Swans Commentary » swans.com November 30, 2009  



The Russell Sage Foundation And The Manufacture Of Reform


by Michael Barker





(Swans - November 30, 2009)   Many of the world's leading plutocrats exhibit disturbing psychological tendencies, and so it is fitting that Joel Bakan diagnoses their nominal home, the corporation, as psychopathic. (1) While many corporate executives may well have numerous commendable personal traits, their commitment to pursuing their own class interests -- at the expense of the mass of humanity -- necessarily means that they must master the means to manufacture public consent, or at least acquiescence. The creation of non-profit corporations (or philanthropic foundations) thus served a critical function for powerful elites, allowing them to distance themselves from their psychopathic for-profit offspring, so they could recast themselves as good Samaritans striving to work for the common good. That this simple deception is readily evident after even the most cursory of examinations brings us to a disturbing psychological tendency commonly found within public, not elite, realms. In juxtaposition to the mental state of the corporate psychopath, the mass of humanity exhibits a concerning trust in the psychopath's apparent generosity. In many instances the resulting mixture of trust and distrust manifests itself as a naïve optimism of the mind, and a pessimistic understanding of personal power, vis-à-vis that of plutocrats. This troublesome state of affairs is of course the polar opposite to Antonio Gramsci's empowering call for "pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will."

Explaining the self-harming aspects of the majority of the public's collective resignation to plutocratic political arrangements is critical for the eventual revival of our mental well being. A good starting place would be to search for any symptoms that indicate that our society's leading institutional psychopaths are stifling our ability to recognize our own mental deficits. Such an examination should lead us to scrutinize the influence of both for-profit and non-profit corporations, but not one at the expense of the other. Problematically this is exactly what has happened, and while most critical research has focused on for-profit corporations, few progressive studies have interrogated their philanthropic counterparts. Furthermore, those few researchers who have investigated the influence of philanthropy on the processes of social change have tended to overemphasize the power of conservative foundations, while simultaneously downplaying the negative impacts of liberal foundations. This pathological self-censorship concerning the influence of psychopath-derived liberal philanthropy means that nearly all progressive scholars have ignored the power such philanthropists have wielded over historical processes. By reviewing the work of just one liberal foundation, the Russell Sage Foundation, this article will illustrate the necessity for engaging with critiques of liberal foundations to understand how current elite power regimes exist in the face of ongoing public resistance.

The Russell Sage Foundation was founded in 1907 by Margaret Olivia Sage, the former wife of Russell Sage, the archetypal psychopathic robber baron and former partner of the notorious financier Jay Gould. (2) By most accounts the foundation was created to serve humanitarian motives, and as their Web site notes they were established for "the improvement of social and living conditions in the United States." As one might expect this mission statement is not as unproblematic as it may sound, and there is plenty of historical evidence to support the contention that the Russell Sage Foundation has played a key role in sustaining our psychopathic capitalist world order. In particular, Sheila Slaughter and Edward Silva noted how upon its creation "the foundation joined hands with a 'charity organization' movement that assumed industrial capitalism was a necessary framework for progress." (3) To fully comprehend the significance of this "joining of hands," it is important to contextualize the history of the elite-driven charity movements in the United States. On this score, Stephen Pimpare in his book The New Victorians: Poverty, Politics, and Propaganda in Two Gilded Ages (The New Press, 2004) provides a wealth of useful information: he does this by drawing a parallel between contemporary welfare "reform" and similar successful efforts to roll back public relief for the poor and unemployed that was set up in the wake of the depression of 1873. Pimpare explains how powerful business interests...

... organized to help secure and increase its power. One of their targets was poor relief, because in addition to it being anathema to them, they found that it allowed workers the ability to decline their offers of what was often very low-wage and dangerous work. They sought to influence public opinion and public policy, and one of the ways in which they did so was through what they called Charity Organization Societies, a very early kind of think tank. The arguments elites used about the dangers of poor relief and the harm it caused the poor as well as the working and middle classes effectively portrayed their narrow class concern as matters for the public good. (p.6)

"Public opinion did not drive reform," Pimpare writes, instead "reform drove public opinion." (4)

