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Alfred de Grazia: Discovering National Elites





When thoroughly done, the discovery of the elite and the ranking of its components is a large operation. From time to time during the course of study and indeed frequently in the course of normal intelligence operations, one needs to check his information to be sure he is "on target," that is, really treating with important centers of influence. This section provides a number of criteria, indicators, or tests that one may apply to alleged or presumed leadership to determine more surely its influential character.


XIV-1.Testing knowledge or others in group. In plotting the elite structure, questions are put to interviewees that indicate interaction between themselves and other members of the power structure, for example, "How well do you know others (on the list of influentials)?" This question may have parts, or degrees of knowledge, such as: related by blood or marriage, know intimately, know well, know slightly, heard of him, unknown. If one is "on center of an elite target group, the persons within the group must at least know each other well. Otherwise, the persons on a list of elite do not interact. Power cannot be exercised without interaction, policies cannot be developed, things and persons cannot be moved. It will be found that top influentials know other top influentials.

It will also be found that the degree of knowledge of influentials by persons outside the immediate circle will fall in ratio to the distance a man is from the innerworking group. For example, a high status lawyer who is called upon frequently to advise the top influentials as to their legal rights, but who is not a decision-maker in his own right, will know many of the primary policy-making group, but he will know them less well than those nearer the center of a decision-making circle. Other professionals who may be more remote from the inner circle may know even fewer persons or know them only casually. By asking the same questions of persons close to but outside of the inner circle, one tests the close-knit character of the elite policy group.

XIV-2. Discovering with whom subject works. A second question is one related to the way in which a person has worked with others on issues or projects in relation to policy development and execution. Those who are top policy-makers are liable to "have a hand in on" the development of most of the major community policies - those that affect the whole community in a civic sense. Here a word of caution may be inserted, however. Not all members of the elite are active in every policy that is formulated. Their interests may be such that they do not care to participate in every decision. They may know considerable about what is going on in relation to the development of public schools, for example, but their own public interest is stimulated by physical planning for roads, utilities, development, and the like. In the over-all delegation of community responsibilities one group relies on another to look after mutual interests. In every major development there are "key persons" related to all other key persons in some manner, and one needs to look for such relationships as reveal the ties between groups.

Thus, while Mr. Smith may rely on Mr. Jones and vice versa in relation to two major community developments, and neither may be on a basic committee related to the other’s project, both may have representatives on each committee. Each "speaks" to the other through a representative and may speak to each other directly only at times of crisis or when crucial decisions have to be made in relation to one or another of the major projects which proceed simultaneously. The major question is, "What part did each play in the policy-making procedures in any major project of large dimensions?" "Through whom did they work?" "What is the relation between the principals?" By asking such questions, the pattern of the inner structure can be traced and proven. Those of highest power will become apparent and those to whom power is delegated and through whom it is exercised will be revealed.

The image of top leadership described by this policy-making group may not be the same as that of the larger body politic. Some of the elite may not be known to the community at large. For example, in a study made of community and air force base relations, "the man on the street" assumed that the political boss was the top power in the community. It was shown that the boss was a power and a part of the inner circle, but there were also three men who outranked him. In the city in question, the people did not generally know these men’s names in connection with the exercise of power, not did they know many others connected with the decision-making structure. A like picture was found in Salem, Massachusetts, where the citizenry generally picked the mayor and other public officials and figures as power-wielders, but a study of this type revealed that major decisions were made by ten or twelve men who held no political office. This does not mean that public officials in such a situation are powerless. They are part of the total power structure, but they may not be the process at its apex.

XIV-3. Indicators of subject’s power position. Qualitatively, there are certain characteristics by which policy-makers can be identified. These characteristics might be called power weights. Certain of them may weigh in favor of a man’s power position; others may detract from it. A listing of 14 items for consideration will be given. It will be understood that each item is one factor in weighting which standing alone does not make a man powerful, but which, in combination with the others, does help to do so.

XIV-4 Kinds of policy-interest. The kinds of policy in which a man is interested may determine his power status. In every community, with its multiplicity of projects, there are thousands of decisions being made. One, for example, may be concerned with a decision as to whether or not a boys’ recreation camp should be built. The decision may be of interest to many influentials who feel that such a camp will stabilize a social situation in which juvenile delinquency threatens the community order. The decision may ultimately cost the taxpayers or private donors thousands of dollars. This may be of central interest and importance to a few of the policy-makers, but minor decisions - such as how many cabins should be built on a chosen site - would rather quickly be delegated to professional experts. The policy-makers may then move to other problems of similar magnitude. Thus, magnitude of decision may give a qualitative measure of a man’s power. Men who make policy on large scale civic and industrial problems are usually also among the top circles of the general elite.

