Government and Politics

Информация - Юриспруденция, право, государство

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ss "that is a ruling class by virtue of its dominant role in the economy and government". This socially cohesive ruling class owns 20 to 25 percent of all privately held wealth and 45 to 50 percent of all privately held common stock.

Unlike Mills, Domhoff was quite specific about who belongs to this social upper class. Membership comes through being pan of a family recognized in The Social Registerthe directory of the social elite in many American cities. Attendance at prestigious private schools and membership in exclusive social clubs are further indications that a person comes from Americas social upper class. Domhoff estimates that about 0.5 percent of the American population (or 1 of every 200 people) belongs to this social and political elite.

Of course, this would mean that the ruling class has more than 1 million members and could hardly achieve the cohesiveness that Mills attributed to the power elite. However, Domhoff adds that the social upper class as a whole does not rule the nation. Instead, members of this class who have assumed leadership roles within the corporate community or the nations policy-planning network join with high-level employees of profit-making and nonprofit institutions controlled by the social upper class to exercise power.

In Domhoffs view, the ruling class should not be seen in a conspiratorial way, as "sinister men lurking behind the throne." On the contrary they tend to hold public positions of authority. Almost all important appointive government posts including those of diplomats and cabinet membersare filled by members of the social upper class. Domhoff contends that members of this class dominate powerful corporations, foundations, universities, and the executive branch of government. They control presidential nominations and the political party process through campaign contributions. In addition, the ruling class exerts a significant (though not absolute) influence within Congress and units of state and local government.

Perhaps the major difference between the elite models of Mills and Domhoff is that Mills insisted on the relative autonomy of the political elite and attached great significance to the independent power of the military. By contrast, Domhoff suggests that high-level government and military leaders serve the interests of the social upper class. Both theorists, in line with a Marxian approach, assume that the rich are interested only in what benefits them financially. Furthermore, as advocates of elite models of power. Mills and Domhoff argue that the masses of American people have no real influence on the decisions of the powerful.

One criticism of the elite model is that its advocates sometimes suggest that elites are always victorious. With this in mind, sociologist J. Alien Whitt (1982) examined the efforts of Californias business elites to support urban mass transit. He found that lobbying by these elites was successful in San Francisco but failed in Los Angeles. Whitt points out that opponents of policies backed by elites can mobilize to thwart their implementation.

Domhoff admits that the ruling class does not exercise total control over American society. However, he counters that this elite is able to set political terms under which other groups and classes must operate. Consequently, although the ruling class may lose on a particular issue, it will not allow serious challenges to laws which guarantee its economic privileges and political domination.

Pluralist Model

Several social scientists have questioned the elite models of power relations proposed by Marx, Mills, Domhoff, and other conflict theorists. Quite simply, the critics insist that power in the United States is more widely shared than the elite model indicates. In their view, a pluralist model more accurately describes the American political system. According to the pluralist model, "many conflicting groups within the community have access to government officials and compete with one another in an effort to influence policy decisions".

Veto Groups. David Riesmans The Lonely Crowd suggested that the American political system could best be understood through examination of the power of veto groups. The term veto groups refers to interest groups that have the capacity to prevent the exercise of power by others. Functionally, they serve to increase political participation by preventing the concentration of political power. Examples cited by Riesman include farm groups, labor unions, professional associations, and racial and ethnic groups. Whereas Mills pointed to the dangers of rule by an undemocratic power elite, Riesman insisted that veto groups could effectively paralyze the nations political processes by blocking anyone from exercising needed leadership functions. In Riesmans words, "The only leaders of national scope left in the United States are those who can placate the veto groups".

Dahls Study of Pluralism. Community studies of power have also supported the pluralist model. One of the most famousan investigation of decision making in New Haven, Connecticutwas reported by Robert Dahl in his book, Who Governs? (1961). Dahl found that while the number of people involved in any important decision was rather small, community power was nonetheless diffuse. Few political actors exercised decision-making power on all issues. Therefore, one individual or group might be influential in a battle over urban renewal but at the same time might have little impact over educational policy. Several other studies of local politics, in such communities as Chicago and Oberlin, Ohio, further document that monolithic power structures do not operate on the level of local government.

Just as the elite model has been challenged on political and methodological grounds, the pluralist model has been subjected to serious questioning. Domhoff (1978) reexamined Dahls study of decision making in New Haven and argued that Dahl and other pluralists had failed to trace how local elites prominent in decision making were part of a larger national ruling class. In addition, studies of community power, such as Dahls work in New Haven, can examine decision making only on issues which become pan of the political agenda. This focus fails to address the possible power of elites to keep certain matters entirely out of the realm of government debate. Conflict theorists contend that these elites will not allow any outcome of the political process which threatens their dominance. Indeed, they may even be strong enough to block discussion of such measures by policymakers.

Who Does Rule?

Without question, the pluralist and elite models have little in common. Each describes a dramatically different distribution of power, with sharply contrasting consequences for society. Is there any way that we can reconcile the vast disagreements in these two approaches?

Perhaps we can conclude that, despite their apparent points of incompatibility, each model offers an accurate picture of American political life. Power in various areas rests in the hands of a small number of citizens who are well-insulated from the will of the masses (elite view). Yet there are so many diverse issues and controversies in the nations political institutions that few individuals or groups consistently exercise power outside their distinctive spheres of influence (pluralist view). Even presidents of the United States have acknowledged that they felt more comfortable making decisions either in the area of foreign policy (Richard Nixon) or in the area of domestic policy (Lyndon Johnson). Moreover, the post-World War II period has seen increasing power vested in the federal government (elite model). But, even within the federal bureaucracy, there are a staggering number of agencies with differing ideas and interests (pluralist model).

We can end this discussion with the one common point of the elite and pluralist perspectives power in the American political system is unequally distributed. All citizens may be equal in theory, yet those high in the nations power structure are "more equal."


Each society must have a political system in order to have recognized procedures for the allocation of valued resourcesin Harold D. Lasswells terms, for deciding who gets what, when, and how. We have examined various types of political authority and forms of government and explores the dimensions of the American political system.


  1. Power relations can involve large organizations, small groups, or even individuals in an intimate relationship.
  2. There are three basic sources of power within any political system force, influence, and authority.
  3. Max Weber provided ( e of the most useful and frequently cited contributions of early sociology by identifying three ideal types of authority: traditional, legal-rational, and charismatic.
  4. The United States, as a society which values the role of law, has legally defined limits on the power of government.
  5. In the 1980s, monarchies hold genuine governmental power in only a few nations of the world.
  6. Today, oligarchy often takes the form of military rule, although the Soviet Union and the Peoples Republic of China can be described as oligarchies in which power rests in the hands of the ruling Communist party.
  7. Political scientists Carl Friedrich and Zbigniew Brzezinski have identified six basic traits that typify totalitarianism: large-scale use of ideology, one-party systems, control of weapons, terror, cont