The history of the United States is the history of its directing elites

February 13, 2012

Philip Livingston, merchant, signer of the Declaration of Independence and later Senator for New York.

After establishing the normative existence of elites in all societies, including the United States, the sociologists of the elitist school proceed to the next logical conclusion. Contrary to the egalitarian myth that social transformations are initiated by the masses, they affirm that it is the elites, not the masses, who establish the tone of national life. Every transformation in the elites has repercussions throughout the social body of the country. Kenneth Prewitt and Alan Stone write: “The history of politics is the history of elites. The character of a society—whether it is just or unjust, dynamic or stagnant, pacifistic or militaristic—is determined by the character of its elite. The goals of society are established by the elites and accomplished under their direction. “The elite perspective does not deny social change; even radical transformations of society are possible. The elitists only point out that most change comes about as the composition and structure of the elite is transformed.”1

Agrippa Menenius Lanatus, sometimes called Menenius Agrippa, was a consul of the Roman Republic in 503 BC

In no society are any of the classes that compose it habitually and necessarily deprived of all influence, however small. At any moment, even if only by omission, a class with little can exercise co-directive action on the social destiny of the nation. This truth is either expressed or implied in the thinking of countless authors, from the remotest past, who have analyzed this issue. We have, for example, the famous analogy between society and the human organism attributed to Menenius Agrippa.2 However, when the influence of one social class becomes almost exclusively preponderant, it is legitimate to affirm that the influence of this class is exclusive. The true meaning underlying this simplified language will not escape an astute reader. With these premises in mind, the elitist scholars undertook the study of American history, not from the standpoint of the masses (that of the mythological historiography) but from that of the elites and their dominant social position. As Prewitt and Stone declare: “American history is popularly portrayed in texts and politicians’ speeches as if mass participation…has been of major political significance…. Despite the popularity of this interpretation of American history, many scholars…have reached quite different conclusions. This re-examination of American history (known as revisionism) is still taking place…. However, enough studies have been made to cast considerable doubt on the conventional view of American history and to convince the reader that popular participation in political decision-making has usually been of minor importance.”3

Tulane University of Louisiana. Founded as a public medical college in 1834, the school grew into a comprehensive university in 1847 and was eventually privatized under the endowments of Paul Tulane and Josephine Louise Le Monnier Newcomb in 1884.

Such scientific studies analyzing the history of the power structure invariably reach the same conclusion, that the United States is not governed by masses, but by elites.4 Dye and Zeigler state: “In an influential book on power in Atlanta, Georgia, sociologist Floyd Hunter describes a pyramidal structure of power and influence, with most of the important community decisions reserved for a top layer of the business and financial leaders…. “Hunter’s findings in Atlanta…are discomforting to those who wish to see America governed in a truly democratic fashion. Hunter’s research challenges the notion of popular participation in decision making…it raises doubts as to whether cherished democratic values are being realized in American community life.”5

Belmead Mansion on the James was formerly the site for St. Emma Military Academy (1895 - 1971.) This boys school was funded and operated by St. Katherine Drexel's sister and brother in law, Louise and Edward Morrell. It is currently the main office for FrancisEmma, Inc. and is listed with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. More information at www.belmead.com

The directive role of elites in the United States is not restricted to the political and economic spheres, but also extends significantly, even principally, to the social and cultural realm. American cultural life would be far different were it not for the tradition of generous patronage of the upper classes. In her book on wealthy classes in the United States, Charlotte Curtis explains: “By giving millions to found and support art galleries, museums, operas, symphonies, hospitals, medical research, parks, educational institutions and a wide variety of charities, they popularize one cause over another, affecting local and national cultural, health and educational priorities in ways no ordinary person or few groups can.”6

St. Francis de Sales High School (1899 - 1970) was a girls school founded by St. Katherine Drexel and was staffed by the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. Together, St. Francis de Sales and St. Emma Military Academy educated 15,000 Indian and Black students. More pictures are available at http://www.flickr.com/photos/preservationnation/sets/72157626792796817/detail/

The attitudes of upper class women strongly influence national life, even when they do not hold public offices. Comments William Domhoff: “The women of the upper class are fashion leaders, patrons of culture, directors of social welfare, and sustainers of the social activities that keep the upper class a social class. “…they participate in a great many activities which sustain the upper class as a social class and help to maintain the stability of the social system as a whole.”7 The directive role of the elites is at times imponderable. Consider the influence of elites on the tastes of the public at large. As Charlotte Curtis notes: “By wearing the newest fashions, decorating and redecorating their several houses, demanding exquisite foods from their personal chefs,…they create taste in this country.”8

The graduate cadets of St. Emma Military Academy, 1961, Company E. To read more about this historical part of America, go to: http://francisemma.org/%5Cdefault.asp?Parent=19&Child=19

Dye and Zeigler conclude: “Mass governance is neither feasible nor desirable. Widespread popular participation in national political decisions is not only impossible to achieve in a modern industrial society, it is incompatible with the liberal values of individual dignity, personal liberty, and social justice. Efforts to encourage mass participation in American politics are completely misdirected…. “Elitism is a necessary characteristic of all societies…. There is no ‘solution’ to elitism, for it is not the problem in a democracy…. The question, then, is not how to combat elitism or empower the masses…but rather how to build an orderly, humane, and just society.”9

Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, Nobility and Analogous Traditional Elites in the Allocutions of Pius XII: A Theme Illuminating American Social History(York, Penn.: The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property, 1993), Appendix I, pp. 159-162.


1 Kenneth Prewitt and Alan Stone, The Ruling Elites: Elite Theory, Power and American Democracy (New York: Harper and Row, 1973), p. 4.
2 Menenius Agrippa was Roman consul in 503 BC. He defeated the Sabines and Samnites and was a great orator. In order to quell a conflict that had risen between the plebes and the Senate, he elaborated an apology, “The Members and the Stomach,” which showed that, just as the revolt of some organs against others led to the organism’s death, the same would occur with society if harmony among the social classes did not prevail. The conflict was resolved with the creation of the tribune of the people in the Senate.
3 Prewitt and Stone, The Ruling Elites, p. 31.
4 A notable work dealing with this field is Philip Burch’s three-volume study Elites in American History, from which we have already quoted.
5 Thomas R. Dye and L. Harmon Zeigler, The Irony of Democracy, 2d. ed. (Belmont, Calif.: Duxbury Press, 1972), pp. 13, 14.
6 Charlotte Curtis, The Rich and Other Atrocities (New York: Harper & Row, 1973), p. x.
7 G. William Domhoff, The Higher Circles (New York: Vintage Books, 1970), pp. 33, 56.
8 Curtis, The Rich and Other Atrocities, p. x.

9 Dye and Zeigler, The Irony of Democracy, p. 363.

 

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