• A Detailed Critique
http://sociology.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/theory/alternative_theories.html (retrieved January 5, 2009)
Alternative Theoretical Views
by G. William Domhoff
There are five rival theories that attempt to explain the power structure in the United States.
The class-domination theory developed in my books and discussed on this Web site is most
theory of power developed by sociologist Michael Mann.
The other four views on power in America are explained and critiqued from the perspective of the Four Networks
theory. I will comment on both their general theory of power in Western civilization and their claims about the
nature of the power structure in the United States.
The first and most prominent of the rival views is called
, which is rooted in the general theory of society
developed by classical liberal theorists of the past three centuries; in the case of the United States, the
liberalism-based theorists conclude there are multiple centers of power (and thus the term
The second alternative is
theory. It is a general theory of recent Western civilization which stresses
that government is always an independent force, thanks in part to its control of the military. It therefore says that the
government in the United States is the most important power center. Third, there is a more recent theory,
, which says that the leaders of big organizations inevitably dominate all large-scale societies, including the
Finally, there is
, which says that property owners have ruled throughout Western history; proponents of the
theory naturally conclude that there is class domination in the United States.
Before discussing these theories, with an emphasis on their differences and shortcomings, it should be clearly
understood that they do have overlaps on some issues, especially at the more empirical level of analysis. For
example, pluralists talk of several "interest groups" that clash over government policies. That seems very different
from the Marxist emphasis on the conflict between two rival social classes, the capitalist class and the working class.
However, Marxists go on to say that the capitalist class has "fractions" or "segments" that can have disagreements
with each other, and they stress that the working class is multi-layered and internally divided politically.
In the pluralist view, interest groups form coalitions around various issues. For the Marxists, coalitions are primarily
class segments coming together on issues basic to capitalism. Many of them would agree that the capitalist class is
rarely united in its political focus, except on very major issues, and that the working class becomes cohesive and
opposed to the capitalists even less often. Most of them would agree that sometimes, but not very often, there are
alliances between one or another segment of the capitalist class and one or another segment of the working class.
Thus, pluralists and Marxists might well agree about who is doing battle with whom on a given issue.