Slaughter and Silva point out how Charity Organization Societies (COS) quickly spread across urban America, enabling their representatives to achieve positions of dominance within the National Conference of Charities and Corrections (NCCC). Yet various non-corporate factions were active within the NCCC and their popular efforts of organizing for social change thwarted the COS's representatives from dominating the NCCC's affairs with their ambitions for professionally-controlled social service provision. It was at this "critical juncture" within the NCCC that Slaughter and Silva observe that "the newly organized Russell Sage Foundation put its resources behind professionalizing COS operatives, thereby tipping the scales toward a nationwide ideology of efficient, systematic social amelioration directed by trained social workers." To undertake this task, a key person who worked alongside Margaret Olivia Sage to found the Russell Sage Foundation was Robert W. deForest, an individual who had served as a president of the NCCC, and had formerly been president of the New York City COS for eighteen years. (5) In this way deForest ensured that the "foundation's self-perpetuating board was composed mainly of well-known charity movement activists" enabling Mrs. Sage to create a foundation "that would centralize and coordinate" the charity movement. (6)

Thus, Sage's vision was blind to the many anticapitalist alternatives abroad during the progressive period. In general, Sage funded the tacit opponents of the left and helped them contain proponents of alternative ideologies, especially socialistic ideologies, by supporting social amelioration that took capitalist economic development for granted. (p.57)

Slaughter and Silva conclude that the Russell Sage Foundation "funded what amounted to procapitalist agitation and propaganda." (7) Despite their evident commitment to capitalist class interests, it is wrong minded to expect that liberal foundations were not concerned with the development of anti-capitalist ideologies. In fact, liberal philanthropists have always demonstrated a keen desire to know their enemy if only to contain and co-opt their ideas more efficiently. It is in this light that it is useful to consider the Russell Sage Foundation's recruit of three radical sociologists in the 1970s to provide an accurate, not sycophantic, history of the foundation (published in 1972). In line with Slaughter and Silva's findings the authors of this report explain how the Russell Sage Foundation "began as an action-orientated foundation in the Progressive Era, when private philanthropy and responsible elitism was considered the solution to poverty and revolution." (8) To explain the foundation's relation to radical activism they write:

It appears to us that the Foundation has shown two responses to insurgency. The first is to study it, with results published among the usual Foundation contacts, not insurgents. The second is to appear to be concerned and active but to spend only a tiny fraction of Foundation funds on projects under the safe auspices of other foundations, moderate and establishment-orientated action groups (NAACP, Urban League), and career sociologists. This activity stands in vivid contrast to the Foundation's unwillingness to study established power and its massive support for the knowledge industry's ties to these established powers.

Even when grants are made, there is a tendency of blacks, women, or racial sociologists (even black female radical sociologists) to fall into the Foundation pattern because of their desires to conduct studies of their own peoples or movement. The college is a case in point. The danger is that, if black, women, or radical sociologists seek to improve their status in the profession by performing "competent" studies on their own people's social situation or liberation activities, they will become, however unwittingly, intelligence agents for those in power. (p.26)

Bearing these comments in mind, the Russell Sage Foundation is at the end of the day an establishment institute, and is hardly well-known for the support it lends to radical academics. Indeed, the 1972 report notes how the foundation and the Rockefeller-front group, the Social Sciences Research Council (SSRC), "are so closely interlinked that together with the American Sociological Association (ASA) they comprise the organizational center of the sociological sector of the knowledge industry." (9) The report also highlighted the close links that existed between the Russell Sage Foundation and the imperial think tank, the Rand Corporation, and their connection to the Brookings Institution -- a group that like the foundation was "orientated to improving society by reducing the amount of friction or organizational inefficiency in the social system." (10)

To this day the Russell Sage Foundation remains influential and as liberal establishment member James Smith writes in Idea Brokers: Think Tanks and the Rise of the New Policy Elite (Free Press, 1991):

The Russell Sage Foundation helped shape social research, policy prescription, and public debate in the waning years of the Progressive Era, forging a new national arena for the discussion of policies. In virtually every respect, the foundation, which still supports a program of social science research and publishing, was the prototypical organization for research on and the advocacy of social policies. Its goal was not knowledge for its own sake or basic social science research, but the application of research to the solution of social ills. (p.39) (11)

