Elite 'Democratic' Planning at the Council on Foreign Relations
(Part 1 of 2)

by Michael Barker, Michael Barker's ZSpace Page

www.zcommunications.org/, February 27, 2008


Who are they and how did it start?

"The Council [on Foreign Relations] was conceived, in the words of its incorporating charter, 'to afford a continuous conference on international questions affecting the United States.' By its first annual report, November 1922, it had assurance of financial support for the startup years and close to 300 'carefully chosen' members, including [Elihu] Root from the old Council, but also new and promising figures like Herbert H. Lehman, W. Averell Harriman, and John Foster Dulles." Peter Grose, (1996) - Official Council historian [1]

As with many elite planning groups the Council on Foreign Relations (the Council) proudly refers to itself as a "nonpartisan and independent membership organization". However, like other democracy manipulating organizations (e.g. the two bipartisan groups the National Endowment for Democracy and its partner the US Institute of Peace) little critical commentary surrounds their work. The Council's activities are nonetheless decidedly antidemocratic: that is, it promotes an elite form of democracy, often referred to as plutocracy or polyarchy, as opposed to its more participatory variants. Yet, considering the influential role the Council has exerted over the development of 'democracy' in the United States and beyond, it is strange that political scientists the world over tend to overlook this powerful agency of US hegemony.

Remarkably, until power elite researcher G. William Domhoff briefly wrote about the activities of the Council in his book, Who Rules America? (1967, pp.71-3), it appears that no one on the Left had critically analysed their work. [2] Furthermore, for many years, the only critical book-length study of the Council's work was Laurence H. Shoup and William Minter's excellent Imperial Brain Trust: The Council on Foreign Relations and United States Foreign Policy (Monthly Review Press, 1977). [3] In a recent article Laurence H. Shoup, (2004) states:

"One of the prime characteristics of the U.S. upper class is its high level of organization. One of the central organizations, accurately called 'the citadel of America's establishment,' is the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). Founded in 1921, the CFR is the most influential of all private policy planning groups. Its great strength is mainly exercised behind the scenes and stems from its unique position among policy groups: it is simultaneously both a think tank for foreign and economic policy and also has a large membership comprising some of the most important individuals in U.S. economic, intellectual, and political life. The Council has a yearly budget of about $30 million and a staff of over 200." [4]

Official Council historian, Peter Grose, corroborates the secretive nature of their work when he observed that: "From its inception, the activities of the Council on Foreign Relations were private and confidential." Yet despite making this point, in the following paragraph Grose acknowledges that the "Council's founding fathers appreciated that democracy involved the factor of public opinion, but they were uncertain at first about how such opinion was to be formed and expressed." [5] There is no real contradiction here as the publics' role in democratic policy making, as considered by ruling elites, was perhaps best expressed by former Council board member (1932-7) Walter Lippmann, in 1922 wrote "the common interests very largely elude public opinion entirely, and can be managed only by a specialized class whose personal interests reach beyond the locality." [6] Perhaps with thoughts of the Council in mind Lippmann (1922, p.31-2) wrote:

"[R]epresentative democracy cannot be worked successfully, no matter what the basis of election, unless there is an independent, expert organization for making the unseen facts intelligible to those who have to make the decisions [P]ublic opinions must be organized for the press if they are to be sound, not by the press as is the case today." [7]

Inderjeet Parmar (2005, p.17) writes that in the early 1940s members of the Council and the State Department "were absolutely terrified of public opinion which, in the main, was isolationist, pacifist and, still, largely anticolonialist". [8] So it is entirely consistent with the Council thinking that in 1947 the globalist Council created a 'Propaganda and Foreign Policy' group - shortly thereafter renamed as the 'Public Opinion and Foreign Policy' group - that aimed to "research possible ideas to influence and educate the American public on foreign policy issues". [9]

Following in Lippmann elitist footsteps, Edward Bernays, one of the founding fathers of Public Relations (rather: propaganda), later helped refine the tools for "engineering consent". [10] Moreover, the Rockefeller Foundation (which at the time was one of the most influential liberal foundations'), sponsored and organized a number of Communications Seminars between 1939 and 1940 that "acknowledged the need to develop ways in which to manufacture public consent for desired policy changes". [11] Research undertaken by Parmar concerning the critical period of 1939 to 1945, demonstrates the key role played by liberal foundations in engineering consent to "build a new globalist consensus". [12]

The work of liberal foundations' was not limited to developing the means to manufacture public consent for elite profit; they have also played an important role in supporting many progressive causes. Yet, as Nicolas Guilhot (2007, p.449) writes, by no means does this mean that their charitable work is a disinterested apolitical aid, because as in the case of the funding they provided for higher education, liberal "philanthropists sought to ensure that social reform would be congruent with their own Interests". Moreover:

"By investing in the universities, philanthropists pursued two specific objectives. In the first place, they obviously sought to foster the teaching of practical knowledge and skills serving the development of commerce and industry, against the prevailing academic traditions. But these educational and scientific investments were also a way of diagnosing the social upheavals caused by the accelerated shift from a still largely agrarian society to an industrial mass society characterized by the emergence of a polyglot and riotous urban proletariat... Aware that social reform was unavoidable, they chose to invest in the definition and scientific treatment of the 'social questions' of their time: urbanization, education, housing, public hygiene, the 'Negro problem,' etc. Far from being resistant to social change, the philanthropists promoted reformist solutions that did not threaten the capitalistic nature of the social order but constituted a "private alternative to socialism". (Guilhot, 2007, pp.451-2)

Liberal foundations' interests were not limited to education, but as Roelofs (2007, p.480) notes, "[t]heir influence is exerted in many ways" and also includes "creating ideology and the common wisdom; controlling access to resources for universities, social services, and arts organizations; compensating for market failures; steering protest movements into safe channels; and supporting those institutions by which policies are initiated and implemented." [13] As I have written about the anti-democratic practices at length elsewhere I will direct interested readers to my recent article Do Capitalists Fund Revolutions? (Part 1; Part 2).


