The Global Power Project, an investigative series produced by Occupy.com, aims to identify and connect the worldwide institutions and individuals who comprise today's global power oligarchy. In Part 2, which appeared last week, I discussed some of the dominant institutions that have facilitated and have in turn been supported by the development of this oligarchic class. In this third part, I examine the dynastic influence wielded by prominent corporate and financial families. This is not a study of wealth, but a study of power.
Dynastic power, embedded in the institution of "family," has been with humanity for as long as empire: ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, China, the European empires and beyond. With the rise of capitalism, finance and corporations, formal political dynasties became less relevant to the expansion and maintenance of power and empire. Instead, dynastic power was and remains largely wielded in the corporate and financial sectors.
In Europe, the Rothschild banking dynasty was the unparalleled family power of the 19th century, and has continued as a major influence in Britain, France and elsewhere well into the 20th and 21st centuries. Baron Benjamin de Rothschild, considered to be the “world’s richest Rothschild today,” told the Israeli publication Ha’aretz in 2010, “We have an obligation to continue the dynasty.” And indeed, the Rothschild banks and family are doing well. It recently decided to bring together the French and British banking assets under one roof, and the dynasty has even been expanding its influence in merchant banking in London. The Rothschild bank was also seeking to extend its presence in the United States, “to take advantage of the growing demand for independent advice from companies globally.”
In the United States, the 19th century saw the rise of multiple corporate and financial dynasties, though the most lasting and still the most influential is the Rockefeller family. Initially through the Standard Oil empire, which was broken up into corporations we now know as ExxonMobil, Chevron and others, Rockefeller influence was prominent in universities (notably the University of Chicago and Harvard), in finance, with Chase Manhattan Bank (now JPMorgan Chase), in the creation and maintenance of major foundations (Rockefeller Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Rockefeller Family Fund) and in the establishment and leadership of major think tanks (Council on Foreign Relations, Trilateral Commission, Bilderberg), all of which created access to political and social power that shaped institutions, ideologies and individuals on a vast scale.
James Wolfensohn, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, was formerly president of the World Bank, a long time member of the Steering Committee of the Bilderberg Group, and a trustee of the Brookings Institution and the Rockefeller Foundation. Wolfensohn’s father served as an advisor to the Rothschilds and taught the young Wolfensohn how to “cultivate mentors, friends and contacts of influence.” Upon the event of David Rockefeller’s 90th birthday, celebrated at the Council on Foreign Relations in 2005, Wolfensohn described the Rockefeller patriarch as “the person who had perhaps the greatest influence on my life professionally,” and added: “In fact, it’s fair to say that there has been no other single family influence greater than the Rockefeller’s in the whole issue of globalization.”
In Canada, the Desmarais family, which owns Power Corporation, exists as the country's most influential dynasty with significant business and family ties to Canada’s political elite. Through their participation, organization and leadership in prominent think tanks and industry associations, the Desmarais have become a powerful influence in shaping not only Canada but the process of globalization itself in recent decades.
There are, of course, parallel corporate and financial dynasties in countries all over the world, such as the Agnellis in Italy, the Wallenbergs in Sweden, and the still-existing monarchs in Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium and beyond, who despite their “symbolic” political power wield significant financial and corporate influence. It should be no surprise that these powerful financial and corporate dynasties have substantial interaction and integration with one other. Bilderberg meetings act as a forum which very often represents dynastic influence from the Atlantic community, including the Rockefellers, Rothschilds, Desmarais, Wallenbergs, Agnellis and the Dutch, Belgian and Spanish monarchies, among others. It should also be no surprise that the two arguably most influential dynasties – Rothschild and Rockefeller – have been steadily increasing their connections, both formal and informal.
In fact, as the Financial Times reported in May of 2012, “Two of the best-known business dynasties in Europe and the US will come together after Lord Jacob Rothschild’s listed investment trust and Rockefeller Financial Services agreed to form a strategic partnership,” with the Rothschild-owned RIT Capital Partners purchasing a 37% stake in the Rockefeller family’s “wealth advisory and asset management group.” This “transatlantic union,” noted the Financial Times, “brings together David Rockefeller, 96, and Lord Rothschild, 76 – two family patriarchs whose personal relationship spans five decades.”