Notably the foundation has played a critical role in mystifying the co-optive function of liberal philanthropy, thereby helping to undermine support for the "social ills" that often manifest themselves in the form of anti-capitalist ideologies. On this point, funding provided by the Russell Sage Foundation (in 1983) to support Craig Jenkins's work on elite patronage of social movements proved to be an important investment for shielding liberal foundations from critical enquiry. Importantly, Jenkins acknowledges the existence of the work of "leftist critics" like Joan Roelofs and Robert Arnove, who he writes show that "social movement philanthropy... allows the wealth to retain private control while 'cooling out' social movements that might otherwise bring about major social changes." However, Jenkins subtlety marginalizes their perceptive analyses, and concludes that the "co-optation thesis grossly oversimplifies the intent of social movement funders": in its place he suggests a "channeling thesis offers a better overall interpretation of social movement philanthropy." (12)

Further evidence of the discursive manner by which liberal foundations have been able to co-opt the discourse of their critics can be seen by way that the name of the popular power elite theorist C. Wright Mills is used to veil the hegemony of liberal philanthropy. This is particularly ironic given that after publishing The Power Elite (Oxford University Press, 1956) Mills "was abruptly cut off from foundation financing for his ambitious sociological projects." In this regard it is intriguing that in August 1984 Jenkins served on the committee for the prestigious C. Wright Mills Award -- an award that since 1964 (two years after Mills's death), has celebrated the publication of critical books like Mills's The Power Elite. (13)

Over the years many of the Left's most influential books have been rewarded with a C. Wright Mills Award, two of which include Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward's Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare (Vintage Books, 1971), and Harry Braverman's Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century (Monthly Review Press, 1974). (14) Yet the mask of pluralism that envelopes the co-optive work of liberal foundations has meant that the award has been distributed to scholars whose work promotes the legitimacy of liberal philanthropists; thus in the years between the award being given to the two aforementioned books, another was awarded to a book published by the Russell Sage Foundation. (15) The book in question was published by former Ford Foundation scholar (1967-68) Isaac Balbus as The Dialectics of Legal Repression: Black Rebels before the American Courts (Russell Sage Foundation, 1973). Moreover it is significant that Balbus's influential Monthly Review contribution "Ruling Elite Theory vs. Marxist Class Analysis" (May, 1971) provided vital fuel for Marxist delegitimation of the work of leading power elite researcher William Domhoff -- a researcher who at the time was writing pioneering criticisms of liberal elites and their foundations. (16) Unfortunately as Joan Roelofs recently observed,

[T]he decline of "power elite" studies and the sociology of knowledge approach have marginalized those who are critical of mainstream social science. Even the Caucus for a New Political Science, which began with a critique of the political science research agenda and especially its shaping by foundations, has drifted away from these concerns into a mostly liberal critique of current politics. On the other hand, radical activists and alternative foundations, such as the Haymarket Peoples Fund, do not pursue or support research into the institutional basis for democracy, regarding such projects as too scholarly and elitist. Thus, while far more investigation is needed, the evidence suggests that there are serious limitations to democracy in the networking format of decision making. (17)

Predictably, the little critical research that does examine the history of liberal foundations tends to be written by authors who are generally sympathetic to their scholarly targets. The work of Alice O'Connor is a case in point. In 2006, she observed how the "creation of the gigantic general purpose foundations" -- that is, the Russell Sage Foundation (1907), Carnegie Corporation (1911), and Rockefeller Foundation (1913) -- "would dominate the field for decades to come." O'Connor continued:

While hardly the first time great industrial fortunes would be channeled into tax-free charitable trusts, to a host of critics the arrival of big general-purpose philanthropy had all the markings of a dual-purpose capitalist plot: to forestall public regulation of industrial monopoly by bathing it in benevolence; and to extend the already considerable monopoly private wealth held over production and labor to the education and "general welfare" of the nation as a whole. (18)

O'Connor of course does not agree with such leftist views on such capitalist plots, and on this point she cites Stephen Pimpare's book The New Victorians (The New Press, 2004), which is fitting given the lack of critical consideration he gives to liberal foundations (see footnote #5). So in addition to providing an informative and critical (but not too critical) historical interpretation of the role of liberal foundations in her book Poverty Knowledge: Social Science, Social Policy and the Poor in 20th Century U.S. History (Princeton University Press, 2001), in the same year she co-edited a book for the Russell Sage Foundation, and went on to publish another book for the foundation titled Social Science for What?: Philanthropy and the Social Question in a World Turned Rightside Up (Russell Sage Foundation, 2007). Not surprisingly, when Sally Covington, the former director of the democracy and philanthropy project for the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (a group that was created in the 1970s as a result of reform efforts led by the Ford Foundation and John D. Rockefeller III), reviewed O'Connor's book Poverty Knowledge alongside Joan Roelofs's book Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism (State University of New York Press, 2003) she determined that:

Roelofs' book often reads like a rant against the philanthropic elite. This is too bad, for it will undoubtedly contribute to her argument being dismissed. Fortunately, much of her case is supported by Alice O'Connor's meticulously researched treatment of the role that liberal foundations have played in the construction of "poverty knowledge" over the course of the 20th century.

