Political Recruitment and Careers

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Political Recruitment and Careers

The range of relevant studies

Perspectives for inquiry and evaluation

Organizational positions and functional roles

Political socialization and recruitment

Selection devices and screening criteria

Career lines and career perspectives


The social sciences are only now beginning the systematic quantitative study of the social bases for political recruitment and career patterns. By contrast, politicians and their biographers, as well as political philosophers, historians, and legal specialists, have long given attention to the credentials and careers of men in public life—how political recruits used or improved upon their birth chances and what they contributed to political affairs.

The range of relevant studies

Belatedly but energetically, early lines of scholarly inquiry into political career lines and selection mechanisms are being retraced and extended. In 1919 Max Weber’s influential lecture “Politics as a Vocation” was published; in America bench-mark studies such as those of Gosnell (1935; 1937), Salter (1938), and Zink (1930) followed, using vignettes to show how the careers of ethnic-group leaders, legislators, or city bosses could be made or wrecked by turns of luck quite as much as by either merit or maneuver. In the 1950s and 1960s studies like those of Schlesinger (1957), Eulau and Sprague (1964), and Milbrath (1963) used more rigorous measuring instruments and more extensive samples of evidence in order to identify changing skill patterns, organizational screening devices, and shifting power bases as aspects of political recruitment.

A similar contrast in technique may be seen in work linking psychological needs to the kinds of gratifications, the intensity of commitment, or the style of performance manifested by a public personality. In 1930 Lasswell’s clinical case studies of the motivational factors underlying self-recruitment into politics were formulated in terms of how “private motives” could be displaced onto “public objects” and later endowed with “public purposes.” Thirty years later in work like that by Gabriel A. Almond, Robert E. Lane, and David C. McClelland, predispositional categories were being differentiated and methods devised for measuring the complex psychological dynamics that underlie political career aspirations.

Fundamental social trends of the past half century, as well as advances in technique, have transformed the functional analysis of elite recruitment. In the modern comparative work of scholars like Edward Shils, Lucian Pye, and Morris Janowitz, the changing social origins and activation patterns of plural “elites” in politics are in focus. In the early elite formulations of Mosca, Pareto, and Michels eligibility was presumed to be sharply restricted, and the emphasis tended to be upon the stultifying effects of incumbency.

Institutional processes, rather than functions, are the focus of other current studies. Sustained attention is being given to how men are selected and groomed for careers involving community decision making, party activities, legislative work, or the policy-making orbits of officialdom. In contexts where political induction and advancement are increasingly bureaucratized, sample-interviewing techniques have facilitated systematic inquiry.

Rigorous marshaling of quantitative empirical evidence, however, is only beginning to characterize studies of political recruitment. The relevant literature is vast only if one includes philosophical speculations about who should rule, plus the work of modern historians concerned with elite transformations, and—in every society featuring a juridical code—the disquisitions by legal specialists on the formalities of investiture, the mechanics of election, the conditions of examination, the prerogatives of office, and the rules of accountability. Of course, source materials linked to unique public lives and occasions—memoirs and biographies— are also voluminous. From them a diversity of keen impressions and some shrewd aphorisms on how to succeed can be gleaned. But they constitute an unsystematic commentary on political recruitment and career patterns.

Modern historians have been somewhat more explicit about patterns, trends, and research methods. They have tried to identify the canalizing and formative structures typical of various regimes. Elites are sometimes treated as vehicles of change; sometimes historical forces are seen creating or destroying elites. There has been recurrent emphasis on the lag between elite habits and preoccupations and the emerging historical challenges to their tenure. Distinctive configurations of rearing and apprenticeship, stamping political elites with inimitable styles, are sketched. Careful work, like that of Namier, has traced the social origins and family connections of those in “constituted bodies” —assemblies, councils, and state bureaucracies. New techniques exploit genealogical records, wills, and tax rolls. Documentary evidence remains unavoidably incomplete, however; historians commonly use it to illustrate, rather than to measure, phenomena.

