The Art of the Possible has a reading list, none of which I’ve read. One of them was The Power Elite and the State by G. William Domhoff, a leftist sociologist (or do I repeat myself)? He has a website meant as an accompaniment for another book called Who Rules America? that has almost book length material itself explaining his theories on who has power in the United States. The concept of a “power elite” comes from the earlier sociologist C. Wright Mills, but Domhoff defines it slightly differently as summarized in this picture:
The government is run for the benefit of the top 5% of the top 1% of the wealthy: (historically Protestant) families of Who’s Who & Social Register types. Mencius Moldbug refers to that group as “Optimates”, an ever-declining caste. Domhoff uses Michael Mann’s Four Networks of Power theory, which includes ideological (usually churches), economic, military and political networks. In the United States there has never been an established church and the dominant Protestant faith has been fractured, there was no large standing military nor a need for one before World War 2, and there was not a strong, independent, centralized state for reasons dating back to the colonial period and founding (going back further, the relatively weak states of medieval europe were what permitted the economic networks to become strong in the first place). Given that wealth is thus power, where is the wealth? There has never been a landed feudal aristocracy (usually descended from a conquering military caste) here, so it is the capitalist class or corporations that have nearly unlimited dominance (even more true after the decline of the Southern landed rich). Things are different at the local level, where a landed growth-coalition lords it over neighborhoods and environmentalists as it tries to attract businesses and investment so it can extract rents. The aforementioned social upper class elite owns most of the stock and sits on the interconnected director boards of the corporations and spreads their values through the elite universities. CEOs themselves are generally from the upper-middle and occasionally even lower classes (MM’s Vaisyas) originally, but they are assimilated towards serving the upper class. They also form non-profit organizations in which policy experts (MM’s Brahmins) formulate the policies the government implements. Politicians implement those policies because they’ve already been selected by the power elite with campaign donations.
In MM’s view it is the Brahmins, even the low-level ones, that rule. Domhoff recognizes that many of these academic types (such as himself) oppose the policies he ascribes to the “power elite”, but that’s okay because it’s only the top layer of policy experts that are part of the elite. MM further claims that the W-Force keeps moving the Overton window left, or that those opposed to the “power elite” keep winning. “Who wins?” is indeed the third indicator of power that Domhoff uses, but he rejects the “strict positivism” that views his theory as disproved by those defeats of the power elite and says he hasn’t had the time or resources to effectively demonstrate the policy dominance of that elite. The other two indicators, which he claims are easier to use in an accurate way are “who benefits?” and “who governs?”. He’s already assumed the titans of industry/finance rather than le clercs rule, so he defines benefits in terms of wealth and well-being. For Mencius Moldbug, the elite desires the promulgation of the Cathedral‘s ideology (the ideology is the kernel, the Cathedral is the repeater, and it is part of a larger Polygon) and the destruction of any competitors to power. Domhoff also says “If a group or class is highly over-represented in relation to its proportion of the population, it can be inferred that the group is powerful”, which will bring to the minds of most a certain religious/ethnic group, but that’s discussed at a different Who Rules America site mentioned in the FAQ. People in the business community may feel powerless in the face of (often liberal) government bureaucrats, but that’s because they don’t have power individually but as a class. An economist would then say there will be a free-rider problem for exerting political influence, but if Domhoff knew economics he wouldn’t be a fan of rent-control.
Coming from an Oppenheimer-reading libertarian perspective, I tend to view the political State, which in the Weberian definition controls the military and police, as the holders of ultimate power (perhaps in accordance with state autonomy theory) and I’m not too worried about it being captured by the rich. I want to scorch the earth so it’s not worth capturing, and I’m not anymore concerned if the folks trying to capture it play polo. There are libertarians who developed a theory of class conflict before Marx did, and it was promoted by Bastiat and Rothbard, as well as non-libertarian Calhoun. The “rent seekers” featured as the enemy in that theory played a dominant role in Buchanan/Tullock public choice theory, which Domhoff briefly mentions (merely as relating to the competing “pluralist” theory) to dismiss as Chicago free-market economics. Traditional public choice was disputed in favor of a “people rule” theory by Chicago economist Donald Wittman, which was turned on its head by Bryan Caplan. Caplan rejects Calhoun’s class theory and somewhat jokingly presented a jock vs nerd one, like Ilya Somin I don’t believe in either. I don’t know if Domhoff is even aware of any of that stuff. Domhoff argues here why the Four Networks theory is superior to the alternatives: pluralist (closest to high-school civics textbooks), state autonomy, elite (intersecting with Four Networks and not stemming from Pareto, who is too right-wing) and Marxist.
There are some areas where Domhoff agrees with Mencius, the most notable one being the media where Domhoff argues contra leftists it is an asset to progressives. Since leftists all over (Chomsky being among the most notable) don’t deny the media is powerful (otherwise why bother going into journalism?) that poses problems for his power theory. Domhoff promotes the optimistic theory that the Bad Guys had power before but now Everything Has Changed due not to the internet (it’s busy growing the Long Tail and Crashing the Gates) but the shift of the South to the GOP. Even Greenwald doesn’t think kicking out blue dogs is helpful to progressives in and of itself but of holding policy above party loyalty (via Larison). Domhoff also thinks the Ford Foundation plays a big role, but to him they are “moderate conservatives”, as are most Democrats and establishment liberals, apparently to leftists. Replublicans represent the “ultra-conservative” wing of the elite, though sometimes an “ultra-conservative” acts like a leftist in opposing the elite in the guise of Big Government (I’m thinking Ron Paul, I don’t know if Domhoff is) by mistaking them for communists or pointy-headed intellectuals.
Domhoff also promotes one of MM’s favored books, Dark Side of the Left, in his indictment of the turn from non-violence in the SDS. Of course, he disagrees with Tom Wolfe on poverty programs encouraging violence. His view on local politics seems a lot like Steve Sailer’s though.
I think I originally planned on having a concluding paragraph, but I wound up not doing so.