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April 1970: Is There a Ruling Class in the United States? Printer Friendly Version

[Prefatory Note, June 2007:  The dissertation for the doctorate that I'd planned to write throughout much of the 1960s when I was studying at Columbia University, on the topic of Why are Some Countries Poor?, completely collapsed after I discovered radical social philosophy, beginning I guess in 1967. This was a second outline for a dissertation. My advisor said it was a good outline, if I could only churn it out. Well, of course, I couldn't. I didn't have that much historical knowledge at my fingertips. It would have taken years of research. I'd already been in graduate school for almost a decade. I was out of money, although if I hadn't come to hate the whole set up so much I would probably have struggled to find the money. Plus the idea of submitting my work to a board of Columbia professors had also become unpalatable. Anyway, this would have been a good book. Strange to say, it is still relevant, because the overwhelming majority of Americans do not believe even today there is such a thing as a ruling class here, even though it's a hundred times more blatantly obvious now that it was then. I offer the outline to some energetic young radical scholar who wants to make a useful contribution to the struggle for liberation.]

Is There a Ruling Class in the United States?

James Herod
Spring, 1970


  Is there a ruling class in the United States? Most people in this country do not believe so. No conception could be further from their minds, I suspect. They take it for granted that the United States is a democracy. And if the question does occur to them, as it has to a fair number of social theorists in the country, they can be counted on for the most part to defend ``American democracy'' to the end. I disagree with this view. I do not believe that we, as a people, have yet achieved self-government. In this book I want to present the evidence and arguments that have led me to this dismal conclusion. My aim is to prove that a ruling class does in fact exist, to examine the implications of this fact, and to consider what can be done about it.

  Is there a ruling class in the ruling class in the United States? This question, I submit, is the key for unraveling the recent history of the United States. Without a knowledge of the existence and behavior of the ruling class one wanders, puzzled, through the quagmire of liberal theory. By answering this one question and by following its implications through it is possible to demonstrate the utter bankruptcy, on virtually every front, of orthodox, Establishment theory: liberal theory simply cannot explain what is happening in this country or in the world at large. A chief merit of this question about the existence of a ruling class is that it does lead to an intelligible account of the modern world. It makes sense of the world.

  A second merit of the question is that it can be answered. It is an empirical question. It can be answered by examining the evidence (assuming that the parties interested in the inquiry can agree upon a definition of ``ruling class''). This is what I intend to do. I deny that radical theory is like a religion, requiring a `leap of faith', as its opponents so cleverly charge. What is at stake here is the interpretation of the evidence. Liberals and radicals often agree upon the goals: democracy, freedom, equality, justice, welfare, security; what they disagree about is whether these goals have been more or less realized. They disagree in their evaluation of the nature and merits of contemporary society in the United States.

  Nor do I subscribe to the view that one interpretation of the evidence is as valid as any other and that the question therefore can never be resolved. Such a notion leaves no basis whatsoever for establishing accurate knowledge. I doubt if many people do hold such a view. This type of relativism is usually advanced by dogmatic opponents of ruling class theory who seek to avoid the issue. No. The question of whether there is a ruling class in this country can be decided on empirical grounds, given a prior agreement on what constitutes a `ruling class'. The finding, and its implications, should therefore carry considerable weight with all women and men who claim to be dedicated to the promotion of well-being among humans and to the pursuit of truth and justice.

  I harbor no illusions however about being able to settle this question `once and for all'. This is not because my case is weak: the facts are clear enough it seems to me; but because in reality this is not a debate at all; it is a political struggle. Quite a few people probably will be influenced by rational argument and careful scrutiny of the evidence, especially if these facts and arguments confirm the testimony of their own life experiences. The ruling class itself however is unlikely to be very impressed with `reason' or `evidence'. They will deny that there is a ruling class because it would undermine their privileged position to admit it. They thrive on the myth that the United States is a democracy, and they do their best to keep the myth alive. The Amerikan ruling class thrives: the people of the United States do not. This is why the question reduces in the end to a political struggle, not a debate, between those who prefer to live in a society dominated by a ruling class, usually because they are in it or because they hope to get in it, and those of us who would rather live in a democratic society with ``freedom and justice for all.'' Most people of course believe that we already are living in a democratic and just society. These are the people I want to argue with here. I hope that they will find it worthwhile to engage themselves in the argument because it is extremely important to the well-being of all of us and to the future of human life the world over.