Merit selection and vocational opportunities are shown to have produced effective administrative elites, whose efforts sustained great systems of public order in ancient China, India, the Near East, and pre-Columbian America, as well as in ancient Rome. Under Islamic regimes slaves of the sultan could be groomed and elevated to the imperial administrative elite; the selection criteria were not seriously hampered by considerations of birth or family status. By contrast, nearly everywhere in Europe birthright fixed one’s life status and made smaller the talent reservoir. In the Orient the Confucian principles that men were unequal and that merit should determine social status helped to legitimize the competitive examination system, which kept the bureaucratic elite from becoming self-perpetuating. However, many recruits in each generation did come from old official families, whose traditions of service helped give the Chinese bureaucracy its continuity, stability, and assimilative capacities.

In the West historians have noted the modern proliferation of nonhereditary elites into every field of endeavor. Those with advantages of birth increasingly must validate their ascriptive credentials with achievements of their own. Nor is elite-hood in one domain a warrant for capacity to help shape public policy. The special skills and perspectives needed to negotiate, legitimize, and implement collective community efforts—the distinctively political skills—increasingly require special grooming. With the development of political vocations careers for poor men were opened in public life, as Weber noted. Success in politics, both as a chosen lifework and as a secondary career linked to success in civilian life, has become possible through a combination of merit, luck, tactics, sponsorship, and perseverance.

Perspectives for inquiry and evaluation

In the long history of theorizing about politics, “who should govern” is a familiar query. To Plato and Aristotle no real distinction between public service and private lives could be sustained. A political community, by its machinery for inducting men into offices, inevitably allocated rewards and opportunities, integrated resources and perspectives in some degree, and affirmed the ethical “mix” of its political life by the conduct of typical public men as well as stellar figures.

Modern formulations like those of Dahl (1961) or Lasswell are preoccupied with pluralism, multiple power centers, semiautonomous localities, intrabureaucratic satrapies. Accordingly, they stress procedural consensus—the rules of the game, for co-optation as well as election—rather than substantive norms. People who would fight over ultimate principles may agree on intermediate objectives. Modern issues pose problem complexes that call for political brokers and administrative expediters. Highly divergent career patterns must be supported. Men may enter politics for reasons only remotely linked to shared ideals or public purposes. The attitude of modern civility expects personal career calculations and concern for the common weal to exist simultaneously in the minds of fellow citizens.

Systematic comparative research into political manpower problems has substantially appeared only since World War ii. Two major approaches, which differ markedly in the treatment of substantive and procedural norms, exist: the functional systems approach and the conventional organizations approach. The former deals in elites; the latter, in personnel.

The systems approach provides both an idiom and an agenda for comparative research. As yet, it has not solved the problems of marshaling empirical evidence to “test” ideas. Functional systems analysis looks at all processes and structures in terms of their instrumental contribution to the vitality of a larger political system. Attention centers on the performance of functions by structures. Success is inferred from the continued viability of the political order in question. Put another way, the key structures are elites who collectively perform the functional necessities, elites whose perspectives are undergoing often profound cultural metamorphosis, elites who are in the process of learning how to operate new machinery of political life. In Almond’s formulation, that machinery includes not only the essential means of governing but also the means to enlarge the system’s developmental capabilities—to integrate perspectives, accommodate interests, sustain a sense of participation, and distribute values equitably.

The organizations approach is usually confined to a single sector or segment of the conventional political order—a legislative process, a policymaking sequence of executive meetings, a party organization selecting its legislative candidates. Attention focuses on the performance of tasks by personnel, and success is inferred when actual achievements conform to the idealized patterns aimed at by participants—e.g., democratic selection, representative action, statutory policy, or a constitutional standard.

Men are born with certain life chances by virtue of their social circumstances and personal endowments. Modern elite recruitment studies have concentrated on social origins, activation patterns, and the changing kinds of political jobs available as major dimensions for analysis. For example, by studying recruitment patterns during the last stages of colonialism and the early stages of national autonomy, political scientists have plausibly inferred the activation motives and identified the social bases of those involved in periods of accommodation with the alien elite, agitation for self-government and modernity, maneuver for place and protection during the tutelary transition, and consolidation after independence. In virtually all “new states” political recruitment patterns since independence have been shifting substantially, in terms of class and educational levels and in terms of urban-rural and center-hinterland derivations. Always the shifts have been downward and out, that is, in the directions that broaden and diversify the pool of aspirants.

