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Socialization and the Transfer of Values
Tan Nguyen

The power elite never disappears because it is self perpetuating. Young people who are on their rise to the top accept the values of the power elite, making them their own.
Though the majority of the power elite is made up of upper class individuals, there is a very small segment of the elite that is not.  These are the people who are still on their rise to the top, and while on their way up, are socialized into an upper class belief system.  After all, a prerequisite to rising up the ladder of power seems to be attending one of the nation's prestigious universities, which Dye defines as Harvard, Yale, Chicago, Stanford, Columbia, MIT, Cornell, Northwestern, Princeton, Johns Hopkins, Pennsylvania, and Dartmouth (9).  According to Dye's study, at least 50% of top corporate leaders in the areas of industry, utilities, insurance, investment, media, law, foundations, education, and politics have come from one of these schools.

It is at these prestigious universities that students develop certain class-specific habits.  Robert Gransfield points out that the "habits and tastes developed by these students direct the vast majority away from lower status   legal positions.  In fact, affiliating with the social network at Harvard demands that students gravitate toward positions in large urban law firms, in spite of the reservations they may harbor (10)."  Therefore, a student who doesn't originally come from the upper class - who may have initially intended to change the system after receiving his degree from a prestigious university - is socialized into being part of the system, and eventually becomes a member of the power elite.

Additionally, upwardly mobile managers are also socialized into the upper class.  As Domhoff points out, new managers "come to believe that they have to be part of the 'old-boy network' to succeed in the company (11)."  One of the primary reasons that managers feel this way is because of the great uncertainty that surrounds the decision making process at the top of complex organizations, which makes trust essential (12).  What better way for new managers to develop trust with those around them than to conform to their belief systems and behaviors.  As sociologist Rosabeth Kanter says, "It is the uncertainty quotient in managerial work, as it has come to be defined in the large modern corporations, that causes management to become so socially restricting; to develop tight inner circles excluding social strangers; to keep control in the hands of socially homogenous peers (13)."  

Clarence Thomas is one individual who encapsulates this process of socialization in which upper class values are accepted by or conferred upon rising members of society.  Thomas, who grew up in the poor neighborhood of Pin Point, Georgia, could never have imagined that he would one day become one of the associate justices of the Supreme Court.  Through
hard work and determination, Thomas was able to rise to the top.  However, on his way up, he adopted the values of the upper class as his own.  During his tenure on the Supreme Court, Thomas has continuously proven to be one its most conservative members.  He has repeatedly stood against affirmative action.  Even the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was unsure about supporting his confirmation to the high court.  And perhaps most significantly, Thurgood Marshall - one of the justices who was most instrumental in the fight to end segregation, and the justice who Thomas replaces - was fervently against Thomas' appointment.

Thomas' progression is an excellent example of this process of socialization.  For all intents and purposes, the power elite is composed of upper class individuals.  And if these individuals cannot yet be considered upper class from a financial standpoint, they have adopted an upper class belief system, and are well on their way to economic prominence.  Traditionally, top government officials are chosen from the pool of corporate upper class members and members of the pseudo upper class.  To Domhoff, "most top appointees in both Republican and Democratic administrations are corporate executives and corporate lawyers - and hence members of the power elite(14)."  Therefore, it follows that top government officials exceedingly represent the values of the corporate sector, and hence, the values of the upper class.  This situation directly diminishes the existence of democracy in America.  Power is not vested in the people, but rather in an extremely small segment of the population.  Nearly all of those individuals who make the decisions that affect the entire nation come from the same upper class mold. Their decisions reflect this mold, which conditions them to view the world through a certain biased filter.  How can a tax increase on the upper classes of America ever occur, if those responsible for making such decisions are themselves part of the upper class?
(9) Dye, Thomas.  111.  (10) Domhoff, William.  48.  (11) Domhoff, William.  93.  (12) Domhoff, William.  93.  (13) Domhoff, William.  93  (14) Domhoff, William 240. 


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