What is it? In a nut shell its an ongoing analysis of transatlantic (‘Atlanticist’) elite networks, looking at their influences on political agendas and political processes, with a focus on the left, mostly in the UK.

Fairly recently I tried to put together a short summary of what I was writing:

Ideas shape our minds and our minds shape our society. The role of ‘knowledge communities’ and think tanks in the process whereby ideas become influential in the policy arena has recently gained some significance, although the extent of this type of influence remains difficult to measure. There remains a need for factual and objective information about the state of independent policy advice. The general topic area of this study concerns think tanks, public affairs and security with a case study of the Institute for European Defence and Strategic Studies (IEDSS). The objective is to establish the IEDSS’ role in defining security issues and agendas from the 1980s to the present and the political change it encouraged. The research question asks whether the IEDSS seriously faced the problems it raised and if its ‘picture of the world’ corresponded to the world outside. The aim is an examination of the IEDSS in terms of assessing its perceptions, actions, purposes and influence in relation to key areas such as academic research; diplomacy, defence and security policy. Preliminary research has explored its historical roots and theoretical underpinnings and its relation to other US and UK think tanks; together with its role in public diplomacy and its activities as an advocacy institution that worked to change the climate of opinion in Britain over several decades.

The methodology includes an analysis of the determinants and the consequences of interlocking directorates, together with an examination of the parameters of informal networks and the character of their social ties. These types of measures of network centrality only provide an indicator of potential influence so a combined methodology of social network analysis, document analysis, archival research, media reception, interviews and a detailed study of the publications, events and campaigns of the IEDSS has been utilised. The study seeks to measure the actual influence activities in terms of analysis of the modus operandi and the effect on policy formation in comparison to the IEDSS’ claims to have influenced policy. The intention is to assess the provenance and coherence of the theoretical and epistemological basis of the main achievements in terms of their relevance to the present day. The study offers a wide-ranging historical, biographic, descriptive and analytical overview of the economic, legal, political and social contexts within which a network of think tanks and civil society organizations operated, and is a response to a common criticism that many existing studies contain inadequate discussion and analysis of individual think tanks.

The relationship between power and knowledge is an old debate, thus the study has a wide-ranging focus on theoretical work based on: Walter Lippmann and Harold Lasswell in terms of their influence on the large foundations and policy networks; James Burnham and F. A. Hayek in terms of ideology and advocacy groups; Robert Michels, Gaetano Mosca, Vilfredo Pareto, C. Wright Mills, Thorstein Veblen and Tom Bottomore in terms of elite theory; Edwards Shils, Daniel Bell, Alvin Gouldner and Christopher Lasch in terms of the precursors of the IEDSS. The foundation of any serious study includes a comprehensive literature search to determine the status and content of relevant research, thus the study also, draws on and offers an overview and critique of a range of more recent writing on think tanks including: Richard Cockett, Robert Keohane, Bruce Kuklick, Joseph Nye, Robert Dahl, Sidney Blumenthal, Charles Murray, Diane Stone, Andrew Denham, Mark Garnett, James G. McGann, R. Kent Weaver, Peter Haas, Geoff Mulgan, Michael David Kandiah, Philippa Sherrington, Anthony Seldon and Inderjeet Parmar. The study also examines the work of several influential thinkers who were part of the IEDSS such as Albert Wohlstetter, Jean-Marie Benoist, Leopold Labedz, Edwin J. Feulner, George R. Urban and Leonard Schapiro.

So the site is  a collection of essays, most of which have not been published, some of which have. The page ‘The Atlantic Semantic’ is taken from a recent book “THINKER, FAKER, SPINNER, SPY Corporate PR and the Assault on Democracy’, although I’ve revised it from the badly edited version that appeared in the book, and am continuing to do so. A review of which appears here. There is a (not entirely calm) response by James Wilsdon who runs the think tank Demos, who were mentioned in the essay here.

Others such as ‘Philanthropic imperialism: the National Endowment for Democracy’ appeared in Lobster Magazine, which I recommend.

