Ruling America: A History of Wealth and Power in a Democracy / Edition 1

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Overview

Ruling America offers a panoramic history of our country's ruling elites from the time of the American Revolution to the present. At its heart is the greatest of American paradoxes: How have tiny minorities of the rich and privileged consistently exercised so much power in a nation built on the notion of rule by the people?

In a series of thought-provoking essays, leading scholars of American history examine every epoch in which ruling economic elites have shaped our national experience. They explore how elites came into existence, how they established their dominance over public affairs, and how their rule came to an end. The contributors analyze the elite coalition that led the Revolution and then examine the antebellum planters of the South and the merchant patricians of the North. Later chapters vividly portray the Gilded Age "robber barons," the great finance capitalists in the age of J. P. Morgan, and the foreign-policy "Establishment" of the post-World War II years. The book concludes with a dissection of the corporate-led counter-revolution against the New Deal characteristic of the Reagan and Bush era.

Rarely in the last half-century has one book afforded such a comprehensive look at the ways elite wealth and power have influenced the American experiment with democracy. At a time when the distribution of wealth and power has never been more unequal, Ruling America is of urgent contemporary relevance.

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Editorial Reviews

Business History

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

Eric Foner
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.
Michael Kazin
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.
Nelson Lichtenstein
Ruling America 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.
Business History - Shakila Yacob
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.
Business History
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
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. (Apr.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674017474
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 4/30/2005
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 1,357,268
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Steve Fraser is a writer and historian living in New York.

Gary Gerstle is Professor of History, University of Maryland.

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Table of Contents

Introduction
Steve Fraser and Gary Gerstle

1. The Dilemmas of Ruling Elites in Revolutionary America
Gary J. Kornblith and John M. Murrin

2. The "Slave Power" in the United States, 1783-1865
Adam Rothman

3. Merchants and Manufacturers in the Antebellum North
Sven Beckert

4. Gilded Age Gospels
David Nasaw

5. The Abortive Rule of Big Money
Alan Dawley

6. The Managerial Revitalization of the Rich
Jackson Lears

7. The Foreign Policy Establishment
Godfrey Hodgson

8. Conservative Elites and the Counterrevolution against the New Deal
Michael Lind

Coda: Democracy in America
Steve Fraser and Gary Gerstle

Notes

Acknowledgments

Contributors

Index

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