  A further merit of the question I am asking is that it has vast implications in a dozen different directions for social theory and social practice. The implications are so vast that it is truly astonishing that so little attention has been devoted to resolving this question and that it has been so easily dismissed as unimportant or peripheral. This is an interesting fact in itself, which I believe can be explained adequately only within the framework of ruling class theory. Actually, the question is not so much dismissed as it is unasked. The pervasive underlying assumption is that the society is democratic, and since democracy is the best social arrangement yet invented, the problem now is to preserve and defend what has already been achieved. The tendency therefore is to take the basic structure of society as a given, to take it for granted, and to theorize within the framework of the present society without ever calling into question the framework itself. And since, to top it off, the structure that is taken for granted has been misunderstood and the presumed structure is not the real structure, the ability to understand social reality has been disastrously damaged.

  This blindness to societal and historical considerations (the two are inseparable) pervades social thought in the United States. It is a bias against questioning the framework of society, against seeing the totality, and against considering alternatives to that framework. The present structure of society is seen as `natural', as `inevitable', as an integral part of `industrial society' and therefore unalterable, or as the highest product of evolution and progress and therefore worthy of defense. This tendency cuts across all disciplines, it seems to me, distorting studies of delinquency or divorce as well as studies of unemployment, urban riots, or underdevelopment: the very names used reveal the distortion.

  Most theorists write, that is, as if a ruling class did not exist. If it could be shown that there is in actual fact a ruling class, and that the social institutions through which the ruling class has achieved and perpetuated its domination have profound effects upon most other activities in the society, then much of what these theorists claim about social life would be invalidated, and their speculations about the good society, about democracy, justice, and well-being, would be rendered irrelevant, at least until the ruling class is overthrown. My main task in this work will be to establish that there is a ruling class, but I can at least begin, I hope, this important task of demonstrating the weaknesses of liberal theory on a wider range of issues and exposing its ideological character.

  Such a confrontation between radical and liberal theory is especially urgent because of the severe social crises facing this country: pollution and destruction of the environment, systematic slaughter on the highways, blatant neglect of health care, poverty, institutionalized waste, a cancerous growth of the military, ghettos, discrimination against women and black people, regimentation in the schools, destruction of personal liberties – to mention only a few. Suggestions for meeting these problems that presume the country to be basically democratic, that therefore accept, alas defend, the present social structure as beyond the pale of possible alteration, and that seek remedies to these problems only within the framework of the present society are doomed, I believe, to certain failure. They are based on a false analysis of the structure of the society and consequently upon an incorrect understanding of the causes of the problems. It follows that they cannot work, and their failure has been demonstrated again and again in practice. I will argue that for the most part it is precisely the framework itself that generates and perpetuates these problems, the framework of a ruling class society operating through the institutions of organized capitalism, and that therefore only a change in the framework itself will relieve the situation, a change to a different and better form of social organization, a democratic organization, which has yet to be formulated in any detail and brought into being in any society founded on industry.