To understand the kind of influence and power we're talking about, it is helpful to briefly examine the biography -- dare we refer to it as a CV -- of one of the global patriarchs himself, David Rockefeller. Rockefeller was Chairman and CEO of Chase Manhattan Bank from 1969 to 1980, after which he remained Chairman of the International Advisory Committee of Chase Manhattan, from 1981 to 1999, and subsequently a member of the International Advisory Council (2000-2005) when the bank merged into JPMorgan Chase.
Rockefeller was a founding member of the Bilderberg Meetings and he still holds an exclusive position on the Steering Committee’s Member Advisory Group. He was the Chairman of Rockefeller Group, Inc. from 1981 to 1995, and Chairman of Rockefeller Center Properties, Inc. Trust from 1996 to 2001. David Rockefeller was also a Chairman of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, where he remains as an advisory trustee; Chairman and Life Trustee of the Museum of Modern Art; and former Chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations, from 1970 to 1985, where he remains as Honorary Chairman.
And it doesn't stop there. The senior Rockefeller is founder of the David Rockefeller Fund; Chairman Emeritus of the Board of Trustees of the University of Chicago; former President of the Harvard College Board of Overseers; Honorary Chairman of the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP); and he was co-founder of the Global Philanthropists Circle. Rockefeller was also the founder and former North American Chairman of the Trilateral Commission, from 1973-1991, and remains Honorary Chairman. He was the founder of the Partnership for New York City, founder and Honorary Chairman of the Americas Society and the Council of the Americas, and he currently sits as Honorary Chairman and Life Trustee and Chairman Emeritus of the Rockefeller University Council. He is an honorary director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
The past and present affiliations held by this one individual span the largest bank in the United States, the most prominent national think tank, highly influential transnational think tanks and policy boards, foundations and universities. This one individual has a network of influence that includes: JPMorgan Chase, the Council on Foreign Relations, Trilateral Commission, Bilderberg Group, University of Chicago, Rockefeller University, Harvard, and many other prominent institutions. The fact that he has held – or currently holds – leadership positions in these institutions, and often for several decades, is an example of the significant networks of influence that go far beyond his identity as a “banker” or “former CEO of Chase Manhattan.”
When we place David Rockefeller in the context of his dynastic family's broad array of institutional engagement, and the power that his past and present family members wield, the influence becomes much greater. Dynastic power again, like class power, should not be confused with "conspiracy theory," as it does not function as a conspiracy but rather as a network of institutions, corporations, banks, think tanks and foundations with indirect political influence. They are more opportunistic than omnipotent, and are perhaps better thought of not as a few obscure families running the world but more akin to organized crime families – the Mafia – operating on a much larger scale.
Empire does not just happen, nor, for that matter, does “capitalism.” Society is made, constructed, shaped, directed, organized and engineered. Ideas are embedded in institutions, which establish ideologies, indoctrinate individuals and implement objectives. But they are not omnipotent; they must respond to changes in the population, in public opinion and will, in the cultural evolution of humanity, in resistance to war, tyranny, oppression and impoverishment. Institutions and ideologies must adapt to changing circumstances, to technological and cultural developments, or they will become obsolete.
The population, however, must also adapt to a changing environment, technological developments, cultural attitudes, economic and social disasters, and political engagement. The population – the people, both nationally and globally – must work to adapt their thinking, their perspective and their understanding of power, of ideas and institutions, of the way in which society functions and the ways in which it could function.
The purpose of the Global Power Project is to provide a lens through which to view and understand power more directly – not as abstract concepts of “democracy” or “capitalism,” liberal or conservative, Republican or Democratic, but as a complex relationship between power and people. This research seeks to identify the individuals and institutions that wield significant power over society, nationally and globally, to help us understand who specifically has shaped and is continuing to shape the world we all live in.
Starting next week, the Global Power Project will reveal extensive research on one or more institutions at a time, selecting them based upon known or perceived influence, and examining the individuals who serve in leadership, board membership and advisory roles at those institutions, answering the questions: what are their backgrounds, what other institutions have they worked for, what other boards do they sit on, what organizations are they members of? And importantly: how is their power connected?
Stay tuned next week, as we find out.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, head of the Geopolitics Division of the Hampton Institute, Research Director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project and hosts a weekly podcast show at BoilingFrogsPost.