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Alfred de Grazia: Discovering National Elites





By "institutions" is meant all organizations in a society that have rules and Officers operating theoretically according to the rules. By "elite institutions" is meant all institutions whose members mount considerable force in making public policy and political decisions of the state. Elite institutions ordinarily can be grouped into three types: the state organs, para-constitutional groups, and semi-private organizations.


VII-1. State organs. The most obvious candidates for the title of elite institutions are those constitutional organs that are formally declared to be the machinery for legislation and public policy. These ordinarily include executive, legislative and, in some cases, judicial organs. Functionally, one must look for the practice rather than the theory, that is the actual origin and consummation of decisions rather than the hypothetical origin and determination of decisions that may be provided for in a written constitution or some publicized official account of the working of the government.

Even when it is obvious that these general species of institution, such as the executive and legislative branches of government, actually exercise power in the community, the precise allocation of the making of decisions among the sub-divisions of these organs is a more difficult matter and, of course, the essential matter in this selection of targets. Thus, of the four hundred and thirty-five members of the American House of Representatives, not all members are equally powerful, and there is a considerable degree of specialization in the types of power wielded by the four hundred and thirty-five, some of them specializing in agricultural decisions, others in public power decisions, others in decisions regarding the armed forces, the state department, etc.

Similarly, in the executive of any government, there are likely to be a number of quasi-independent agencies which engage in a struggle, not only for specific power concerning their own province, but in a general struggle for determination of public policy as a whole. No mere statement of the scope of an agency is sufficiently valid on its face to be accepted, for some of the most significant contests for power occur as one agency seeks to enlarge its scope or to participate in some general power movement that has very little relevance to its theoretical function. Thus, there were several different police groups of Nazi Germany, and over a period of time they struggled with one another for police powers and struggle for political power in the whole of the state. The example extends to the Soviet Union and to many another country.

VII-2. Para-constitutional agencies. The second type of elite institution, the para constitutional group includes organizations that are not given formal authority to make law and to enforce it, but who contribute directly to the making of decisions about law and its enforcement, and in many cases partially undertake precisely those functions behind the scenes. Such organizations would include political parties, movements of various kinds, economic organizations, parties, movements of various kinds, economic organizations, educational groups and institutions and church organizations. A number of prominent lobbying or interest organizations would fall into the para-constitutional category. In this category of groups, one finds even greater cleavages between the statement of intentions of the group and its actual behavior, and between the ostensible normal structure organization, and leadership of the group and the actual structure, organization and leadership. Thus, a party operating in the name of the little people may well have at its head an executive secretary who is actually a paid servant of the party leadership.

VII-3. Semi-private institutions. The third category, semi-private institutions, includes large number of agencies that are not directly committed to an interest in political power, and in many cases are even forbidden by law or by hostile public opinion to engage in any struggle for general power. They would be corporations, monopolies and cartels, trade associations, newspapers and magazines, and any other institution whose activities and behavior is relevant to the determination of public policy. There is no hard and fast line between semi-private institutions, para-constitutional groups, and state organizations. From time to time, an institution moves into another category and then back again. In some instances, one institution may be functionally represented in two or three categories. Thus, there are, in some countries, actual state organizations built up form the leaders of business, as in the Portuguese legislature or the Irish senate. In others, para-constitutional economic organizations may be consulted frequently regarding political decision or may actually use their resources to influence or determine state policy. An example of this would be the large Japanese monopolies, especially before World War II. In most technologically advanced states, there are dozens or even hundreds of economic advisory groups set up on local, provincial, and national levels. Only a minute examination of statutes and administrative regulations or degrees can reveal the whole apparatus of para-constitutional advice. Yet again, there will be economic organizations that have an isolated and autonomous sphere of action and which will govern a special sector of the economy but be prevented from or will not desire to intrude or interfere with general power decisions of any kind. Finally, there would be a large number of economic institutions that would in no way be relevant to the general power situation, and which the operator can afford to ignore.

VII-4. Formal and informal organizations distinguished. All of these institutions nay be distinguished from informal elite institutions by their having a set of rules and a number of officers or functionaries who operate in their name. Informal institutions, such as clubs, cliques, social groupings of a loose kind, and the like, may be exceedingly influential institutions, as influential as the formal elite institutions, and they will be discussed at length in the next Section. The relations that one can discover between the two types of institutions are so important as to deserve yet another Section following that dealing with informal institutions.