  This awareness of the societal context that constrains us and of the necessity to consider alternative contexts in order to meet our pressing needs is a lesson gleaned from the events of the 1960s and the reflection and study these events provoked. Pounded incessantly by events unintelligible within the warped scope of liberal theory and compelled by an unrelenting desire for clarity and humanity, a whole generation has questioned the established consensus. Having been taught and having believed that ``our'' society was democratic and just, that ``our'' government was seeking to promote and defend freedom and well-being here and around the world, and that ``our'' economic institutions served our basic needs as no other institutions could, it was with no small bewilderment that we faced the glaring discrepancies between the stated intention of official policies and the realities of those policies as we have seen them in operation on a dozen fronts. We have witnessed chronic, even calculated, neglect of urgent human needs, calloused persistence in unjust practices, and brutal repression of legitimate aspirations for liberty. It is only within the context of radical theory, I will argue, that this discrepancy, neglect, and repression can be seen in its true light.

  No one can predict whether or not the radical movement that has emerged in the 1960s in this country will survive. It is my hope that it will, and that future events plus the determination of radicals themselves will make it increasingly difficult for the dominating class to maintain the myth that society in the United States is democratic and just. It may turn out that more and more people will begin to see clearly the dictatorial structure of power in this society and to understand the havoc wrecked by this arbitrary power in our daily lives. That is why I am writing this book – to assist in that process of becoming conscious of reality. I hope that it will contribute to a growing radical awareness of the real nature of the society in which we all live, and that it will provide a few clues about what can be done about it. Our very survival, it seems to me, will be threatened if we fail to comprehend the true dimensions of our present situation and take the actions necessary to meet it.

Preliminary Considerations

  It is certainly possible to imagine a benevolent ruling class that monopolizes all decision-making power in its own hands but opts to distribute the wealth equally. This possibility, of political inequality existing simultaneously with economic equality, is invariably raised whenever one begins to talk about equality, usually by those who are against any effort to redistribute the wealth; the implication being of course that it wouldn't do much good to redistribute wealth anyway because concentration of political power would nevertheless remain. What they are actually saying is that they do not believe that democracy, i.e., equal distribution of power, is really possible. They are, in short, elitists. They argue variously that modern society is too complicated to be run by ordinary people and that only experts can cope with it, that there will always be an elite, that obviously not everyone can be involved in making decisions because there are too many of us, or simply that it would be terribly inconvenient for everyone to have to bother with the business of the country and that they would rather be free to ``do their own thing.'' Before we are through I hope to have demonstrated that all these arguments against the possibility of democracy are invalid. For the time being however let me merely question the plausibility of this notion of a `benevolent ruling class'. Can a monopoly of power be maintained for very long, if at all, without a corresponding monopoly of wealth? Is not power based on wealth and wealth based on power? My studies indicate that this is indeed the case: wealth and power are very closely bound together.

  At any rate, this problem of a `benevolent ruling class' need not detain us here. We are not faced with the problem of trying to determine whether there is a ruling class in an apparently egalitarian society because our society is far from being egalitarian. In other words, if we can prove that inequality of wealth does in fact exist in the United States, as I intend to do in chapter two, the task of determining whether there is a ruling class is different than it would be under conditions of equality, and in many ways far easier, though it is still a difficult undertaking. We will have to demonstrate that those who get more make sure that they continue to get more, and that the inequality is not a conscious policy of the people as a whole, or that if the people do concur in a policy of inequality that they are in no sense acting as free agents. That is, we have to be able to show that the rich take measures to preserve the institutional structures that enabled them to get rich in the first place. To understand a system of inequality we must analyze these institutional structures that benefit the few rather than the many. We must acquire a knowledge of exactly how these structures are perpetuated. If there is a ruling class we will find evidence that they are perpetuated primarily by the efforts of the rich not the poor. This is, roughly, what I hope to do in this study. The thing to note for now however is that the idea of a ruling class is surely connected with the notion of inequality of wealth. I am not aware of a single instance of a poor ruling class (which does not mean that one could not come into being). The historical connection between wealth and power has been so close that the very idea of a poor ruling class seems patently ridiculous and self-contradictory.