I’m working on most of the pages and there are more in the site which are as yet unpublished but it really started out as an analysis of think tanks grouped as an organisations and place called the Mezzanine—this is outlined in basic terms in the ‘Atlantic Semantic’ essay, but I wrote about it earlier in terms of the change of government and its effects in the late 1990s, really using the art world as an example.

Some of the interviews on the site, such as the Bob Holman interview also touch on the themes picked up here— the ethic of bureaucratization and commodification of those allowed to influence the State and society seemed to have taken over and displaced all else, but what also interested me was something of a constellation of thought. What I mean by this is that other concerns seemed to feed into the analysis: the influence of post modernist thought was something that also seemed to draw a veil over reality and how it was used and its effects is discussed in the Greg Philo interview opposite—and Demos’ Jacques and Hall’s influence was touched upon here.

By this time the New Labour project was beginning to be seen for the exploitative deception it was. But it was really in discussion with John Barker, who had seen a longer version of the essay on Demos and the Mezzanine and who commented that what I was (trying) to describe was an elite, that the notion of enlarging an essay which appeared in Lobster occurred to me; that and the use of C. Wright Mills’ theoretical approach. The influence of the work of Robin Ramsay and Lobster helped contextualise broader aspects of the theme—think tanks like Demos had stated that they wanted to act the way think tanks had influenced ‘Thatcherism’ without really knowing much about how that process had worked —or did they? One of the key Lobster essays which unites the worlds of New Labour and the magazine’s previous study of the drives to influence politics and intellectual thought through organisations such as the Congress for Cultural Freedom and the Information Research Department, was Tom Easton’s work on The British American Project for a Successor Generation.

By this time I had started working on a project initiated by David Miller called Spinprofiles: some of the work on the site is drawn from my entries here — mostly the work on Editorial Intelligence. The original Spinprofiles I wrote were not considered good enough for the site and a small-minded authoritarian seems to have been employed to change everything I have written there—(such are the perils of writing on a wiki). This was another reason I decided to gather them here, and also to see what I had done, how it might go. This period also gave rise to a return to the Mezzanine and a detailed focus on Dennis Stevenson, whose work in PR, think tanks, big business and so forth gives an indication of the nexus of influence involved; the inclusion of theoretical concerns also made it something of a trial run for what these essays will eventually become (but it did not turn out how I had envisioned it).

As the study broadened out I began to focus on the activity of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the move into Public Diplomacy in the 80s (and the close links via the people, political orientation and drive—Wick, Abshire and so on) particularly through the ‘Project Democracy’ network which I had long wanted to study in terms of how this affected UK politics. I was particularly interested in describing this through the (rather neglected) Institute for European Defence and Strategic Studies (IEDSS) with regards to its precursors (the Crozier network ISC and so on, the Congress for Cultural Freedom, IRD and so forth—which are all gathered in abundance in IEDSS together with CSIS people). I think this articulates with the ‘soft power’ influence through BAP (I’ve been examining most of the peripheral figures here: Dailey, Villiers (and the Negroponte connection) van Dusen and others and of course Lord Stevenson, and I also try to fit this together with the Mezzanine organisations (New Labour think tanks etc) and organisations such as the Centre for European Reform (started by David Miliband and Nick Butler and closely alligned to neoconservative networks) which is much the same network but with a more pronounced Atlanticism— if not an out and out front for Lockheed’s interest in NATO expansion and Robert Cooper’s ‘Post Modernism’.

Historically, as a lead into this I’m also taking C. Wright Mills’ letter to the New Left Review, which hints at this trajectory warning of ‘postmodernism’ ‘Encounter’ and ‘Nato Intellectuals’ as some sort of starting point— in some way this is also the story of the subversion/subvention of academia and the media—a point I’ll expand here later.

Aspects of the biographical treatment considers certain individuals as points (nodes) at which broader institutional and socio-cultural dynamics and conflicts intersect. To examine the individual is to simultaneously analyse a broader social and cultural and institutional condition. How can we extract the individual from society?

William Clark 13/10/08


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