An Education for Empire: The Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Ford Foundations in the Construction of Knowledge
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Note: The following is an excerpt from an upcoming book by Andrew Gavin Marshall on the historical, social, political, and economic examination of the institutions and ideas of power in our world, a product of The People’s Book Project. This excerpt is from a chapter on the birth of the American Empire. This is not a finished product, but rather a sample of some of the information contained within the book.
As the United States came to be the dominant hegemonic power in the world following World War II, the education of its political and technocratic elite had to change in accord with seeking to address this new global role. In this context – of America seeking to control the “Grand Area” – America’s premier educational centers implemented programs and institutions of what was known as “Area Studies,” bringing together intellectuals and scholars from a variety of disciplines in order to focus on specific areas of the world: Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Also pivotal was the formation of the study of International Relations (IR).
The Rockefeller Foundation played a central role in the transformation of America from an ‘isolationist’ society to a ‘globalist’ society. It’s early financing of the Council on Foreign Relations (from 1921 onwards) was one of the most important facets to this transformation, and with that, the War and Pace Studies group between the CFR and the U.S. State Department (completely funded by the Rockefeller Foundation) as well as other CFR projects during World War II. However, there were a number of other projects and initiatives undertaken by the Foundation in the formative period of the 1930s and into the 1940s. As Professor of Government at the University of Manchester, Inderjeet Parmar, wrote in the journal, Minerva, “the Foundation used its considerable financial resources in a conscious and systematic attempt to assist policymakers and academics to build a new globalist consensus.”
Between 1927 and 1945, the Rockefeller Foundation had provided the Council on Foreign Relations with over $443,000 specifically for “study group” research which “resulted in authoritative publications” which could be and often were used in policy implementation. This was largely a result of the close relationship that existed between the Council and the U.S. State Department. William P. Bundy commented on this relationship, saying that it was closer than “any private organization [had enjoyed] at any time in American history.” William Bundy was no outside observer, either. In the 1950s, he was an analyst for the CIA, and was an advisor to President Kennedy, and was Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs during the administration of Lyndon Johnson, making him a key foreign policy adviser on matters related to the Vietnam War. In 1970, David Rockefeller became President of the Council on Foreign Relations and asked William Bundy (a long-time member of the CFR) to run the CFR’s prestigious and influential journal, Foreign Affairs as Editor, a job he held from 1972 until 1984. His brother, McGeorge Bundy, was National Security Adviser to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, and was President of the Ford Foundation from 1966 to 1979.
Further, there were other organizations that received heavy Rockefeller Foundation support in promoting a ‘liberal internationalist’ philosophy, such as the Foreign Policy Association (FPA) and the Institute of Pacific Relations (IPR), which focused “upon the education of public opinion. They worked through their own publications, the newspapers and radio, with school and college students and teachers, trade unions, businessmen’s and women’s clubs and societies.” Between 1929 and 1941, the Rockefeller Foundation gave the FPA roughly $442,000, and for the same period of time, gave the IPR almost $950,000. The aim of this funding, explained Inderjeet Parmar:
was to support a foreign policy within a new world order that was to feature the United States as the leading power – a programme defined by the Rockefeller Foundation as ‘disinterested’, ‘objective’ and even ‘non-political’… The construction of a new internationalist consensus required the conscious, targeted funding of individuals and organizations who questioned and undermined the supporters of the ‘old order’ while simultaneously promoting the ‘new’.
Another main project of the Rockefeller Foundation was simultaneously education and policy-oriented, the Yale Institute of International Studies. Starting in the 1930s, the Rockefeller Foundation “played a leading role in financing university programmes of research in international affairs and ‘non-Western’ studies.” Without the aid of the Rockefeller Foundation and its cohorts (such as the Carnegie Corporation), “the field of [international relations – IR] could hardly have progressed as it did,” thus constituting a “critical institutional base affecting the way in which IR developed.” The Yale Institute of International Studies was a prime example, founded in 1935 with a grant of $100,000 from the Rockefeller Foundation, with the Institute seeking to better place American foreign policy in the context of understanding “the subject of power in international relations,” and to “take a ‘realistic’ view of world affairs; to be useful to foreign policymakers; to produce scholarly but accessible publications; and to train academics for governmental service.”