  There is another notion, an extremely widespread one, that I would also like to eliminate from our discussion now, at the beginning: the notion of `equal opportunity'. It is widely believed that mobility (getting ahead) is a desirable thing. Success in this sense of moving up in the society is closely identified in this country with the very meaning of life. And everyone, it is felt, should have an equal opportunity in this matter. Government officials and social reformers across the nation advocate `equality of opportunity' as the main solution to the poverty problem. The concept has come to occupy a central position in educational philosophy. Equal opportunity is seen as the solution to every social ill from racism to exploitation of women to urban blight.

  In other words, people do not object so much to the idea of a rich upper class as to the idea that some poor people have better chances of getting into the rich class than others. What they want is `equal opportunity' to get rich, to succeed. This is an absurdly contradictory set of ideas. Only a moment's reflection shows that the notion of equal opportunity presupposes a structure of inequality. It presupposes a hierarchical social structure within which an individual can move up. The concept would be utterly meaningless in an egalitarian society. It is not equality that is being demanded but equal opportunity to be unequal. Why anyone would complain only about their poor chances of getting rich rather than about the existence of a rich upper class in the first place is itself a curiosity, one that I hope will become less enigmatic as our discussion proceeds.

  In any case, the question of mobility is quite irrelevant to my task of determining whether there is a ruling class in the United States. Let me explain why. Imagine two societies. Each society has only two classes – a rich class and a poor class. The rich class in each society is 5% of the population but receives 30% of the wealth. The poor class, 95% of the population, receives 70% of the wealth. In the first society membership in the rich class is determined by family, i.e., birth, and let us assume that this rich class exactly reproduces itself generation after generation so that there is no movement into or out of the class, that is, there is no mobility whatsoever either up or down. In the second society, characterized by the same unequal distribution of wealth between the two classes, membership in the rich class is determined by examination. Everyone, rich and poor alike, takes the examination periodically, say every generation or so, and they all have ``equal opportunity'' to prepare for the examination so that one's chances are not prejudiced by one's previous class position. The top 5% of the scorers becomes the ruling class. Now there will be considerable turnover of individuals in the rich class from one generation to the next in this society because the ability to score high on the test, given equal opportunity to prepare for it, will be more or less evenly distributed through out the whole population.

  Is the second society any more just than the first? I think not. The criterion upon which the inequality is based has changed but the inequality has not. In the first society noble birth is the personal attribute that entitles a person to a disproportionate share of the society's wealth. In the second society the rewarded attribute is the ability to pass tests. The first society is usually described as a `closed' society and condemned while the second society is called an `open' society and defended. This is surely a mistaken view. As far as I can see both societies are equally unjust. There is no significant difference between them. Both are characterized by gross inequality; only the criterion on which it is based is different.

  We can imagine any number of other criteria that could be used. Membership in the rich class could be determined by I.Q. for example, or personal appearance, or political belief, or sex, or ethnicity, or country of birth, or race. We could probably devise a system of random selection: draw lots every generation to pick the wealthy. We might even invent a system of rotation. The population could be divided into 10 groups and every so often the top group would become the bottom group and everyone would move up one notch. These bizarre fantasies have a point. The point is this: changing the criterion upon which inequality is based, which is all that equal opportunity does, can in no way affect the fairness of a society because the injustice is rooted in the very existence of inequality in the first place, in the fact that some people get more than a fair share of the wealth produced by everyone. (It is worse, needless to say, if they get more than a fair share of wealth they did not even help to make, for then of course no share is a fair one.)

  It is often argued, I admit, especially in our times, that bright people at least should get more than dull people, if only because bright people are the only ones able to keep a modern society running. And since it is indeed important that modern society be kept running, the argument goes, these people deserve more of the common produce. It is not true first of all that bright people do make a greater contribution to society than anyone else. Society is an interdependent whole. It comes to a grinding halt when any of the essential functions necessary to it are stopped (as anyone who has lived through a garbage collector strike in New York City knows full well). But more importantly, intelligence is, for the most part, something a person is born with. I see no reason why people of average or poor intelligence, through no fault of their own, should be penalized. Yet our entire society is increasingly structured to do precisely this. Actually, this argument is merely another version of an old theme that has been used by countless others to justify inequality: some people deserve more. Obedient persons, for example, deserve more than rebellious ones, strong more than weak, white more than black, male more than female, or energetic (high metabolism) more than lazy (low metabolism). But I do not believe any of these rationalizations for inequality can be defended, as I will try to show presently.

