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The Democratic Dilemma: Aligning Fields of Elite Influence and Political Equality

Elites on Trial

ISBN: 978-1-78441-680-5, eISBN: 978-1-78441-679-9

Publication date: 10 February 2015


Regardless of whether “elite” is defined with respect to social status, economic wealth, or professional accomplishment, these sources of advantage are blunted by democratic political commitments to equality. This durable dilemma has shaped the institutional development of the American polity and the economy, as those with extra-political advantages have sought new forms of political influence, at times subverting rules or advancing cultural projects that elaborate an image of corporations as moral actors or the development of a “business creed.” American elites have also worked at the margins of the formally democratic policy to construct fields of public action that are accepted as public, legitimate, and admirable, but not strictly democratic. Corporate philanthropy has been central to these efforts. Organizations like the Community Chest can be understood as practical responses to the constraints of ideological commitments to political egalitarianism. This line of response to the democratic dilemma is “constructive” in the nonnormative sense that it produces new fields of social action and reconfigures institutional arrangements. By linking economic position to civic influence, organizations of this type translate economic power into elevated influence over public affairs through the constitution and stabilization of partially hybridized forms or fields.



Clemens, E. (2015), "The Democratic Dilemma: Aligning Fields of Elite Influence and Political Equality", Elites on Trial (Research in the Sociology of Organizations, Vol. 43), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 223-241.



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