It is difficult to determine the location of power in a society as complex as the Unite States but I will try to do it through the simple analysis through which we can see that the United States is an elitist society run by the rich. The idea that rich run America has been encompassed in the elite theory of society. Prior to the 1960’s, many people accepted the elite theory as model for American politics. However, after the Vietnam War, some writers began claiming that the elite system had died out in the United States.
According to this argument, the Vietnam War was a last-ditch effort by the elite to gain control over the world.
When this effort proved to be not as effective as it supposed to be, the elite as a whole supposedly “committed suicide” by dissolving itself. However, I think that that the elite system is still alive and doing really well in American politics. I would say that the elite control has become even stronger.
In reality all government is government by elite, or at best one among a number of competing elites. There is undeniable fact that in capitalist society power requires money. Demographic data shows that only a small percentage of people in America control the majority of the nation’s wealth.
It is this minority of people that holds all the wealth and power of the nation. This elite group is able to use its power to get its own policies implemented and its own legislations passed.
These policies and legislations get passed regardless of what the majority opinion is. In 1956 was published The Power Elite by C. Wright Mills. In that book, Mills claimed that a “power elite” was in control of both politics and society in the United States. He argued that this elite consisted of “a self-perpetuating establishment of corporate, military, legal, and political leaders”.
One of the latest proponents of the elite theory is G. William Domhoff, a professor of psychology and sociology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Domhoff expressed his views in his 1967 book Who Rules America? , which was reprinted under the title Who Rules America Now?. In his book Domhoff claimed: “There continues to be a small upper class that owns 20 to 25 percent of all privately held wealth and 45 to 50 percent of all privately held corporate stock, sits in seats of formal power from the corporate community to the federal government, and wins much more often that it loses on issues”.
What about pluralism? According to the elite theory, power is found strictly among the members of the upper class. Pluralism, on the other hand, sees “diversity in a society containing many interest groups and in a government containing competing units of power”. According to the pluralist viewpoint, the fact that there are numerous groups with varying interests that competing against one another means that no one group can ever actually hold power for very long. However, in real life some people have more power than others and that some of the most important political decisions are passed by a handful of men.
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Supporters of pluralism to prove their point can claim that if there were power elite, the Vietnam War would have ended long before it did. This is because the Vietnam War as it was, was bad for business, bad for education, bad for government, bad for everyone in sight. From my point of view this argument does not provide proof against the existence of power elite in America. Rather, it shows that elite is limited in what it can do. Furthermore, supporters of mentioned above argument do not take into account possibility that elite is capable of making mistakes. Perhaps the power elite thought that the Vietnam War was a good idea at one time.
Then, when it became obvious that the war was detrimental to everyone in sight, it was too late to simply pull out. In fact, there is more evidence in favor of the existence of power elite than there is against it. G. William Domhoff has indicated that there are three basic ways in which the elite influences national politics. The first is through the candidate selection process, in which members of the elite support their favorite candidates in elections. The second is through the special-interest process, in which members of the elite support their favorite lobbying groups.
The third way is through the policy-making process, in which members of the elite make direct appeals to politicians. Domhoff also points out that there are many members of the elite who actually hold government positions themselves. For example, most American presidents have been from upper-class backgrounds. Furthermore, studies of the backgrounds of members of Congress have shown that they come from the highest levels of society. Domhoff also notes that corporate power is an important factor in explaining America’s elitist politics. The elite theory holds that money is equivalent to power.
Therefore, it is evident that big business is in a good position to control political processes. According to Domhoff, “in terms of access, expertise, and sheer number of appointments, corporate involvement in the shaping of government policy is extensive”. Corporate power is strong in America because money is needed for the most political policies to be carried out. In this regard, Domhoff claims that the corporate rich have “indirect influence over elected and appointed officials, for the growth and stability of a city, state, or the country as a whole can be jeopardized by a lack of business confidence in government”.
Supporters of pluralism can also claim that the two-party system prevents any one group from holding power in America. According to this perspective, American politics is a competition between two major ideologies: conservatism and liberalism. Conservatism is pluralistic in that it rejects simple majority rule and liberalism is pluralistic in that it rejects rule by a single elite. However, the existence of these two competing ideologies cannot guarantee people against the existence of elitism in American politics.
