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OLIGARCHY BY DEFAULT
Latter-day discourses on the economic system as something separatemerely because it can be analytically isolated, bypass the inescapable fact thatthere is always present a politico-economic system: government with economic ramifications,an economy with political ramifications. Governments and economic systems are neverseparate; they are opposite sides of the same coin. As experience shows, their leadingpersonnel are interchangeable. Such being the case, in any study of economic andfinancial affairs we are invariably concerned with some sort of system of coercionand repression. For all government is universally conceded to rest at bottom on systematizedcollective coercion and repression.
Such coercion and repression, to be sure, are necessary. Withoutthem life, in the words of a famous dictum, would be "solitary, poor, nasty,brutish, and short." Without them anarchic individual coercion would prevailin a social jungle.
In the long, turbulent course of history many cushions and restraintswere developed within governmental systems to protect the populace from their fierceprotector--that is, to soften some of the more outrageous aspects of coercion theengine of government itself made possible. For the instrument of government was usuallyfreely used by rulers--"the insolence of office," "power corrupts,""to the victor belong the spoils"--for ulterior and wholly private ends.Today, in the celebration of particular systems of government, one finds that itis the imperfect restraints against self-serving rulers and their friends that arereally celebrated--Constitution, Bill of Rights, written laws, half-measures of socialsupport, the development of equity in law, and the like.
Nevertheless, after all the fine print has been duly perused andapplauded, coercive power (soothingly designated as sovereign power) remains andis properly suspect. Behind their bland masks the most civilized of governments retainall the powers of any despotism, their application duly prescribed (and the prescriptionsnot infrequently violated). Taking into consideration all governmental powers andtheir usual application, there are in fact no genial governments at all. And in theinterstices of even the most finely meshed restraints (those of the United Statesprobably being less finely meshed than those, for example, of England, France orSweden) there is much room for one-sided self-service by the rulers and those withclandestine privileged access to them. While one might balk at assenting to the propositionthat government is the executive committee of the ruling class, it is a demonstrablefact that it is peculiarly at the service of the upper economic class, which accordinglyis warrantably regarded as in effect a ruling class.
Lest such an observation be thought by provincials to give this expositionan unholy Marxist aura, let us in reverential solemnity quote such an austere Establishmentarianas Woodrow Wilson, who said (Franklin D. Roosevelt later concurring) in words asvalid today as when first uttered:
"The masters [sic!] of the government of the United States arethe combined capitalists and manufacturers of the United States. It is written overevery intimate page of the record of Congress, it is written all through the historyof conferences at the White House, that the suggestions of economic policy in thiscountry have come from one source, not from many sources. The benevolent guardians,the kind hearted trustees who have taken the troubles of government off our handshave become so conspicuous that almost anybody can write out a list of them. . ..
"Suppose you go to Washington and try to get at your government.You will always find that while you are politely listened to, the men really consultedare the men who have the biggest stake--the big bankers, the big manufacturers, thebig masters of commerce, the heads of railroad corporations and of steamship corporations.. . . The government of the United States at present is a foster child of the specialinterests." 1
For the alleged violation of some of its peculiar, even minor, mandatesany government whatever will execute any high-minded offender whether he be Jesus,Socrates, John Hus, Servetus, Thomas More, Joan of Arc or John Brown. Socrates wasexecuted by a far more democratic system than any now even claims to be and in amore refined system of civilization than that of any modern country. Under threatof durance vile all governments require the payment of taxes, even unfairly apportionedtaxes as in the United States with its packed poor-boy legislatures.
Again, any government even in a trivial or doubtful cause such asVietnam may place the lives of its younger male citizens in extreme jeopardy by coercingthem into the armed forces under the claims of routinely invoked patriotic duty andsending them into kill-or-be-killed situations. Most Americans have been astonishedin recent years to see what was always known to the informed: that the presidentalone can send existing armed forces anywhere without consulting anyone, least ofall the public or Congress. He could order an overnight assault against any country,thereby precipitating general war. He could, in full constitutionality, order allof the armed forces into the depths of the Congo and nobody could legally halt theoperation. Congress, it is true, could refuse the money to continue the operationand thus be in the position of refusing to support helpless men who had only obeyedlegal orders. And this is only a very little of what a fully constitutional Americanpresident can do--without consulting anyone.
Most of what a president does not ordinarily do--such as send secretpolice to citizens' doors late in the night--he does not do because he does not wantto. He can do this sort of thing quite legally; there is no law saying at what hourpolice may call. And such a personally likeable man as President John F. Kennedydid indeed send out nocturnal police visitors in the squabble over steel prices.
Government power, wielded by officials, individual human beings,is evidently great power over others, not necessarily for others, and anyone whowields it, smiling or not, or has ready access to the wielders obviously has greatpower far beyond that of any man in the street. Moreover, this power with moderntechniques is far greater than it ever was. By means of modern methods of communication,government can put its agents into action anywhere in a matter of minutes. It hasbeen credibly reported that President Johnson, with far more power at his fingertipsthan all presidents combined up to Harry Truman, and more than either Truman, Eisenhoweror Kennedy, personally designated overnight targets in North Vietnam for powerfulair squadrons waiting to take off from remote, dawn-shrouded airfields. We possesstoday, in brief, pinpoint government. It can even listen in on conversations anywhere,and freely does so despite denials. It freely uses internal spies, especially inthe matter of taxes on obscure citizens.
For these and other reasons it is now said by some students of thesituation that we live under an elective despotism. Freely celebrating our conditionin strictly American style, if we accept this dictum we could say we live under thegreatest and most glorious elective despotism in history. Most people--well over95 per cent of them--have no more power in this system, either immediately or ultimately,than has a rank-and-file Russian in the Soviet system, and this despite all the blandishingtalk about government with the consent of the governed and the sovereignty of thepeople. As to consent, which of my readers can step forward and say he was ever askedfor his consent to the Constitution or any of its varied interpretations? The electorateof 1789 was asked for and gave such consent and we may readily agree that the majorityof people in states asking for admission, at the time of admission, have so consented.But who else? When the people of the Confederacy, disliking the arrangement, pointedlywithdrew the consent given by their forebears they were confronted by military forceand after a sanguinary struggle were eventually subdued. As Lincoln said, the Unionmust be preserved, a proposition drawn from out of the air that flatly contradictsthe doctrine of consent. Yet Lincoln was right; it is inherently of the nature ofgovernment that, like a tiger, it never voluntarily assents to its own dismemberment.The idea of consent vis-à-vis an established government is the purestof nonsense, written though it is into the American myth.
The American System
Treatises on American government often with scrupulous accuracy tellhow the government operates formally--the federal system, separation of powers, checksand balances, popular election of officials, judicial review, administrative agenciesand the whole remaining bit. None of these treatises depicts how the government actuallyworks in the application of the forms, how it works informally. What really takesplace constitutes a considerable deviation from the formal script. Rules are freelybent, especially in the conduct of the legislatures, which make their own rules.Police, too, function pretty autonomously. For a starter let us notice that mostof the precious electorate in most elections--state, federal and local--do not voteat all. Many, even though unconstrained, have never voted; and these, under one possibleinterpretation, may be politically the most sensible of all. For most of those votinghaven't the least idea what it is all about.
Power not exercised by dilatory members of any functioning organizationwill of necessity be exercised by more diligent members, a universal rule applyingto corporations, fraternal societies and labor unions as well as to government. Toa very considerable extent, then, we see in all organizations, including the governmentof the United States, rule by default, by a self-selected oligarchy. If the citizenswon't run the show the endless procession of Bobby Bakers, W. Judson Morhouses, EverettDirksens and Lyndon B. Johnsons will.
In what follows I shall first state summarily, with gloves off, preciselyhow government actually operates in the United States.
1. Officials (except judges) nominated by either one of two majorparties are periodically elected at local, state and federal levels by a largelyinept electorate that in most elections fails to participate to the full and in generalturns out far below 50 per cent. Whether the electorate fully participates makesno operational difference because most of the candidates are handpicked by nominatingcaucuses of the two major parties rather than of one party as in Russia. These caucusesfunction in default of popular activity; the populace simply has no political driveof its own. It is politically inert. If Russia permitted a Socialist Party and aCommunist Party (joined behind the scenes) it would be on all fours with the UnitedStates in respect of parties in the field; the candidates in the two parties mightbe politically identical twins, as is often the case in the United States (Johnsonversus Goldwater). In those rare cases where policy is uppermost in the mind of theelectorate it is usually a destructive policy, as toward Negroes in the South (andelsewhere). Policies promising to be injurious to minority groups such as Negroes,Catholics, foreigners, Jews, Mexicans, Chinese, intellectuals and, in fact, all deviantsfrom fixed philistinish norms, usually attract a larger-than-usual supporting vote.Ordinarily, policies are beyond the comprehension of the electorate, which choosesbetween two handpicked candidates strictly on nonability factors: religion, race,appearance, age, marital status, region of origin, platform manner, synthetic publicimage and the like. Officials thus elected I have termed pubpols, public politicians,to distinguish them from the many other types of more specialized politicians inthe American politico-economic system: finpols, corp-pols, churchpols,lawpols and lab(or)pols. A close examination of the roles of any ofthese will show that they differ only in quality, not degree or kind, from pubpols.Less perspicuously, such are ordinarily styled "leaders" or "executives";sometimes "trustees" or theologians. They are in sober fact politicians,primarily and exclusively concerned about the operation of government and who gets--anddoesn't get--what, when, where and how.
2. As the attainment of office gives officials access to the dreadlevers of government, including the levers of the hangman, people who already possessor are acquiring well-defined economic stakes are especially alert to the whole process.While the masses are distractedly mesmerized by the number 1 television program orthe World Series, the moneymen are busily planning and discussing far ahead. Owingto the power leverage at stake, rivalry for office is in most jurisdictions keen.It gets keener the higher one ascends in the system. Because of the rivalrous electoralgrab for power leverage, the struggle is expensive. Money is needed, and can be obtainedonly from those relative few who have it to spare. Most of the labor force is toomodestly compensated and improvident to contribute.
3. Money plays a large role in the manipulation of this system--muchlarger than is usually conceded, which means that persons who have money have a widepolitical edge over those who do not. First, there are the campaign contributions,always large and constantly getting larger. True, it takes money to run these campaignswherein the issues are presumably being put before the people. But it was long knownprior to the cases in 1967 of Senator Thomas J. Dodd before the Senate and of BobbyBaker in the courts that much of the money in probably most campaigns (althoughnot all) is diverted to the private tax-free accounts of the politicians. As FrankR. Kent said decades ago, many politicians have what is known in the trade as "stickyfingers." The money they collect is not for justifiable campaign expenses butis a down payment on future influence in government. Some of this money must oftenbe divided--the "split"--to gain the support of local newspapers and keyfigures who stand forth as "community leaders." Most campaign funds are,therefore, properly and soberly designatable as slush funds. Some represent slush,slush, slush all the way. The American system is a slushy system.
Officeholders know this and at times show their clear recognitionof the facts. Thus, in the campaign of the natural gas industry in 1956 for exemptionfrom federal regulation when an enabling bill was before Congress, already endorsedby President Eisenhower, eager-beaver hinterland lawyers for the industry turnedup and offered a cash "campaign contribution" to veteran Senator FrancisCase of South Dakota, who instantly took umbrage and publicized what he interpretedas a barefaced attempt to influence his vote. This untypical incident scuttled thebill, which was vetoed. 2 Most politicos gladly accept such offerings,say nothing about them. (In England, campaign funds and the duration of campaignsare severely limited by law. Legislators are paid very modest salaries and are requiredto abstain from voting and discussion in matters affecting their private interests--theJeffersonian rule.)
Lest I again be suspected of harboring Satanic leftish sentimentswhile setting down what is only God's own plain unvarnished fact, allow me to quoteat some length Senator Russell Long, Establishment Democrat of Louisiana and MajorityWhip, who in April, 1967, said on the Senate floor:
Most campaign money comes from businessmen. Labor contributions havebeen greatly exaggerated. It would be my guess that about 95 per cent of campaignfunds at the congressional level are derived from businessmen. At least 80 per centof this comes from men who could sign a net worth statement exceeding a quarter ofa million dollars. Businessmen contribute because the Federal Corrupt Practices Actprohibits businesses from contributing. Funnelling contributions through their officersis a simple and safe way for business to accomplish what it cannot do directly.
A great number of businessmen contribute to legislators who havevoted for laws to reduce the power of labor unions, to regulate unions, to outlawthe union shop.
Many businessmen contribute to legislators who have voted to exempttheir businesses from the minimum wage.
Businessmen contribute to legislators who have fought against taxesthat would have been burdensome to their businesses, whether the tax increase wasproposed as a so-called reform, a loophole closer, or just an effort to balance theFederal budget.
Power company officials contribute to legislators who vote againstpublic power and against expanding the Rural Electric Administration cooperatives.REA officers are also able to raise some money, although not nearly as much for thoselegislators who vote the other way around, although the real power of the REA cooperativesis to be found in the strong grassroots support they can generate against their enemies.
Bankers, insurance company executives, big moneylenders generallycontribute to legislators who vote for policies that lead to high interest rates.
Many large companies benefit from research and development contractswhich carry a guaranteed profit, a so-called fixed fee of about 7 per cent of theamount of the contract. Executives of such companies contribute to those who helpthem get the contracts or who make the money available. In recent years, quite abattle has developed over the desire of government research contractors to obtainand keep lush private monopoly patent rights on those things discovered with billionsof dollars of government research money. The possibility of windfall profits in thisarea defies imagination. Research contractors contract to legislators who vote topermit them to have private patent rights on government research expenditures.
Drug companies are often able to sell brand-name drug products atanywhere from twice to 50 times the price of identical nonbranded products for welfareand medicare patients if the companies can prevail upon government to permit theirdrugs to be prescribed and dispensed by their private brand names rather than bythe official or generic name of the product. Executives of drug companies will contributeto legislators who vote to permit or bring about such a result.
Many industries are regulated. This includes the railroads, the truckers,the airlines, the power companies, the pipelines, to name but a few. Executives ofregulated companies contribute to legislators who vote to go easy on the regulation,and ask no more questions than necessary about their rates.
Companies facing threat of ruinous competition from foreign sourceshave executives who contribute to those who help protect them from competition bymeans of tariffs and quotas.
Many industries are subsidized. This includes the merchant marine,the shipbuilders, the sugar producers, the copper producers, and a host of others.Executives in such industries contribute to those who help keep them in business.
This list is merely illustrative; it could be elaborated upon andenlarged to include many more. . . . Merely by assiduously tending to the problemsof business interests located in one's own state, a legislator can generally assurehimself of enough financial support to campaign effectively for reelection. 3
The Majority Whip in his unguarded ire here spoke the simple, unvarnishedtruth. The only detail on which I would question him is in his use of the term "businessmen."For these people, the big ones at least, are not businessmen in the senses commonlyunderstood. They are finpols, and corp-pols, disguised as businessmen.They are actually rulers, like the dukes and barons of old. Business is not reallytheir business; protected, nonrisk moneymaking is.
Scornfully rejecting the suggestion that some pontifical politicosdid not accept campaign contributions, Senator Long said that "any person whois the darling of the newspaper publishers has much of his campaign covered in favorablenews and editorial support they can afford. If his record has the overwhelming approvalof the wealthy business people, if he has a consistent record of favoring penny-pinchingeconomy when the needs of the sick and poor were involved, a consistent record ofvoting to protect management from the demands of labor, of protecting monopoliesfrom the public rather than the other way around, he will find that the campaignexpenses seem to take care of themselves. Radio and television broadcasts may bepaid by unseen and unknown beneficiaries. The man may well find himself with a substantialcampaign surplus and no place to spend it." 4
Interrupting in the course of Long's speech, Senator Albert Goreof Tennessee reported that his study of campaign contributions in 1956 showed thatthe Republican Party collected more from the tiny island of Manhattan than from allthe states combined, while the Democratic Party was not far removed from the samepattern. 5 This was not very astonishing as New York City is the financialcapital of the country, the dog that wags the Washington tail. The slush comes fromNew York, the accommodating votes from the hinterland.
Long spoke in favor of retaining the short-lived law that allowedtaxpayers to assign $1 of federal income taxes to campaign funds, which would befinanced out of a common pool.
But money in American politics extends far beyond campaign contributions(largely supplied by corporations even though corporations are forbidden by law tocontribute directly). As we have seen, once they are elected, politicians have manyways of collecting money or monetarily convertible equivalents. (1) It is broughtto them by lobbyists in their offices in paper bags. (2) It is paid to them by corporationsthrough their law firms for vague legal services or for self-serving interventionin governmental bureaus. (3) It is available to them as in the case of Bobby Bakerin the form of easy bank loans and also takes the form of allotting them shares gratisor at cut-rate terms in going enterprises such as insurance and loan companies andbanks. Baker was obviously a middleman.
The object of transferring money in this way is to avoid any implicationof bribery, a word which, politicians know has an ugly sound. Moreover, it is illegal.Although politicians are still bribed, and are sometimes convicted of accepting bribes(as in the recent case of highly placed W. Judson Morhouse), bribery after a distinguishedhistory is now regarded as too cumbersome in the American system. But gifts withno explicit strings attached are not barred by law and are often conveyed in fullpublic view in "testimonial dinners." Will the recipient of such giftsthereafter take a detached view of the special requests of the donors? To believeso is to be credulous beyond hope of redemption.
The newer ways of conveying money to officials in a pervasively corruptgovernmental system have clearly been devised to salve their consciences againstany gnawing belief that they are being bribed. Thus, Senator Dodd after the callfor his censure by the Senate was able to protest publicly with every show of righteousindignation, his voice vibrant, that he was not conscious of having done anythingwrong. In this contention he was supported by not a few politicos with whom he hadno partisan connection.
On a separate occasion, speaking in defense of Senator Dodd, SenatorLong charged that half the members of the Senate Ethics Committee that sat in judgmenton Dodd "couldn't stand the investigation Senator Dodd went through" and,finally, that "half the Senate" was in the same boat. A few days later,Senator Long apologized. In making his for-the-record apology Senator Long now surprisinglydescribed the members of the Ethics Committee as "six of the finest memberswho have ever served in this body."
"If I made a mistake and if I did wrong by saying what I said,I am here to offer them a public apology," said the Majority Whip. "IfI have any complaint of this committee it is that their standards are too high."
Senator John Stennis of retrograde Mississippi, chairman of the EthicsCommittee, declined to shake hands with Senator Long after the trebly conditionalapology. 6 This theatrical rebuke had much the same effect on public opinionas if Tweedledum had refused to shake hands with Tweedledee.
While it is by no means the case that all officeholders are thusbeholden to outside moneymen, mainly corp-pols, it certainly appears to bethe case that most legislators are. The conditions are evident in the legislaturesof the largest industrial states where there is the most money, but they are mostplainly evident in Congress. The case of Senator Dodd and the shenanigans of BobbyBaker to sophisticated observers merely represent instances of rather general practicefloating inconveniently into view, like garbage at a fashionable swimming beach.
Contrary to common supposition, most officeholders act officiallyas they do not out of ideological or intellectual commitment but out of monetarydevotion. They believe fervently, for example, in "the free enterprise system"--thatis, capitalism. Why not? It is keeping them politically afloat on a sea of slush,as nonradical Senator Long lengthily attested.
These money transfers in politics, then, are largely payoffs or retainersto guarantee tractable political behavior. And they do ordinarily have this result.
Congress, which now operates pretty wide open on this sort of thing,applies much stricter criteria to appointees in the executive branch and the judiciarythan it does to itself. Congressional committees often, with a great show of virtue,closely question presidential appointees about possible conflicts of interest betweentheir properties and their assigned role in government. Usually Congress is satisfiedif a man like the late Secretary of Defense Charles E. Wilson of General Motors sellshis stock. President Johnson, not subject to Congress, did not even do this but appointedtrustees for his properties. Is it likely that the trustees would make any decisionadverse to the easily irked president? So to suppose would, it seems to me, be infinitelyboobish.
In disclosures such as in the recent Bobby Baker, Dodd and Morhousecases, the latest of thousands of analogous instances where the politico has beencaught redhanded, his fingers streaming lucre, editorialists often piously referto "corruption" and "venality." Such moralistic judgments, whileunderstandable, conceal the true causes, and tend to support a widespread erroneousview that politicians are for some reason a special odious breed.
The precise reason there are so many lightfingered and readily purchasablefigures in American political life traces directly to the politico-social structure.In the first place, in the American system to have money, however obtained, entitlesone to special deference. Not to have it incurs ready contempt. This is straightfree-enterprise doctrine, expressing the difference between success and failure,the elect and the damned. Next, and perhaps most importantly, with the opening ofthe free franchise and public office to all comers in the early nineteenth centuryin the name of democracy the procuring of impecunious purchasable politicians wasin effect guaranteed.
For poor boys to make good in democratic politics was by definitionas noble as for them to make good in anything else, part of the holy American vision.But it takes time and therefore money to be in politics, which made it inevitablethat moneymen behind the scene retained more than a little to say. In the popularelectoral system the electorate was supposed to pick (but not finance) its representatives,who would faithfully represent them; when the electorate was displeased it mightvote them out in favor of new men. But it was early noted that the electorate moreoften than not endorsed men for superficial reasons and voted out faithful men fortrivial reasons or for no other reason than a vague discontent about general conditions.In political landslides, for example, everybody went out, saints and sinners alike.
Career politicians, pubpols, early saw that it did littlegood to be a true "friend of the people," who had little insight into affairsor genuine concern about policy. Against the possibility that they might be abruptlyvoted out of office and livelihood through public caprice or vindictiveness, officeholdersbegan to take prudent measures of self protection. One such measure was the developmentof local party organizations, "machines," the labor unions of politicians.Another was to use ingenuity in developing unorthodox sources of income with a viewto providing nest-eggs that would tide meagerly paid officeholders over lean periodswhen they were out. (In the latter nineteenth century, the distinguished CharlesFrancis Adams II reports, he could not live on the $1,000 a year he was paid as mayorof Quincy, Massachusetts.) In many cases unorthodox income was illegal, as from bribesand extortion; in most cases it was questionable. But, up to a point, in all casesit was a practical necessity, although some politicos garnered more than enough underthe rule of serendipity.
This broad consequence, which we see exemplified in most originallyunpropertied career pubpols, in no way derived from the nature of politicsas a black art but from the nature of a specific system raised on the unsupported(and, since, often disproved) theory that ambitious, self-willed, untutored men electedfrom among the people will be the respected, loyal, sympathetic, low-paid servitorsof those same people--the democratic dogma. Some few will, as events have shown.Most won't, and the people are usually too inattentive, unperceptive or lacking injudgment to be able to distinguish potential friend from betrayer. They reelect theirbetrayers, again and again.
This system of popular elections, moreover, was not one devised bythe perspicacious Founding Fathers but represented a later dubious embroidery onthe basic constitutional system, an embroidery that most of the Founders would haverejected as absurd. Madison, for example, was astute, enough to discern what wouldhappen under the universal franchise. The Fathers, often hymned, had no confidencein a universal franchise that would elevate poor boys in urgent and continual needof funds to high office, there to be readily tempted and seduced and to acquire personalinterests of their own that ran against those of the populace. But this result wasin a few decades broadly achieved amid sentimental clamor for "democracy."Instead of obtaining a boon in the form of electoral democracy, as ideological democratscontended, the people insensibly had rigorous public demands made upon them by sucha system--demands they could not meet, to their own undoing. In giving them electoraldemocracy, history played a dirty trick on the American people, most of whom actuallywant and need benevolent paternalism.
In getting electoral democracy, the American people had figurativelythrust upon them a political version of a Stradivarius violin. But they had not theleast conception of how to play it. One result has been continual and avoidable disharmony.Emotionally committed though one may be to democracy, which on speculative groundsmight be thought desirable, operationally it is as impossible as perpetual motion.For democracy is something that belongs to the psyche, to group interaction, notto outward forms. As an avalanche of evidence shows, people in general are not theleast bit democratic at heart. True democracy, of course, can be learned; but onlyunder carefully controlled favorable conditions such as are rarely present in theupbringing of most children.
That there is considerable disaffection with popular elections evenat grass-roots levels is shown by the widespread growth of city managership thiscentury in replacement of elected mayors. In no fewer than 40 per cent of municipalities,some of them rather large, city managers are now hired as trained administratorsby the city council. This compares with 50 per cent of the cities that retain electedmayors and 10 per cent governed by commissions, town meetings or representative townmeetings. 7 The idea could well be applied to the states which, like Nebraska,could also replace bicameral legislatures (baseless imitations of the federal model)with unicameral bodies.
Officeholding in the provision of the Founding Fathers was limitedto property owners, as was most voting, an idea repugnant today but which in itsoperation in the eighteenth-century American context limited public office at leaston the higher levels to men of considerable education and public responsibility.One would not, however, agree with the prescription of H. L. Hunt today that thevote now be limited to people of property; for too many propertied people now areuneducated and have the cracker-barrel grasp of H. L. Hunt.
What made the Founding Fathers and the signers of the Declarationof Independence so noteworthy was not that they were men of property; they were noteworthybecause they happened also to be men of broad learning and insight, ready to deferto those of their own number like James Madison, Benjamin Franklin and AlexanderHamilton who showed especially sharp insight. True, among the signers of the Declarationsome, such as Samuel Adams and Thomas Jefferson, were early optimistic democrats;most were not. In any event, this crowd was a far cry from the Everett Dirksens,Thomas J. Dodds, George A. Smatherses and a host of other once poor boys (later indifferentto the poor) who found affluence in politics and became, in sooth, cracker-barrelstatesmen. The Founding Fathers were a historical fluke.
Among many areas of significance missed by sociologists in theirfrequent preference for the trivial is this one of the changes in the socio-financialcondition of career politicians, either bosses or officeholders. Many, although originallypoor and never in highly remunerative employment, like the late Mayor Frank Hagueand President Lyndon B. Johnson, accumulate sizable estates. In the case of others,members of their immediate families suddenly blossom in effulgent prosperity. Clearly,most of them are financial entrepreneurs of no mean cut. Also omitted by the sociologistsis a ground-up study of the relation between the corporate clients of legislators'law firms and the performance record of the legislators. Are legislators with oilcompanies in their law offices, for example, for or against special favors to theoil industry? Are legislators whose law offices represent banks in favor of moreor less regulation of banks?
The Dance of the Pubpols, Finpols and Corp-pols
The essence, of the way the American politico-economic system operatescan be brought out most readily by means of employing two key words: overreachingand patronage. The term "patronage" here excludes reference in this textto governmental job appointments by political parties; such patronage, dwelt uponby newspapers, does exist but it is patronage in a distinctly minor form and of littlerelevance here.
The chief instrument of economic power in the United States is thecorporation, more particularly the large corporation. The corporation is, at itsbest, a completely rational mechanism with a single overriding goal: the maximizationof profits consonant with steady growth. From an internal point of view, everythingabout the successful large corporation is rational which is one of the aspects thatmake it an attractive object of study to those who like to study something whollyrational in an irrational world. Corporate rationality, however, is wholly internal.It is at variance, with social rationality and, in fact, the rational corporationtakes advantage for itself of much social irrationality, as some corporations takeadvantage of the desire of many people to, swill whisky and to smoke cancer-inducingcigarettes.
The United States, I am convinced, would be a vastly superior placein which to live if it were organized along corporate lines as a single corporationrationally committed to maximizing the welfare of all people. I don't have in mindhere a fascist corporate state, although this is probably what the outcome wouldbe if misguided idealists set about trying to install a benevolent political corporation.Short of such a goal, we have before us as a model the welfare capitalism of Sweden,disliked by rabid free-enterprisers athirst for tax exemption.
In its rationality the corporation does everything it can, includingmuch that is illegal, to maximize its profits. It employs deceptive (and irrational)advertising, produces below-par goods even for vital military and space programs,resorts to deceptive packaging, evades taxes, abuses weights and measures, engagesin monopolistic price-fixing, caters to popular irrationalities, overcharges, profiteers,and, in general, does whatever it can, evaluated as good or bad, legal or illegal,to maximize its position. To the outsider there is something questionable about oneact or the other of the big business corporation. If the quality of the goods isexcellent the price may be too high; if the price is low the quality suffers. Inany event, it pays no taxes, merely collects them from customers. Again, much ofcorporate goods produced is of no utility other than in catering to free-floatinganxieties, often stimulated by advertising. Here the rational corporation profitsfrom irrational people.
Overreaching is not something new in history. But in its Americansystematization, complete with computers, it is distinctly new, and it affects everynook and cranny of society as well as of individual attitudes. It is seen, for example,in many of the formal and publicly defended economic policies of the medical profession;some doctors, alarmingly, are no more than overreaching businessmen and bad doctorsto boot. It extends into the ghettos with their high prices and high installmentinterest rates for below-par merchandise. It is reflected in the terms and productgiven by builders to home buyers. It is freely practiced against the general laborforce by the stronger trade unions. It stands out blatantly in advertising. Systematicoverreaching of the weak, in sooth, is as American as apple pie. It is respectable.Rightly practiced it will lead one to membership in the country club, a zero in theinfinite.
The rich themselves are in many ways the victims of this spirit ofoverreaching and must be constantly on their guard against swindles, an involvedstory commended to the sociologists for further inquiry. As an example, althoughthe best medicine is available to the rich they are in fact the victims of many medicalrackets and in known instances unscrupulous doctors play a cat-and-mouse game withthem, prolonging their disabilities and, for all one knows, bringing them to prematureavoidable ends. The rich get into this impasse on the theory that whatever costsmost must be best, and there are doctors who do not hesitate to set especially highfees. There exists, among other things, a special tier of high-fee proprietary hospitals,physical and psychiatric, especially programmed to act as a vacuum cleaner on thepockets of those with ability to pay, and not markedly notable for sound medicalresults. The victims of such establishments, however, can comfort themselves withthe fact that there are being applied in medicine the most rigorous canons of freeand unregulated private enterprise.
The corp-pols, are the actual front line and cutting edgeof capitalism. They represent the hard-nosed elements in the system and, during successfulbehavior, under the canons of strict business principles, are largely autonomous.As long as they run the corporation in harmony with hard business rationality, alwayswith deference to public opinion (manipulated through public relations) they arein complete charge. True, if the big stockholders wished to interfere with operationsthey could.
The big stockholders, however, often but not always rentiers andsometimes personally tender-minded, not up to conducting confrontations with nail-hardlabor leaders and nagging politicos, not always well informed, do not interfere withthe corp-pols unless there is a crisis in internal company affairs or betweenthe company and the outside world. In such instances the big stockholders can andoften do intervene decisively, especially against a runaway or berserk management.Ordinarily, though, the big stockholders let well enough alone, even endorsing judiciallycertified illegal conduct.
Big stockholders could, it is true, meddle into the affairs of corporatemanagement and, theoretically, could insist upon strict social-minded policies. Theydo not do this, usually, not because they are of the despicable temperaments picturedby C. Wright Mills and others but because they are indifferent, diffident or areafraid to disturb a smoothly running profitable operation.
Some clarification of the roles of corp-pols and pubpolsseems advisable here lest they be misrepresented. Despite adverse moral judgmentsoften registered against them by critical commentators each of these types alwaysdoes broadly what is inherently required by the system he serves. More significantly,each at all times implements to the best of his ability the chief operative valueof American society: worship of William James's bitch-goddess, Success. In theirvarious ways these men are all successes and exemplify in their dreary daily activitythe American doctrine of success. As men who faithfully obey the inner rules of thegame they merit and receive wide public approbation. If at times what they do appearsmessy under close scrutiny, this is only because the American idea of success ismessy. At such times they may be called upon to act as scapegoats for the system,to take the blame as moral lepers. This they do, grimly.
It should be observed that, except for disaffected, out-of-step critics,there is no widespread rejection on the American scene of the ascendant notion ofsuccess. Not only does a broad public uncritically accept steamy monetary successas a proper life goal but it feels any questioning of this goal to be un-American,possibly traitorous or at least subversive and surely cowardly. Who but a cowardwould shrink from entering the glorious contest for success? The "unsuccessful"are regarded with contempt or pity, often even by themselves.
What we find, if we delve deeply enough, is a special value systemat the root of it all.
The traditional value system, originated out of long and tragic humanexperience, was encapsulated in traditional religion. As religious mythology, cultand ritual were demolished by critical rationalism the values of which these werethe virtually sole and fragile carriers also suffered, came into disrepute as goody-goodynessand were insensibly superseded by the harsh values of success, of which the massmedia stood as the principal guarantors. Instead of the clergy now defining valuesfor society the job was taken over by half-literate, often personally demoralizededitors and publishers.
Religion, in the process, was reduced from a vital, widely sharedworld view to routine churchgoing on the part of the less educated. As the healthybaby of traditional values was thrown out with the dirty bathwater of myth and cult,the only repositories remaining for traditional values were the university and traditionalphilosophy, neither of which had much impact in the daily lives of people and bothof which were strangers to the editors and publishers of the mass media, nearly allmilitantly ignorant men.
Because man by his very nature must always live by one set of valuesor the other, the new set of harsh values not only filled a vacuum but accorded with,the experience of what had until recently been a frontier society. In that societydifficult conditions at once highlighted the competent and the incompetent. The competentman was he who could take care of himself: the self-reliant man, the successful man.
The original American fortune-builders, the Robber Barons of thenineteenth century, it is well to notice, were all with hardly an exception faintlyeducated or illiterate lower-class men, none at all above the lower middle classand many from even further down: unskilled laborers, farmers, wandering adventurers.The American plutocracy, in truth, did not originate from within an aristocracy butcame straight from the hoi polloi and implemented by far-ranging commercialaction the narrow, culturally impoverished daily values of this hoi polloi.It was this element up from the lower cultural depths, making common cause with formerlypoor boys in politics, that provided American society with personal proof of theworth of the new scale of values by enriching themselves. Expression of an inherentAmerican point of view was given by the Rev. Horatio Alger, Jr., in his novels ofsuccessful economic derring-do on the part of poor boys.
These good-in-their-place frontier values, as much evidence now shows,are insidiously destructive in a more developed environment, even of their own votaries.While the bulk of attention is focused on the massive poverty sector of Americanindustrial society, what is generally overlooked, except by a few close observers,is that affluent suburbia and much of the success-striving middle class is also engulfedin its own particular variety of emotional slum-ghettos. The very winners in thesystem, the affluent, are in different ways as malserved as the poor, a fact increasinglyevident to educated middle-class youth.
That the values put to the fore by the success cult are destructiveis seen most readily in the blighted personal lives even of winning strivers underthe system. Within the reaches of the Social Register we see ample evidences of theblight reflected in a book such as Cleveland Amory's Who Killed Society? Lowerdown we find it in special reports.
"According to psychologists, physicians, family counselors andothers," reports the Wall Street Journal, "companies now absorbtoo much of the time, energy and devotion of their rising young executives; exhaustedby their jobs, they are mere shells at home, unable to function effectively as husbandsand fathers.
"The result is seldom divorce, which is bad for the careersof young men on the go. Instead, marriages in name only are preserved between weary,indifferent men and women beset by all sorts of emotional ills, including chronicloneliness, sexual frustration, alcoholism and excessive dependence on their children."8
There followed an interesting, long, quasi-psychiatric analysis ofemotional troubles on the suburbia executive success-circuit, about which there isa growing special literature.
In two surveys in the Chicago area on attitudes of women it developedthat they saw their mates, not as persons, but in order of importance as breadwinner,father and husband; and saw themselves, again, not as persons but as mother, wifeand homemaker. Few of the women had any interest in or knowledge of their husband'swork but evaluated the man in terms of being "a good provider" or having"a good job." Commenting on this phenomenon Marya Mannes said: "Throughouttheir responses, the conclusion was inescapable that the wives cared far more aboutwhat their husbands did than about what they were, as persons. About one-third ofthe women not only put their own role as mothers first, but indicated that the husbandwas essentially outside the basic family unit of herself and her children."It is because men are primarily an accessory to the fact of the contemporary family"instead of half of a primary relation" that so many, in the opinion ofMiss Mannes, find ways outside the family of establishing the fact of their manhood.Said Miss Mannes mordantly: "Is a primary relationship between man and wifeindeed possible in a society where secondary considerations--success, status, possessions,social acceptance, public opinion--impinge more and more on a family unit less andless tied together by common needs and bonds? . . . . If the illusion of a trulycompanionable marriage is to exist, women might start thinking of their husbandsas men first, and accessories last. And vice versa." 9
Financial deficiencies are blamed on the man; family deficienciesare blamed on the woman. As comparatively few individual incomes, only 10 per centuntil the more recent Johnsonian inflation, exceed $10,000 a year, according to thecold statistics, it is evident that most American males are big flops incomewiseand are wide open to cutting remarks from their success-oriented, status-cravingwives wrestling with child care and household chores.
All, then, as one could easily show by citing a variety of sources,is not happy sailing in the alcohol-sustained, drug-propped affluent belt of society,which in its own way is as badly churned up as the city slums and ghettos. Childrenin this situation, of course, suffer most of all.
In passing, it is difficult for a habitual reader of the New YorkTimes, the Wall Street Journal, the Christian Science Monitor andthe Washington Post to avoid concluding that the United States shelters underthe glorious Star Spangled Banner an extremely sick society, fundamentally made illby the institutional implementation of a set of extremely destructive values.
Let us return, now, to the big corporation.
The management is the soul of any corporation. Without good management--thatis, the rational application of unsentimental business principles as rigorously aspossible in an imperfect world--the best corporation is bound to lose ground steadilyto demonic rivals. And the importance of management is recognized in the many universitycourses and books and periodicals devoted to it. Management, in fact, is governance,rule. And within the modern corporation one finds the most rational and usually judiciousapplication of rule in history, although for ends often extraneous to the generalwelfare. Corporate management fries its own fish and makes the best terms it canwith cloudy public opinion and with government that is, with pubpols. Themen who run these corporate fiefdoms, managers, are actually rulers of vast domains,corp-pols. Although comparatively most of them are not extremely rich, thecorp-pols are indispensable to the rich. Some become very rich.
A good management of a corporation is the equivalent of a John D.Rockefeller in the Standard Oil Company and performs a similar general role. As pristineRockefellers are hard to find growing naturally, it is necessary to train them up.This uptraining is done on the chain of command, from the junior executives onward.Along this chain of command many are called, few ultimately chosen; some are droppedalong the way, some shunted into corporation dead ends or cul-de-sacs, some lostto rivals. The hard, sharp, rational, dominant, smart and highly acquisitive aremoved upward under the incentives of higher pay, more and more public deference andelevated social status. Emerging as executive vice president and president, a manis known to be a crashing success within the system. He is somebody to be reckonedwith. He is a corp-pol, as powerful in his way as any senator, sometimes morepowerful. As chairman he becomes something of an Elder Statesman, ready to tell congressionalcommittees what is, and what is not, sound. For these are all, with few exceptions,sound men. They know the inner workings of affairs as many large stockholders donot.
What critics of the abstraction called capitalism rarely see is theimpersonality of the actual system, allowing few involved in it to experience itin its fullness. Thus, owners in this system, unless they are also managers, haveonly remote impersonal relation to it. Absentees, they are seldom directly touchedby it. As far as knowing precisely what goes on, most of them are as ignorant asthe common man. Some do not wish to be put to the inconvenience of knowing, in whichcase the system also serves them well. Capitalists, at any rate, are rarely closestudents of capitalism and the way it works. All most of them know is that they aregetting only what they believe they are in all plain justice cosmically entitledto, and this holds of many inheritors who never soiled a finger as well as of theself-erected. The courts agree to the hilt.
As to harsh characterizations of the rich as special hard types,it is easy to show that they are false. As Lampman showed, 40 per cent of the ownersof taxable estates are women. As Professor James Smith showed, women predominateamong the owners of estates exceeding $10 million, a figure more recently verifiedby Herman P. Miller, special assistant to the director of the Census Bureau. As of1958, millionaires by sex and average age, Miller found, were as follows: 10
Amount Men Age Women Age(in millions)Total 22,024 61 17,630 58$1-2 16,336 59 11,063 60 2-3 3,156 62 3,048 56 3-5 1,124 68 1,320 63 5-10 1,073 63 541 67 10 and over 335 58 1,658 40
The predominant number of very big holders, then (five to one), arewomen of an average age of forty, who are in this category either as heirs, widowsor as a consequence of estate splitting by older men, usually husbands. Most suchfemale holdings, of course, are under the direction of male investment managers,lawyers, trustees, husbands or fathers. As far as that is concerned, some of therichest people are minors, children.
While some of the women are as dividend-hungry as any man, and somehungrier, by and large they are not hard types; nobody at all has ever suggestedthey are. At worst what one could say of most of them is that they are foolish, uninformed,self-centered, inexperienced, possibly insensitive, often childishly arrogant. Manyof the men, given sheltered rearing under tutors and in hothouse schools, are astemperamentally detached from the workings of monopoly capitalism as the women. Usuallyproducts of the Ivy League, they are in all ways gentlemen, often highly civilized.They collect modern art, give money to universities and libraries, support unquestionablyworthy causes and even give privately off the record for laudable ends.
The absurd self-image of at least some of these women, many of whomappear to consider critics of their forebears as guilty at least of lèsemajesté, was publicly projected recently by Helen Clay Frick, the seventy-seven-year-oldspinster daughter of the harsh ironmaster, partner of Carnegie, who died in 1919.Miss Frick in 1965 brought suit for libel against Dr., Sylvester K. Stevens, executivedirector of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, for some unusuallymild depreciative characterizations of the deceased Henry Clay Frick in Stevens'sPennsylvania: Birthplace of a Nation. In what must be considered the extremeof understatement he suggested that the rapacious Frick was hardly a model Christiangentleman but was rude and autocratic.
Frick, during and after his lifetime, had steadily been depictedby many writers as the prototype of a ruthless nineteenth-century Robber Baron, overreachingand ignorant, but Miss Frick, in bringing suit, denied ever having heard any of this,claimed to be shocked at the besmirching of her sire's reputation by a scholar andasserted that he had been libeled and she had been caused great anguish of spirit.Waiving damages, she asked that the book be suppressed and the record corrected.
After carefully listening to a great deal of testimony from bothsides judge Clinton R. Weidner of the Cumberland County (Pennsylvania) Court of CommonPleas, handed down a masterly fifty-one-page opinion that could have been writtenby justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. The court's opinion was far more critical of Frickthan the book had been. Not only were the alleged defamatory statements completelytrue, said the learned jurist, but they were milder than were warranted by the facts.Frick himself, in view of his stance as a lone wolf against the world, would havebeen proud of them.
As the Times pointed out, the judge's opinion, ventured inthe face of as many as four plaintiffs lawyers at one time in the courtroom itself,"came close to calling her suit frivolous." Scolding the plaintiff, thecourt said she knew nothing whatever about her father's affairs and wanted nobodyelse to know about them.
"Dr. Stevens has written what he believes to be true and whatthe court believes to be true," said the court firmly.
In the ordinary case, this would have been the end. But some twoand a half months later, upon the withdrawal of the baseless case by stipulation,Miss Frick reopened it and thereby suddenly found herself in the role of defendant.She reopened it by absurdly expressing "delight" at the author's "retractionof false statements." Dr. Stevens at once characterized this statement of hersas "positively vicious and face-saving." He went on to say: "Thiswhole thing, on the very day she has admitted her suit was groundless, is designedto make it look as though I am retracting something and Miss Frick is graciouslyconsenting to withdraw."
The stipulation withdrawing the case was made "with prejudice,"which meant that she lost the option of reopening her complaint. As the Times pointedout, the stipulation was signed by her attorney with the knowledge that subsequenteditions of the book, after changes in two trivial references to fact, one beingthe suppression of the word "coal," would contain some new language sharplycritical of her father.
Charging "deception" and "bad faith," attorneysfor Dr. Stevens asked the court to revoke the dismissal of her suit and thrash outher claim that there had been a retraction of false statements. There the matterrests at this writing. 11
What was of general interest about this case was the way it showedone of the reserve powers of the wealthy to harass in costly and timewasting legalactions writers who comment critically on their public actions, even on those dead.It was knowledge of such powers that led attorneys for the publisher of ProfessorEdwin Sutherland's White Collar Crime to require that the names of companiesthat had been repeatedly convicted of violating the law not be mentioned. Individualswho have been convicted of violating the law, especially in the commission of felonies,can be and are thereafter often for the rest of their lives referred to as "criminals."Any scribbler can refer to anyone of such as "ex cons." Although it mightseem that one should by the same token be able to refer to a convicted corporationas a criminal corporation, the publishers attorneys in the Sutherland case thoughtit the better part of prudence not to mention their names.
The situation is this: Can the Super-Cosmos Corporation, convictedin open court many times of felonies and thereupon subjected to penalties and restrainingorders backed by sanctions, be referred to as a criminal corporation? Lawyers, aswe have seen, advise against it, knowing that their client may soon be served bya summons sworn out by the law firm of King, Lord, Duke and Pontiff of 1 Wall Street.Hardly any judge in Anglo-Saxondom would dream of even entertaining a motion to dismissan action brought by this pontifical firm, whose members look with basilisk eyeseven upon Lowells and Cabots. The offender will surely be forced to prove that crimeis crime.
Even individuals, always lower class, who have never been convictedof anything are open to unpleasant characterizations in the press. Persons frequentlyarrested by the police, or questioned, are thereafter often referred to as "policecharacters." By this token at least the top 1,000, and probably more, leadingcorporations are police characters; for they are constantly having run-ins with theauthorities, are constantly being questioned about alleged violations, sometimesconvicted. Yet to refer to any of them as police characters or as suspected outlawsmight be costly. If not themselves sovereign they are so tightly interlaced withsovereignty that one is indeed guilty of lèse majesté, in impugningthem to the slightest degree. Like a king, they are hedged by divinity.
Beyond this there are "undesirable characters," ratherdegagé, unaesthetic types the police do not enjoy seeing lounge aboutin central city districts, with newspapers often concurring in the appellation. What,now, about composing a list of undesirable corporations, opening with whiskey andcigarette companies?
Yet, most of the rich today are not a demonic crowd. They are notordinarily fanatics. Often quite "democratic," they will bandy pleasantwords with almost anyone over drinks, will probably mildly fault their severer criticsas persons who unaccountably "come on too strong." Some of this, of course,may be simple evasiveness.
Again, they are sufficiently numerous, random products, so that thelaw of large numbers applies to them. They range over the whole bell-shaped spectrumof the law of probability so that for every one with some unlovely characteristicthere is a balancing personality with, the opposite characteristic. There are notonly Miss Fricks but diametrically opposite types. In the middle range of 50 percent one finds more similarities, usually acceptably decorous along average linesneither great nor odious.
As I said, most of the rich, except possibly some of the self-erected,are not hard types.
The hard types in the system, the ones who make the system work likean automatic mouse-trap for the largely unconscious benefit of the rich, are, first,the corp-pols, and, second, a plain majority of the pubpols. Theseupward-striving intermediaries are selected hard types in the same sense that a surgeonor a commando soldier is a hard type. They are decision makers, and the decisionsthey make are invariably devoid of sentiment. A surgeon does not refrain from cuttingbecause it will draw blood, possibly induce death or leave a scar; a commando doesnot refrain from slitting a throat because he will be dispatching some kind mother'sson, some worthy wife's husband, some innocent child's father. By training and temperamentthese are indeed special types, not subject within their group to the law of probabilityas to their functional characteristics. With each one it is possible to predict almostcertainly how he will act in given circumstances.
The big stockholding rich, largely absentees, to a considerable extentwomen, have little direct contact with the corp-pols, their plantation overseers.Such little functional contact as there is takes place, if at all, through boardsof directors; on these, however, many of the very rich do not sit.
The social meeting ground for them all--big male stockholders, finpols,and corp-pols--is the metropolitan club, where there is on the whole a ratherdesultory mingling. Although glad to be present as evidence of their puissance, manyof the intermediary corp-pols in this milieu look with some reserve, possiblyeven disdain, on some of the big stockholders and finpols. For the corp-polsare usually different, and know it, in that they for the most part came up the long,hard way. They feel pretty much as battle-hardened veterans do in the presence ofinexperienced though superior officers. Many of the rich they no doubt look uponas pampered nonrealists. Some of the corp-pols did not finish high schoolbecause their families were too poor; others went to Jerkwater College--or to businesscollege.
The human drive in the system clearly comes, for the most part, fromthe corp-pols and pubpols, men from comparatively deprived backgroundshungry for position, money and deference. The system would work perfectly well ifall the big stockholders were playboys and playgirls. The system does not reallyneed the big stockholders who are, as it were, wards of the courts.
True, many of the rich no doubt see the situation pretty much asdo the corp-pols and pubpols. They recognize that there should be moneyincentives and that "success," not public sustenance, is the proper goal.Whether they do or not, however, makes little difference as long as they keep handsoff smoothly running operations. Difficulties are best handled by the highly paidcorp-pols in concert with the pubpols, most of each category commandotypes.
Little is known of the direct relations between corporate managersand the big owners. "To what degree do these richest families or groups usetheir voting power to influence the operations of 'their' companies?" asks RobertHeilbroner. "We do not know. There exists a shroud of secrecy over the relationbetween the centers of inherited wealth and the determination of working policy incapitalism." 12
Here, one must note, top management officers even after their retirementnever produce revelatory memoirs of inner company affairs as do men who have serveda stint in government. The latter, even high military officers, often finally "tellall," sparing nobody up to the president of the United States and his wife.Perhaps a reason such inner revelations about the corporations never appear is thatthe qualified writers are still on the payroll, drawing large retirement pay. Bytelling what went on they might be kicking the bottom out of their own boat. Thusthe system automatically covers its most significant inner traces.
We are not, however, without some clues that the big hereditary ownershave some direct influence in their corporations. One clue, as we have noticed, existsin the anti-Semitism of the metropolitan clubs, introduced there by rough-house nineteenth-centurytycoons and echoed today in the personnel policies of the large corporations andthe memberships of country clubs. In their respective outlooks, then, the big ownersand the corp-pols are not strangers to each other. Somebody must initiatesuch a policy at the top, somebody must enforce it. The Founding Fathers were notanti-Semitic. Other policies may similarly be left-handedly, indirectly, imposed.Yet in this quarter all is very shadowy.
Nor, one may infer, are the very rich merely accidental beneficiariesof the one-sided tax laws. Parties of interest must have asked, sub rosa,for such preferential treatment. The pubpols could not have written such lawswithout some prompting. Had they done so they would be in the creative class of FranzKafka.