XIV-5. Independence of judgements Those at the apex of power are relatively independent in their judgments. They are often called "opinion leaders." They do not have to "clear with" others in the power hierarchy to come to their own conclusions. This does not mean that a man of top power will not clear his thinking with others, seek expert advice, and discuss tentative conclusions before coming to final decisions. But, after all the relevant facts are in, he does not have to follow the lead of another. In those situations in which two such men differ on policy matters, a struggle may ensue in which each gathers about him as strong a force of sub-leaders as possible. The outcome then depends upon the ultimate coercive superiority of one over the other, unless a stalemate occurs, or a compromise is achieved through negotiation.

XIV-6. Clique membership. Where power cliques exist, as when there is a rather widely recognized political, church or industrial "machine" membership in the clique is, of course, prerequisite to power wielding. Such a machine may be known widely, but few usually know its inner circle completely, and few, in like manner, know its outer limits and ramifications. The extent of this is revealed in ways indicated in preceding sections, but if a man is said to have power in a bossed or machine political situation, the chances are excellent that he has connections with the network of community policy-makers.

XIV-7. Amount and kind of participation. Participation is another important measure of power. This factor, like action must be qualified. Some persons are extremely active in community affairs. They seem to say, "behold me busy." They belong to everything that comes along, and yet they man be relatively powerless persons in relation to the major decisions. They may be "fronting" for certain interests, or they may just love the limelight that activity of any kind creates for those who move about with alacrity. The kind of participation is often a better measure than the amount.

Some men may be relatively inactive, but when the major decisions are to be made, they are asked for their opinions, and others act according to their cues. Such may be said to have participated in an issue settlement or project proposal by a "nod of approval". This nod may be the crucial action in a scheme involving thousands of actions. The weighing of this factor is qualitative and can be made, generally, only after one has weighted many other factors and begins to see the whole power structure in its overall operations.

XIV-8. Age. There seems to be a prime age for policy-makers. If a man is young, he may be considered a potential leader. Such a person is often dubbed a "comer". If a man is too old, he may be said to have passed his prime, and in extreme cases be dubbed a "has been." Somewhere between 45 and 55 year of age, most power leaders have hit their stride and are considered to be at their peak of potency.

There are, of course, many exceptions to what is being said here. Some young men who have inherited their positions may be of great power weight. Some old men may be considered the elder statesman type of operator and hold a firm grip on power for years beyond the norm of the power prime indicated. The factor is one that needs to be analyzed within its local context.

XIV-9. Sex. The term "men" has been used here in its generic sense. In reality, in western cutter and in other cultures around the world it is men, masculine gender, who formulate policies and wield power. There are, however, many women who have a part in power operations. They serve on corporate boards, have wealth, can contract in their own right, win political office, achieve professional success, but in the main they are of lesser rank in most power groupings than a man with the same general qualifications for power holding.

XIV-10. Record of successes. A successful bid for public office, a successful execution of a major project, or a successful solution to a public issue may enhance the power rating of one who has been subordinate in the power scale. Any of these successes tip the power scale in a man’s favor. In like manner, failure in any of these endeavors may lessen his power rating. As a matter of fact, most of the factors mentioned here could be reversed and a man would thereby lose power weight.

XIV-11. Achieved and ascribed status. Both achieved and ascribed status have meaning in the power scale. By achieved status one means merely that a person has gained status by his own efforts. Ascribed status is present in the social situation. In the latter instance, within certain cultures specific status is ascribed to women, to the aged, to the young. One obviously does not achieve youth, age, sex. These factors are inherent in the person and the status given to these factors is inherent in the culture. Also, in most cultures, position and status are ascribed to property holders, wealthy persons, even sometimes to those with mental or physical abnormalities, or to those of normal birth. The status of such persons is ascribed by the culture. Both may be of equal importance in power rating, or they may not be. A man who makes a place for himself may be looked upon with more favor or less in a given culture, depending upon the value placed on achievement as against hereditary rights and social ritual.

Thus, it may be said that wealth, old family connections early settlement, and the like, are dependent variables within a culture and must be weighted accordingly. It has been found repeatedly in western society that wealth and power are functional to each other, but they are not always synonymous. The wealthy dowager may have a social position in a society sense, but she may wield little power because she does not actively control her wealth. Her lawyer, who expends money for her, may by that very fact be a most powerful (and perhaps self-made) man.

