Historical Social Research

G. William Domhoff, An Invitation to a Four-Network Theory of Power: A New Viewpoint Compatible with Elite Theory

Starting with the multi-network theories advocated by C. Wright Mills, Michael Mann and Richard Lachmann, and drawing on work by specialists in anthropology and social psychology, this article presents a history of social power from hunting and gathering societies to the present. Collective power, based on cooperation, came first in human history, with distributive power coming much later. With the rise of permanent hierarchical organizations at the dawn of civilization, the issue of distributive power became paramount, making it necessary to resolve distributive power conflicts among leaders before collective power could expand any further. At this point the rank-and-file lost their ability to replace organizational leaders, who then became “political elites” or “power elites.” The result was the kind of top-down societies analyzed by John Higley and Michael Burton in Elite Foundations of Liberal Democracy, which provides a provocative new challenge to traditional theories of democracy.