Liberal Philanthropy and US Foreign Policy

Liberal foundations' and their associated philanthropoids have always played a key role in the work of the Council. According to Shoup and Minter (1977, pp.94-5) the two foundations that provided the most support for the Council were the Rockefeller Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York; indeed total foundation grants before 1936 averaged about $20,000 a year, although from 1936 to 1946, this increased to about $90,000 a year. In later years, the Ford Foundation also acted as a key Council funder, and in 1954 they gave the Council a $1,500,000 ten-year grant. [14] As an example of liberal foundation largesse, Grose writes: "Supported by a $50,000 grant from the Carnegie Corporation, the Council launched a major initiative in December 1937 to spread its activities and role across the United States, to replicate the New York Council in eight American cities." Crucially, as Shoup and Minter (1977, p.30) observe, the establishment of these Council committees served two purposes, (1) they "influenc[ed] the thinking of local leaders", and (2) "they provid[ed] the Council and the United States government with information about trends of thought on political affairs throughout the country". Given the Rockefeller Foundation's involvement with the aforementioned Communications Seminars (1939-40) it is particularly interesting that Grose notes that in 1939 the Foundation funded (to the sum of $350,000 a secret Council project that was launched in collaboration with the US State Department. [15] This Rockefeller-funded project was later known as the War and Peace Studies Group - a project that aimed to development a concrete plan for US domination in the post-war world. [16] Grose continues:

"Over the coming five years, almost 100 men participated in the War and Peace Studies [Group], divided into four functional topic groups: economic and financial, security and armaments, territorial, and political. These groups met more than 250 times, usually in New York, over dinner and late into the night. They produced 682 memoranda for the State Department, which marked them classified and circulated them among the appropriate government departments."

Writing from a (far more) critical perspective, F. William Engdahl (2008) offers more details of their work:

"The core of the War & Peace Studies, which were designed for and implemented by the US State Department after 1944, was to be the creation of a United Nations organization to replace the British-dominated League of Nations. A central part of that new UN organization, which would serve as the preserver of the US-friendly postwar status quo, [17] was creation of what were originally referred to as the Bretton Woods institutions-the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development or World Bank. The GATT multinational trade agreements were later added.

"The US negotiators in Bretton Woods New Hampshire, led by US Treasury deputy Secretary Harry Dexter White, imposed a design on the IMF and World Bank which insured the two would remain essentially instruments of an "informal" US empire, an empire, initially based on credit, and later, after about 1973, on debt." [18]

Subsequently, Grose observes that, during the 1950's, liberal foundations continued to provide massive support to the work of the Council: "from the Rockefeller Foundation and Carnegie Corporation came $500,000 each, topped by $1.5 million from the new Ford Foundation in 1954." Between 1940 and 1970 David Rockefeller also served as "an active Council member", and from 1950 to 1970 he was the vice-president of the Council. In 1970, Rockefeller then became chairman of the Council's board (a position he maintained until 1985), "succeeding [former chair of the Ford foundation] John J. McCloy, who had served for 17 years." In his autobiography, David Rockefeller (2002, p.407) recalls.

"After World War II the Council played an important role in alerting Americans to the new threat posed by the Soviet Union and in crafting a bipartisan consensus on how to deal with the worldwide expansion of Communism. In 1947, Foreign Affairs, the Council's distinguished journal, published the famous 'X' article, 'The Sources of Soviet Conduct' (written anonymously because George Kennan was serving in the State Department at the time). It outlined the doctrine of containment [This] article became the defining document of U.S. Cold War policy."

At around the same time that Rockefeller became chair of the Council's board, former CIA analyst, William Bundy, amidst much controversy, became the new head of Foreign Affairs: [19] it is noteworthy to point out that William's brother, McGeorge Bundy, was well linked to liberal philanthropy's inner circles as he served as the president of the Ford Foundation from 1966 to 1979. Moreover, it is vital to note that the activities of the Rockefeller, Carnegie and Ford Foundations' - a grouping often referred to as the big three - were closely enmeshed with the CIA and US foreign policy elites during this period. Unsurprisingly, Victor Marchetti and John Marks' (1980, p.237) in their book The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence noted that the CFR "has long been the CIA's principal 'constituency' in the American public. When the agency has need prominent citizens to front for its proprietary companies or other special interests, it has often turned to the Council [on Foreign Relations] members." In 1977, Shoup and Minter also wrote that since its founding, the "directorship of the CIA has been in the hands of a Council leader or member more often than not". [20]



Michael Barker is a doctoral candidate at Griffith University, Australia. He can be reached at Michael. J. Barker [at] griffith.edu.au. Most of his other articles can be found here.

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