What have not been examined carefully in elite studies are the effects of grooming, and career commitments, or the selective screening criteria by which institutions safeguard their key roles from “misfits.” These are the very dimensions, on the other hand, that have begun to receive systematic attention in studies of organizational personnel selection in politics. Instituions do not recruit cross-section samples from the social pools of eligible raw material. Even if they did—or where they seemed to—the formative influence of career experience may be expected to attenuate the primordial loyalties in some unestablished degree. As Weber has noted: “According to all experience there is no stronger means of breeding traits than through the necessity of holding one’s own in the circle of one’s associates.”

To do any firsthand investigation one has to specify the jobs, identify the incumbents, consider both formal and informal screening arrangements used to fill the positions, and then compare the “fit” between what is wanted and what is obtained. Organizations do not regularly get what they want by way of manpower. Nor do organizations necessarily seek what they functionally need. The fit between the functional role structures and the organizational position structures in a political system is rarely, if ever, one-to-one. Only with great caution is it possible to treat a job incumbent as a functional role incumbent. Findings about organizational grooming and screening patterns are thus not easily articulated in terms of functional systems theories as presently formulated.

Organizational positions and functional roles

The study of political recruitment must begin with some consideration of what the jobs in politics are. First come the legally defined positions. Clearly included are legislators, chief executives, high civilian and military officials, judges, and diplomats. Their counterparts in local government are mayors, councilmen, board members, and agency chiefs. How should these jobs be grouped? Classifying them by reference to their legal powers and duties quickly proliferates the categories; grouping them according to statutory terms of eligibility or formal method of selection obfuscates nonlegal comparisons by treating legally recognized criteria such as age, residence, citizenship, literacy, or nominal group affiliation as unambiguous attributes or by suggesting that the same functional considerations should be applied to all elected recruits or to all appointed—or all co-opted —public officials. Legal prescriptions and similar formalized distinctions are useful but inconclusive evidence about political jobs.

Second, the inventory of positions includes the institutionalized roles distinguished by participants in the political arena. Terms like lobbyist, propagandist, staff man, reporter, commentator, party cadre, agitator, anchor man, and trouble shooter only begin to suggest the kinds of behavioral patterns—the orbits of action as well as the skills and resources involved—that may be familiar in a given milieu. Even in studying a conventional political organization, it becomes apparent that ad hoc functional equivalents must be used to subsume the enormous variety of role patterns. Clearly, too, roles may exist but not be filled, either because no qualified candidate can be found or because it is preferred to keep a post vacant.

Whatever the institutional boundaries and orbits of politics under investigation, the tasks which apply to a given job are partly shaped—preshaped in binding ways even—by virtue of constitutional and organizational forms. In part they depend upon the expectations of other participants—outsiders as well as insiders, subordinates and peers as well as superiors—and those of the incumbent himself, concerning both the ordinary tasks to be done and the marginal behavior that is acceptable. Circumscriptions on political jobs arise also because of the resources, both technological and human, directed and controlled differentially through organizational processes. A further circumscription is imposed by the political culture. Roles that are equivalent in form, in norms of performance, and in resources may call for a distinctive style in one milieu but not in another.

The position structure, both formal and informal, within a legislature, party unit, secretariat, or any other political entity is presumably meant to secure a minimum level of functional output of the organization’s product, whether that be statutes, precinct work, briefing materials, or something else. To understand how the organization’s modal product is generated, and thereby have a basis for suggesting improvements, it is evidently necessary to undertake a detailed analysis of the intramural role structure both as the participants see it (i.e., conventionally) and in terms of a functional model.

For many kinds of research, however, it is not necessary to study the organization’s internal dynamics at all. Its membership can be studied in terms of the social origins, skills, and moral qualities demonstrated by modal and deviant types. In this kind of inventory the qualities of key actors are in some degree confounded with those of lesser significance. But it can be argued that the test of an organization’s health is the caliber of its average decision maker, not the brilliance of its stellar figures. Moreover, in functional systems terms, what is important is how adequately the structure viewed as a collectivity is equipped and staffed to perform the desired functions. A knowledge of the inputs, in other words, is a reasonably adequate basis for making inferences about the outputs. A better basis, but not an essential one, would be provided by a full analysis of the organization’s functional dynamics.