  Nor is the intensity of a person's desire to be in the upper class (i.e., their motivation) of much relevance either. For quite obviously, the number of positions in the upper class is more or less fixed, by definition almost (or more accurately by the structure of the system of inequality). This is what it means to talk about an unequal distribution of wealth. In contemporary western societies this inequality is realized and perpetuated through laws and institutions permitting people to accumulate property without limit and to pass it on to their children, and through a sliding scale of monetary payments attached to various `jobs' or functions in the society (that is, through the occupational structure). This is a question of structure not motivation. If there are only 100,000 executive positions in the economy it matters not at all how many millions of people want those jobs; only 100,000 will get them. By examining the changing occupational structure (e.g., how many new executive positions are added) it is possible to tell more or less precisely how many rags-to-riches success stories there will be in any generation and how many failures. Similarly, there is a fixed amount of property in existence at any given time. If ownership is distributed unequally, not everyone, no matter how hard they work, can make it in the big time, by definition.

  If there has to be a rich upper class I suppose it would be better to have some turnover in it. A lottery system, it seems to me, would be the fairest way to decide membership in it. The absurdity of such a suggestion illustrates the very point I am trying to make: the system of inequality itself has never been called into question. It is not as if we are all agreed that inequality is necessary or unavoidable and that the problem facing us is merely to select people to receive the biggest shares. There will never be a lottery system to pick the rich because no one picks the rich and they never have. The rich exist de facto. They are permanently entrenched, by virtue of a thousand suppressed revolts, historical circumstances, and sheer luck. They will never give up their privileges unless forced to do so. We are living in a ruling class society and we always have. The doctrine of equal opportunity serves as a palliative, to make people think they are getting a fair shake while leaving the root of the injustice untouched and even unnoticed.

  But to argue that there has to be an upper class is a large claim indeed. It is one nevertheless that has been made by generations of so-called social scientists in the United States. That is probably why they have been so obsessed with studies of mobility, social backgrounds, and equal opportunity. They have taken the structure of inequality for granted, as a given. They have mistaken a characteristic of a particular historical society for a universal feature of all societies. ``All societies are stratified.'' This is the accepted dogma. I do not believe this doctrine can withstand criticism and I do not intend to follow it.

  The notion of `ruling class' then has something to do, first of all, with inequality in the material sense of wealth, with the rich and the poor, and with the ability (power) of the wealthy to hang on to their privileges. The monopolization of social and economic advantages is what I am talking about. This is too obvious to need further comment. Less obvious is the claim that what matters is the perpetuation of inequality, of a certain structure of inequality embedded in specific institutions, laws, and beliefs, and not the particular individuals (or their social origins) who are at any given historical moment benefiting from that structure and seeking therefore in most cases to perpetuate it. It would not matter in the least if all the fathers of men now rich were poor manual laborers as long as they, the sons, work to maintain the system whereby they now get a disproportionate share of the society's wealth. By ruling class, therefore, I mean those individuals who receive and are able to maintain a disproportionate share of the wealth of a society.

  To say that certain people are ``able to maintain'' a system of inequality suggests that there might have been opposition to that inequality. It is not absolutely essential that opposition occur to be able to claim that inequality has been maintained, but if open opposition can be shown to have occurred the case is stronger. If no opposition to the inequality can be cited then the task of proving that a ruling class exists moves onto another level. It is important to clarify this difficult question now before it muddles the analysis. It is fairly central to the whole case I am presenting. Therefore I want to outline the major logical possibilities and consider the significance of each in some detail.

