From Publishers Weekly
Even in a nation founded on the principles of freedom and equality, small, motivated groups wield inordinate amounts of power. The notion itself is straightforward, but the 11 historians contributing to this volume examine it rigorously, documenting the dominance of American ruling classes like the antebellum South's "slave power," the North's "Merchants and Manufacturers," the "nouveau riche industrialists" of the Gilded Age and the Cold War's "Foreign Policy Establishment." Each essay chronicles the myriad factors that led to the consolidation of power by one such set of aristocrats, and then explains the internal divisions and external changes that led to their downfall and empowered their successors. For example, a small clique of graduates from top New England boarding schools and universities coalesced into the "Establishment," dominating foreign policy with their worldview until "Vietnam raised questions that the foreign policy Establishment was not successfully able to answer." The most recent manifestation of this elite baton-passing, according to a convincing entry by Michael Lind, resulted in the "southernization of American society"-under which the country morphed into "a low-wage society with weak parties, weak unions and a political culture based on demagogic appeals to racial and ethnic anxieties, religious conservatism, and militaristic patriotism." The volume captures the essence of varied eras and their elites, but at times the narrative suffers from dry academic prose and a shortage of illustrative anecdotes. Curiously, the editors conclude that despite 200 years of cyclical history, no current challenge is arising to overthrow the currently prevailing "counterrevolution against the New Deal." In fact, in suggesting that "the democratic urge to rein in the dangerous ambitions of privileged elites has gone frail," they undermine the key lesson of the compilation itself.
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One of the enduring mysteries of American politics, from the days of the Constitutional convention to the Bush administration, has been how, in a democracy, wealthy elites have managed to exert a powerful influence on public life. In this book, some of our finest historians address this question and in so doing offer a host of new insights into our national past and present. Class is the feature of American life that dares not speak its name, but these essays go a long way toward explaining how it operates in American politics. (Eric Foner, De Witt Clinton Professor of History, Columbia University)
This is a powerful set of essays on a sorely neglected subject: the history of the American elite in a world it has come to dominate. U.S. society has become less egalitarian in recent years, and Fraser and Gerstle's polished and provocative anthology helps explain how it got that way. (Michael Kazin, author of The Populist Persuasion: An American History
is a splendid collection of superbly written essays which probe the nature and importance of inequality in income and power over a 250 year period of American history. It succeeds in reintroducing concepts like "ruling class," "elite" and "establishment" into our political and historical vocabulary. It is an impressive accomplishment. (Nelson Lichtenstein, University of California, Santa Barbara)
Undoubtedly, Ruling America
provides valuable insight into historical periods that trace the growing power of an elite ruling class, but perhaps its true value lies in the questions the narrative prompts about the balance of power in the world’s most powerful nation...A pertinent reference for scholars in the fields of business, economic and political history. For business historians in particular, this book provides a solid foundation to explore the machinations of big business and government inside America’s ruling class in the context of a triumphant agenda. (Shakila Yacob Business History