Political socialization and recruitment

The induction of manpower into political roles is more specialized and focused than the induction of people into a political culture. Recruitment is concerned with special political role socializations which occur “on top of” general political socialization. However the political system is defined, recruitment to its posts taps people from various subcultures. Presumably, by giving recruits an inside view of a political process, it trains them in appropriate skills and furnishes them with political cognitive maps and perspectives.

The prevailing expectation among most scholars is that primordial perspectives and psychic management patterns acquired early in life remain operative in later years and are overlaid by attitudes, values, and conduct patterns more or less acceptable and appropriate to one’s career aspirations—i.e., what one wants to make of one’s life. Whether these perspectives and patterns govern all basic decisions in later life, including one’s official acts, or whether they only color one’s political judgment on certain problems or sharpen one’s political sensitivities in specific ways are unresolved questions.

Hard as it is to draw a line, early political socialization is relevant to the study of political recruitment only insofar as it affects one’s chances of being recruited or of desiring to enter into specific roles in political life. Therefore, much current academic work about politicians is formulated in terms of their early socialization. Inferences are often uncritically drawn as though a person’s subsequent career experiences had only minor weight in determining his adult perspective on essentials. Yet the individual’s life path through the corporate and primary group “infrastructures” of his community provides crucial skills and attitudes as well as sponsors and material resources. Especially in poorly developed countries with weak infrastructures and poor consensus, early political socialization and later experience seem to be of roughly equal importance in determining the viability of the political order. Apart from the development of suitable career perspectives by in-service grooming, it is important to note that selective recruitment from the pool of eligibles may minimize the effects of imperfect early socialization on leadership in a modern civil society.

Ordinarily, performing the role of voter or pursuing a citizen’s career are not included in discussions of recruitment and career patterns in politics. More specifically, political recruitment refers to institutional processes by which political jobs beyond the citizenship level are filled. Political careers are patterns of incumbency in these political offices and roles. Subjectively, career perspectives are moving vantage points from which men in politics, whether treating public affairs as a calling or as a vocation, appraise their duties and opportunities.

Selection devices and screening criteria

Institutions use a variety of devices to fill all jobs. Through co-optation, equals augment their ranks or sustain their numbers. By mobilization supporters are rallied to perform basic tasks in organized efforts or to “act out” their contributions. Through appointment a key figure designates subordinates to hold office or discharge tasks. Election elevates a man to act as spokesman, leader, or representative for the legally defined electorate that chooses him. Lot and rotation are deliberately arbitrary methods for securing incumbents for specialized roles from among a group of presumed peers. Apprenticeship and examinations, both formal and informal, often precede incumbency in political jobs.

Formal recruitment processes in politics are typically extramural or organizational threshold processes, that is, they are designed to secure manpower from an outside pool or public. They give title to political offices and some claim to institutional resources, but they seldom bestow distinctive influence within the organization. Such influence comes, instead, when one can rally a following, claim to be an insider, show special prowess, or otherwise become distinguishable to colleagues. Intramural recruitment mechanisms are basic to most analyses of the organization’s performance; these mechanisms select individuals to fill not only the organization’s formal offices and recognized positions but also optional informal roles. In the extreme sense of hiring and firing personnel, the formal processes can override the informal ones; extramural controls can prevail over intramural ones. In the ordinary course of political business, however, the intramural screening and reception system for the neophyte legislator, official, or party functionary is a more searching and more unnerving process than any formal, or extramural, hurdle. Moreover, apart from official prerogatives that come with formal induction, the influence wielded inside a political organization is largely determined by the intramural role patterns that a member finds himself conforming to, or—more rarely—carving out for himself.

Of the formal induction modes, special attention has been given to elections. Public machinery, including such devices as nominating conventions, primary elections and runoffs, various proportional representation (Pr) formulas, and such contrivances as nonpartisan elections, is unlikely to be very efficient in picking the candidate with the best credentials of skill and ability for the job; style and native character are perhaps more likely to be discerned and appreciated by electorates; personality, one’s stand on current issues, and party sponsorship are widely felt to be the most important determinants of popular support.

