FINNISH ELITES 1991 – 2011 – IMPORTANT NEW ELITE STUDY

The study and research of elites is important. Lexington Books has recently published a volume by Professor Ilkka Ruostetsaari in the field (Elite Recruitment and Coherence of the Inner Core of Power in Finland – Changing patterns during the economic crises of 1991 – 2011, 233 pages, 2015).

Finland has an interesting history and did not become independent until 1917. For more than six centuries it was a part of Sweden. During the Napoleonic Wars Finland was annexed by Russia but surprisingly managed to retain much political and economic autonomy. The Swedish Constitution, for example, remained in force.

Until 1809 there was a Swedish elite domination and it was under the Russian czars that the Finnish majority language started to be accepted. Full language equality was however not established until Finland gained its independence. The Finnish Constitution of 1919 recognized two national languages, Finnish and Swedish.

The new book recognizes seven different power elites: political, administrative, business, organizational, mass media, scientific and cultural.

In the political power elite there is, interestingly, an inheritance effect. A membership of the Finnish parliament is often handed down in the family. Before the 1999 parliamentary election, for instance, there had been 30 married couples and about 80 siblings. More than 60 members of parliament had fathers, mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers, who had been elected to parliament. Membership of the cabinet had also been handed down across two, sometimes three generations. The inter-generational inheritance was much more common in municipal elective positions.

The conclusion by Ruostetsaari is that there has been no major change in the Finnish elite structure between 1991 and 2011. This is surprising as Finland has gone through profound changes after the collapse of the Soviet empire. During the Cold War Finland’s position was linked to that of the Soviet Union. Not only is Finland having a long border to Russia. Some observers 1947 to 1991 believed that Finland increasingly came to project Moscow’s voice. This is denied in the “official truth” in Finland according to which the country was forced by circumstances to carry out this policy. There were extensive Finnish political, economic and even military ties between the two countries during the Cold War. Finland was for instance critically dependant on Soviet supplies of energy (oil, gas, electricity, and coal). A Soviet-Finnish accord for economic, technical, industrial , commercial and scientific collaboration was in place.

In an article of March 4, 1977, Pravda concluded that the aim of Soviet-Finnish collaboration was:

Toward the formation of a new type of international division of labor in which states with different social systems would take part [in] the consolidation of new relations in the form of long term agreements.

It would have been of interest if Ruostetsaari in his valuable book could have provided some analysis on the change in the Finnish power elite during the Cold War in comparison with the period 1991 – 2011. The Urho Kekkonen era (1950 – 1953, 1954 to 1956 as prime minister and 1956 – 1982 as president) would have been of special interest.

The Latin School of Sociology with Michels, Mosca and Pareto is briefly mentioned in the book. An important interpreter of these classical elite study scholars was the American Professor James Burnham (1905 – 1987).

One gets the impression reading Ruostetsaari’s book that Burnham was a Marxist all his life. This was not the case. He broke with communism in 1943. That was the year he published his classic work on political theory partly dealing with the Latin School (The Machiavellians: A defense of political truth against wishful thinking).

Burnham then came to be a leading American Conservative foreign policy expert during the Cold War. He stressed in several books that communist regimes were fragile. The United States had a moral obligation and a strategic interest in supporting popular uprisings against communist regimes. President Ronald Reagan was a careful reader of Burnham’s books.

From Niccoló Machiavelli but also the Latin School Burnham deduced that all politics is concerned with struggle for power among individuals and groups. On elites Burnham found for example that they are primarily concerned with maintaining and expanding power and priviliges and that all societies are divided into a “ruling class” and the ruled.

Burnham’s view on Michels can be summed up in the general conclusion of the iron law of oligarchy, which seems to hold for all social movements and all forms of society. Society cannot exist without a “dominant” or “political” class. The fact that this iron law exists does not mean that the struggle for true democracy should be abandoned.

One can only hope that there will be a renewed interest in the study of political elites after the publication of the valuable book on Finnish elites 1991 – 2011. Such interest should include the Latin School and Burnham’s classic book on what he called the Machiavellians.

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