VII-5. Utility of institutional identification. In the discovery of the elite and their vulnerabilities, the knowledge of institutions is useful for several reasons. An institution consists of the sum of actions of individuals within it. In a number of cases if one knows the behavior of the aggregate, that is, the institution, he does not have to compute the behavior of the individuals in it separately. Secondly, institutions lend a power to individuals. The power of a given person includes both his personal power, his abilities, his energies, and connections, and also the institutional power given by virtue of his institutional position. Thirdly, individuals who have little power or great power often masquerade behind institutions. In this even, the penetration of the institutional curtain is necessary to ascertain the power of individuals. A question of what hand is moving events, when the events emerge from the impersonal facade of an institution, is often answered by matching individuals, of known power with the fact of their presence in those institutions. In face, one of the criteria of the astute political observer is his ability to discern what "anonymous" official lies behind an action taken in the name of an institution . Finally, institutional officers have an inherent and residual power. This power ought to be known and judged in some way as to its extent and direction. Once known, it can be transferred automatically to the incumbent of a position. When the position changes hand, the residual power remains. When a man with a known personal power "score" takes on a new office, one can add to or subtract from his score the power or lack of power conferred on him by the office.

The crucial question to which this comment leads, deserves to be considered at length in the techniques that follow, namely what is the relative power of any given institution to other institutions in the society. Hence, the main intent of this section is to get at the discovery of institutions that wield power and, simultaneously, to determine how much power they wield in relation to the sum total of decisions in the society. Furthermore, it is necessary to determine within a given type of decision what contribution an institution makes, since it may matter little for the purposes of the operator that any given institution makes only a tiny fraction of the total decisions of the society, if its contribution to those decisions falls in a vital but small area in which the operator is interested. Then the institution becomes a most formidable elilte institution for his purposes.

VII-6. Constitutional analysis. The major divisions of a government are described in constitutions, which most states now have. The Statesman’s Year Book is an easy guide to the major formal political institutions. Practically every country in the world will have some volume on it, written in or translated into English. Local governments and functional institutions are likely to be scantily treated in English and, rather than go into difficult chapters, statuses, etc., the operator may prefer to use informants.

VII-7 Legislation analysis. What laws are being passed? How are they passed? In most countries the degree of legislative activity is know, but where not immediately discernible, it should be discovered. Analysis of the forms of sanctioned command over a period of time covering two or more legislative years should give some notion of the extent of the powers wielded by an office, an assembly or a King.

VII-8. The sources of legislation. The chief sources of the laws can be discovered fairly readily by an examination of the authorship of a sample of all bills before the legislature in two or more sessions. Sometimes the authorship is public information - the bureau, legislator, committee, etc., proposing the bill must be stated. This does not give full information on authorship, however, for as soon as the authorship would be embarrassing, a "front" author is used. Inquiry into the origins of a bill form parliamentary informants - friendly legislators, clerks, journalists, bureaucrats - is probably a better method because they can get behind the formal institutional associations of legislative personnel. In most countries, lack of publicity on legislation makes this necessary anyway.

Knowing the chief sources of laws indicates the chief legal centers of power. Whether or not the elite institution where the legal output centers are in fact the sources of proposals and policies, they are a formidable instrument of power since they at least add important legitimacy to naked acts of power.

VII-9. Administrative Rule-Making. A good deal of law-making in societies of some size and complexity is down by government offices. Sometimes registers and codes of this legal production may be obtained. Study of them may reveal the extent of which law-making is confided to the executive agencies. One should watch for signs that the output of an agency is initiated or cleared by another agency, an external authority or power, or the chief of the executive branch and his staff. The importance of the rules of an agency are again judged by a sample of its output of rules, weighted by the degree of scope (topics covered), intensity (depth of control of or sanctions on the subject matter) and domain (number of people affected by the rules). One should ask what proportion this weighted rule-power is of the total law-making effort of the society in order to arrive at a judgment of the total power of the rule-making agency.

VII-10. Law and Rule-Making by private bodies. In many societies, organizations not forming part of the constitutional agencies of the state may nevertheless have authority to pass laws in specific domains. Such "laws" may go by a different name, but they are formally enacted or ordered and their enforcement is regular and effective. Often there is doubt whether the agency is a formal constitutional organ. Such agencies are most often economic in character - they rule industries, labor relations, production, etc. But they may also be religious. Where an official state religion exists, a religious officer or assembly may determine a number of modes of behavior that are politically relevant. Their rules, for example, may effectively exclude certain individuals from high power positions.

