Amos Perlmutter. The Presidential political center and foreign policy: A critique of the revisionist and bureaucratic- political orientations.*
Political philosophers, social theorists, and moralists have been examining the nature of power since time immemorial. This search for a definition, which still goes on, has exhibited certain characteristics. First, the most intensive quests for what constitutes power have been initiated in times of political and moral crises or during periods of revolution and profound social change. Next, because the most conspicuous aspect of power is personal power--institutional power being more complex and less apparent--analysts have tended to focus on rulers and their corollary, the ruled. Finally, in examining this dichotomy between the rulers and the ruled, analysts have sought to discover the sources of crises, revolution, and change.
Devising a theory of the power, elite became an honorable professional occupation for theorists at the time of the French Revolution: its antagonists were heavily engaged in historical, social, and methodological controversies. Some time later, Karl Marx emerged as the first, most astute analyst of power of the modern age, although his political analysis was marred by a preoccupation with economics and historical materialism. To Marx, the ruler was a single power construct: the few owners of the means of production. The real producers, the proletariat, were the ruled. Rationally conscious of their permanent need to protect their power, the owners used instruments of coercion and violence--the police, the military, and the state--to uphold their economic power and status. Thus, they were the oppressors of the real producers-- the actual workers whom they exploited. In this battle between exploiters and producers, according to Marx, lay the heart of the class struggle, which could be resolved only by violence and revolution.
Outraged by Marx and Marxism, conservative political theorists rose to challenge him in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, notably the Italians Gaetano Mosca and Vilfredo Parelo, and Roberto Michels, a German professor teaching in Italy.1 Arguing that Marx's class theory was not social-scientific but ideological, they elevated his analysis of the elite into a science and an ideology.2 Whereas Marx's science afforded an ideology for the proletariat, this group assured the middle classes that socialism would become "bourgeoisified," and that the "iron law of oligarchy" would not discriminate between the left and the right. In this sense, socialism would develop as a class movement with a conservative orientation.3
With the rise of a complex and affluent industrial society in the twentieth century, the "classical" ruling-class theory reappeared under a new guise--that of the power elite. Its most renowned spokesman was the sociologist C. Wright Mills.4
According to Mills, power in modern times is institutional. Corporate linkage produces the cohesiveness of the "power elite." Domination, then, "will be in large part determined by the closeness of the links between the institutional hierarchies." The political directorate (the conglomerate of political, industrial, and military corporate hierarchical elites) takes advantage of the interchange and complementarity of institutional proximity.5 Above all, the conspiracy of the power elite is hatched by the hierarchy--a cabal of the industrial, military, and university institutions.
Mills identifies the power elite with the political elite around the surrogate political center, the office of the President. It consists of corporate business executives, military professionals, armchair strategists, university professors, scientists, and technocrats. Their social status and background may provide access to the presidential political center, but it does not guarantee political power. Corporate, intellectual, and technocratic elites are by nature more co-____________________