Czech Elites and General Public: Leadership, Cohesion and Democracy
political science and international relations, sociology
paperback, 190 pp., 1. edition
published: november 2010
recommended price: 250 czk
The publication views elites and the general public as actors of modernization processes within the Czech society. While individual authors apply their own perspectives on the ?catch-up modernization? (Habermas) in post-communist countries, the requirements the current stage of modernization places upon elites or the general public create a common ground for all texts. This means that the authors combine the institutional and normative approaches to studying elites in their texts. On one hand, they analyze quantitative data based on a positional definition of elites and, on the other hand, their analysis relies on the reputational definition of elites. Elite quality is seen as a relational phenomenon, arising out of elite relations with other elites or the general public. The source of analyzed data are parallel empirical surveys of representative samples of the Czech elites and general public. The juxtaposition of elite/public opinions, attitudes, and behavioral indicators upon the background of different theoretical concepts of elites and democracy forms the core of all chapters. The common methodological and conceptual framework is complemented by a more-or-less explicit effort of all authors to address the issue of democratic stability in a post-communist society like the Czech Republic.
The remarkable and innovative book by a research team working at Centre for Social and Economic Strategies (CESES), Charles University, Prague; reports the main findings of empirical studies of elite and public opinion in the Czech society. The book is based on analysis of data set rarely found in contemporary sociological works on social elite(s). Four quantitative general public and elite surveys conducted by the CESES during the past six years about the elite and elite - public relation in the context of modernization. The investigated views and attitudes of respondents, which are in the main focus of the research project, remained comparatively stable in the six years period of data collection. As researches state the varying time of interviewing is not source of bias or methodological disorientation.
Every publication addressing the problems of leadership and leaders of post-communist societies catches attention in the academic community so much as in broader public opinion. Elite studies have definitely gained momentum during the last twenty years. Several monographs and papers have been published recently about reproduction, transformation and re-structuring of Central- and Eastern European elites that have become a major field within social sciences, advanced by prominent scholars. Studies have focused on composition and social, political background of post-socialist elites, social origin of new bourgeoisie and political classes.
Social scientists in the post-socialist countries today are eager to criticize elite who are unable to offer modernization alternatives and adequate management of modernization shock. Until recently, scholars hardly paid any systematic attention to the economic, financial slump, the social, moral crisis, and the consideration of distrust between leaders and other segments of society. For that reason this volume should be welcomed as one of the first in which analyzers take up the issue of leadership and leadership capital from diverging perspectives, investigating the possible contribution of theoretically well based empirical sociology to it.
Using empirical evidences from CESES surveys about elite and public the authors argue that most of citizens and elites agree that the Czech society lacks common vision on future development. People prefer competition of visions instead of one ruling ideology and in the lack of innovative and future-centered ideas ( by Habermas) elite groups compete to persuade general public and questions is who leads whom? It is a public-elite agreement on the ambition to level off with the West but there is no consensus about the modern society vision for Czech society. The elites, which have a "vision-free travel" around voters at the time of elections, do not act as a "single, open leadership team" and there are no clearly established and traceable modernization and Europeanization visions what is supported by this or that elite fractions. By studying the ability to mobilize followers Frič and Bednařík characterize current situation by a lack of moral leadership. Their examples on corruption scandals of ruling classes, clientelism, paternalism, the suspected links with organized crime that lead to elite failure in their leadership role are well-known in any new EU member state. The plebeian Czech attitudes and the non-acceptable, obsolete visions of elites about industrial society as the way of modernization make the society reluctant to take elite leadership for granted. The authors conclude by stressing a point that "Elites are not leading the society and citizens are not following established rules." We may say this is a general trend in the post-socialist Central and Eastern Europe.
The book's particular value lies in the way it provides theoretical outlook and empirical illustration that faces elite studies readers seeking to include scientific considerations in their political practice. This book brings together, in a concise and very readable form, accounts of Czech society and political reality. It adds to the richness that its five chapters deal with prominent issues, complex mosaic that demands attention of European, but first and foremost of Central European readers. It can be placed into the elite studies tradition and same time the CESES volume offers a multitude of new ideas about leaders, leadership and democratic alternatives.
Imre Kovách, Director of science, Institute for Political Sciences, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest