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Studies of power echelons on leadership within the United States reveal that top positions encompass positions with the authority to be in charge of activities and programs of major economic, political, civic, scientific, cultural, legal, educational institutions (Kendall, 2002). The individuals who occupy the aforementioned offices have absolute control over half of the country’s communications, industrial, banking, and transportation assets, as well as two thirds of the insurance assets. Moreover, they direct approximately forty percent of the resources of private institutions and fifty percent of university endowments. Besides, less than two hundred and fifty citizens hold the most influential positions in the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of the federal government, whereas about two hundred women and men are in charge of the three major television networks and majority of the national newspaper chains.

Based on these facts, it is very evident that power in the United States is mainly held by the single power elite. There are scores of versions of this idea, maybe one for every individual who holds it, though they all hold a similar interpretation of politics and government that differs from the pluralists. The elite model perceives a special pyramid of power, instead of seeing several competing groups that hammer out policies. Positioned at the top, a tiny elite has the privilege of making all the crucial decisions for everyone below. A rather small middle level is composed of the kind of individuals whom one usually thinks of whenever discussions of American government such as party leaders, lobbyists, governors, mayors, representatives, and senators are come into picture (Alberoni, 2003). The masses often occupy the bottom. They composed of the average women and men in the country who do not have any political influence or power to hold the top offices to accountability.

According to the power elite theory, which is being practiced in the United States, one elite, who is not a multiplicity of rival groups, makes decisions regarding death-and-life issues for the whole nation, leaving almost nothing for the common citizens and rather minor issues for the middle class. This is what ultimately paints a dark picture in the society. While the pluralist feel satisfied with the views that they deem satisfied with, if undeniably imperfect, systems, the power elite school decries the unjust distribution and grossly unequal power it finds everywhere.

Citizens who live in a nation that prides itself on egalitarianism and fairness, that is surrounded by free government, and which consistently witnesses the goings and comings of elected individuals are likely to find the idea of elites rather farfetched. Nonetheless, several intelligent social scientists accept the concept and present bolstering and compelling reasons that can be used to believe that is indeed true.

The governing elite in the United States derives its members from major corporate directors and owners, high-ranking military personnel, and high-ranking politicians including key members of the cabinet, the president and his close advisers. Despite these individuals constituting a close-knit group, they do not belong to any conspiracy that manipulates events in a secret way in order to meet their own selfish interests. In several instances, theses elites usually follow established constitutional precepts, respect civil liberties, and operate peacefully and openly. It is not a form of dictatorship; nor does it rely on terror, midnight arrests, or secret police in order to get its way. In addition, the membership of the elite class is not closed, even though a majority of its members are privileged to have enjoyed a head start in life as a result of being born in well-established families. Nonetheless, individuals who work hard, demonstrate the willingness to adopt characteristics and values of the elite, and enjoy good luck often find possibilities to joining the higher circles of the elite class from below.

The elite occupy top command posts of the society that offers offer enormous authority over financial, governmental, educational, cultural and civic institutions. Decisions that are made in the boardrooms of large companies and banks dictate the inflation and unemployment rate. The power owned by the elite is further enhanced by the close association of industrial, military, and political organizations. Currently, politicians and business people have grown so close to an extent that they prosper together more than they do separately. As a group, this ruling triumvirate of corporate executives, politicians, and military personnel, based on the positions they hold, have the unprecedented authority to make decisions of international and national consequences.

The elite class together with the closely related corporate group do not usually stand alone at the helm of the power structure, but are supplemented by several nonprofit institutions that play a pivotal role in shaping public opinions and framing debates over public policies. These organizations are usually referred to as bipartisan or nonpartisan since they are neither identified with any political affiliations nor with either of the two political parties within the United States. However, they are the real political party of the upper class because they ensure the compliance of the government and the stability of the society.

According to the power elite theory, critical decisions in government are usually made by the elite class. Sometimes they greatly influence the decision outcome. The congress, the courts and the states, which represents the middle levels of government mainly worry is how to execute the decisions. This appears to be the in during the period that followed the Second World War when containment emerged for the first time. Several crucial decision were arrived at behind closed doors in the State Department, the pentagon, and the White House. Only few senators were involved during the process (majorly to enlist their support instead of involving them in the actual process of making the decisions), but containment didn’t serve more than a fleeting section of the electoral and national party politics (Davis, 2003). Rather, upon completion of the policy formulation at the top, it was just sold to the public who had no option but to accept it.

A more pertinent issue then arises- where are workaday politicians classified by this, the individuals who inhabit middle level of politics? Despondently, the influence of the inhabitants of middle level of politics has greatly dissipated over the years, rendering them with nothing substantial to manage. As a matter of fact, government in the middle is noisy and colorful, and attracts the popular press’s attention. However, its activities often eclipse a critical point for the most part. Apart from competing with the power elite, today’s professional politicians have lost grip of the capability to control the destiny of the nation. Most of the participants in the middle class basically get galvanized by their parochial and selfish interests. Elected individuals have changed to become political entrepreneurs who make use of advertising and television gimmicks to sell themselves to a public that is increasingly becoming cynical and gullible. In their hands, policy is more of a means to an end, getting elected and reelected, instead of an end in itself.

Of importance is the fact that the workaday politicians have lost the capacity and will to grapple with international and national issues. They appear to be rather eager to surrender these questions to the president and his inner circles. Undeniably, a few representatives and senators take part in these deliberations, although most do not. Even the local officials and the state do not. More critical and fundamental issues do not come to the point of decision before the United States Congress, or even before some of its most powerful committees, and much less before the electorates during campaigns. Whenever critical issues are brought before the Congress for debate, they are usually structured in a way that limits their consideration, and even to be stalemated instead of being resolved. Compared to pluralism, elite theory asserts that the check and balances game countervailing influence is often played for somehow minute stakes. Since ordinary politicians are not included in the higher circles, where essential choices are usually decided, the agenda is predetermined for them. Actually, they are only free to deal with issues which the power elite finds to be rather non-threatening, while the elite saves the big question for itself.

What the power elite theorists find rather mind-boggling, however, is the increasing demise of the general public as an independent force in civic matters. As a substitute of initiating policies, or just having control over the individuals who govern them, the citizens of The United States of America have chosen to be passive spectators, whose sole responsibility is to cheer the heroes and boo the villains, yet taking almost no part in the action. In addition, American citizens have become more estranged and alienated from political matters of the state and this has been demonstrated by the sharp decline in participation in electoral process in the past several years. As a result, their destinies are now solely being controlled by the power elite (Dogan, 2003).


Alberoni, F. (2007). The powerless ‘elite’: theory and sociological research on the phenomenon of the stars. Stardom and celebrity: A reader, 65-77.

Davis, A. (2003). Whither mass media and power? Evidence for a critical elite theory alternative. Media, Culture & Society, 25(5), 669-690.

Dogan, M. (2003). Introduction: diversity of elite configurations and clusters of power. Comparative Sociology, 2(1), 1-15.

Kendall, D. (2002). The power of good deeds: Privileged women and the social reproduction of class. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.