VII-11. Court Power. As the seat of judgment upon legal contests the court may have only a veto power on policy. But even this power should not be underrated. Although it is true that the courts in almost all countries lack the power to veto laws, incidents of history such as the Reichstag fire trials, the Nuremberg trials, the South African judiciary acts decisions, and the behavior of the so-called People’s Revolutionary Tribunes of Eastern Europe, demonstrate the power potential of courts to aid or impede the ruling groups. The demand for legality being almost everywhere great, the judiciary functions both in office and behind the scenes as part of the elite. Operators should ask, therefore, what is the social and power status of lawyers? Is that of judges higher? To whom do they owe office? Are they removable? Can they rely upon the executive to carry out their judicial decisions?

VII-12. Analysis of Agency Operation. From outside an agency’s potency and energy can be judged by measures of its functions, funds, and personnel. Especially in a bureaucratic society, where public posts are eagerly sought after, one can take the measure of an agency’s power by the size of its budget, the number of functions it performs, and the number of personnel it employs. In addition, the most political of functions are those commanding information (propaganda), short-run economic resources (treasury and budget), and violence (police and military). These functions count for more in a power struggle than the others, and go far to outweigh more numerous activities, personnel, and greater expenditures.

VII-13. Publicity analysis. Attention in the press and among people generally, both indicates and abets power - at least in the political sphere. An analysis of press coverage of agencies reveals that disproportionate attention is given to certain agencies. The military, for example, may receive more column inches than the treasury. This is a clue to who makes important policy and who has a better entry to public opinion with his case. Even where press disapproval results in silence concerning an agency, interrogation of ordinary people (and an examination of popular fictional material) may well reveal a high rate of attention to an activity or agency. For example, the CIA in America is a secret agency, little reported in the press, but many radio programs, movies, and comics treat with the agency’s work.

VII-14. Trend analysis of constitutional organs. Time series data, or activity expenditures, personnel, and publicity can help evaluate the increase and decrease of government agencies relative to one another.

VII-15. How to locate para-constitutional groups. Human organization seems to demand groups that are fronts and auxiliaries to the central groups. These para-groups are set up to add flexibility and a greater degree of informality to the central, formal actions. Many para-constitutional groups have achieved status as almost wholly political and legal organs with sanctions, but their most important trait is that they do fall short of such achievement. In fact, their function would be considerably impaired if they were to achieve that status. Because they are not central to the state, information on such groups is often not readily available. Usually the regulatory statutes of the government take cognizance of such groups and one may look up such items as parties, churches, corporations, schools, etc., in the code of laws, if such exists. Interviews are perhaps an easier mode for discovering the existence and relative position of such groups. One asks his sample or his informants what kind of agencies does the legislature, or do the bureau chiefs, depend upon for advice and consultation? Do they always do it and is it required by law? Is it permitted and fostered by law and custom? What would happen if the para-constitutional agencies were ignored in the making of an important decision? In a crisis, do the central organs turn deliberately and invariably to para-constitutional groups for help?

VII-16. Political parties. Parties are the most influential para-constitutional groups nearly everywhere. They vary in their organization and in their connection with the state from highly integrated dominant organs in a one-party state (where, nevertheless, they are given a somewhat outside connection to the government) all the way to unorganized, fluid, informal factions. The placement of the party institution in any government is a first step of elite analysis. For party institutions, as with constitutional agencies, one inquires into the numbers they represent by voting returns and party membership rolls, their party war-chests, their degree of organization and cohesion internally, and the legal possibilities they have of presenting their program before the government and the people and of taking over the government (what organs, with what completeness, for how long?). See Section XVI also.

VII-17. Religious groups. In some cases, a certain religious affiliation, guarded by church authorities, may be pre-requisite for certain offices. In Lebanon, for example, the chief religious divisions ordinarily have quotas of offices, based on their numbers and vested power, that run from the highest to the lowest. The Maronite, Shiite, and Druse religions thus form elite institutions by their importance as screening agents for qualifications of candidates to office.

The religious groups may be quite powerful in their own realm, all pervasive of the customs and minds of the people, and yet divorced from the precise centers of political power. In India, for example, religion plays a great role among the common people and there is an extensive religious elite that is powerful in its own right, but there is an open split between the directed energies of the political elite and the minds of the religious leaders. See Section XIX also.

VII-18. Education and Youth Organization. Ordinarily, these agencies are weak in power and have access to the state only through the capacity of their leaders to associate on fairly equal terms with the general elite as members of the intelligentsia. One should inquire, however, whether there are youth organizations sponsored and dominated by the state as part of the party organization, or religious political organization. Leaders of such groups may have distinct access to power in their own right and on behalf of the considerable number of sub-officials and youth that they manage.