In the activities of candidate-sponsoring groups prior to elections, the considerations felt to be most relevant in the search for candidates do not always provide voters with a serious election day choice. The qualities that make a candidate “available,” i.e., that are felt to maximize his chances to win, are largely irrelevant when the election is not close.

Certain recurrent processes of informal selection should be noted. One concerns the emergence of natural leaders, lieutenants, followers, and deviants. From political biographies and memoirs it seems clear that nuances of appraisal and advice occur in face-to-face situations that count heavily in processes of co-optation into inner circles. Patterns such as these are presumably part of the informal weeding-out or letting-in of political talent by those already in a legislature, a party organization, a bureaucratic clique, or a community power structure.

People are sometimes accepted—and may feel themselves destined—as naturally possessing an office or rank in and through the established order of things, as in monarchical succession or the place conceded to a peer’s eldest son. Sometimes people are revealed during some critical occasion as having inimitable or indelible qualities previously hidden (e.g., charisma, strength, indecision), qualities held to be peculiarly appropriate (or inappropriate) to a key office or rank.

Examination and apprenticeship, as preliminaries to formal selection, raise interesting problems. People are sometimes certified as eligible because they have indicated by appropriate examination that they have the requisite range of skills, knowledge, or characteristics for a position or role. Somewhat different is the claim that past performance and experience have demonstrated not only that one is competent but also that one is able to put skill, knowledge, and character to actual use.

The importance of sponsors—“who you know” rather than “what you know”—cannot be discounted in political recruitment. Who is to read the tests and letters, vouch for their authenticity or candor, and convince the selecting unit, whether it be electorate, executive, or conciliar body?

Ascriptive criteria of recruitment in some measure obviate the need for sponsors by making selection automatic. Where achievement considerations are in point, commonly the electorate tends to consider which political groups are underwriting a candidate, the executive tends to heed a letter of reference from a well-placed source, and the conciliar body is deferential toward one of its own acting as a neophyte’s sponsor. A perfectly objective test of skills or knowledge is hard to conceive, but using it would make selection as automatic as any hereditary claim in former centuries. Fears of “meritocracy” stress this eventuality.

Mobilization is a distinctive kind of recruitment process. The tasks may be fairly complex; the recruits are often much on their own. The commitment is typically brief but strenuous; the experience probably has important consensus-building functions. Activating an effective volunteer force in an election campaign is one example; coordinating a civil-disobedience demonstration is another; organizing a legislative coalition is yet a third variety; developing an effective subversive network is a fourth. All are garden-variety recruitment phenomena built around the competence of a cadre to train and deploy raw personnel.

Two other mechanisms of recruitment need mention: seizure of office, by which it is suddenly and forcibly (or with a threat of force) taken, as in palace revolts, conquests, and coups d’état; and purchase of office, by which it is turned into a commodity or some aspects of its performance are controlled as investments. Both mechanisms have been widely used in the world’s history, sometimes to the virtual exclusion of other methods but more commonly in tandem with more conventionally acceptable practices. Purchase has special significance as a plutocratic mode of influence. Montesquieu argued in favor of selling all public employments in monarchies, on the ground that, in most cases, “chance will furnish better subjects than the prince’s choice” (Spirit of Laws, v, 12, 19). Venality in offices is thus seen as “functional” across the board in a monarchy, although Montesquieu agrees with Plato that the same practice would undermine virtue in a republic. Seizure is especially in point when top-elite succession patterns are poorly routinized—that is, when key figures hold multiple or vaguely defined offices for indefinite terms and are not accountable to any definite constituency and when “juridical defense” (in Mosca’s terms) is grossly inadequate.

Career lines and career perspectives

One of the basic questions about any system of public order is how smoothly it provides career opportunities to each successive generation. Armies get top-heavy with old-fashioned men; civil servants of the “old school” are inevitably blocking someone else’s progress. In former colonial domains the agitational elite, whose political skills and beliefs often were acquired in prisons, in crowd situations, and in conspiratorial circles, has inherited the modern apparatus of nationhood and power while still young in years. As a group, however, its members lack the executive skills and educational credentials needed for policy making when government is seen as the programmatic vehicle for rapid modernization and social transformation. The next generation, not much younger, feels itself better qualified. Some join radical and subversive movements; many follow career paths that siphon their energies into professional and corporate roles as policy implementers. The formal educational system, and its typical apprenticeship scheme for postgraduate service, has been crucial in furthering political integration. One common pattern has brought young people to the central institutional complex of their society, provided them with a collegial setting for higher education, imbued many with an elite-corps image of themselves, and then deployed them to the peripheral localities of the nation once again.

