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
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
... 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.
Powers That Be