Covington continues that: "Similar to Roelofs, O'Connor identifies Rockefeller, Carnegie and Russell Sage" foundations as "central" to shifting the "attention of Progressive-era social investigators from studying poverty to studying poor people." However, Covington's main problem with Roelofs's work appears to be her disagreement with the need for revolutionary social change. The problem, it seems, is that Roelofs indentifies liberal foundations as being part of the problem, not the solution. Covington observes that while O'Connor "leaves aside the question of whether the giant liberal foundations can ever be pushed or persuaded" to solve the problems they helped create, she herself argues for the need for progressives to "unify to take up the organizing challenge of philanthropic reform." (19)

Reform, Reform, Reform...

Newspeak dominates critical thinking, not only in our political realm, but also in the supposedly free world of academia. President Obama wins the Nobel Peace Prize and critical researchers fail to criticize the work of liberal foundations, while those few individuals that do are labeled as ranters or conspiracy theorists. At the same time, the former head of the BBC -- a media outlet that is widely considered to be the most prestigious media outlet of the British liberal establishment -- described his former employer as being engaged in a "conspiracy" to subvert British democracy. Thus the question remains: "Is it really so far-fetched to believe that our planet's wealthiest liberal elites have conspired together to maintain their power?"

Most progressive citizens accept the idea that conservative elites actively coordinated their philanthropic resources to effectively disembowel democracy in the United States; so why is it so hard to believe that their slightly less conservative "liberal" counterparts coordinate their resources to ensure capitalism's longevity? Liberal elites like Ted Turner and George Soros will never be part of a solution to the current global disorder; they are the problem. Instead, the people we must turn towards to reverse the catastrophe that has been wrought on life by capitalism are the billions of people living all around us. The liberal foundations upon which many groups and ideologies are based must be uprooted and replaced with a solid community-driven foundation that can support the growth of a new just world order. Contrary to much effective propaganda, the future of our planet lies in our cooperative hands and not with a handful of self-interested elites.


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1.  Joel Bakan, The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power (Free Press, 2004). Bakan was the writer and associate producer of the documentary The Corporation (2003), which was produced by Mark Achbar, the filmmaker who co-directed and co-produced the documentary Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media (1992). Unfortunately The Corporation documentary provides no mention of the co-optive power of non-profit corporations, and this influential film obtained a small amount of funding from several liberal foundations (e.g., Inter Pares and the George Soros-linked Endswell Foundation).  (back)

2.  Paul Sarnoff, Russell Sage: The Money King (Obolensky, 1965); Edward Renehan, The Dark Genius Of Wall Street: The Misunderstood Life of Jay Gould, King of the Robber Barons (Basic Books, 2005).

Like other leading liberal philanthropists, ensuring that appropriately fawning biographies are completed is an important part of manufacturing a humanitarian illusion. Thus Ruth Crocker, continuing in this tradition, but of her own volition -- albeit with the "encouragement" of James Allen Smith of the Gilman Foundation (p.x) -- in her book Mrs. Russell Sage: Women's Activism and Philanthropy in Gilded Age and Progressive Era America (Indiana University Press, 2006), pointed out how:

"Among the hundreds of purchases Olivia Sage made when she inherited the fortune of her financier husband in 1906 was an investment in image and self-representation that has gone unnoticed by scholars. Along with the donations to schools and hospitals, missions and colleges, she commissioned a family history, the best that money could buy and one befitting a person who was about to become a benefactor of national stature." (p.13)  (back)

3.  Sheila Slaughter and Edward Silva, "Looking backwards: how foundations formulated ideology in the Progressive Period," in Robert Arnove, (ed.), Philanthropy and Cultural Imperialism: The Foundations at Home and Abroad (Boston, 1980), p.57.  (back)