The ways in which men move from nonpolitical career lines, either bureaucratic or civilian, into careers in politics and public affairs have begun to receive special attention. Thus, the “birth elite” and the “mobile elite” may be distinguished in any field of endeavor: they are, respectively, those whose level of success approximates that of their fathers and those who have risen above the family status into which they were born. Research suggests that those embarking upon political careers after upwardly mobile success in private vocations are differently motivated, follow different codes of conduct, and display different sensitivities than those whose private careers began from more advantageous parental platforms. To what extent does the second-career phenomenon reflect premature disenchantment with the original choice? Durkheim held that economic careers in Western nations involve no coherent system of public service or cultural transmission; rather, the emphasis has been on denying public purposes, resisting public accountability, minimizing public responsibility as aspects of economic life. To the extent that this is so, entering politics and abandoning his first career may have the symbolic meaning to a businessman of rejecting a selfish life in favor of work that transcends his personal needs. Quite different is the second career in politics for a man coming from a career as a journalist, professor, minister, military man, or top civil servant. Each of those careers explicitly generates a rationale of cultural transmission or public service. These differentials are reflected in recent attitude studies of local officials, legislative candidates, lobbyists, and administrators.

In many emergent countries with weak infrastructures and small, educated elites, lateral access to political roles is easier. Men of high status in any walk of life are so scarce and so conspicuous that they receive generalized deference. They are expected to be actively concerned with public affairs. By contrast, in societies with more elaborate infrastructures, lateral access is difficult and often short-lived. Men of high status in nonpolitical fields of endeavor are common; outside their specialty they are not well known; outsiders, including politicians, are likely to give deference only to their professional or corporate status and not to them personally.

Lawyers in American politics illustrate many of these points. They are trained as advocates in a profession that does not have to be practiced continuously, that is convenient to fall back upon, and that rests on transferable skill and discipline of a kind needed to analyze the formal bases of governmental policies and bureaucratic procedures, however these may vary historically. With legal work to return to, one could risk entering politics at a younger age. With legal discipline to help in grasping policy issues and institutional procedures, one could hope to go further in politics, shifting from local to regional to national arenas of power, moving from executive posts to legislative circles. Evidence shows, however, that law-enforcement posts —from police chief and prosecuting attorney to attorney general and trial or appellate judge—are becoming the only kind for which legal credentials and training give one a discernible career edge. Lawyers have distinctive technical roles to play in policy-making processes, both legislative and bureaucratic. But versatile politicians are nonlawyers in background more frequently than was true in a simpler age, when both law and politics were less complicated by bureaucratic structures.

Political recruitment studies thus far have placed little emphasis on what happens en route or what hurdles and screens are deliberately erected by organizations. Disjointed career orbits, haphazard talent searches, and imprecise skill requirements complicate inquiry.

Two basic institutional disjunctions commonly occur: one concerns the level of government, the other concerns the kind of institutional stage of politics in which one’s career orbit lies. In general, the longer an individual remains at any one level, the harder it is to move; the more habituated he becomes to one kind of platform, the harder it is to make a transition. The career orbits of local and provincial politics overlap in discernible but attenuated patterns with the orbits of national political careers. At all levels, too, there are persistent tendencies for political decision-making processes to diverge from bureaucratic ones. The political processes, with their legitimatizing and informing functions, tend to develop skills in symbol manipulation; the bureaucratic processes, with their planning and allocation functions, tend to stress skills in resource manipulation.

The political realm is fragmented everywhere, with provincial and central institutional complexes creating career orbits that interpenetrate at only a limited number of points. Men serve one term in local or provincial legislative office, find the work onerous or dull and the prospects of advancement discouraging, and quit. Both in America and Europe, evidence suggests that about half the incumbents in public offices at the lower and middle reaches of power and governance are serving for the first—and last—time. Even for those who persist, lateral movement and occasional retirement into civilian pursuits are likely. Moving to the level of national politics is more remote and more difficult to prepare for; often it depends on political windfalls and personal friendships.

