Elites and Democracy in Modern Political Thought

7 December 2017

SG1 and SG2, Alison Richard Building

Registration for the conference will open in September. 



Greg Conti (University of Cambridge)

Hugo Drochon (University of Cambridge)

Duncan Kelly (University of Cambridge)



Recent events have brought to the forefront the question of the place of elites in democratic politics – we seem to be living, more than at any point in the last several decades, in a moment of 'revolt against elites'. But the problematic relationship that elites entertain with democracy has been raised before. Indeed, reflection on this problem is as old as representative democracy itself. Roughly a century ago, when the basic building blocks of modern democracy – universal suffrage and the centralised, disciplined political party – were being put in place, thinkers such as Mosca, Pareto, Ostrogorski, and Michels were already attempting to theorise the nature of the elites that emerged out of this novel political-institutional context. Although much has changed since then, in many ways this setting, and its problems, remain our own.

The aim of this conference is to explore the issue of elites in democratic thought from these founding figures of 'elite theory' to the present. Bringing together intellectual historians and political theorists, CRASSH’s Elites and Democracy in Modern Political Thought will be the first conference devoted to charting the trajectory of this most pressing of political dilemmas from its modern inception in the late-nineteenth/early-twentieth century through today’s crises.




Supported by the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), and the Leverhulme Trust (via CRASSH's 'Conspiracy and Democracy' Project).


Administrative assistance: conferences@crassh.cam.ac.uk