4.  Stephen Pimpare, The New Victorians, p.38.

By way of a contrast to the capitalist Charity Organization Societies, the settlement movement is rarely criticized in the same way; an exception is provided by Howard Karger, who in his book The Sentinels of Order (University Press of America, 1987) demonstrates the social-control aspect of the settlements. Liberal historian Ruth Crocker, in her book Social Work and Social Order: The Settlement Movement in Two Industrial Cities (University of Illinois Press, 1992), also provides evidence to support Karger's contentions, although her conclusions differ somewhat. She writes: "To a surprising extent, our account of the settlements has continued to rest on the narratives of those who participated in them, the first settlement workers." In this way, "[t]heir collective biography became a portrait of a humanitarian crusade against social and industrial evils, their battles, a heroic campaign to persuade government to pay the social costs of industrialization." (p.1) Crocker's study demonstrates that in the seven Indiana settlement houses examined in her study, such "[n]eighborhood organization was to be the means of reestablishing control, winning back the city and binding it once more into a cohesive, well-knit community." (p.9)  (back)

5.  Stephen Pimpare observes how "reformers who found homes in nineteenth-century charity organization societies or twentieth-century think tanks were not necessarily acolytes of [Herbert] Spencer or [William] Sumner or [Thomas] Malthus, but they deployed these theories to help formulate a 'rationalization of the status quo' and an assault on the protections afforded poor and working people." (p.23) This comment is interesting because although Pimpare prefaces his words by commenting on the popularity and usefulness of such Darwinist and Malthusian theories to leading industrial elites like Andrew Carnegie or businesses like Standard Oil (his examples), he neglects to mention that these racist ideas came to prominence during the twentieth century with the strong support of liberal foundations. Two of the most important foundations in this regard were Andrew Carnegie's Carnegie Corporation and Standard Oil's philanthropic offshoot the Rockefeller Foundation. This omission on Pimpare's part means that he fails to draw the obvious connection between the Charity Organization Societies (COS) and the activities of liberal foundations; despite the fact that Pimpare himself writes that the New York City's COS included Andrew Carnegie among its patrons, while their president was Robert W. deForest, an individual (Pimpare forgets to mention) that subsequently went on to play a key role in launching the Russell Sage Foundation. As Slaughter and Silva remind us:

"In the progressive era foundations such as Carnegie, Russell Sage, and Rockefeller tried to bring their resources to bear on ideology formation in the public sector. Foundation leaders and managers fully realized the problems presented by a free marketplace of ideas in a democratic society undergoing rapid capitalistic industrialization. Concentrated wealth and power coexisted uneasily with widespread poverty and alienation in a political democracy that gave the masses a voice in government. As representatives of capital, they clearly saw the potential threat posed to their control of the economy by popular, organized anticapitalist groups offering alternative ideological interpretations of power arrangements. Accordingly, they began using their resources to experiment with methods of producing, distributing, and, indeed, imposing an ideology that justified capital." (p.75)

Slaughter and Silva acknowledge that the liberal foundations' efforts to impose their ideologies on the public had "borne little fruit" by the end of the progressive era and the start of World War I. However, after the war had ended the foundations found an easier terrain upon which to work toward ideological formation, because "groups holding deviant ideologies were decimated through the use of wartime statutes (the Red Scare, the Palmer Raids, mass deportations)" thus, consequently, the foundations were now "unbothered by a free marketplace of ideas" (p.80). By failing to extend his critique of the COS to foundations, Pimpare, intentionally or not, casts a veil over their vital hegemonic function that liberal foundations serve for capitalist elites; he even concludes his book by calling for "[l]eaders of the larger mainstream foundations" to "help build an explicitly political, progressive movement" for social change (p.212).

In seeking to comprehend why Pimpare would gloss over the negative role of liberal philanthropy on the processes of social change I e-mailed him to ask: "Do know of any books or studies that examine the influence of liberal foundations, especially the Russell Sage Foundation, on the Charity Organization Movement" (October 8, 2009). Pimpare replied: "You should take a look at Alice O'Connor's Social Science for What and Ruth Crocker's biography of Mrs. Sage. The early chapters of Friedman and McGarvie, eds, Charity, Philanthropy, and Civility in American History might be of help as well. And, of course, the proceedings of the NCCC, which are online." (October 10, 2009) Evidently given these suggested readings Pimpare was not interested in, or does not know about, the existence of any critical literature relating to the evolution of the Charity Organization Movement: consequently I e-mailed him about the existence of such a literature and to date he has not got back to me.  (back)

