Probably all of us have heard conspiracy theories about elitist circles that control the political power within one or maybe even more countries. A central aspect of those theories is that the politicians are appointed by leaders in the background, rather than being elected by the citizens. So, there is this conception that the citizens of a country, or a region, do not hold actual powers within the system, which means that the democratic system is flawed. Opponents of this view mainly counter this argument by asking who then the real power holders are. Without any real alternative explanations and generally poorly structured arguments, the conspiracy theorists are quickly discredited and their ideas are set aside. There is some truth to that from a structural point of view. In general, proponents of such a view, that elitist groups are holding all the political power and manage the nation behind closed doors, are naturally far away from those groups, meaning that they are either materially, ideologically or cognitively almost the complete opposite of the those elites. Often poorly-educated and ill-equipped to properly structure methodologically sound arguments, their ideas quickly become laughable and are labeled as some sort of poor man’s fantasy.
However, there is great potential in the question whether the access to power is limited to certain groups and that those groups control key positions and, hence, the policies within a country. Linked to that, we can extend the thought and ask whether some democracies are flawed on the grounds that their structure does not allow for fair and effective representation of the population, as these elitist groups exploit loopholes, in order to solidify their power.
They Are not All the Same
As the title suggests, this analysis is only limited to white nations, such as France, Germany, the United States of America and the United Kingdom, for example. The reason for that is that those countries show an extremely high degree of elitism in their political systems. Also, it is not possible to overlook that these are all very strong economies, which could potentially be another supporting aspect within the analysis. Although other countries might be subject to elitist activity as well, the respective group usually loses much of its power after they are no longer within the government. For example, when Augusto Pinochet claimed power in Chile in 1973, he filled all the important government ranks with people who were loyal to him, thus, creating an openly elitist/oligarchic government. With his fall, these people were removed and this former elite is practically non-existent in today’s Chile. A similar story has been experienced in Iran under the rule of Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who was overthrown in 1979. In white countries, there is a long history of consistent political influence of people who are connected to one another, without much disruption from outsiders who held power. In contrast to dynasties, such as the Aquinos in the Philippines or the Nehru-Gandhi, the white democratic elites transcend family ties, time and even territorial boundaries sometimes.
That being so, these countries have face significantly less friction within their respective governments over the last centuries. Many other countries faced huge shifts in power, significant internal rifts due to ideological differences and inconsistent policy-making. Accordingly, most non-white democracies incurred massive transaction costs in terms of time and inefficiency, as they sometimes needed to make up for decades of ineffective policy-making, rebuild the country after civil wars or needed to restructure the economy. White democracies bridged these problems by controlling the people entering the pinnacle of power within their respective nation, thus, creating a consistent policy environment. Rather than controlling every single action and position, it is merely ensured that people, who enter the highest levels of power, come from the same socio-economic and socio-cultural background as the core of the elite. This creates a continuity without being overly oppressive and restrictive. In China, the government apparently understood a long time ago that this continuity is the key to long-term national success. However, the Chinese approach is harsh, as they have an autocratic system in place that openly controls every aspect of policy-making and the society as a whole. There are some countries that achieved success through continuity without resorting to violence, like the Chinese, or elitism, like the Whites. Among them are Finland, Japan and the Netherlands. Those countries managed to craft political structures that are less prone to develop strong elitist politics, but also do not need to exercise excessive control over the population and the politicians. In Japan, this continuity is achieved by the centrality of cultural norms and values. In the Netherlands, it is achieved through the centrality of the liberal ideology. In Finland, this overarching continuity is achieved by the central role of education within the society.
The Hidden Connections
Some connections are clearly visible and do not leave any room for misinterpretation. For example, the North American presidential father-son duo George Bush Sr. and George Bush Jr., or Bill and Hillary Clinton. While Bill Clinton was actually president of the USA, Hillary, his wife, desperately tried to force herself upon the North American people in numerous attempts to stand for election, as foreign minister and in an unsuccessful election. In France, Marine Le Pen has been a prominent figure in French politics, following her father’s footsteps, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who founded the racist French party National Rally (formerly known as the National Front). Justin Trudeau, who is currently Canada’s prime minister, is the son of former prime minister of Canada, Pierre Trudeau. This tradition dates way back and is deeply rooted in European culture. For example, the Habsburg dynasty has had a profound impact on European politics over many decades. Further, many empresses and emperors, as well as kings and queens across Europe were connected through family ties. The duchess, Augusta von Hannover, was ruling German territories, although being born as a daughter to the British royal family, while others from that family ruled over Denmark and Norway. As a French family, the de Maizière family is still highly influential in German politics. The list of examples is sheer endless, but the point should be quite clear here: much of European history was shaped by multiple families that viewed each other as equals. This made marriages possible that re-enforced the position of power of those families. In other parts of the world, the powerful families were competing for power, as they often saw themselves as superior to the others.