  There is first of all the problem of deciding what constitutes opposition and making sure that this opposition is indeed directed against the system of inequality and its beneficiaries. Assuming that this obstacle can be overcome we are then in a position to determine whether opposition to the ruling class does or does not occur. If opposition to the privileges of the rich does occur then only two outcomes seem possible for any specific instance of opposition. Either the ruling class wins or it loses. Either the opposition is defeated, put down, contained, or suppressed by the ruling class and the degree of inequality remains unchanged or increases, or the opposition wins and the inequality is reduced to some extent or perhaps even totally eliminated. (If several aspects of inequality are at stake in a single struggle, as they usually are, there may be partial victories for both sides simultaneously, i.e., a compromise may be agreed upon whereby each side wins some of its demands and loses some. The wins and losses on each side would then have to be tallied and compared to determine whether the overall inequality had been increased, decreased, or merely maintained.)

  Some caution must be exercised before concluding that a rebellion against inequality has succeeded however because quite frequently the ruling class, after an apparent defeat, is able to regroup under new leadership and deny the fruits of victory to the disadvantaged. The egalitarian forces may win the battle but lose the war, as the saying goes. That is, if one ruling class or one faction of the ruling class is defeated only to be replaced by another then obviously nothing has been gained. The only sure test it would seem of real victory over the ruling class is reduction of the inequality in the society – permanent reduction.

  Now clearly, if an identifiable act of rebellion or resistance to inequality occurs and is defeated it is certainly possible to claim that those who won are ``able to maintain'' a disproportionate share of the wealth of the society. This is the clearest possible proof that a ruling class exists. Similarly, if the rebellion succeeds and we find that there is a permanent elimination of inequality then we can say that there is not a ruling class; there may have been one before the rebellion but it was incapable of maintaining its disproportionate advantages any longer against opposition, and was consequently overthrown and abolished.

  If no opposition to inequality occurs the task of establishing the existence of a ruling class becomes more complicated. Several things could account for the absence of resistance to inequality. Perhaps there is a widespread approval of inequality, for instance. People may feel that inequality is legitimate and just and that the rich deserve what they get. They may believe in it, that is, for whatever reasons, perhaps, for example, because they are convinced that progress is impossible without wealthy people to save and invest and they prefer progress to equality. It is obvious however that this must be an autonomous approval, made freely and voluntarily by independent agents. Otherwise such a belief in the legitimacy of inequality could easily result from indoctrination by the ruling class. Perhaps it is merely an ideology. In short, maybe the people have been brainwashed, to use the strongest term, in the sense that they have been taught, generation after generation, ideas (myths) that serve to maintain the system of inequality by legitimizing it or by defining it as good, or at least as natural, much as the belief in the Divine Right of Kings functioned in an earlier era.

  This is clearly a tricky question which unfortunately stands at the very heart of the endeavor we are engaged in here. Is it possible to claim that there is a ruling class in the face of universal acclamation of the virtues of the system by everyone in it? A simple survey of current opinion though is surely insufficient to establish the autonomy of popular beliefs from possible ruling class influence. What we have to do is to search out the origins of these dominant beliefs in the history of the society. Where did they come from? What were the conditions under which the ideas emerged, grew in influence, and became widely accepted?

Ignorance of inequality could also account for the failure of resistance to appear. If people do not know that inequality exists they cannot oppose it. They may believe falsely that the society is egalitarian. There is certainly a widespread belief to this effect in our own country. For most former societies, for feudalism or classical empires for example, it is more difficult to accept ignorance of inequality as a plausible excuse for contentment with the status quo than it is today. Living in the shadow of the Lord's castle the masses could hardly help noticing the inequality. But in our society, some claim, the inequalities are less obvious. I personally believe this claim has been exaggerated, although the sheer size of the working masses in a continental nation like the United States does mean that the poor are surrounded mainly by the poor and this leads often to the illusion that everyone is the same. Nevertheless, everyone knows that there are fabulously wealthy people in the United States. People talk about the rich all the time. But there is also this other, opposing belief, reinforced perhaps by the superficial appearances of things, that the United States is more or less egalitarian. Here again it is necessary to ask whether ignorance of inequality, if it exists, is the fault of the people themselves, or whether it has been imposed on them. Maybe the ruling class hides. Maybe they try to be as inconspicuous as possible. Maybe they keep information about themselves secret. That is, we have to find out whether the ignorance is voluntary or forced.