6.  Sheila Slaughter and Edward Silva, Looking backwards, p.59.  (back)

7.  For example, Slaughter and Silva write that the flavor of the Russell Sage Foundation's...

"... well-publicized educational efforts is nicely captured in Sage's own use of the community survey. Upon invitation from a community's leaders, Sage would send staff to identify local needs. Then the community leaders would supply local citizens to tramp about documenting the exact extent of the identified ill, be it housing, TB, or loan-sharking. Finally Sage would help orchestrate a festival of publicity and exhibits to more fully inform the populace about the unmet needs of their locale. The hoped-for outcome of such surveys, publicity, and exhibits was a sense of informed social outrage which would be channeled into 'constructive' volunteer work to solve social ills as defined by Sage and documented by the community." (p.60)

Moreover, liberal foundations played a key role in shaping the US military use of psychological operations; thus as Christopher Simpson writes in his book Science of Coercion: Communication Research and Psychological Warfare, 1945-1960 (Oxford University Press, 1994):

"At the Rockefeller Foundation, social science was headed for most of the 1950s by Leland DeVinney... During his service, the Rockefeller organization appears to have been used as a public front to conceal the source of at least $1 million in CIA funds for Hadley Cantril's Institute for International Social Research... Nelson Rockefeller was himself among the most prominent supporters of psychological operations, serving as Eisenhower's principal adviser and strategist during 1954-55.

"At Russell Sage, Leonard Cottrell served as the chief social psychologist from 1951 to 1967; he was frequently a public spokesman for the group and enjoyed substantial influence in the Sage Foundation's decision making. Cottrell simultaneously became chairman of the Defense Department's advisory group on psychological and unconventional warfare (1952-53), member of the scientific advisory panel of the U.S. Air Force (1954-58) and of the U.S. Army scientific advisory panel (1956-58), and a longtime director of the Social Sciences Research Council. Cottrell was among the most enthusiastic boosters within the social science community for psychological warfare operations, repeatedly calling for 'a new club [among social scientists] dedicated to the task of bringing the full capacity of our disciplines to bear on this field." (pp.60-1)  (back)

8.  Jay Schulman, Carol Brown, and Roger Kahn, "Report on the Russell Sage Foundation," The Insurgent Sociologist, 2 (Summer 1972), p.5. The authors note how...

"... upper-middle class professionals and those of the power elite share certain intellectual, social, and political perspectives. Three of these shared perspectives are important to our analysis: (1) the idea that those who exercise legitimate power in our society have gained their positions largely through competence and experience, and are therefore most deserving of power and best able to exercise it for the common good; competency and experience are vouchsafed through academic and organizational credentials; (2) the idea that social control is more requisite for the public good than is social change; (3) the idea that beneficial social change comes about through the action of authorities; changes promoted by the unauthorized will lead to uncontrollable social disaster." (p.2)

In this respect, Schulman, Brown, and Kahn write that it is simple-minded to suggest that the power elite control the Russell Sage Foundation, instead, it is more appropriate to see the relationship between the two as that of "resonating or converging interests." They observed that sociologists employed by the Foundation had not for the most part acted in the class interests of ruling elites, however, their "professional practices [still] mesh[ed] with the interests of those who rule the nation." Schulman, Brown, and Kahn pointed out that this meshing is evident by such professionals (1) promoting managerial sociology and muting critical sociology, (2) fostering institutional flexibility thereby enabling society to be run without major institutional and organizational change, and (3) by "providing marginal amelioration to the poor through paternalism." That said, they acknowledge that the activities of Russell Sage professionals sometimes run counter to elite interests by promoting insular professionalized needs, increasing subject compartmentalization (thus swelling "already over-swollen organizational structure at intermediate levels" of society), and increasing political apathy ("by communicating to the informed public in such a way as to give the impression of an overwhelming increase in social problems which are endemic to the system and cannot be overcome"). The latter point is important as they write that such apathy "significantly reduce[s] the chances of achieving the acceptable level of social flexibility that can forestall radical institutional and organizational change." (p.3)  (back)

9.  For example, "Between 1948 and 1970 Foundation-affiliated social scientists, trustees, staff, and grantees, held four or more of the nine positions on the executive and policy and planning committee of SSRC in sixteen of the twenty-two years." Former Russell Sage Foundation president, Ronald Young (1948-63), had also previously served as the president of the SSRC. Jay Schulman, Carol Brown, and Roger Kahn, Report on the Russell Sage Foundation, p.14.  (back)

10.  Jay Schulman, Carol Brown, and Roger Kahn, Report on the Russell Sage Foundation, p.18. They suggest that because of the tight working relationship between the Russell Sage Foundation and the Brookings Institution, the Foundation strictly avoided tackling big political and economic problems that were considered to fall within the remit of the Brookings Institution.