Furthermore, conservatism and liberalism tend to divide politicians into polarized camps and in the effort to assert their own points of view, politicians often ignore the wishes and needs of the majority. It should be noted that “competition” between conservatives and liberals seems to be one-sided in most cases. In terms of political debate, “the weight of the evidence shows that the moderate conservatives and ultraconservatives within the power elite are the predominant influences on the ultimate outcomes of these conflicts” (Domhoff).
This indicates that conservatism is the favored ideology of the power elite. It further indicates that the American political system is not pluralistic. Socialism is a political philosophy which agrees with some aspects of the elite theory. At the same time, however, there are certain ways in which the socialist point of view is quite different. Like supporters of the elite theory, socialists believe that the United States is a society which is controlled by an elite group of wealthy people. In fact, the socialist point of view would define capitalism itself as system controlled by the wealthy elite.
Karl Marx, the founder of socialism, felt that “all forms of power can be derived from the economic power that comes from ownership and control of the means of production” (Domhoff). In the United States, the means of production are obviously held by those who have money. However, socialism differs from the elite theory because it insists that control over the means of the production is the only source of power. By contrast, the elite theory claims that “members of the upper class have several different kinds of power at their disposal” (Domhoff).
In reality, American capitalism it’s a very complex system. Because of this, the socialist point of view is limited in its scope. In particular, it fails to consider the fact that “influence” is a more vital source of power than control over production (Domhoff). No matter how many factories a person owns, but power will not exist unless that person is able to exert influence over others. According to Meltzer power is “the ability to get what one wants, either by having one’s interests prevail in conflicts with others or by preventing others from raising conflicting demands”.
Meltzer notes that the source for this type of influence is not simply having money or owning a company. Power also involves having access to such things like technology, people, and the media. Domhoff claims that “it is the cumulative and combined effects of these varying types of power that makes the upper class a ruling class”. And I will completely agree with it. The elitist system in the United States is not a fixed thing. It is in the process of constant evolution as conditions in the world change. The traditional elite, as defined by C. Wright Mills, consisted of politicians, business leaders, lawyers and the military.
Since Mills’ time various other organized groups have gained in power as well. The new elites in America include public interest movement, federal bureaucracy, and national media network. Today, these groups must also be included in any definition of power elite in the United States. Perhaps the most powerful of these new elites is the national media. Since the 1960’s, the world has become extremely mediatized (That’s my own word. It comes from “media”). As a result, American society and human society in general can be characterized as being centered around the power of information.
In the United States, wealth continues to be the basis for power, but this days information provides an important resource for the development of wealth. In order to maintain its power, the contemporary elite must be connected to the information network. As noted by Lichter: “In today’s information-hungry society, the media increasingly play a crucial role in linking social and political elites to one another and to the general public”. This situation has caused situation in which media became a part of the elite system as well.
In this media, a small group of executives decide which issues will constitute the news of the day. In this way, this elite group has a strong influence over the opinions of majority of people in the nation. Furthermore, by deciding which issues are more important, this group has a powerful influence over the beliefs and actions of politicians. Another way in which the media has power in politics can be seen in the fact that politicians need favorable news coverage in order to become elected in the first place. Once elected, the politicians need further coverage in order to continue holding office. It is a widely known fact of political life that neither candidates nor parties can do without the assistance of media specialists”. Because elite power is dependent upon the national media, the media itself has been able to claim its own part within elite system. There is another way in which the national media has power within the elite system. This is in its capacity to serve as a “watchdog” over the other members of the elite (Lichter). If a politician or corporate leader performs an unethical act, the national media is there to make an issue out of the matter.
Because of this factor, the media is at least equal in power to the most powerful of the nation’s wealthy. Many politicians and sociologists have argued that the elite system described by C. Wright Mills came to an end as a result of the Vietnam War. However u can see that’s not true. The power elite in America is not dead and, in fact, it shows signs of becoming stronger than ever before. As Domhoff has indicated in his book Who Rules America Now? , corporate influence over politicians continues to be as widespread at the present time as it was in the past.
The elite class in America specifically shows its influence during such political processes as candidate selection, lobbying, and policy-making. Furthermore, as Domhoff has pointed out, positions of political power in America are often occupied by members of the elite themselves. Other researchers in the field of sociology have noted that there are signs that the power elite in America has actually grown in recent years. In particular, the traditional power elite as defined by Mills has now been expanded by the existence of new elites such as the national media.
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