VII-19. The identification of semi-private elite institutions. In a complex society, there are many hundreds of private, semi-private, or semi-public institutions, the leaders of which participate in the general elite or else have considerable power, of a politically relevant kind, within their own jurisdictions and everyday functioning. In some smaller communities and simple societies, technically speaking, a complete listing of corporations, cartels, trade associations, unions and newspapers will provide a handy guide to where to look for the well-to-do sectors of the public. In other countries such lists are so large as to be useless in their totality, without a large staff to examine them constantly and determine who operates them. For some countries quantitative analyses of the ownership structure and the trade union structure are available and should, by all means, be obtained, for they are valuable indices to who’s who on the level below, on the margins, and even in the general elite itself.

Just as there are different functions among the executive agencies of the government, some of which, like the military, police, and communications functions, are more important politically than others - so, also, in the privately organized institutions of society there are the more and less politically relevant and important functions. It is more necessary to know who operates and governs the steel, machinery, munitions, and motor vehicle and transport industries than who operates the textiles and luxury goods industries. The industrial networks of the world are frequently possessed of international ramifications, and one may even discover before entering a country that a certain portion of the leadership of elite institutions has international connections by virtue of selling or buying abroad. These institutions have peculiar problems and sometimes different identifications with international slogans and international problems and personalities than do the strictly local industries.

VII-20. The political influence of business organizations. Business groups include corporations, monopolies, cartels, trade associations, and certain kinds of individual enterprises and syndicates, the latter especially in less complicated and developed economies. One cannot study all of them intensively. He can better discover from interview of them intensively. He can better discover from interview or analysis of the press, especially the financial sections and special financial periodicals, what seem to be the leading organizations that give cues to industry both for its internal affairs and for its political line. Very often, except in the extreme opposition press, one cannot detect readily the existence and membership in various kinds of cartels, syndicates and associations, because the activities of those groups are vulnerable politically, and are often extra-legal. But that kind of press exposure is quite likely to be exaggerated and unreliable. America, for example, has a great body of literature on the exposure of corporation networks, monopolies, cartels, etc. The main theory of these studies is that a band of determined men are engaged in a conspiracy to combine totalitarian political power with a desire for great profits.

VII-21 Trade union. The same caution is in order in making judgments about the cohesion and unitary direction of trade unions. To the innocent, the networks of relationships among private institutions vested with public interest always seem to have more solidarity and purposiveness than they in fact do have. However, the international connections of unions are worth taking into account and watching. So are the questions of tenure and turnover among union leadership. More will be said of this in Section XXI. Ordinarily, lists of the unions of a country may be obtained from the central, national confederations or offices, from registration lists for national conferences of trade unions, and some times from the central statistical offices of the government. Unlike any business with considerable prosperity, or size, unions of considerable power and activity may not even have telephone numbers. See Section XXI, also.

VII-22. The Press. The press is divisible into publishers, editors, and reporters wherever the press is of a sufficient degree of affluence. Otherwise, and this perhaps goes for most countries of the world, the three functions of a newspaper or magazine may be combined in single man’s hands, with perhaps an assistant or two. From one point of view, the press interest is identified with the interests of other private and semi-public institutions; from another point of view the press belongs with the intelligentsia as an elite institution. From both points of view it forms a bridge between rather well-defined material interests, be they of labor, management, or ownership, and the intellectual segments of the population.

VII-23. Identification of the elite institutions in informal preliterate or unhistorical societies. Referring back to Section II of this manual, there were instructions for following the functional aspects of a society as they move towards the discovery of the elite. This is the shortest way in a simple or primitive society and in many local situations in Western countries.

VII-24. Institutions crucial to coups d’etat. Elite institutions are often seen in an unusual perspective by those who are attempting to seize power. The legislative chambers, the executive offices and the courts of the state remain important objectives of power. But more crucial to the success of a coup d’etat are the arsenals, key public utilities, such as the gas and electric plants and transportation facilities, certain bridges, the newspaper plants and radio stations. A major explanation of the success of the Bolshevist coup in October 1917 was Trotsky’s organized seizure of communication and power facilities, even before making an assault upon the central government buildings. In certain countries that are habituated to coups, it is commonplace that more attention be paid to the army major in charge of an arsenal than the head of the cabinet. A new group of men are momentarily the holders of power in the short-lived perspective of the coup.

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