Domhoff: I think I study how elites strive to develop consensus, which
is through such publicly observable organizations as corporate boards
policy-planning network, which can be studied in detail, and which
are reported on in the media in at least a halfway accurate manner.
I think this is the opposite of a small, secretive, illegitimate conspiracy
because this large group called the power elite is known to the public,
clearly states its aims (profit, profit, and more profit, and less
government), publishes its policy suggestions, and is seen as legitimate
by a great majority of the public.
I also study the way in which elites in the United States and other
democracies have agreed for a few hundred years now to settle the issues
where they can't reach complete consensus, namely, through elections,
which are also public and legitimate, and which can be observed by
researchers in a fair amount of detail, including on the issue of campaign
finance, and which are reported on fairly well in the media.
The interesting thing with elections, in terms of addressing the
conspiracy kind of stuff, is that rival elites have in effect agreed
not to get
into all out violence and war with each other, although Americans
elites did so only 144 years ago in the bloody Civil War. Political
John Higley talks of elites coming to "settlements" or "pacts" that
lead to elections, but this is not through conspiring, historically
speaking, but through sitting down to talk in frustration and exhaustion,
usually after fighting each other to a draw over decades.
For the U.S., where there was no fight among elites in the 18th century,
partly because they had a bigger common enemy in King George, the elite
pact is the Constitution, which cuts all the key deals on property
and slaves and government structure, and which is well known for the
process of its creation, and was put to the people for a vote, which
forced a Bill of Rights, so this is a very visible and legitimate elite
pact. Within its context they agree to disagree. Once again, this is
just about the opposite of a conspiracy.
Within that broad context, we all know that all of us plot and plan
to further our interests on specific issues, not just elites, and we
sometimes try out ideas in confidentiality. And within government there
are discussions and plans that we do not know about, and there is often
an attempt to mislead us, but that is not what I would mean by a conspiracy.
One of the great mistakes of conspiracy theorists is to take these
everyday machinations as evidence for some grand conspiracy at the
societal and historical levels. These theorists ignore all the evidence
that such planning is usually discovered, whether in the media or by
elite opponents, and sometimes leads to prosecutions.
There is no falsifying a conspiracy theory. Its proponents always
find a way to claim the elite really won, even though everyday people
stop some things, or win some battles, or have a say so through elections
in which factions of the power elite win political power.
How to tell the difference from power structure research? We study
visible institutions, take most of what elites say as statements of
their values and intentions, and recognize that elites sometimes have
to compromise, and sometimes lose. Conspiracists study alleged behind
the scenes groups, think everything elites say is a trick, and claim
that elites never lose.
Domhoff: Conspiracism is a disaster for progressive
people because it leads them into cynicism, convoluted thinking,
and a tendency to feel it is hopeless even
as they denounce the alleged conspirators.
Conspiracism is so contrary to what most everyday people believe and
observe that it actually drives people away because they sense the
tinge of craziness to it.
What social psychologists who study social movements say is that
a social movement definitely needs a clear and visible opponent that
embodies the values that are opposed, and which can be vilified and
railed against. But in opposition to the conspiracists, these opponents
are readily identifiable and working through visible and legitimate
So, I would say that the opponents are the corporate conservatives
and the Republican Party, not the Council on Foreign Relations, Bilderbergers,
and Bohemians. It is the same people more or less, but it puts them
in their most important roles, as capitalists and political leaders,
which are visible and legitimate...If thought of this way, then the
role of a CFR as a place to try to hear new ideas and reach consensus
is more readily understood, as is the function of a social club as
a place that creates social cohesion. Moreover, those understandings
of the CFR and the clubs fit with the perceptions of the members of