XIV-12. Location of residence. Ecological prestige is sometimes of power significance. Where a man lives, what kind of office space he has (by location), the clubs he frequents (at the right addresses) are indicators of status and prestige. The sections of the community considered desirable will have been mapped out in the period of orientation by the operator. A look at addresses often provides a clue to power.

XIV-13. Length of residence. Length of residence in time has meaning in some cultures. If a man has lived in a community all of his life he may be a more trusted person than the man who has come in recently. This is a factor that needs careful weighing. Some men who come into a community may come with the weight of enormous operations behind them. They may wield great power. They may not be accepted "socially" in many quarters in the community, but this does not detract noticeably from their ability to move men in relation to things that need to be done.

XIV-14. Local ownership. Local ownership of a local enterprise of the same magnitude as local ownership of an outside-located enterprise, tends to favor the double localism in contrasts of power. Local people tend also to be more important in the power scale than managers of outside corporations of equal or even larger size doing business in the area. To the in-group - out-group principle is here added the preference for ownership over "mere" management.

XIV-15. Numbers commanded. Power increases with the numbers of employees or subordinates the power-holder commands. This factor, too, is relative to other elements. The president of a powerful bank may have only a handful of employees under him, while the owner of a factory employing hundreds of workers may be less powerful, especially if the factory owner is dependent upon the banker for financing. In general, however, the size of a group supervised, managed or controlled in any way adds to a man’s power.

XIV-16. Recreation habits. The types of recreation pursued give only a minor and unreliable indication of a man’s status, and indirectly of his power. If yachting carries prestige as a form of recreation in an area one whose power depends upon the social strata of the yachting set will frequently pass this test of his power. Yet the most powerful man in town may raise petunias a hobby, or, very often, have "no leisure for anything at all."

XIV-17. Popularity. The meaning of popularity is difficult to judge. Perhaps in most cases the power wielder is a person who can hold his own in contests for the approval and liking of those on whom his power depends. Some, however, are roundly hated by many and are still extremely powerful. This factor must be weighted in its social context; how power is achieved and held (the customs, people, and mechanisms determining the gaining of power) will affect greatly the importance of popularity to the aspirant for power. Conversely, one must beware of regarding popularity as denoting a corresponding power, in a large circle or in a small circle of society.

XIV-18. Tests by prediction. A simple on-target test which the operator can use systematically is to endeavor to predict the action of top influentials whenever there is sufficient advance indication of an action to make this possible. To the degree that he has learned about the actual elite, he will be able to predict their actions accurately. This procedure can be systematized by recording predictions and actions, so that improvement can be observed.

Any failure to predict correctly should immediately be analyzed. What factors about the elite were not taken into consideration which are apparent now that the decision has been made? What influentials ranked at a lower level in the power structure now seem to be more important? What elite institutions played an unexpected part?

Another approach to this same notion is to say that the informed operator is rarely surprised by an action of the elite. To the degree that he does find their power decisions inexplicable, their policy changes inconsistent, their project incompatible with what he knows, he is probably "off target." At some point in the gathering of information he has overlooked important points, or he has misevaluated or failed to discover interrelationships.

A time of change in the composition of the elite offers another opportunity for spot checks. Experts on the elite of Russia were not perplexed when the triumvirate of Malenkov, Molotov and Beria emerged as the successors of Stalin, nor when Malenkov became supreme. For example, one expert concluded in 1950 "that there was only one plausible alternative in the matter of the succession to Stalin: either Malenkov alone, or more likely, Malenkov as one of a ‘directorate of two or more’" (for which Molotov and Beria were named as likely prospects. This prediction becomes more impressive when one considers that it was primarily based upon analysis of documents, rather than upon direct observation in Russia. The informed operator should find it possible to predict with some accuracy who will take over when a member of the top elite dies or is deposed. He should know who is likely to be a candidate for top office if there is an elective process. He should know which influential is ascending, which descending; and more broadly, which groups of influentials are gaining power, and which losing. To the degree that his predictions at times of change are accurate or inaccurate, he has a spot check of his information.

XIV-19. Predicting media output to validate intelligence. If the operator has succeeded in locating and identifying elite publications (See Section XXVII) he may find another means of giving himself a "spot check". He should be able to predict the stand and the main line of argument of the editorials or leading articles of the publication; he should be able to read it more as a confirmation of judgment than as a means of obtaining information. To the degree that he finds this ideal realized, he will have another measure of whether or not he is on target.

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