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Democracy and the Narrowing Power Elite

A consolidation of the elite classes could translate into a failure for capitalism and democracy.
A consolidation of the elite classes could translate into a failure for capitalism and democracy.
Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Looking at economic philosophy through the eyes of a sociologist, the teachings of Karl Marx provide insight into why American capitalism was more successful than Russian communism. Marx viewed war and social unrest as primarily an inherit conflict between economic classes, the proletariats, i.e. the workers/producers of goods and services, and the capitalists, i.e. the exploiters of the producers. Supporters of Marx viewed all conflict as more or less economic in nature while the Communists believed they could eliminate conflict by eliminating the capitalists, i.e. the wealthy elite. Unfortunately, they neglected to realize they were only creating a more permanent, more powerful privileged class that could more readily abuse power. In other words, they created an oppressive government class that lacked rivalry.

In the West, Americans understood capitalists do not just exploit workers: they can add to the efficiency of an economy by organizing the distribution of resources and coordinating economic activities. It is when the demands of the capitalists outweigh their benefits that they become little more than a disposal burden. Thanks to an underlying philosophy of self-sufficiency and self-determination, Americans are expected to act as both proletariats and capitalists by offering their labor for a negotiated sum of capital, i.e. we are expected to demand reasonable compensation and ensure our own interests are met, which is the democratic way. As such, Americans did not seek to eliminate the upper classes; we sought to disperse power across a broad range of individuals in a variety of fields. Long before the issue of Communism arose, the American People aspired to build a nation based on equal opportunity. As such, the United States has long promoted multiple elite classes that anyone can join. This is why we believe every American should have the opportunity to work his, or her, way up to the status of the elite.

When small groups of individuals control the elite classes of the different power arenas in our society, and/or the lower classes lose their ability to achieve a higher socioeconomic status, the powerful few have the ability to short-circuit democratic processes. In tandem, our interests can only be addressed when those in power have a perceived interest in addressing our interests. Because minority groups, including the wealthy, are naturally inclined to seek power, as they must to ensure their interests are not neglected by the majority, and the powerful are driven to solidify/legitimize their power, a smaller elite class, which is based more on inheritance rather than true merit, will seek to undermine the interests of the majority when its interests conflict with the interests of the powerful. In other words, when the rulers of a nation have consolidated, legitimized, and solidified their power, they will have no incentive to respect democracy or address the interests of the majority. The greatest threat to the American way of life is, therefore, a consolidation of the elite classes and the inability of individuals to improve their socioeconomic status, i.e. everyone must have opportunity to pursue their interests.