The Yale Institute was developing close relationships with and training personnel for government positions, principally at the State Department, the War Department (later named the Department of Defense), the Board of Economic Warfare, and the Office of the Co-ordinator of Inter-American Affairs, which was led by Nelson Rockefeller. The Yale Institute was even approached by the War Department “to establish a School of Asiatic Studies for army staff officers, which it duly did in the summer of 1945.” The Yale Institute had “contributed significantly to the diffusion of the ‘realist’ paradigm in America and Europe,” in generating a “new ‘consensus of power’ in the discipline of international relations,” which came to be the paradigm oft-employed by some of America’s most highly influential foreign policy thinkers and policymakers, such as Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski. As Parmar explained:
The Rockefeller Foundation consciously used its strategic position to foster certain experts, specific institutes and organizations, and lines of inquiry to ensure the generation of a particular ‘world-view’, which would have intellectual and scientific respectability and, therefore, ideological and political credibility with government and public alike.
In many universities, the Rockefeller Foundation (and its partners, Carnegie and Ford) helped establish ‘non-Western’ studies, specifically Area Studies and Soviet Studies, “as a key basis upon which relevant practical advice and information could be produced for the benefit of official policy makers and for the attentive and opinion-forming publics.” As Inderjeet Parmar wrote in an article for the journal, Global Networks:
The Ford Foundation alone spent $190 million on building up US expertise in world affairs at top US universities such as Harvard, Columbia, Chicago, Berkeley, Stanford, Cornell and Michigan. A State Department survey of 1967 showed that of the 191 university centres of foreign affairs research, 107 depended primarily on Ford funding. The Ford Foundation also, for example, spent $45 million on its Foreign Area Fellowships Program through which a US-based area studies intellectual network was constructed in order to spread the influence of the programmes they had financed. The impact of Ford Fellowships has been noted by Beckmann: ‘[o]f the 984 former fellows, 550 hold faculty positions in 181 colleges and universities in 38 states.’ Beckmann further notes that ‘some 29 universities have employed ten or more [fellows]’ who, altogether, published 373 books, edited or contributed to 516 volumes, and over 3000 articles and monographs.
Between 1934 and 1942, the Rockefeller Foundation contributed $1 million to the establishment of area studies at major American universities. Carnegie followed up with $2.5 million between 1947 and 1951. The Ford Foundation, however, between 1950 and 1973, contributed $278 million to area studies. Area studies came to replace the prevailing study of the non-Western world, which was termed ‘Orientalism.’ Edward Said popularized critique of the concept in his book Orientalism in which he explained that it is not merely a ‘discipline’, but rather “a style of thought” in which the study of ‘the Orient’ – in particular the Middle East and Islamic world – was approached differently from the study of the Western world; that the ‘Orient’ in effect, constituted “the Other,” a place so different from the West that it could not be understood through similar methods that are used to understand the West, itself. As Said articulated:
Orientalism can be discussed and analyzed as the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient – dealing with it by making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it, ruling over it: in short, Orientalism as a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient.
Orientalism developed as European capitalism expanded outwards, defining an ‘us-and-them’ concept of European identity in relation to the ‘Orient’. Orientalism, then, came to embody a specific European superiority in relation to ‘other’ non-Western cultures. The underlying concept of Orientalism was that the non-Western world was inherently and radically “different” from (and inferior to) the West. Hence, as a ‘discipline’ or “style of thought,” Orientalism came to justify European dominance over inferior “others.” Area studies thus took up this mantle, aiming to categorize, study, and ‘understand’ particular non-Western areas of the world with the objective of exerting authority and domination over them.
In 1947, the Social Science Research Council (created with Rockefeller and Carnegie grants) produced a report proclaiming the need for “area studies” in the universities if the schools “are to meet their obligations to the nation.” The concept of area studies was that all scholars from every discipline relevant to a particular region in the world “should work together to produce useful – that is, policy-relevant – knowledge.”
