The Power Elite
Thomas Dye and William Domhoff argue that in the United
States, power is no longer vested in the people, but rather, in a
select group of upper class individuals, or, the "power elite."
like to think of the United State as a democracy, where power is
vested in the people. But does power truly belong to the general
population? Or does it belong to an elite group of individuals, namely,
leaders of large corporations. Both Thomas Dye in Who's Running
America? The Clinton Years (1995) and William Domhoff in Who
Rules America: Power and Politics in the Year 2000 (2000) present
evidence supporting the latter hypothesis. As Domhoff puts it,
"the owners and top-level managers in large income-producing properties
are far and away the dominant power figures in the United States"(1).
It is this arrangement that most severely undermines democracy in the
In Domhoff's view, a power elite exists in the United States.
This group is made up of
the nation's corporate community - along with those who have vested
corporate ties - and their policy formation organizations (such as
chambers of commerce) (2). Domhoff points out that both the
corporate community and policy formation organizations are predominantly
made up of members of the upper class. This occurs because: "1.
members of the upper class own almost half of all privately held stock,
2. many large stockholding families in the upper class continue to be
involved in the direction of major corporations through family offices,
investment partnerships, and holding companies, 3. members of the upper
class are disproportionately represented on the boards of large
corporations, 4. the professional managers of middle-level origins are
assimilated into the upper class both socially and economically and
share the values of upper-class owners(3)."
||The power elite is
bound together by their common upper class values.
Domhoff argues that this "social cohesion" is important from a
class-dominance perspective because the most socially cohesive groups
are the ones that do best in arriving at a consensus when dealing with a
problem(4). Attending the nation's exclusive prep schools and
|becoming members of the country's most exclusive
social clubs and resorts serves to solidify this cohesion. Dye
concurs with Domhoff's idea of the upper class's social cohesion,
stating that "agreement among elites to abide by the rule of law and to
minimize violence has a strong utilitarian motive, namely, to preserve
stable working arrangements among elite groups(5)."
The power elite adheres to upper class values, which they seek to
perpetuate in order to maintain their class position, i.e. the status
quo. "Elites in all sectors of American society share a consensus
about the fundamental values of private enterprise, limited government,
and due process of law(6)." According to Dye, "6,000 individuals in
7,000 positions exercise formal authority over institutions that control
roughly half of the nation's resources in industry, finance, utilities,
insurance, mass media, foundation, education, law, and civic and
cultural affairs(7)." A relatively small number of people actually
direct the activities in these areas or institutions, giving each member
of the elite a great deal of power, and further adds to the group's
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Who’s Rules America. Power and Politics in the Year 2000.
New York: Mayfield Publishing. 2000.
Domhoff, William. 2.
71. Domhoff, William. 72. Dye, Thomas. Who’s Running America? The
Clinton Years. New York: Prentice Hall. 1994. 242. Dye, Thomas. 246 Dye, Thomas. 244