy. Michels believes that democracy, as an intellectual theory and as a practical movement, has entered upon a critical phase from which exit will be extremely difficult.

In this book he analyzes the tendencies that oppose the realization of democracy, and claims that these tendencies can be classified in three ways: dependence upon the nature of the individual; dependence upon the nature of the political structure; and dependence upon the nature of organization. This edition, described by Morris Janowitz as a "classic of modern social science" and by Melvin Tumin as "the beginning of a tradition", offers a landmark study in political science. Following its original publication in 1910, the study and analysis of political parties was established as a new branch of science. "Political Parties" continues to be a foundation work in the literature and is a necessary addition to the libraries of contemporary political scientists, sociologists and historians.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1046 KB
  • Print Length: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Evergreen Review, Inc. (4 Jan. 2008)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #343,204 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.2 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential Reading 13 May 2001
By "zacharym87" - Published on
In the many arguments I've had over the merits of collective action, I have found few arguments as useful as Michels' "iron Law of Oligarchy", stating that even the most egalitarian orginizations wind up having their decisions made by a select few at the top. Morever, institutional reforms will not help, since this tendency is inherent to complex orginization. Surveying the intensification of power across a host of socialist parties and publications, Michels provides much empirical evidence. Too much, at times, as after about 200 pages of stories about leadership groups developing in socialist orginizations, the book starts to drag a little bit. It is all worth it, however, as the "iron law of oligarchy" is one of the most fascinating arguments you'll ever find in a book about politics. Seymour Martin Lipset's introductory comments provide interesting background info.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars DO NOT BUY THIS VERSION 13 July 2010
By SocGrad - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is not a review of the text itself, but rather just of the production value of this edition. The production is AWFUL. It was clearly just scanned by someone and imported into Word and printed out. Chapter breaks aren't where they should be. Footnotes are just thrown into the text. One chapter just starts italicizing for no reason halfway through. The index is useless. The book is basically unreadable. I've never been so disappointed at spending $20 on a book. Buy a different version by a different publisher and save yourself the money.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Monumental work of political science 7 May 2000
By Kenneth E. Wagner Jr. - Published on
Michels was a member of a socialist movement who wondered if one could ever have what today is called participatory democracy. The result is this wonderful book, in which Michels discovers the "Iron Law of Oligarchy", that even in the most egalatarian movements, elites will call most of the shots. Michels goes further than many elite theorists who simply claim that this has always been so: he claims that elite management is inherent to complex organizations. Whether you agree or disagree, you must read this man and debate his ideas!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Must Democracy Become Oligarchy? 15 May 2014
By Charles C. Dickinson III - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This fascinating study of socialism and democracy, of the many foibles to which all political parties are subject, and of the inevitably resulting transformations of all political parties, has stood the test of time since its first publication in 1911 more than a century ago. It is best known, of course, for its enunciation in Part Six, Chap. II, of "Democracy and the Iron Law of Oligarchy." The thesis there, in which the book culminates--surprisingly relevant today--is that even democracy forms one or more political parties; that such parties become hierarchies with leaders at the top; and that such leaders--unwilling to relinquish power--eventually form an "oligarchy" or rule by the few.
The life and career of the author himself might be said to exemplify such a transformation. Born at Cologne, Germany, in 1876, he soon became a disciple of Max Weber and a noted teacher and professor of sociology and related subjects at the Universities of Marburg, Turin, Basel and Perugia, publishing many scholarly works in German and Italian. Politically, although at first a radical socialist, already in 1907 he left the German Social Democratic Party; was doubtless further disillusioned by the supposedly "international" socialists' vote in 1914 to extend war credits to the Kaiser; and after World War I joined the Italian Fascist Party led by Benito Mussolini.
In all, a fascinating perspective on and analysis of one important aspect of the European political situation in the early 20th century, with as yet untold implications for us today.
--Charles Dickinson
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The iron law of oligarchy 15 Sept. 2012
By Enjolras - Published on
Ironically, this book is known for producing one of the fundamental theories of political science, Michel's Iron Law of Oligarchy. But everybody seems to forget that the book itself focused more on Michel's to reconcile socialism with socialist parties. Michel uses his understanding of the self-interest of institutional leaders to express his skepticism that a democracy of the proletariat would ever arise. These parts of the book are interesting in that we get to see Michel engage in some soul-searching, but also probably involve more socialist ideology than modern readers would care for. However, for modern readers, the introduction by Lipset and Rokkan is probably all you need to understand the logic of the theory.
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