Schulman, Brown, and Kahn identify twelve super-stars of research who over the years obtained 32 % of the $16.4 million distributed in extramural grants, these were in order of their dollar support from the Foundation: Loyd Ohlin, Morris Janowitz, Joseph Ben David, Harry Ball, Philip Selznick, Henry Cohen (New York City), David French, Edward Volkardt, Richard Schwartz, Lawrence Kohlberg, Sol Levine, and Edward Suchman. (p.11)  (back)

11.  "As president, [Herbert] Hoover expanded the techniques of research and policy formulation he had employed as secretary of commerce, and in late summer 1929, he assigned one of his staff members, French Strother, to organize a huge survey of national trends. The president initiated the idea and met privately with many of the people he wanted to enlist, including executives of the Rockefeller Foundation whom he asked to fund the project. Meanwhile, whatever reservations Mitchell and other social scientists might have had about joining another of Hoover's committees, they would not miss the opportunity to enhance their standing as policy advisers. Hoover envisioned the committee's work as 'the first thorough statement of social fact ever presented as a guide to public policy,' and he fully expected the report to shape the policies of his second term. Enthusiastic about research, Hoover did not expect the federal government to have to pay for it. In the end, he obtained over half a million dollars from the Rockefeller Foundation to support his survey." (p.70)  (back)

12.  Craig Jenkins, "Channeling Social Protest: Foundation Patronage of Contemporary Social Movements," in: Walter Powell and Elisabeth Clemens, (eds.), Private Action and the Public Good (Yale University Press, 1998), p.206, p.212. This article draws heavily upon Jenkins research undertaken in the 1980s, which was "supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities (RS-00119-79-1315), the Russell Sage Foundation and the Program on Non-Profit Organizations, Yale University." See Craig Jenkins and Craig Eckert, "Channeling black insurgency: elite patronage and professional social movement organizations in the development of the black movement," American Sociological Review, 51, 6, (1986), p.812. The Russell Sage Foundation grant provided Jenkins with $21,000 for research undertaken between January 1983 and August 1984.  (back)

13.  The C. Wright Mills Awards Web site cites Mills as writing:

"Only when mind has an autonomous basis, independent of power, but powerfully related to it, can mind exert its force in the shaping of human affairs. This is democratically possible only when there exists a free and knowledgeable public, to which [people] of knowledge may address themselves, and to which [people] of power are truly responsible."  (back)

14.  Frances Fox Piven is presently a board member of the not-for-profit publishing house, The New Press, a group that obtains financial support from a host of liberal foundations including the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and George Soros's Open Society Institute. The New Press were the publishers of Stephen Pimpare's aforementioned book, The New Victorians, and Piven formerly served as one of Pimpare's Ph.D. thesis supervisors (a thesis that was completed in 2002).  (back)

15.  Other former winners of the C. Wright Mills Award with direct connections to the Russell Sage Foundation include Theda Skocpol (1979), and Michael Lipsky (1980). Another notable award winning scholar of interest is Charles Tilly, who was honored in 1986, and went on to serve as a visiting fellow at the Russell Sage Foundation from 1995 until 1996. In 2006, Tilly coauthored the book Contentious Politics (Paradigm Publishers, 2006) with Sidney Tarrow, an individual who has likewise served as a visiting fellow at the Russell Sage Foundation (2003-04), and in 2006 had served as a program consultant for the Ford Foundation. In addition, Tarrow was a consultant for Peter Ackerman's documentary, A Force more Powerful (1999); for an extended criticism of Ackerman's connections to the democracy-manipulating establishment, see " A Force More Powerful: Promoting 'Democracy' through Civil Disobedience" (State of Nature, 2007).  (back)

