An elite pact, settlement or political settlement is an agreement or understanding between political elites which moderates the violence and winner-takes-all nature of unrestrained conflict. Such settlements tend to transform society from an autocratic mode into more pluralistic, democratic forms.
This concept in political theory is part of elite theory and state-building. Joel Migdal has suggested that the concept of political settlements has a pedigree going back to the work of Barrington Moore. Political settlements are the frameworks for governing a state established by elites, either through formal processes or informally over time. Attempts to clearly define the concept are relatively recent and the political scientist Alan Whaites has suggested that
Political settlements are the deeper, often unarticulated, understandings between elites that bring about the conditions to end conflict, but which also in most states prevent violent conflict from occurring. Political settlements happen because of self-interest (hope of greater benefit from a common state-building project) or due to a strong sense of shared ethos (such as religious or ideological conviction).
He goes on to suggest that many political settlements contain the seed of their own eventual failure through inherent inflexibility.
Most political settlements now have an explicit articulation (enshrined in an evolving document – usually a constitution). Ultimately, however, no political settlement can afford to be static. For a political settlement to endure it must absorb social change, for example settlements formed by elites that exclude a growing middle class usually become subject to a step change; a `Great Reform Act,’ suffragettes struggle or people’s movement. It has been suggested that in most states constitutional reform has become the metaphor for the renegotiation of power.
Whaites offers categories for different types of political settlements, including `engineered' and imposed.
Verena Fritz and Alina Rocha Menocal published a paper in 2007 arguing that political settlements are a `domain' at the heart of all state processe. They relate the concept to broader state theory (including the issues of elections and legitimacy). They stress that political settlements are not one-off events but evolve over time.
Important contributions on the establishing of political settlements in modern (particularly newly democratic) states have also been made by Thomas Carothers and Marina Ottaway of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Also of note is JC Scott's work `Seeing Like a State' which explores the routes through which political settlements in medieval Europe began to consolidate formal state structures.
In political science the concept of `political settlements' is distinct from short-term processes aimed at elite agreements, such as a `peace process' or `peace agreement.' Peace negotiations and agreements may be part of the process of achieving a political settlement, but the settlement itself is the period of time for which an elite agreement holds, which could last for days or centuries.
Controversially the political scientist Patrick Chabal has suggested that the concept of political settlements is often less useful than that of `political sedimentation,' the residue of elite accommodation that is left after a period of contestation or explicit conflict, (quoted from Whaites above) see also.
- Danny Danziger, John Gillingham (2004), 1215: The Year of Magna Carta, p. 278
- John Higley, Michael Burton (1998), "Elite Settlements and the Taming of Politics", Government and Opposition (Blackwell Publishing Ltd.) 33 (1): 98, doi:10.1111/j.1477-7053.1998.tb00785.x
- Albert Breton (1997), "Elite pacts", Understanding democracy, Cambridge University Press, p. 33, ISBN 978-0-521-58236-0
- Fritz, V and Rocha Menocal A, Understanding state-building from a political economy perspective, ODI, London 2007
- Migdal Joel, State in Society, CUP, 2001
- Moore, B, `Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy,' Beacon Press 1993
- Scott, JC, `Seeing Like a State,' Yale University Press, 1999
- Whaites, A, States in Development, DFID, London 2008