What is probably true of many or most of the special benefits enjoyedby the rich is that at different times some one or a few of the rich utilized leverageavailable to them with amiable key pubpols and exerted their will with respectto some facet of the law. Whatever was of benefit to one then became of benefit toall in that category. As many at different times busied themselves with differentfacets of the laws, the result was a tremendously wide range of special benefitsmade available to a broad upper-income class. While the full range of the benefitslooks as though it could only have resulted from a common conspiracy, each individualbenefit was obtained by some individual go-getter exerting his political leverage.There is, then, nothing like a central moneybund calling all the shots, onlyindividual go-getters exerting power through stooges that brings unsought benefitsto others. Naturally, nobody objects to features of the law that he finds give hima favored outcome. This is only what is known in popular parlance as "gettingthe breaks." The rich get many such "breaks," for many of which mostof them never asked. For most of them it is all pure serendipity.
Where the dominant rich enter the system most openly is through patronage,political and cultural. The political patronage comes from the rich directly in theform of campaign contributions and indirectly from their corporations that hand outlargess through their overpaid officers in the form of campaign contributions anddirect payments in the form of money from lobbyists and corporate retainers for politicallaw firms. For sources of campaign funds, see Alexander Heard, The Costs of Democracy,University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1960. Cultural patronage is exercisedthrough the foundations and, sometimes, the trustee-controlled universities directly.Scholars and scientists whose work either contributes to the well-being of the existingestablishment or provides justification and rationalization for it are supportedwith lavish grants and cushy appointments. Others, either critical or producing unwelcomeor unusable findings, are not. It is as simple as that.
This sort of foundation patronage produces a double advantage forthe donors for it is publicly designated not as patronage but as philanthropy. Insome cases philanthropy may be truly involved; over the entire foundation panorama,as we have seen, it is not. The foundations serve many ulterior purposes, the veryleast of them philanthropic.
There is, too, the general patronage in the form of rich corporateadvertising placements in the mass media, serving to keep these firmly on the sideof the existing establishment at all times when the chips go down.
As far as the Establishment is concerned, there is convenient scholarshipand inconvenient scholarship. Inconvenient scholarship, while tolerated is simplyneither supported nor promoted. Scholarship that validates the American Celebration,however, showing Uncle Sam ueber alles, is heavily supported.
What this amounts to, quite simply, is patronage, impersonally conferred.
Basically, what gains befuddled acceptance for the system generally,it will be noticed, is verbiage--political, social, economic and cultural. Elaboratequasi-metaphysical arguments are ready at every point to prove that the existingstate of affairs is exactly as it inevitably should be--all factors, of course, takeninto consideration. Everybody, in other words, is right where he ought to be in thesocial scale, including the foundation-supported professors who excel at such arguments.Anybody who says differently is a deviant, a kook, unsound, far out in left fieldand probably infected by some un-American ideology. The horror of horrors is foran academic to be an avowed Marxist, as Richard Nixon showed in campaigning rabidlyup and down the state of New Jersey in 1965 to have a Marxist school teacher cashiered.The obtuse Nixon lost, probably because his intended victim bore a politically potentItalian name.
It would be extraordinary if the winners in the system did not believe,after the way they had obeyed its rigorous rules (including those of inheritance),that everything was as it properly ought to be. And it is the winners who monopolizethe stage in evaluating the system.
The Role of the People
But neither overreaching nor patronage would get very far unlessthey were practiced within a population that was emotionally simple and not in possessionof sound knowledge and realistic judgment. Most of the population, whatever one maysay on its behalf, is of this order, is quite uninformed and readily susceptibleof being emotionally worked upon, distracted.
A Harris poll, for example, has shown that 40 per cent of AmericanCatholics believe that whenever the pope delivers himself of an opinion it has thestatus of a law, a bizarre claim that the Catholic Church itself is far from making.13 Just as large a percentage of non-Catholics, if not larger, are undersimilar misapprehensions about facts relating to the Catholic and perhaps their ownecclesiastical establishments.
A vast majority of the white population south of the Mason-DixonLine, and large numbers, probably a majority elsewhere, are firmly of the beliefthat Negroes are subhuman or only semihuman, despite the positive assertions of biologyand anthropology to the contrary. Merely to argue the scientific findings in manyquarters is to risk being assaulted by righteously indignant citizens who considerthe speaker erotically irregular, a "nigger-lover."
A Louis Harris poll in 1966 showed that whereas 78 per cent of themore affluent and educated sections of the population believed Negroes are unfairlydiscriminated against, only 46 per cent of lower-income people thought so. "Almostthree out of every four whites who earn less than $5,000 a year and never went beyondthe eighth grade in school think the education available to Negroes is as good asthat available to whites," said Mr. Harris. "What is more, about half ofthis group thinks Negroes are not discriminated against in general and that housingfor Negroes is as good as it is for whites." 14
Careful sociological studies have shown that the masses are poorlyinformed on vital topics despite a plethora of accurate information available andthat they are politically illiberal and withdrawn in their attitudes. Astrology flourishes.
As noted earlier, the further one moves down the social scale themore authoritarian and illiberal become the individuals.
Professor Robert E. Lane on the basis of a comprehensive study concludedthat:
The lesser degree of political participation and interest in lowerstatus groups is partly accountable by the following factors: (1) Lower-strata women(but not men) have less leisure available for political activity. (2) Lower statuspersons have less economic security, and, partly for that reason, feel less of asense of control over their (political) environment. (3) The threat of deprivationof upper-strata groups present in the politics of the welfare state provides greatermotivation than the promise of reward to the lower-status groups.
The relation of public policy to the group stakes at issue in thatpolicy is made more visible to upper-status groups than to lower-status groups.
Lower-status individuals can influence and benefit from governmentalaction only socially, by group activity and membership, while upper-class personscan influence and benefit from such action individually. Therefore, upper-class personshave a higher incentive to participate.
Lower-status people, feeling at a disadvantage compared to upper-classpeople, tend to avoid social contact in mixed groups, withdraw interest, defer toothers in "difficult" matters, and generally reveal a lack of self-confidence.Actually, lack of experience and influence combined with pressures to be "opinionated"leads to unrealistic participation in some instances.
Child-rearing practices in the lower-status groups tend to providea less adequate personality basis for appropriately self-assertive social participation.
The social norms and roles in the lower-status group tend to emphasizepolitical participation less than do the norms and roles of the upper-status groups.There is a tendency for these political roles to be concentrated in middle-classrather than upper-class or working-class groups. . . .
Lower-status persons experience greater cross pressures with respectto (a) ethnic versus class identifications, (b) divergent political appeals of themedia to which they are exposed, and conflict between media and status identification,(c) community leadership and own-group leadership, and (d) subjective versus objectiveclass identification.
Lower-status persons belong to fewer formal organizations and havefewer intimate personal friends. However, union membership tends to modify this pattern.
Lower-status persons have less capacity to deal with abstract issuesand less awareness of their larger social environment.
Lower-status persons are less satisfied with their lives and communities,leading, in a minimally class conscious society, to withdrawal from civic activities,or, alternatively, to participation in deviant politics.
Inter-class mobility tends to weaken the forces for political participation,a tendency modified by identification with upper-status (participant) norms by bothupwardly mobile and downwardly mobile groups. 15
None of this, however, accounts for greater lower-class responsewhen politicians promise authoritarian repression of some segment of the populace.The promise by such as Joseph McCarthy and George Wallace that heads are going toroll never fails to galvanize the lower orders politically.
The lower-status groups--that is, those below the middle class--are,in other words, confused. And it is this element, peasantlike in outlook, that constitutesmost of the electorate, accounting for the easy nomination and election of so manypersons who in medical parlance would be designated as quacks or unqualified practitioners.Public office in the United States--and elsewhere--is full of them: quacks.
Politics, contrary to roaring democratic theory, is not somethingthat can be readily practiced with proper success by anybody. Politics, like anyother discipline, requires qualified specialists.
Here a note seems in order. There is theoretical as well as practicalpolitics. The multi-vocal structure of theoretical politics is laid out in the worksof Plato, Aristotle, Polybius, Aquinas, Hobbes, Locke, Montesquieu, Kant and manysimilar savants. A formal exercise in practical politics, based on actual politicalmaneuver, is Machiavelli's The Prince. Biographies abound with additionalmaterial. Formally qualified people in career politics ought to be thoroughly acquaintedwith this whole literature and to be broadly grounded as well in logic, semantics,linguistics, epistemology, scientific methods, the social studies and the humanities.Simply by laying down such formal requirements I have disqualified practically everyworking politician on the American scene. But I have no hesitancy in saying thatthose who, do not have some approach to such preparation are at the very least quacks.Quackery is of the very essence of being a politician on the American scene, a leaderof the booboisie into fetid blind alleys.
This quackery shows itself most blatantly in the wild abuse of languageby routine career politicians. Language in routine American politics is not usedto inform, or to analyze problems but to manipulate emotions and to obfuscate. Purelywhimsical bandying of language, as in the case of Senator Everett Dirksen, can alonemake one a national character in the eyes of the press. But the more sober use oflanguage by politicians not given to the devious Dirksen's fanciful flights of bombinatingrhetoric is equally misleading so that the nation literally, under President Johnson,fell into the position of the polity of George Orwell's 1984 where peace meanswar, defense means aggression, the Great Society means the Shabby Society, prosperitymeans recession and a "war on poverty" means befuddlement of the poor andthe perpetration of financial skulduggery.
Few politicians use language warrantably. In a well-known dictum,they use it to conceal thought. The gobbledegook of endless government reports andpolitical speeches furnishes proof without end. The Congressional Record is fullof the stuff. Madison Avenue and the politicians are as one in this respect. Suchuse of language stamps the user an arrant quack, on a par with a healer who professesto cure disease with electric belts and charms.
The United States Senate no doubt contains the greatest concentrationof professional political intelligence in the nation. Yet, leaving aside terms suchas liberal, moderate and conservative and applying the loosest criteria possible,it is difficult to exempt more than a bare third of it from the rubric of quack.The House of Representatives is far more meagerly equipped, and in the state legislaturesit is often a case of 100 per cent quackery among their various member lawyers, realestate and insurance brokers, loan sharks, undertakers and small-time dealers. Theexecutive offices are for the most part filled by similar quacks, fugitives fromanything resembling culture. Ghost writers fill the breach.
