The Occupy Wall Street movement has brought great attention to the problems of wealth concentration and income disparities in the United States.
An understanding of American elites has been missing from the debates over tax policies and financial reform following the 2008 financial crisis.
WBEZ’s Worldview now provides an in-depth discussion of the role that elites play in American political economy. Professor Jeffrey Winter of Northwestern University is interviewed on Worldview about his new book Oligarchy, a study of the history of oligarchies and wealth defense.
The history of elites has long been ignored by social and cultural historians, who have been more interested in studying “history from below.” A critical comparative history of elites is desperately needed in order to assess patterns of economic, military, and political domination in societies. Scholars such as Jonathan Dewald and Hamish Scott have laid a groundwork for the comparative study of nobilities and elites. More research on elites could effectively build on this research to demonstrate the differing modes of power deployed by elites in societies around the world.
My own research deals with French noble culture in the early modern period, including their ways of mobilizing wealth and protecting their patrimonies. Their methods seem to fit with some of the notions of “wealth defense” articulated by Winters. I have developed a course on early modern European nobilities and hope to teach it soon at Northern Illinois University.