In 1951, the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) created a Near and Middle East Committee “to promote the development of social science research and training on the Middle East, just as it created committees to promote the study of other world regions.” In 1955, the Committee began to collaborate with the American Council of Learned Societies (also created with Rockefeller-Carnegie money), and the program was then funded by the Ford Foundation. One member of the Committee, Hamilton Gibb, then went on to become director of Harvard’s new Center for Middle East Studies. These centers began to emerge at all major universities around the United States, heavily funded and organized by the major foundations. The Rockefeller Foundation, itself a pioneer in establishing international studies before World War II, had given over $6 million to universities by 1951 “for the development of international studies.” The Carnegie Corporation also joined the area studies financing bandwagon.
In the 1950s, the Ford Foundation “began spending millions of dollars on overseas development projects, mainly in South Asia and the Middle East, but it also began to fund area studies programs at US universities and fellowships for foreign study and research.” The Ford Foundation “embarked on a program to reorganize the study of politics (political science as a discipline),” as the Foundation began to see the emergence of a crisis in legitimacy, thus, “most of the foundation’s efforts in political science during this time were directed toward developing a realistic understanding of the political behavior of Americans and the construction of a revised democratic theory which could replace the idealistic and seemingly outdated classical view.” This area was soon to become known as ‘behavioralism’, but this soon disbanded as it became clear that “the research paradigms the foundations had so heavily invested in were incapable of explaining events in the Third World – or at home.” Harold Laski, a British political theorist, economist and author, wrote in 1930 that:
[T]he foundations do not control, simply because, in the simple and direct sense of the word, there is no need for them to do so. They have only to indicate the immediate direction of their minds for the whole university world to discover that it always meant to gravitate swiftly to that angle of the intellectual compass.
The major foundations had long held a strong interest in managing and directing the ‘social sciences’, which they perceived as a means to undertake the “scientific management” of society. Generally, politics, economics and sociology were of major interest to the prominent foundations, and especially among these, political science was paramount. This was largely organized through the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), created in 1924 with Rockefeller and Carnegie money, with additional funding from the Rosenwald and Russell Sage foundations. The purpose of the SSRC was to act as an “intermediary” in order “to put some distance between the foundations and the production of social science.” The foundations establish the “conventional intellectual tradition in political science” through grants, conferences, fellowships, subsidiaries and publications. They further fund[ed] the major political science organizations such as the American Political Science Association (APSA) and the International Political Science Association (IPSA). The president of the APSA, Charles Merriam, was one of the principle organizers of the SSRC, and was among the “leading figures in the Rockefeller world.”
As one study reported, “the SSRC was the central cog of a Rockefeller policy that was aimed at integrating social science disciplines,” by linking “centres of excellence” at the University of Chicago, Columbia, North Carolina, Harvard, Yale, Virginia, Texas and Stanford. Every key decision within the SSRC “was taken with the leadership of a Rockefeller officer.” Within this paradigm of thought and operation, aiming to use the social sciences to effect “reform” in managing society scientifically, the notion of “ideology” was seen as “unscientific” and without merit. The purpose was, through new techniques of observation and analysis, to examine society “as it is” and assess the best methods of “reform” and “management.” The obvious problem with this perspective was that it was, itself, a form of ideology. Through the removal of “ideology” (specifically, critical and dissenting ideologies and view points), the aim and methods of social sciences, and specifically political science, was to remove the discussion of class and power relations from the discourse. The idea that class and power relations are without merit for discussion was based upon an ideology that assumed the prevailing social power structures and relationships were appropriate and natural. The problem was one of acclimating the rest of society to the social structure, or managing reforms aimed at preserving the social structure by making it more bearable for those who do not sit atop the structure. In this paradigm, “the premises of capitalist democracy were common sense, and their proponents were not regarded as ideological but scientific and neutral.” Thus, as political scientist Joan Roelofs wrote in her book Foundations and Public Policy:
Political scientists increasingly saw their function as service to the powerful, rather than providing leadership to populist or socialist movements.
