Who Rules America by G. William Domhoff

Published 13 May 2017

As it is reported by Domhoff, without privileging a Marxist understanding of class structure of the US, aristocracy turned to be a ruling class having disproportionate amount of evident control. The ruling class has consequential partitions among themselves and this has an impact on creation of two totally different political parties, they also have a solid level of class mind and share many values. The “sociology of leadership technique” is the tool that is used for proving this hypothesis as well as learning the social-economical descriptions of top-level members of influential institution, from 1932 to 1964 years. The present book is the one that provides the most sensible analyses that I have ever read on the authoritative stricture in America.

Domhoff starts his analysis with a commonly adopted, politically neutral characterization of social class. Domhoff determines the social class as a large group of people that freely become related with each other (Domhoff p. 4). He talks about institutions that have “elite” membership, that means that in these institutions rich people in roughly the top percentile and also admits that the access to such institutions is limited and being controlled thoroughly.

For instance, the Social Register, this is how he calls the “upper class” statues, will require the proof of social acceptability in the form of a several letters from current members in order to accept and add a new member. Such limitations on the clubs of gentlemen, resorts and schools show that the group of wealth Americans treats each other as social equals and it is said that the group size can hardly be more than 0.5% of the population.

“Despite their preponderant power within the federal government and the many useful policies it carries out for them, members of the power elite are constantly critical of government as an alleged enemy of freedom and economic growth. Although their wariness toward government is expressed in terms of a dislike for taxes and government regulations, I believe their underlying concern is that government could change the power relations in the private sphere by aiding average Americans through a number of different avenues: (1) creating government jobs for the unemployed; (2) making health, unemployment, and welfare benefits more generous; (3) helping employees gain greater workplace rights and protections; and (4) helping workers organize unions. All of these initiatives are opposed by members of the power elite because they would increase wages and taxes, but the deepest opposition is toward any government support for unions because unions are a potential organizational base for advocating the whole range of issues opposed by the corporate rich.”

A dominant aspect that makes the group exclusive is the tied-up values and social stratums. According to Domhoff, female associations, debutante balls and guilds function as “corralling the democratic inclinations of libidinal impulses” (Domhoff p.20), clubs and private schools train people to behave and think properly. On the other pages of the book, Domhoff disputes about the fact that the inadequate social mobility into the presented ruling class makes it difficult to navigate that the aspiring family inevitably accepts the old-rich values (Domhoff p. 30, 140).

A social manager is involved in the process and arranges dinners with the right people.

The social mobility that exists for sure, is very important for the survival of the class system. By co-opting “prominent members of dominated classes,” the leaders of what could differently be opposition are neutralized.

As a short digression from the topic, the ideological control performed by the ruling class universities is underestimated in the present book, though the subject of upper-class control of the main universities is broached in the book. While Domhoff was writing, the tenure system was the main obstacle that he encountered and he saw to complete control of schools, which has since been deprived. At the time, control was limited to sponsorship and service as trustees (Domhoff p.77). I suppose that Domhoff was not anxious abut schools performing the tasks of social management too much. The reason that I suspect so is because of the fact that he viewed a “traditional classical education” as perilous to the aristocracy, while the true antagonistic education was trade school (Domhoff p.78).

After we see the straightforwardness (to say gently) of the ruling class, we should define whether or not there are separate pouches of elite in each city, or if it has national character.

The clarity that Domhoff gives for it being state is school admission, multiple club membership, and intrastate intermarriage. If considered separately, this may seem to be a bit faint, nevertheless the further obviousness of interlocking leadership of corporations and other bodies undoubtedly proves that the governing class is not municipal.

The next step in the reason is not as well studied as one would like it to be, because of the fact that “the ownership and control of major businesses is the most secret aspect of American society” (Domhoff p. 38). Yet, the information available is disgraceful. Evidently, most of associations (and institutions) are controlled by their board of management, a group of about 10-25 men who meet once or twice a month to make major resolves and appointments (p. 39). These directors are in majority representatives of the ruling class (most of the book consists of lists of these people and their bonds), and often are the members of 7-8 different boards (Domhoff p. 54).

This is the substantial tool with which capitalism gained monopoly laws–the directors of major corporations and institutions are practically the same people, and a few wealthy families hold in their arms huge amounts of stock in many different companies, not just one. This virtually gives the ruling class more interest while supporting the whole economic system than they would have owning just the industry (Domhoff p. 40).

The present book gives us the ray of hope showing the idea that nevertheless the ruling class merely controls every major body of power of the country, there are substantial philosophical differences among the members of this upper class and it resulted in a bipartisanship system. The author of the book consents to the idea that both parties are controlled by the same upper class, but at the same time adds to this that there are evident differences between the leaders of the parties and its members. As he says, “the leaders of the two parties have intra-class differences; the followers have inter-class and professional differences” (Domhoff p. 86).

Also, owing to the lower campaign costs, at the time the Congress wasn’t controlled by the ruling class, and the influence was only exerted by the standard lobby channels.


  • Domhoff William G. (1983) “Who Rules America Now?” Touchstone Books
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