Still, the average officeholder is of a capability far superior tothe average of the peasantlike populace he serves. The politician is not, as oftensupposed, of an inferior order comparatively. There is not the slightest doubt thatSenators Stennis and Eastland, for example, are people superior in ability and driveto the population average in Mississippi. And the same holds true elsewhere. Again,officeholders, whatever one may say of them, meet the criteria of the broad electorate.They have what it takes to gain acceptance by the boobs. The "pork barrel,"for which the politicos are castigated, is what gains them votes out in the spirituallybarren home districts.
As Professor Lane remarks:
Most of the current criticism of popular rule does not emanate fromthe enemies of democracy, but rather from its saddened friends. It deals in partwith the capacities of the people to make wise decisions in their own interest, thestrength of their desire to participate in government, and the nature of the benefitsthey derive therefrom. On the basis of clinical research and public opinion polls,students of democratic government have concluded that the electorate is wanting bothin vital information and in rational pursuit of enduring self-interest; the taskshave exceeded the capacities of the public to perform them. Thus, Walter Lippmann,continuing a line of argument he began so brilliantly in Public Opinion somethirty-five years ago, states that a central cause for the breakdown of democraticgovernments in modern times has been that "the assemblies and the mass electorateshave acquired the monopoly of effective powers" and do not know how to use them.. . .
Erich Fromm, although he favors widespread social participation,has cast doubt upon men's desire for the burdens which such participation implies.Freedom implies choice, participation implies responsibility, and under stress themajority of the people may find choice painful and responsibility too weighty a load.Apathy, withdrawal, conformity, "pseudo-willing," result. . . .
It is said that the masses have not gained through their new politicalpower because the sources of their trouble are not political but economic. Democracyis a mask for plutocracy, and the plutocrats remain entrenched in power. Thus thelong struggle to enfranchise the masses of men has, so far, come to no avail; thefranchise is useful only as it offers leverage to attack the real citadel of power.
[Commenting here, Lane says:] This idea is curiously at the confluenceof three streams of thought. The first, liberal democracy, is illustrated by [CarlL.] Becker who says that "economic forces . . . brought about an increasingconcentration of wealth and power in the hands of the fortunate few, and therebynullified, for the majority of people, many of those essential liberties which provideboth the theoretical justification and the necessary conditions for the practicalsuccess of democratic institutions." The second element in this confluence iscontributed by Mosca and Pareto, both of whom identify democracy with plutocracy.And the third element, of coarse, is the Marxian interpretation of bourgeois democracyas a complex of institutions manipulated by the capitalist class. 16
That the universal franchise and the wide open consumer market areon the basis of their experience with it, now fully acceptable to the dominate ordershas been seen in the massive and costly efforts of the Johnson Administration toforce them upon the Vietnamese at the point of firepower. In the Johnsonian vieweven people to whom the idea of voting is bewildering, contra-cultural and perhapsrepugnant, are to be forced to vote. This, the American Way, it is held, will leadto their liberation. Yet neither voting nor the open consumer market has led to theliberation of the masses in the United States; rather have they delivered them intothe pincers of ignorance, poverty or near poverty and emotional deprivation. Themasses are, literally, stupefied by the "opportunities" open to them.
Voting, unless there is ground-up, knowledge-based participation,cannot lead to popular deliverance. Only if the assumption were true that each participantis of fairly equal capability could the process work. But people simply are not ofequal capability and motivation, contrary to the dream of the early democrats. Theymust lose out in the electoral game for a multitude of reasons, some of which havebeen cited. The shrewd manipulators--the pubpols, corp-pols, finpols,admen and scholpols--must come out on top every time just as the heavyweightchampion must easily defeat every amateur who steps into the ring with him.
Democrats, liberals and radicals, have wasted millions of words andhours of their time trying to arouse the people in their own interests either toelectoral or to revolutionary assault, and always without avail. Marx predicted,erroneously, that factory operatives, the workers, would take the lead in an assaulton the owners; such an assault has never taken place in any industrial country. Marxistparties have taken power only under conditions of war-induced general social collapse,as in agricultural Russia and China, with only the most meager of Marxist proletariansupport. Non-Marxist peasants in both cases were the revolutionary instrument. (Marx,inter alia, detested the peasantry, which he saw as reactionary.)
Nor have popular causes been more successful in the electoral arena,where splinter parties have long failed to gain even a foot-hold. For the mass doesnot vote for its objective interests; it always votes for some fantasy.
From Lincoln onward no more than two out of nineteen presidents areargued by anybody to have been oriented toward the popular interest and even thosetwo are rejected by some experts as true paladins of the people. The people, veryobviously, are not capable of wielding the electoral sword, thus accounting for thesuccess of institutionalized overreaching and patronage. The rich, in plain fact,are rich because they cannot help it. They are playing marbles for big stakes againstblind men, cannot help winning with little effort.
To the Marxists all these presidents were tools of the capitalistEstablishment; but not to the people, to whom the Marxists look vainly as the instrumentof social reconstruction. As to this, say the Marxists, the people are fooled bythe mass media; but it is of the essence of politics, as of military affairs, notto be fooled. To be fooled in politics is to be conquered. In losing out so consistentlyby means of open elections the people, clearly, are being hoist by their own petard.They have not the least inkling what the elections are all about.
It would be difficult for any set of men, however qualified, torun so complexly ponderous a country as the United States really well. As it is,the United States is very, very poorly run, year after year, by the quacks, overreachersand patrons, as the accumulation and multiplication of social problems attest. Atthe same time, propagandic apologists continually bellow how well the country isrun. Nothing, though, ever seems to get any better; everything gets demonstrablyworse and worse, converging toward some awesome future crisis, some catastrophicreckoning. Après nous, le deluge.
So really bad is the situation that American sociologists have graduallydeveloped a forbidding branch of their discipline labeled, simply, Social Problems,the equivalent of pathology in medicine. To this melancholy subject scores of textbooksare devoted, dealing with crime, its causes and its steady increase; rigging of courtsand elections; poverty; racial and religious conflict; curtailments of civil rights;prison brutality; ill health and inadequate and profit-perverted medical care; mal-education,non-education and illiteracy; the prevalence of divorce and desertion; the excessesof pressure groups; faulty mass transportation; child mistreatment and abandonment;personal anomy; inadequate housing; social disorganization; widespread psychic disorder;slums, overcrowding and overpopulation in relation to available facilities; advertisingand propaganda; unattended mental illness; commercialized alcoholism; gambling; drugaddiction; traffic tangles; prostitution; pathological deviancies; war, etc., etc.17 All of this bespeaks a very sick society, a poor political system.
What is most remarkable about all these problems is that despitethe reports and recommendations of one public commission after the other none everappears to be solved or even made more tractable. Each appears to be growing greaterand new ones, such as water and air pollution and air traffic, are constantly beingadded. As the sociologists report, many causes are discernible but a general causeseldom mentioned is simple political neglect. Forthright confrontation of the problemsis prevented by the various forms of political blockage at which the pubpolsare most adept. Again, as much of the brains of the country are in the service ofoverreaching in the market place and political arena in pursuit of the dollar thereare few competent people left in circulation to deal adequately with the problems.Money for social problem-solving, of course, is kept to a minimum as the public coffersare opened wide for the purchase of multi-redundant military hardware and space rocketsto the moon: Over-kill.
Lavish in the money rewards given to corp-pols and pubpols,as we have seen, the going system becomes niggardly in the pay scales adopted forsupportive personnel such as teachers, social workers, scientists, counselors, aides,nurses, engineers and the like. As a way of obtaining money and forthright actionwith respect to these problems the proper method would appear to place them all underthe jurisdiction of the Defense Department, where they seem to belong. For what isthe value of keeping the nation muscular on the outer frontiers while it is erodingat the core? In view of the rising tide of unsolved, gingerly tended social problems,what is it, precisely, that is being defended?
The Final Reckoning
Where will it all end? What will be the historical outcome of theconcentration of wealth and power in the United States?
Although all answers to such questions must be speculative we haverecently been provided with a brilliantly suggestive study along these precise linesby Robert L. Heilbroner in The Limits of American Capitalism. 18
Heilbroner, in harmony with details laid out earlier in this text,is well aware of corporate dominance in American affairs. He notes that, out of someeleven million separate economic enterprises down to single newsstands, about a millioncompanies do approximately 85 per cent of the business, and a half million corporationsdo 98 per cent of all corporate business and 75 per cent of all business. In turn,1/10th of 1 per cent of the biggest industrial corporations, the 500 at the top,do about 33 per cent of all business in the corporate field. Furthermore, the top50 industrial companies have sales as great as the next 450 while the profits ofthe top 10 are equal to those of almost half of the remaining 490. The 500th on theannual Fortune list has total sales of only $97 million, which is less than the profitsof any of 26 of the 50 largest. 19
By 1975, according to Willard Mueller, chief economist of the FederalTrade Commission, 200 corporations will own two-thirds of all American manufacturingassets compared with the same proportion owned by 500 corporations in 1962. The reasonfor this further concentration, it was indicated, is the renewed, Administration-sanctionedmerger movement. 20
We are confronted, in short, by corporate giantism. The backboneof political support comes from this corporate world.
A single company, AT&T, holds nearly 5 per cent of all nonbankcorporate assets.
If only the top 150 companies with assets or sales at $1 billionor more were suddenly to stop doing business the entire economy would collapse. Thesecompanies compromise 50 industrials, 40 banks, 20 insurance companies, 10 merchandisers,10 transportation lines and 20 public utilities. 21
While the 100 top industrial corporations owned 25 per cent of allbusiness assets in 1929, they owned 31 per cent in 1960. In 1963 they accounted for53.8 per cent of total national income compared with 55.8 per cent in 1955.
Contrary to misleading propaganda about widespread ownership, inthe 100 largest corporations the directors alone owned or controlled at least 10per cent of the voting stock.
"Among the 150 super-corporations, there are perhaps as manyas 1,500 or 2,000 operational top managers, but as few as 200 to 300 families ownblocks of stock that ultimately control these corporations." 22
Heilbroner, unlike Karl Marx, does not see the corporate system terminatingin revolution although, sensitively aware of the vagaries of history, he does notabsolutely rule out transitional phases of violence. Rather does he see the systemvery gradually and slowly changing just as the feudal manorial system was transformedgradually to the system of the open cash market, the citadel of bourgeois capitalism.
