from the book

The Powers That Be

by G. William Domhoff

Vintage Books, 1978

A ruling class is a privileged social class which is able to maintain its top position in the social structure ...

By 1942 ... study groups set up by the [Council on Foreign Relations] in 1939 had been in effect merged into the State Department as its postwar planning apparatus. Council members sat on the department's postwar planning steering committee, headed two of the committee's three subcommittees, and served as part-time consultants to the subcommittees. The line between the allegedly independent state bureaucracy and the private policy-planning groups had become very hazy indeed.

The recommendations of the subcommittee closely paralleled the earlier proposals of the council study groups. The first report of the economic subcommittee emphasized the danger of another world depression and stressed the need for the United States to involve itself in the internal affairs of the most important industrial and raw-material-producing nations. Subsequent recommendations called for the creation of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, the specific plans for which were worked out by the Treasury Department and adopted at the Bretton Woods Conference in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, in 1944.

The subcommittees also urged the creation of the United Nations as an important mechanism for political domination of the international economy. Isaiah Bowman, the council director who headed the department's territorial subcommittee, explained the need quite clearly:

At the Council meeting in May, 1942, he stated that the United States had to exercise the strength needed to assure "security" and at the same time "avoid conventional forms of imperialism." The way to do this, he argued, was to make the exercise of that power international in character through a United Nations body."

The great hostility to government on the part of American businesspeople, in part based upon a fear that popular forces will surge up to take control of the government, has led to a policy-planning network outside of government. This network may be unique in the Western world, but we must await systematic comparative studies to be sure.


The leanings of the moderate conservatives usually determine `,the outcome of any policy struggle. If the CFR-CED wing of the power elite decides to go in the direction of change, it develops a plan, or modifies a plan already developed by the liberals and labor, and then enlists the support of liberals, organized labor and minority group organizations. If the CFR-CED wing decides there is no need for any policy changes, which means it is in agreement with the ultraconservative wing and the power elite is united, then it sits by silently while the ultraconservatives destroy within Congress any suggestions put forth by liberals or labor. In short, the liberal-labor coalition is rarely successful without at least the tacit support of the moderate conservatives within the power elite. The ultraconservatives, on the other hand, are not helpless without the moderates. Due to their strength in Congress, they are often able to delay or alter the proposals put forth by the moderates.

... the power elite and especially the moderate core based in the largest banks, corporations, foundations and policy groups-dominates policy making. If it does not depict a united power elite that always gets exactly what it wants, it does describe a power elite that has been able to defend the privileges of the ruling class in the face of every insurgency it has faced. Pluralists like to point out that social r security, health-care legislation and other measures signify an important improvement in living conditions for a great many people. While this is true to some extent, the proof of the pudding in terms of power is the ability to maintain the class system that sustains ruling-class privileges and prerogatives. On this score, the ruling class has done very well within the general policy arena.

... the ruling class has the institutional capability to develop policies on the major issues facing the social system. That is, the power elite is organized "politically" in the deepest meaning of that term, even though its political organizations are called "apolitical," "bipartisan" and "nonpartisan," in a nation where politics only means the electoral antics of one or another political party.

... the power elite, through the mass media and other means ... make it difficult to convince the electorate that alternative policies are feasible. Thus, Dye's concern with ideological domination provides a more dynamic explanation for what Prewitt and Stone and many Marxists as well-see as a "perceived mutuality of interest" between the power elite and those government leaders who are not part of it.

... most narrow government policies are dominated by specific industries and trade associations within the special-interest process, and that broadgauge policies are determined by the power elite as a whole through a complex maze of foundations, think tanks and policy planning organizations.

The candidate-selection process is the means by which elective offices are filled in the United States. It is a process that is often called "political," but it is more preoccupied with individual ambition and image-building than it is with substantive issues. It is a process in which most politicians develop binding ties to one or another clique within the power elite while professing to speak for "the people."

The result of a winner-take-all system is two political parties, and only two political parties, because a vote in favor of a third party actually is a vote for the person's least-desired choice.

... the major effect of the two-party system in the United States is that it discourages policy discussion, political education and an attempt to satisfy majority preference, rather than encouraging them. It helps to create the confusion and disinterest for which pluralists constantly scold the general public. It leads to campaigns in which there are no issues but personality even when voters are extremely issue conscious.

... there is little or no relationship between the issue preferences of the majority of voters and the policy stands of incumbents running for reelection. Even at this level, campaigns are more image oriented than issue oriented, particularly in the case of incumbents, whose primary effort is to portray themselves as thoughtful, sincere and concerned. Political scientist Charles 0. Jones summarizes the results of studies by himself and others as follows:

The major proposition [i.e., conclusion] is that the campaign and election are regularly scheduled events in the political life of a representative in which he makes an intensive effort to project an image of himself as a capable representative-which image is "issue-involved" in that it provides clues as to what to expect by way of policy making behavior from the Congressman. Elections are not primarily policy or issue events where issues are discussed or resolved or where there is an exchange between constituency and candidate. When the representative is returned to office, he is relatively unbound by the campaign and election in his poIicy making behavior.

... the system produces a set of politicians who are mostly lawyers. In 1972, for example, 70 percent of the senators and 51 percent of the representatives were lawyers, but the situation is about the same for earlier times and in most state legislatures. Of 99S elected governors for all states between 1370 and 1950, 46 percent were practicing lawyers. Twenty-five of the 39 American Presidents have been lawyers.

The large percentage of lawyers in the American poliffcal system is highly atypical when compared with other countries, where only 10-30 percent of legislators have a legal background.

There is more to American politics than fat cats and their political friends. There are serious-minded liberals who fight the good fight on many issues, ecologically oriented politicians who remain true to their cause, and honest people of every political stripe who are not beholden to any wealthy people. But there are not enough of them, and they are often worn down by the constant pressure from lobbyists, lawyers and conventional politicians.

... the fact remains that the friends and representatives of the working-class majority have not been able to win other than headlines, delays and an occasional battle. Despite the considerable efforts of organized labor and middle-income reformers, the candidate-selection process produces a predominance of politicians who sooner or later become sympathetic to the prevailing wisdom within either the moderate or ultraconservative faction of the power elite.

... the most important role of the ideology network may be in its ability to help ensure that an alternative view does not consolidate to replace the resigned acquiescence and disinterest that are found by pollsters and survey researchers to permeate the political and economic consciousness of Americans at the lower levels of the socioeconomic ladder.

In order to preserve ideological hegemony, it is only necessary for the ruling group to reinforce dominant values and at the same time prevent the dissemination of opinion that effectively chaUenges the basic assumptions of the society. Public knowledge of inequality and injustice isn't so damaging as long as these perceptions are not drawn together into a coherent, opposing ideology.

... leaders within the American ruling class have turned loose strikebreakers, the police, the FBI and the CIA on trade-union organizers, civil-rights activists, antiwar protesters and left-wing political leaders, sometimes murdering them in the process. These actions are part of the ideology process, and they suggest that the power elite will use the most drastic of methods to defend its position.

... the ruling class has been able to dominate government and the underlying population throughout the twentieth century ... but, the working-class political organization that might put an end to class domination in corporate America is not yet in sight.

The Powers That Be

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