- Mosca, Gaetano
- (1858–1941)One of the democratic age’s most uncomfortable thinkers, Gaetano Mosca is chiefly remembered today for his conviction that democratic regimes—like all other types of regime—are controlled by elites, who manipulate public opinion and the levers of power for their own ends.Born in Palermoin 1858, Mosca’s critique of democracy first surfaced in his 1884 work Teorica dei governi (Theory of Governments). But it was his 1896 work, Elementi di scienza politica (Elements of Political Science), that established his reputation. For Mosca, who by now was a close advisor of the conservative statesman Antonio Starabba Di Rudini, the rhetoric of popular sovereignty was simply a device used by Machiavellian politicians to facilitate their own pursuit of power. Moreover, paucity of political sophistication, shaky institutions, and a high tolerance for political corruption meant that democratic reforms were a gift horse that should be carefully examined for unscrupulous agitators willing and able to exploit popular prejudices and ignorance. For this reason, Mosca, who was elected to Parliament in 1909, opposed the introduction of universal male suffrage in 1912. Mosca, however, must be regarded as a liberal-conservative, not as a protofascist or a reactionary (his most famous pupil, Piero Gobetti, described him as a “conservative gentleman”). His objection to democracy was precisely that it increased the likelihood that an antiliberal elite would come to power—and post-1918 politics in Italy hardly persuaded him to question this analysis. Like Benedetto Croce, Mosca was initially inclined to give Benito Mussolini the benefit of the liberal doubt, but, by 1925, he had passed to the opposition. Mosca signed the manifesto of antifascist intellectuals published by Croce in the newspaper Il Mondo on 1 May 1925. Mosca’s final years were spent finishing off an enormous history of political thought, which was published in 1933. He died in Rome in 1941.
Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. Mark F. Gilbert & K. Robert Nilsson. 2007.