  A third explanation for lack of opposition could be indifference to inequality. People know about the inequality and disapprove of it but nevertheless remain apathetic and indifferent to it, perhaps because they are so rich anyway that it doesn't matter much to them if someone else is even ten times richer. The effort required to reduce the inequality may not be worth it to them. That is, they submit to an inequality which they are aware of and dislike but are too apathetic to oppose. But apathy is a strange emotion. Once again, here, as with approval or ignorance, I want to make sure that this apathy is in fact genuine and not induced.

  In all three of the reasons for lack of resistance to inequality discussed so far we have confronted the problem of indoctrination. Approval, ignorance, or indifference to inequality may be voluntary, but they may also stem from indoctrination, manipulation, control, conditioning, or brainwashing, especially if these things are considered historically. The full autonomy of the people would have to be thoroughly documented and proved before we could conclude that there was no ruling class merely from the observation that no rebellion against inequality has occurred. If it could be proved that there is indoctrination to legitimize the inequality, to conceal it, or to induce indifference about it then it seems to me the existence of a ruling class would have been established.

  A fourth and powerful explanation for the absence of opposition remains, one that does not involve the problem of indoctrination. What if the ruling class possesses the capacity to effectively control and suppress latent opposition to the system of inequality that serves it so well? What if people are locked into a system of controls that prevents effective opposition, that stops resistance before it ever gets off the ground? This is a possibility we will investigate thoroughly. It may be that many people know about inequality, hate it, and want to end it but are powerless to resist. Perhaps they are scattered and isolated and without the means to organize. People often continue to conform to rules and practices they consider illegitimate and unjust because they have to or else suffer inordinate consequences like imprisonment, starvation, or even death. What if the very structure of the system of inequality built by the ruling class functions to suppress opposition, to block all channels of resistance, and to force compliance with its mandates? If it can be established that this is the case then we have to admit that there is indeed a ruling class even though no manifest opposition to it has been observed.

  Let me summarize my deliberations so far on the question of `opposition'. I began by defining a ruling class as ``those individuals who receive and are able to maintain a disproportionate share of the wealth of a society.'' I began, that is, with a condition of inequality, an inequality that has been shown to exist by previous investigations, and then I argued that those who get more constitute the ruling class. My next problem is to prove this, to show that those who get more do so because they rule, because they defeat or prevent attempts by the disadvantaged to establish equality, because they make efforts to maintain the system that favors them, and not by default, for example, or simply as an artifact of the way the system works, a system that came into being and persists independently of them and through no efforts of their own. In order to demonstrate that the rich get more because they rule we must consider the following cases:

A. Opposition to inequality occurs

  1. The opposition succeeds and inequality is eliminated
  2. The opposition fails and inequality is maintained

B. Opposition to inequality does not occur

  1. There is approval of inequality
    a. the approval is autonomous
    b. the approval is indoctrinated
  2. There is ignorance of inequality
    a. the ignorance is voluntary
    b. the ignorance is imposed
  3. There is indifference to inequality
    a. the indifference is genuine
    b. the indifference is induced
  4. There is effective control and suppression of latent opposition

  Case A1 does not concern us here because the inequality is eliminated. Since inequality still exists in the United States this case could not possibly apply to us. There is no ruling class in cases B1a, B2a, or B3a, where voluntary, autonomous submission to inequality has been established. In all remaining cases a ruling class does exist, that is, in cases A2, B1b, B2b, B3b, and B4.