The contrast in grooming processes between the American and Soviet systems is suggestive. Democratization of government—including spoils politics—brought, in the late nineteenth century, vocational careers to American electoral politics. Since then, a typical career has involved a sequence of campaigns for elective offices, hopefully with bigger constituencies and broader responsibilities each time. The key problem is when to seek which office; the crucial skill is the ability to persuade equals and appeal to publics. In the Soviet Union an early twentieth-century revolutionary cadre had to be transformed into a political control apparatus. A typical career now starts at the bottom of the party bureaucracy; grooming involves a standardized educational sequence plus tours of duty in specialized policy fields and at provincial levels; advancement is based on “pull” and support, as well as on tested abilities. The key problems are how to move bureaucratic gears and secure substantive policy results; the crucial skill is the ability to prod subordinates and please superiors. In short, it is an intramural, rather than an extramural, recruitment system.

In many systems those who control political advancement want to make firsthand appraisals of the most promising eligibles. At the same time they find it hard to say just what qualities they are looking for. The criteria kept in mind when co-opting a member or sponsoring an aspirant for a relatively high political job presumably include an estimate of what is being risked on an unknown quantity. When a recruit is rated for advanced work, the situation is often quite different before and after he has been tested in the relevant context. Beforehand, those who control the screening must be content to evaluate his potential by referring to allegedly parallel or analogous experiences in his record. Often these must be vouchsafed by a sponsor; often, too, the parallels do not quite fit. The sense of confidence that a recruit has the desired qualities is markedly different after he has served a probationary period within his screening committee’s view, even if his period of duty has been uneventful.

Some evidence suggests that political appointment processes depend far more on the aspirant’s initiative and on haphazard searches for talent than is true in other fields. Even in the case of chief executives, whose appointive power is very wide and whose talent pool in theory could be society-wide, seldom is there more than a casual effort to compile rosters of potentially recruitable appointees for high positions. It is not enough to explain this political lethargy by arguing that only by screening political appointees through party-controlled machinery can men be secured with an appropriate political outlook. Rather it seems that political elites are content to co-opt from their “doorstep,” so to speak, partly because only in that way can they apply their own judgment of the man or use the judgment of familiar and trusted associates.

Analysis of political recruitment practices is just beginning to disclose their effects on the skills and attitudes acquired during one’s passage through intermediate levels of political life. A number of convenient and plausible notions turn out to be doubtful. Not everyone entering at the bottom wants to get to the top—or even, for that matter, to the upper levels of the immediate political apparatus in which he works. It is seldom true that the manpower needs, either for advanced and public positions in the political hierarchy or for the episodically used machinery of election campaigns, are filled by any systematic process of search and appraisal. Nor can it be demonstrated that when a certain kind of political job increases in functional significance—e.g., when historical circumstances make specialists in symbol manipulation less vital to political stability than, say, specialists in violence or specialists in resource allocation—there is a corresponding increase in either material rewards or deference to those filling the position. It is not commonly true, either, that political careers regularly follow a simple ladder from less exacting, less significant, or poorly paid posts to more demanding, more important, and well-paid positions.

There are persistent motives and purposes engendered and rekindled in a modern pluralist society that cause perhaps every twentieth person to enter politics actively, work at it, accept its terms, and sometimes wish to rise in it (see Lane 1959 for U.S. estimates and Almond & Verba 1963 for European figures). Moreover, there are both recurrent and emergent manpower needs in the institutional processes ancillary to control of government; these manpower needs prompt those in politics to recruit others, offer them appropriate rewards and gratifications, and in some cases help them to rise politically.

The criteria for political advancement are constantly changing. The ways by which younger and more vigorous men learn the trade of politics from those ahead of them cannot be studied without attention also to the conditions that cause new generations in politics to perform in a different style and to live by different standards of responsible conduct when in office.

