On this day in 1916, the great sociologist C Wright Mills was born. He is best known for his book, The Power Elite. Regular readers of this site will know that I use that phrase “power elite” a lot. But this is mostly because conservatives have been so good at redefining the word “elite” to mean academics and basically anyone who is in favor of liberal ideas. What’s more, elite is a general term. The power elite are my primary interest in politics.
Mills considered the power elite to be the military, corporate, and political leadership of the powerful countries. You know: the people who have actual power. He was arguing that this group was effectively an aristocracy. I would add that it is anti-democratic. As we’ve seen in recent studies, the opinions of the poor and middle classes have almost no effect on how politicians act. If Mills saw this problem in 1956, you can image what he would think today.
When the book was published, it was widely criticized. But over the years as things have become so much worse, the reputation of the book has gone up. But I don’t see the problem even then. His inspiration for the book was Behemoth: The Structure and Practice of National Socialism. That book argued that Nazism was the result of the unchecked aspirations of certain groups. Well, in United States now has the same thing, although those who have destroyed our democracy are already ridiculously rich and have a very public philosophy that claims it is necessary that they accumulate ever more if the rest of us are to have nice things. There is no need of terror.
Mills wrote quite a lot more than this one book. Most notably he wrote, White Collar: The American Middle Classes. It was about the new middle-manager class in America. Of course, it too has gotten far worse as evidenced in Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream. It doesn’t really matter how depressing a book you wrote about class in the 1950s, things have gotten almost unimaginably worse. And with that cheery thought:
Happy birthday C Wright Mills!