Writing this opinion paper I have analyzed the political theories of last decades, examined the economic statistic and concluded that theory of elitism describes current situation at the United States the best.
Wealth and Power in America
In my opinion, wealth and power distribution in the United States could be determined as elitism. Frankly speaking, I was not sure before I start working on this essay. Searching the articles about different political theories I found one that made my position strong. It was the article by H.T. Reynolds about pluralism.
“Pluralism is the theory that a multitude of groups, not the people as a whole, govern the United States. These organizations, which include among others unions, trade and professional associations, environmentalists, civil rights activists, business and financial lobbies, and formal and informal coalitions of like-minded citizens, influence the making and administration of laws and policy. Since the participants in this process constitute only a tiny fraction of the populace, the public acts mainly as bystanders.”¯ (Reynolds, 1993)
I have compared this definition with the definition of elitism from America Heritager dictionary:
“1) the practice of rule by an elite
2) the belief in rule by an elite
3) the consciousness of or pride in belonging to a select or favored group.”¯ (AHD, 2009)
Leaving along the third meaning, I concentrated on the first and second. To understand “the practice of rule by elite”¯ I had to define the word “elite”¯, and the following definition was satisfactory: “a group of person exercising the major share of authority or influence within a larger organization.”¯ (Nyquist, 2000) In my case the organization means the whole country, the United States of America.Ā Ā Studying the statistics, I have found that there are over 450 billionaires all over the world; over 150 of them are in the USA. 10% of the USA population controls over 70% of the wealth.Ā It appeared that the significant part of world wealth is concentrated in the USA, but distributed rather unevenly. Then I have found the studies of Thomas Dye.
Thomas Dye, the president of the Lincoln Center for Public Service and a political scientist, whose interests include the theories of pluralism and elitism, conducted a research of leadership in America since 1972.Ā His research proved that that power in the United States is concentrated in the hands of power elite. The theory of elitism contradicts the idea that United Stated is the state of democracy.
I tried to analyze my personal experience to understand the situation better. I had not participated in political activities a lot, though I keep up with Greenpeace and Environmental Working Group. Nevertheless I read a lot, and I remembered some details and quotes that toughened my belief. First of all, I have a thought about President Barack Obama. I know he was born in poor family, and his presidency seemed to become the triumph of democracy in the USA. However the journalist Ryan Lizza from New Yorker wrote an award-winning article “How Chicago shaped Obama”¯. Inter alia he described caustically the willingness of young Obama to make connections with the elite of Chicago – and, which is important, his success.
Then I remembered the story of “Enron Corp”¯ and its collapse.Ā Kenneth Lay, the infamous founder and CEO of “Enron”¯, was suspected in exerting influence on the government and President Bush. Family of Bushes has oil business and “Enron”¯ was an energy company, and it is no doubt that Lay and Bush could be business partners or have common partners.
Even the issue of marijuana legalization brought me to the thought about elite. I just tried to understand why marijuana is worse then alcohol, and I found that the most active supporters of marijuana criminalization had the business in forestry, thus, they just tried to force out the rival raw material for paper production from the market.
I began to search the origin of elite in the USA and found that the wealth and power always ruled in the United States from the days of its foundation. George Washington, father of the country, was one of the biggest landowners of his day. The family of Thomas Jefferson was one of the richest in Virginia (outspoken abolitionist owned many slaves including his sons). Benjamin Franklin inherited $150,000 ”“ the huge money for that time.
Analyzing the class-domination theory, William Domhoff, the professor of Sociology in California University, writes that USA had the unique conditions of forming business-owning ruling elite.Ā He cites the theory of sociologist Michael Mann: “the power structures within Western civilization, and probably other civilizations, too, are best understood by determining the intertwinings and relative importance at any given time of the organizations based in four overlapping and intersecting sociospatial networks of power. These networks are ideological, economic, military, and political.”¯ (Domhoff, 2005)Ā The uniqueness of the USA included the absence of big church (ideological network), absence of big ethnical groups and governments (political network), and absence of big military (excepting the short period in the middle of 20th century). Thus, economic network is dominating in the USA.
I know that that the fortune could not create the elite solely. However I discovered for myself the principles of elite formation:Ā the rich people develop institutions Ā “by which the children of its members are socialized into an upper-class worldview, and newly wealthy people are assimilated.”¯ (Domhoff, 2005)
Thus, elite truly exists. The theory of elitism claims that elite has the pyramidal structure and acts in its interests only. Here I rejected the theory of Dye and used my personal experience. I know that business like a shark could never stop otherwise it die. I was not agreeing that elite is the monolith group of incredibly rich people that have common aims and interests. I am sure that inner competition must exist in every elite group, because there are a lot of things that could not belong to more then one person at the moment, for example, the chair in Oval cabinet. Thus, I came to the definition of pluralism, that I was sited at the beginning of this essay:
“Since the participants in this process constitute only a tiny fraction of the populace, the public acts mainly as bystanders.”¯ (Reynolds, 1993)
To my opinion, the main difference between pluralism and elitism theory is the entity of the elite. Elitism considers it as an entity, while pluralism theory describes the interaction of the representatives of the small part of society. This part of society is the same as elite, and interaction is its inner dynamics. Elite in the USA is not the monolith group, it was proved by Barack Obama, William Gates (the founder of Microsoft Corp),Ā John Tu and David Sun (Taiwan immigrants who founded Kingston Corp) and many others. It is funny, but the penetrability of elite seems to have the same reason that its origin: the absence of military, ethnic or clerical network in the USA.
Speaking about prominent people who became the part of elite within the last decade it is clear that some selective process must be at work. Along with hereditary elite formation the natural elite formation goes on. Wise, talented, goal-oriented, hard-working people do to elite. By the way, Plato was the supporter of the elitism; he believed that only those who superior in wisdom could rule, but he noticed with sarcasm that since people are unlikely to recognize those wiser than themselves, the democracy can not form the government of wisdom. I think many of President George W. Bush antagonists would be glad to quote Plato.
I tried to imagine the special interest of these powerful elite – to keep and increase its wealth and power. To reach this elite has to provide the successful leaders, and “leader’s greatness is predicated on his ability to govern a society so that its members are more successful in their struggle for existence, both when taken individually and collectively, than the people of other countries.”¯ (Nyquist, 2001) Thus, elite has to govern more or less effectively to maintain itself. History teaches that the ineffective actions of governing elite were the crucial reason of revolutions. That is why I think that every intelligent person must understand the mechanisms of power and wealth distribution on the USA and all over the world. It could help to forecast the development of the situation and probably interfere in it.
The political system in the USA today could be described as elitism. However, in my opinion, this elitism does not contradict democracy; it is just the shift to the nest stage of the society evolution and new forms of government.