This unusual and timely volume is the first of three major reports on a long-term research project (conducted jointly by members of the Centro de Estudios del Desarrollo of the Universidad Central de Venezuela and the Center for International Studies at M.I.T.) aimed at formulating rational policies for the development of Venezuela. Drawing on expertise from the social science disciplines—particularly those concerned with human behavior—the contributors to this volume have focused on ways to determine the feasibility or relative social cost of alternative strategies of development. They used survey studies and other research techniques to gather as large a volume and variety of data as possible about the power structure, political processes, and characteristics of key groups in the population.
Volume 1 presents both an overview of the research design and a preliminary sampling of the separate efforts that constitute the whole program. The contributors are concerned with techniques of investigation, not with definitive analysis of all the data. And in the ingenuity and inventiveness with which they have used both traditional and new methods of research to test and retest hypotheses, not only have they laid the foundation for a practical synthesis of social science techniques for investigating a whole society, but they have highlighted the complexities and pitfalls of the task.
"The efficacy of an economic plan hinges importantly on its political realism and social feasibility," state the editors in their introduction. And the task for social scientists becomes one of identifying and measuring the social and political forces that complicate or facilitate such planning—particularly one of identifying the critical contradictions that must be resolved if national planning is to be implemented successfully. But if a genuine convergence of social theory, research data, value options, and political purpose is to be achieved, the second task, as the editors point out, is to promote close problem-focused interaction between researchers, decision makers, and interested readers. One of the unique aspects of the Venezuela project is the degree to which the research was integrated with this broader concern for institution building.
The Failure of Elites is unique as an in-depth study of an operative elite in a country undergoing substantial modernizing change while experiencing profound conflict, including armed insurgency and terrorism. The book combines a historical account of elite succession with an analysis of the social characteristics of incumbent elites. In particular, it describes the rise to power of a middle-sector elite, its subsequent fragmentation and loss of impetus toward reform, as well as diminished contact with the Venezuelan people. The author explores in detail the career lines and private lives of the elite, the structure of intraelite communications, and the ideologies and behavior of men who hold power. Each of these perspectives builds on distinctive types of data and on novel techniques appropriate to the particular analysis.
Bonilla's study includes an examination of the more reticent and inaccessible power wielders—the military, proscribed parties, and the United States Community—as well as an appraisal of elite capacity to meet challenges emerging in the current decade. On a broader basis, the book raises serious questions as to the ability of democratic, reform-minded elites in countries like Venezuela to bring about the profound transformation needed to free such nations from poverty and social inequality.