Government and Politics

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Almost all important appointive government posts— including those of diplomats and cabinet members—are 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 California’s 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 .

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