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An elite party is a political party consisting of members of the societal elite, particularly members of parliament, who agree to co-operate politically in the spirit of principles and goals. The first to describe this party model was Edmund Burke in 1770. More recently, the elite party model has been outlined by Maurice Duverger.
Elite parties form as groupings of elite members particularly in situations where an individual politician's political standing can be secured without the support of large populations. An elite party can form internally in the parliament and its political power is derived from that of its individual members. Elite parties have practically no extra-parliamentary structure and a generally more flexible than mass parties. The central role of independent, powerful individuals implies that their structure is often loose and that their policy may be internally disputed due to disagreements between individual members. As Duverger states, in elite parties "the members of Parliament play a key role".
Elite parties are contrasted to mass parties that largely consist of "masses" of laymen. Mass parties can be democratic, such as decentralized liberal parties, or massive but centrally controlled like Nazi or Communist parties; these are occasionally classified separately.
Elite parties, despite their origin in the elite, need not to be elitist and may represent any ideology. For example, there have been elite parties supporting ideologies as diverse and conflicting as classical liberalism, nationalism and aristocracy/elitism.
- Maurice Duverger, Party Politics and Pressure Groups: A Comparative Introduction, Robert Wagoner (trans.), Nelson, London, 1972.
- Duverger, p. 7.