This being the probability, "Under the limits imposed by thepresent reach of business thought, the prospect is still for a society of narrowambitions and small achievements, a society in which we belatedly repair old socialills and ungenerously attend to new ones ." 23
Although the present system is one, like feudalism, of lopsided privilege,Heilbroner in a keen insight points out that the legal basis of privilege now isscreened as such even from the beneficiaries, who are not aware that they are privileged.This basis consists of the laws that permit private benefit to be derived from huge-scaleproduction and allows free and untrammeled use of the national and internationalmarket place for private enrichment.
Therefore, "privilege under capitalism is much less 'visible,'especially to the favored groups, than privilege under other systems." 24Under feudalism, the privileges were harshly evident and explicitly known to allparticipants.
Instead of resisting encroachments upon privilege forthrightly, thosewho are privileged unconsciously resort to ideology, befuddling all but the wellinformed. Thus, attempts to deal with the periodic vast malfunctionings and slumpsof individualistic capitalism by means of national planning (in place of egocentricplanning on the part of huge corporations) are vociferously cried down as encroachmentsupon an abstraction called Freedom.
Because the system is now too deeply rooted and generally acceptedit could not be violently or arbitrarily uprooted without enveloping the nation inprolonged chaos, as Heilbroner fully recognizes; and no responsible thinker any longerseriously proposes that it be uprooted.
How then, will it change, as all things involved in history do change?
The long-run threat to monopolistic capitalism, as Heilbroner seesit, is similar to the original threat to feudalism in that it is subtle and seeminglyharmless. The manorial economy of feudalism was undermined by what was originallya cloud no larger than a man's hand: the cash market that established itself rightin the shadow of the manorial walls. This cash market brought into being a new socialtype: the businessman. In his first guise the businessman was looked upon by thelords of the manor much as we today look upon a pushcart peddler--as a person ofno economic, social or political consequence, at worst a mere nuisance. From thistiny seed, however, were to come the future original Rockefeller, Carnegie, Vanderbilt,Du Pont, Woolworth, Mellon, Ford et al. These men in their various ways wereall pushcart peddlers grown to giant size under favoring conditions and laws.
The intangible, subversive threat to capitalism, as the cash marketwas to feudalism, Heilbroner sees as science and technology, without which moderncapitalism cannot function but with which it cannot make its peace because it isconstantly thrown into deep inner turmoil and confusion by them. For one thing, thecomposition of the labor force is constantly radically altered by technological change,first by the introduction of new machinery that converted agricultural workers intourbanized factory workers and more recently by automation which displaces factoryworkers into rising service industries, dumps them on the unemployment rolls or wastesthem in huge and militarily unnecessary peacetime standing armies. Technology haseven displaced the traditional foot soldier and cavalryman for all but relativelysmall-scale anti-insurrectionary operations, brush-fire wars, and replaced them byhigher functional types like aviators, astronauts, rocketmen and a horde of advancedtechnicians. Warfare has been transformed into a vast engineering operation by whichentire populations are exterminated. There is no longer, actually, much fightingin war. It has become mass slaughter. The mass destruction is the inverse of massproduction.
The alteration in the labor force shows itself most spectacularlyin the emergence of new elites, rising to share influence and authority with thebusiness elite of finpols and corp-pols.
These new elites in Heilbroner's view consist of the new militarypolicy-makers (milpols), the professional expert from the academic world inthe form particularly of specialists in the social and natural sciences, the highlytrained new type of government administrator and possibly the administrators thathave come into view with the emergence of the big labor unions. These labor administratorsare of a type quite different from the old-line ward-boss variety of labor leader.
While few if any of these men are hostile to the existing systemof monopoly capitalism, Heilbroner believes (in which belief I concur) that in thelong run, over a span of 50 to 150 years, the differences in background, method andobjectives of these elites from those of the business elite will generate frictionsbetween them, as frictions were generated between the feudal lords and the risingbusiness classes. The business elite has a single-minded objective: profit. Althoughthe new elites are not opposed, now, to corporate profit aims, in part because theyare accustomed to these aims as assumptions of the established system, what willbe their reaction when, as and if the plans of the profiteers seriously conflictwith their plans?
It should be pointed out that the members of the new--and indispensable--elitesshare a characteristic in common not shared with the business elite.
They are all problem-oriented and are, in fine, problem-solvers overa widely inclusive range of problems. Name almost any problem and one may be surethat at least one of them nurtures it as a pet project.
If it is argued that the corp-pols, and finpols, too,are problem-solvers (which may indeed be the case), it is evident at once that theyare concerned with a single overriding problem: profits. Such a single overridingaim is not to be found among any of the new elites who, although not men of the broadreach of the major philosophers or of diverse talents like Renaissance men, are neverthelessbasically and incontrovertibly reflective intellectuals of some sort. They are allthoroughly infected by pervasive rationality, which in the long run seems of illomen to the freewheeling corporation.
There is already low-grade although tolerable friction in some quartersbetween some of these new types and members of the business elite. Unless big businessradically alters some of its characteristic orientations it seems that one may expectincreasing friction, with dominance no longer guaranteed to the business elite. Theinherent social irrationality of the system of production chiefly for private profit,utilizing for the short run the increasingly powerful tools of science and technology,practically guarantees the long-run end of such dominance.
Marx saw socialism as something to be soon ushered into developedcapitalist societies by revolution carried out by the new class of factory workers,led by history-conscious intellectuals. Heilbroner sees something very akin to socialism,or production-for-use in a rationally aspiring society, ushered in by a new classconsisting of these intellectual elites. The revolutionary potential, in sum, residesin the intellectual middle classes, not in the passive, dependent proletariat, whohave no "historical task."
I see one possible flaw in Heilbroner's reasoning, which to my somewhatskeptical eyes is tinged with historical optimism. History, contrary to the devoteesof the idea of progress, rarely produces solutions in accord with ideal aims, a lamentablefact. Historical solutions are, somehow, always flawed.
The fly I discern in this particular mixture is the presence of thenew military elite who, although men of a different order from the old-time militaryspit-and-polish drillmasters, are nevertheless military men. And the military inany instance that comes to mind have never allied themselves with a New Order asopposed to an Old Order. Military people are usually essentially conservative ifnot reactionary and are usually socially naive. Professor Morris Janowitz of theUniversity of Chicago, who directed two large-scale studies, the first of 465 Americangenerals appointed between 1898 and 1940 and the second of 761 Army, Navy and AirForce general and flag officers appointed between 1910 and 1950, found that as of1954 only 5 per cent of the generals identified themselves as "liberals"but 68 per cent declared they were "a little on the conservative side or plain"conservatives." "Such a finding win startle no one familiar withthe published political views of retired generals," as one writer observed.25 It may be that such characteristics do not inhere in the new computer-automationjet-propulsion type of military person, who may indeed be above and beyond the authoritarianmaster-servant, mentality of the traditional military personality. If so, my doubtsare beside the point.
But if the new military elite is anything like the old one it would,in any great crisis, tend to side with the Old Order and defend the status quo, ifnecessary, by force.
In the words of the standard police bulletin known to all radio listeners,"These men are armed--they may be dangerous."
Historically, the established military have always fought and throwntheir influence against all rising new social orders, whether capitalist or socialist,and have always been strong supporters of reaction. Where they have retained influenceafter any revolution, peaceful or violent, they have been Bonapartists. Like allconservatives, they take a pessimistic view of the human enterprise, are partialto the heavy hand. Devotees of applied force, habituated to organizing their entireexperience around its use, they are rarely men of peaceful persuasion and evolutionarytransition.
As I freely admit, I may be wrong in thus looking at the new militaryelite, which by reason of the experience-broadening complex technology it now commandsmay be of an entirely new historical stripe. If it is, and no available evidencesupports such a view, then Heilbroner's vision may be more penetrating than my owntentative doubts allow me to concede.
In any event, it cannot be denied that science and technology arealready injecting much uncertainty into the demonic corporate thrust for profits.Allowed unrestrained and continued free play, that thrust cannot but disrupt theentire social system to an extent greater than yet ever seen.
Yet, as Heilbroner sees it, it is not the immediate needs of scienceand capitalism that are in conflict so much as a basic divergence of intent--of scienceto impose the human will on society and of capitalism to allow society to functionby happenstance as if it were not subject to the will. Whereas science is sociallyactive capitalism is socially passive and "In the end capitalism is weighedin the scale of science and found wanting, not alone as a system but as a philosophy."26
Savior of the World
American politicos, swelling with fatuous misbegotten pride, haveincreasingly taken to presenting the United States and the American people as themajor guarantors of what remains of civilization in a world torn by shabby powerstruggles on every band. Whatever else the foregoing pages may portend, they shouldsuggest that anyone looking to the United States for the solution to world problemsis depending on a huge but weak reed. With a thoroughly antiquated, distorted politicalsystem--formally 178 years old but with many later dubious additions such as theuniversal franchise--the United States is unable even to begin solving its own manyvery serious domestic problems. How, then, can it take on those of Asia, Africa,Europe and South America?
Not unless it underwent a considerable amount of basic politico-economicrevision would the United States be in a position to play more than a palliativeinternational role. And as its inept, intrusion into Vietnam under the guidance ofa strictly backwoods politician has shown very clearly, it may be capable of playingvastly destructive roles. What reasonable ground there is for believing that Americanpresence in laggardly developed regions and political power-vacuums is more likelyto achieve human gains than English, French, Japanese, Dutch or Russian presencehas certainly not been shown.
If they prove nothing else the widespread American riots, increasingand spreading from the 1940's and 1950's into the 1960's, prove that the Americanruling class, given the political instrumentalities of its rule through low-gradestooges, is unable to rule at home. The general cry goes out for law and order, yetthere is steadily less and less law and order, more and more crime and insurrectionas Lyndon B. Johnson calls for national days of prayer. For prayer rather than scienceor reason is the tool of the political medicine men. What is happening as the averagecitizen looks on in disbelief is that an outworn, patched politico-economic systemis cracking, while no serious steps are taken to ascertain the causes and remedies.The causes of American insufficiency, at home and abroad, are political, not economic,or at least political before they are economic. Better put, they are cultural. Seriousproblems cannot be solved on the basis of a consensus of value-disoriented dolts.