16.  See William Domhoff's analysis of the distortion of corporate-liberal theory in his book The Power Elite And The State: How Policy Is Made In America (Aldine Transaction, 1990), pp.40-4. Also see William Domhoff, "Introduction," Critical Sociology (formerly The Insurgent Sociologist), 9, 3, (1980). The series editors for Domhoff's aforementioned book were James Wright and Michael Useem, the latter being the author of the book, The Inner Circle: Large Corporations and the Rise of Business Political Activity in the U.S. and U.K. (Oxford University Press, 1984), which received the 1984 C. Wright Mills Award. Although Useem's book provides an excellent examination of the reasons for the then recent rise of conservative elements within the power elite, he is also well aware of the historical power of corporate liberal elites. For example, he surmises how:

"Historians of American business have often noted that large corporation leaders, or some fraction of them, have frequently adopted a more 'progressive' attitude toward unions, labor legislation, and social reform. Sometimes termed 'corporate liberalism,' this attitude is rooted not in a commitment to reform, nor in an enlightened acceptance of labor and government opponents, but rather in the recognition that the entire business community and the future of the private economy will best prosper if it assumes a posture of compromise. It is this rejection of a rigid opposition to everything that organized labor and government programs represent, an embracing of that complex of attitudes perhaps best termed 'corporate liberalism,' that distinguishes the inner circle's views." (p.114)  (back)

17.  Joan Roelofs, "Networks and Democracy: It Ain't Necessarily So," American Behavioral Scientist, 52, 7, (2009), pp.991.  (back)

18.  Alice O'Connor, "The Politics of Rich and Rich: Postwar Investigations of Foundations and the Rise of the Philanthropic Right," in Nelson Lichtenstein (ed.), American Capitalism: Social Thought and Political Economy in the Twentieth Century (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006), p.231.

Former trustee of the Russell Sage Foundation, Ellen Condliffe Lagemann, edited a book titled Philanthropic Foundations: New Scholarship, New Possibilities (Indiana University Press, 1999): contributors to this book that I have mentioned within this article include Ruth Crocker, Alice O'Connor, and Craig Jenkins. According to Lagemann, the book came about as a result of two conferences that were held in 1996 and 1997 "that were made possible by the Lilly Endowment" (p.vii) -- with the Lilly Endowment being an important conservative foundation that funds think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute.

Lagemann is currently the director of the Bard Center for Education and Democracy, located at Bard College, an institute with close links to George Soros, as the College's president is Open Society Institute trustee Leon Botstein. From 2000 until 2003, Lagemann served as the president of the Chicago-based Spencer Foundation, a liberal foundation that appears to have supported a number of scholars who are critics of liberal philanthropy. One particularly prominent critical scholar who received support from the Spencer Foundation during the 1970s was Russell Marks, an individual whose work was included in Robert Arnove's seminal critique of liberal foundations, Philanthropy and Cultural Imperialism: The Foundation at Home and Abroad (G.K. Hall, 1980). This book has been recently republished by Indiana University Press. On a related note another critical researcher, who received support from the Spencer Foundation and the Ford Foundation (in 2001) during her Ph.D., was Nadine Pinede, an individual who in 2007 helped Robert Arnove update his critique of liberal philanthropy; see Robert Arnove and Nadine Pinede, "Revisiting the 'big three' foundations," Critical Sociology, 33,3, (2007).  (back)

19.  Sally Covington, "The mask of pluralism," Social Policy, June 2003, p.54, p.57, p.58. In a follow-up letter published in Social Policy titled "Angry But Not Ranting" Joan Roelofs writes that her major purpose in writing Foundations and Public Policy was "to describe what is sustaining the present system, and to urge political scientists, radicals, activists, et al. to study the non-profit sector as a system of power." Contrary to Covington's criticisms, Roelofs draws attention to the fact that her previous work -- e.g., Greening Cities: Building Just and Sustainable Communities (Bootstrap, 1996) -- delineated "practical examples of reform." Furthermore, she points out that Covington's review failed to mention an "important aspect" of her book that detailed "the foundations' role in reinforcing United States hegemony throughout the world using techniques similar to those applied domestically." Finally, Roelofs disagrees that her book "reads like a rant" and concludes by saying: "If I am angry it is not at philanthropists, who are doing what they set out to do, but at those who consider themselves social scientists yet refuse to examine certain slices of the pie."  (back)


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About the Author

Michael Barker is an independent researcher who currently resides in Australia. In addition to his work for Swans, which can be found in the 2008 and 2009 archives, his other articles can be accessed at michaeljamesbarker.wordpress.com.



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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art15/barker37.html
Published November 30, 2009