Government and Politics

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Mills’s power elite is not a conspiracy but rather a community of interest and sentiment among a small number of influential Americans. Admittedly, Mills failed to clarify when the elite acts and when it tolerates protests. Nevertheless, his challenging theories forced scholars to look more critically at the "democratic" political system of the United States.

The Ruling Class. Sociologist G. William Domhoff agreed with Mills that American society is run by a powerful elite.

But, rather than fully accepting Mills’s power elite model, Domhoff argued that the United States is controlled by a social upper class "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 Register—the 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 America’s 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 nation’s policy-planning network join with high-level employees of profit-making and nonprofit institutions controlled by the social upper class to exercise power. In Domhoff’s 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.

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