However, many connections also remain in the dark. In the end, not all high government ranks can be filled with family members. What happens is that people, who share a similar socio-economic and socio-cultural background, are subject to favourable treatment. In other words, some powerful people have had a foot in the door even before their birth. Further, they are often immune to consequences even when their policy-making is flawed. Janet Yellen, who is the minister of finance in the USA, has a long career within the North American finance system, having previously served as the chair of the USA’s central bank. Even before that, she served as a board member on the central bank, under the leadership of Alan Greenspan. Latter was mainly responsible for the deregulation wave in finance, which ultimately caused the global financial crisis in 2007 – one year after he resigned. Yellen, who was known to be close to Greenspan’s approach, became Vice President of the central bank in 2010, shortly after the crisis. In 2014, she became the president of the central bank, after Ben Bernanke, who led the central bank for 8 years. So, regardless of political leadership and performance output, the positions were simply pushed back and forth among a limited set of people. As long as the policy outputs favour the elitist groups of wealthy whites, politicians have much room to operate.
But What About Democracy?
It can be argued that citizens could just influence the system by making the right decisions at national elections. To a certain extent that is true, but it rarely translates perfectly into reality. Utilising the great agenda-setting powers, political parties can virtually determine voting outcomes. The United States of America are a great example for this. From over 300 million people, the citizens can theoretically elect anyone of them as their president. However, due to the strong organisation of two parties, citizens can effectively only chose between two people and the candidates are often recurrent names like Clinton or Bush. There is virtually no chance that an outsider can work her way up in that party and challenge the candidates that are so well connected within the party and the lobby and are strongly supported financially and medially. This is also the case in other white nations. With years of experience in the respective parties, politicians often have built strong relationships to people from the media, international and local politics, to lobbies and other colleagues. In return for their support, the politician promises advantages to those groups. Usually, the politician, who can organise this support best, gets elected as his name is more dominantly presented to the citizens. This awakes the feeling that no other capable politician exists and left without real alternatives, the citizen elects one of the very few candidates of the leading parties. In Turkey, for example, the current president is virtually omnipresent in the media and oppositional leaders receive almost no coverage, as media is strictly controlled by the government.
Using the party system to create a monopoly within the democracy is a legal and accepted way to reduce citizens’ options in participating in the policy process. On the other hand, key positions are given away to people from the same socio-economic and socio-cultural background. In the case of white nations, the beneficiaries are white upper-class people. Often, they receive education from a certain set of Western universities. Of course, this does not mean that they are brainwashed or virtually all the same, but naturally there is a common understanding among this group of people. If not for strategic reasons, foreigners and people from other socio-economic classes cannot enter this elitist circle. The same holds also true for much of the Western financial world. The ones who do enter these circles are usually greatly assimilated or pursue ideologies and policies in the interest of the elite, such as Barack Hussein Obama. We can look at the USA and their decision to start the second Gulf War in Iraq. Colin Powell, who was the foreign minister at that time, was highly integrated in the white conservative group of politicians around George W. Bush. Although being black, he was an integral part of the politics at that time as he proved to reliably further the cause of the elite.
The Plot twist
All of the above might sound horrible at first, but it is a natural development. Any successful person understands that true success is based on the effective utilisation of means of reproduction. This means that success is more a dynamic rather than a single outcome. If a group aims for success, they will not try to control the outcomes, but rather the structure within outcomes are produced. In politics, this is the political system. Rather than controlling every single action of every single official, the elites create an environment that is impermeable for outsiders and that punishes only policies that would harm this group’s power and economic aspirations. And this is understandable. As people who mostly never faced poverty and never dealt with problems of people from lower economic classes, elitist people naturally develop a feeling of superiority. Paired with the political or economic power that they possess, they are unwilling to leave the stage for others. Accordingly, they prefer to compete with one another for the popular spots rather than with the outsiders that they perceive to be inferior to themselves. Often involved as a whole family, retaining political power becomes also a personal issue. It can be argued that the second Gulf War was mainly motivated by the fact that George W. Bush’s father, who started the first Gulf War, lost the war and his son wanted retaliation.
All in all, it is understandable that elites in white nations behave that way. It certainly is despicable, but still understandable. Nobody in a position of power wants to give this power away just like that and if it is needed to be given away it should go to people who would not completely reverse the achievements of the past or cause other disruptions. White elites have been incredibly successful with this strategy and, in all fairness, managed to reduce disruptions greatly in comparison to other nations that faced coups, revolutions and crises. The price that the population pays for such wealth and security is the right to participate in politics. Further, citizens are merely viewed as a mass that can be formed at will. Effectively the cost for comfort is sovereignty. That is a questionable price to pay for any democracy.