Research is needed that will identify the inimitable characteristics of those who rise to the highest rungs of the political ladder—what distinguishes them from the second echelon, whose qualities are more easily imitated. Much contemporary analysis is concerned with the lag between the “functional needs” of a political system and the “institutional recognition” of priorities in meeting such needs. Political leaders of the first order innovate in ways requiring skills and resources not widely available; yet, they set styles and impose performance standards that, once demonstrated, can be imitated by others. In this sense, the career perspectives of the next generation are molded by contemporary examples and by contemporary inadequacies. Future political leaders still at the onset of their careers, then, must always find themselves being screened for capacities their elders never had to have, trained to cope with developments only gropingly dealt with by the current incumbents, and equipped with an awareness and sensitivity to new problems in political decision making, posed by impending breakthroughs in science and technology.

Dwaine Marvick

[See alsoCivil serviceand Occupations and careers. Directly related are the entriesAdministration; Leadership, article onpolitical aspects; Legislation, article onlegislative behavior; Parties, political; Political executive; Political participation; Representation. Other relevant material may be found inPoliticalculture; Professions.]


Almond, Gabriel A. 1954 The Appeals of Communism. Princeton Univ. Press. → A cross-national study based on interview materials.

Almond, Gabriel A.; and Coleman, James S. (editors) 1960 The Politics of the Developing Areas. Princeton Univ. Press. → Representative functional systems studies stressing socialization and recruitment processes.

Almond, Gabriel A.; and Verba, Sidney 1963 The Civic Culture: Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Nations. Princeton Univ. Press.

Barber, James D. 1965 The Lawmakers: Recruitment and Adaptation to Legislation. Yale Studies in Political Science, Vol. 11. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press.Dahl, Robert A. (1961) 1963 Who Governs? Democracy and Power in an American City. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press.

Eulau, Heinz; and Sprague, John D. 1964 Lawyers in Politics: A Study in Professional Convergence. Indianapolis, Ind.: Bobbs-Merrill.

Frey, Frederick W. 1966 The Turkish Political Elite.Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press.

Gosnell, Harold F. 1935 Negro Politicians: The Rise of Negro Politics in Chicago. Univ. of Chicago Press. Gosnell, Harold F. 1937 Machine Politics: Chicago Model. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Gosnell, Harold F. 1948 Democracy: The Threshold of Freedom. New York: Ronald Press. → A useful summary of “representational” inquiries.

Janowitz, Morris 1954 The Systematic Analysis of Political Biography. World Politics 6:405–412. Keller, Suzanne 1963 Beyond the Ruling Class: Strategic Elites in Modern Society. New York: Random House. → Summarizes a wide range of empirical findings.

Lane, Robert E. 1959 Political Life: Why People Get Involved in Politics. Glencoe, III.: Free Press. → A paperback edition was published in 1965. Lasswell, Harold D. (1930) 1960 Psychopathology and Politics. New ed., with afterthoughts by the author. New York: Viking Press. → The classic motivational analysis of political self-recruitment. Leiserson, Avery 1958 Parties and Politics: An Institutional and Behavioral Approach. New York: Knopf. → An analytical review of party recruitment processes. Lowi, Theodore J. 1964 At the Pleasure of the Mayor. New York: Free Press.

McClelland, David C. 1961 The Achieving Society. Princeton, N.J.: Van Nostrand.

Marvick, Dwaine (editor) 1961 Political Decision-makers. New York: Free Press. → Representative studies of recruitment processes.

Matthews, Donald R. 1954 The Social Background of Political Decision-makers. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday. → A useful summary of approaches and findings.

Milbrath, Lester W. 1963 The Washington Lobbyists.Chicago: Rand McNally.

Salter, John T. (editor) 1938 The American Politician. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press. Schlesinger, Joseph A. 1957 How They Became Governor: A Study of Comparative State Politics, 1870–1950. East Lansing: Michigan State Univ., Governmental Research Bureau.

Weber, Max (1919) 1946 Politics as a Vocation. Pages 77–128 in Max Weber, From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. Translated and edited by Hans H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills. New York: Oxford Univ. Press. Zink, Harold 1930 City Bosses in the United States: A Study of Twenty Municipal Bosses. Durham, N.C.: Duke Univ. Press.

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Political Recruitment and Careers

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