Friday, April 02, 2010

To Change the World: Proposition Five

World-changing is most intense when the networks of elites and the institutions they lead overlap.
Implied here is the overlapping of the different forms of capital—cultural capital overlapping with economic capital and political capital.

One can cite dozens of examples from history. Consider first the Reformation. The role of the powerful nobility in the German provinces was crucial to the success of the Reformation. Their economic and political capital made the difference. Indeed, Luther would likely have been executed (as Savanarola was a generation before) if Frederick of Wise had not forcibly removed him to safe refuge at Wartburg Castle after the Edict of Worms.

The story of Wilberforce and the abolitionist Clapham Circle is also the story of overlapping elites and institutions. Wilberforce may have had the moral charisma and political capital, but it was Hannah More (well known in literary circles) who had a great deal of cultural capital and used it to start a very successful school for the poor, Henry Thornton (a merchant banker) who had the necessary financial capital, and Granville Sharp and Zacharay Macaulay, both of whom had intellectual capital and extensive social networks in the reform movements of the day.

And in a very different case, take the evangelist, Billy Graham—an unknown itinerate preacher whose urban crusades had repeatedly fizzled until William Randolph Hearst ordered his media network to “puff Graham” during the Los Angeles crusade of 1949. Within two months of this order, Graham was preaching to crowds of 350,000. No one who has studied the issue disagrees that without the economic and cultural leverage provided by Hearst, we would likely not ever have heard of Billy Graham.

Again and again we see that the impetus, energy, and direction for changing the world were found where cultural, economic, and often political resources overlapped; where networks of elites, who generated these various resources, come together in common purpose. . . in common purpose—something we should never forget.

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