Published online by Cambridge University Press: 17 August 2009
Institutionalizing Open Access
The transition proper begins when elites find a common interest in transforming some elite privileges into impersonal elite rights shared by all members of the elite. The process is by no means inevitable. The natural tendency of powerful groups faced with uncertainty and novel situations is to consolidate privileges, not to expand them to include more elites. The transition proper is the process by which elites open access within the dominant coalition, secure that open access through institutional changes, and then begin to expand access to citizenship rights to a wider share of the population.
In the logic of the transition, elites find it in their interests to protect their privileges by converting them into rights. The biggest threat to elite privileges is other elites, especially factions within the dominant coalition. It was believed that intra-elite competition in mature natural states presented the biggest internal threat to elites. Those ideas formed the core of a crystallizing political theory in the eighteenth century called the republican tradition or civic humanism by some (with roots stretching back to Greece and Republican Rome). The backward-looking idea that intra-elite competition posed the greatest threat to social order described a natural state, not an open access order. The specific idea that political manipulation of economic privileges posed the greatest threat to a republic was the central hypothesis of Whig or Commonwealth thinking in the eighteenth century in Britain, France, and the United States.