This shaping of social sciences was not limited to America, either. The Rockefeller Foundation, between 1919 and 1940, provided “the mainstay of the support that social science received” in Britain, to the tune of $5 million. Most especially, these funds went to the London School of Economics. Grants went across much of Europe: to the Royal Institute of International Affairs (the counterpart to the Council on Foreign Relations) in Britain, the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Switzerland, the Centre d’Étudies Politiques Étrangeres in France, as well as other institutes in Norway, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Holland. Thus, by the 1950s, “the ‘Americanization’ of political science was well underway in most of the world.” Further:
The transmission of American political science also occurred through exchanges of professors, students, government officials, and “potential leaders.” Political science professors working covertly with the CIA helped identify and recruit potential allies among foreign students. The Institute for International Education, founded by the Carnegie Endowment in 1919, serviced the massive post-World War II exchange programs of the Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Ford foundations… The International Political Science Association (IPSA) has been supported by foundations that fund conferences, publications, travel, and secretariat. Its organization, under the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) auspices, relates it to the UN, which itself was fostered by philanthropy (especially Rockefeller and Carnegie).
Thus, we see a concerted, strategic effort from the 1920s onward in seeking to engineer and manage the social sciences to fit within the framework of an emerging American Empire. If America was to become the global hegemon, as the social planners behind the major foundations and think tanks had desired, it would need an educated class of people capable of managing the empire. In short, the foundations undertook a program of “education for empire.” The effects, as posterity shows, were quite profound. The ‘Area studies’ programs created by these foundations continue to present day, though they are increasingly being replaced by new programs and university institutes dedicated to the concept of ‘global governance,’ which, unsurprisingly, is also a foundation-funded initiative (but more on that later!). What is clear, however, is that the foundations exert an unparalleled influence over the educational system, and thus, the construction of knowledge itself. This influence, while subtly applied, is profound in its effects. The American Empire, or for that matter, the broader Western imperial system in the post-World War II era, would not have been possible without the influence of the foundations over the educational system.
It should be noted, further, that this is not merely my opinion or interpretation of the role of foundations on the social sciences, as this was stated very clearly by the foundation itself. Max Mason, President of the Rockefeller Foundation, wrote in 1933 that:
[The Rockefeller Foundation’s policies] were directed to the general problem of human behavior, with the aim of control through understanding. The Social sciences, for example, will concern themselves with the rationalization of social control; the Medical and Natural sciences propose a closely coordinated study of sciences which underlie personal understanding and personal control.
There you have it; the President of the Rockefeller Foundation himself saying that the foundation’s policies in the social sciences are aimed at “the rationalization of social control.” What is most important to understand, however, is how that ‘intent’ produced the desired ‘effect.’ In this, we can see the subtle and dominating influence of foundations in our society, as “engines of social engineering.”
This has been a brief excerpt from a chapter on the birth of the American Empire, in an upcoming book by Andrew Gavin Marshall, as part of The People’s Book Project. Please support the Book Project and help this book come to completion.
Andrew Gavin Marshallis an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of the People’s Book Project.
 Inderjeet Parmar, “‘To Relate Knowledge and Action’: The Impact of the Rockefeller Foundation on Foreign Policy Thinking During America’s Rise to Globalism 1939-1945,” Minerva (Vol. 40, 2002), page 235.
 Ibid, page 241.
 Ibid, page 242.
 Ibid, page 245.
 Ibid, page 246.
 Ibid, page 247.
 Ibid, page 250.
 Ibid, page 252.
 Ibid, page 261.
 Inderjeet Parmar, “American foundations and the development of international knowledge networks,” Global Networks (Vol. 2, Issue 1, 2002), page 17.
 Biray Kolluoglu-Kirli, “From Orientalism to Area Studies,” CR: The New Centennial Review (Vol. 3, No. 3, Fall 2003), page 105.
 Zachary Lockman, Contending Visions of the Middle East: The History and Politics of Orientalism (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004), page 184.
 Ibid, page 123.
 Ibid, page 124.
 Ibid, page 125.
 Erkki Berndtson, “Review Essay: Power of Foundations and the American Ideology,” Critical Sociology, Vol. 33, 2007, pages 581-582
 Robert Arnove and Nadine Pinede, “Revisiting the ”Big Three” Foundations,” Critical Sociology, Vol. 33, 2007, page 415
 Joan Roelofs, Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism (New York: State University of New York Press, 2003), page 34.
 Ibid, pages 34-35.
 Ibid, pages 40-42.
 Lily E. Kay, “Rethinking Institutions: Philanthropy as an Historigraphic Problem of Knowledge and Power,” Minerva (Vol. 35, 1997), page 290.