Plutocracy and Politics in New York City

Plutocracy and Politics in New York City

Plutocracy and Politics in New York City

Plutocracy and Politics in New York City

Synopsis

This study of plutocracy and politics in New York City in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries poses the following central questions: What have been the consequences of the relatively rapid democratization in America for activities and attitudes of the wealthy classes and what transformations have occurred in the political and social attitudes of the wealthier classes as a result of the increasing lower-class pressures? Gabriel Almond conducted the research for his University of Chicago dissertation in 1935–1936 in New York City. The Great Depression supplied the background events and themes.

Excerpt

The publication of Gabriel Almond doctoral study, Plutocracy and Politics in New York City, is a significant event. It takes us back to 1938, seedtime for what became the behavioral revolution, but also a time when American political science was still closely tied to European political sociology. Almond's analysis reflects this European tradition. He depicts the American landscape, not as a pluralist competition among a myriad of groups, but as a place in which there is ongoing tension between the plutocracy, that is, the wealthy classes, and the forces of democratization channeled through professional politicians elected from and by the middle and lower classes.

Relying on extensive analyses of the social background of office-holders, Almond shows the shift away from domination by individuals of wealth and prestige, in the early days of the nation, to a more diverse set of officeholders as democratization takes hold. Almond combines quantitative analyses of social backgrounds with detailed historical narratives, in this way directing the reader's attention to the recurring tensions between social classes. Writing in the midst of the New Deal effort to cope with the economic insecurity and hardship of the business cycle, Almond sees American politics as "animated by an intensifying struggle between the wealthy classes and those elements seeking a greater share in the fruits of our economy and technique." Yet, Almond argues, the United States is no arena of conventional class struggle. He puts forward instead his own version of American exceptionalism.

Accurately forecasting that the nation would have neither a revolution of the left nor a takeover by the authoritarian right, Almond offers us a different scenario to think about, albeit one that still offers little cause for celebration. Almond describes what we now label as a regime, and he pictures it in clear political economy terms. in this regime there is a division of labor between economic activity, directed by the principal holders of private wealth (the plutocracy), and political activity, directed by office-holders who are increasingly professional politicians. Though professional politicians must be attentive to the mainly lower and middle class constituencies that elect them, these professional politicians are not champions of class struggle. Far from it, as, Almond argues, they are not animated by general causes, but by self-aggrandizement and by the advantages of attending to particular constituent interests.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.