The Structure of Power in America: The Corporate Elite as a Ruling Class

By Michael Schwartz | Go to book overview

PREFACE

For much of the decade of the 1970s, political sociology focused on the distinction between instrumentalism and structuralism as a device for understanding the origins of public policy Though both of these perspectives derived in good part from Marxist origins, they have been taken over by non- Marxists and even anti-Marxists as part of the ongoing migration of political sociology away from electoral studies and into more detailed analyses of the policy formation process.

Instrumentalism traces its recent history to C. Wright Mills, whose path-breaking book The Power Elite argued that government policy was an extension of the interests and understandings of major government leaders. These leaders, in Mills' view, were disconnected from either constraint by or sympathy with the general population. A continuity of policy therefore developed inside government which reflected the independent interests of a governmental elite that sought to perpetuate its own privileges while maintaining popular quiescence. Later analyses by those who have been associated with the instrumentalist tradition, notably Ralph Milliband and G. William Domhoff, have sought to focus and modify this analysis by widening the lens of attention to include the elaborate process that precedes the official promulgation of public policy, and by exploring the relationships between government and other institutions, notably the largest corporations. Among the most significant contributions of this perspective have been to identify the processes by which leaders move between positions in business and government and to demonstrate that these ties determine the probusiness profile of much government action.

Structuralism, which traces its recent incarnation to Nicos Poulantzas! review of Ralph Milliband The State in Capitalist Society, focuses attention on the internal structure of the government itself. For this perspective, the current shape of government is a result of a long process of institution building in which interests are congealed into organizational processes. The outcome is a set of interrelated agencies, connected together in such a way that only a limited range of policies is possible. This systemic Imitation even constrains the actions of those who in theory run the government agencies. Only certain interests may be pursued through the state; if government leaders attempted to pursue opposing policies they would be unable to do so because of the very structure of the state.

Most structural arguments are aimed at demonstrating that govern-

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