  I think it is possible to argue the strongest possible case against those who deny that there is a ruling class in the United States, namely that all five of the conditions just cited do in fact apply to the United States. Throughout the chapters that follow I will present evidence to show (a) that there has been enormous opposition to inequality through out our history and that it has been defeated, (2) that vast energies and resources are continually expended by the ruling class to prevent opposition by legitimizing the status quo of inequality, minimizing public awareness of inequality, and fostering attitudes of indifference and apathy, and (3) that, in addition, the very structure of monopoly capitalism, with its intricate network of administrative controls, with atomization of the population built right into its architecture and residential patterns, with the binding tie it establishes between `having a job' and `earning a living', etc., this and much more besides makes it hard for people to mount opposition to the system even though they might want to.

  In the pages to come I do not literally follow this scheme, one, two, three, but the logic just outlined undergirds much of what I have to say.

  It only remains to consider the emphasis I place on the condition of equality. It should be clear enough by now that I favor equality. I am against inequality. I am against the ruling class. These are not extreme or unusual views. Many of us in this country believe in equality. I am sure that more people would oppose the ruling class if they knew it existed. The trouble is that they do not know there is one. They are deluded about the nature of United States society. Before going on however it is necessary to establish this belief in equality on a solid foundation since it is central to the argument. It would be pointless for example to prove the existence of a ruling class and to condemn it if it could be shown that a ruling class is an inevitable feature of any society. Likewise, if powerful reasons could be found for preferring an inegalitarian society then condemnation of inequality would be unwarranted. In this section therefore I want to argue that equality is both possible and desirable. I make two claims: (1) None of the rationalizations for inequality can be successfully defended: (2) Equality is morally superior to inequality as a principle of social organization because it is inseparable from liberty, justice, and well-being. . . . (unfinished)


This project never really got off the ground, but was projected as follows:


Chapter One: Preliminary Considerations. (Establish a definition of ruling class; argue that inequality is not inevitable; argue that inequality is unjust.)

Chapter Two: Wealth and Poverty in the History of the United States. (Prove that inequality exists in the U.S. and always has from the very beginning.)

Chapter Three: Capitalism and the Ruling Class. (Show that this inequality is the result of a particular institutional arrangement: capitalism. Show that inequality is an inherent feature of capitalism, i.e., that equality is impossible under capitalism.)

Chapter Four: The State Apparatus and the Ruling Class. (Demonstrate that the state apparatus is a means for perpetuating capitalism; it works predominantly in favor of the capitalist – business – ruling class.)

Chapter Five: The Behavior of the Ruling Class Overseas. (Show that the interests of this capitalist class overseas are an integral part of the system and that the behavior of the U.S. government and U.S. corporations abroad perpetuate the system, a system which sustains inequality on the international level also.)

Chapter Six: The Ideas of the Ruling Class. (Show that the ideas of the ruling class, i.e., ideas that endorse capitalism, have prevailed because of ruling class monopolies over education and mass media.)

Chapter Seven: The Ruling Class against the Common Good. (Demonstrate that the ruling class institutions of capitalism contradict by their very nature the common good; they throw up inherent obstacles to public needs like good health care, safe highways, clean environment, etc.)

Chapter Eight: Female, Black, Old, Young: Discrimination in a Class Society. (Describe the built-in propensity to discriminate against minorities that exists in a ruling class society – i.e., minorities are defined as `outsiders' and peripheral to the driving motive of profit.)

Chapter Nine: A Historical Sketch of Ruling Class Hegemony. (Provide at this point an overall historical summary of the domination of the ruling class in the United States.)

Chapter Ten: On Defeating the Ruling Class. (Map out a strategy for defeating the ruling class.)

Chapter Eleven: Blueprints for a Just Society. (Map out the main principles of a decent society.)