The Power Elites

About the time I was learning to read, C. Wright Mills was writing the sociological classic The Power Elite.  Like his The Sociological Imagination, it is a text that remains insightful 60 years after his death.

Mills was a conflict theorist, strongly influenced by Weber and Marx . . . and I suppose it would be fair to say my own approach is strongly influenced by Weber, and Marx, and Mills.  He described the power elite of the mid-fifties as dominating the industrial, the military, and the political segments of our nation.  It seems like stating the obvious now – but it wasn’t so obvious in 1955.  Eisenhower was President – a West Point graduate, a five-star general in the European theatre of WWII, but before his appointment to West Point, his father worked as a railroad mechanic and in a creamery.  Ike looked more like a middle-class success story than any sort of elite. (and let’s remember, his outgoing speech, warning of a military-industrial complex)

By the late sixties, we were beginning to see recognizable figures in the Power Elite – John Kennedy, whose father had worked politics and industry wasn’t nearly so good an example of the power elite as his younger brother, Ted.  Ted Kennedy epitomized the ability of the Power Elite to screw up, to “sin” if you will, and get away with it.  Other politicians, less well connected (Wilbur Mills comes to mind) crashed careers with their conduct – but Ted continued on to become “the Lion of the Senate.”

John McCain returned from the Hanoi Hilton to be elected to the Senate, eventually even running for president.  One way of looking at him was as a popular war hero from an unpopular war.  Still, both his father and grandfather were Academy graduates and Admirals.  It’s easier for me to see John McCain as an example of the power elite.  If we glance at Mitch Romney – his father, George Romney was chairman of American Motors through the fifties, then governor of Michigan, the Secretary of HUD.  Like John McCain, Mitch could be used as an illustration in an updated version of The Power Elite. 

Nancy Pelosi’s father was a US Representative and Mayor of Baltimore.  The aunt of Gavin Newsom (governor of California) is married to Pelosi’s brother-in-law.  Examples abound of the interconnected elites.  Mills’ 1956 book is probably more relevant, and evidence supporting his hypothesis more prevalent now than when it was written. It’s not a conspiracy theory – just an outgrowth of Weber’s work on bureaucracy and Marx’ social conflict paradigm.

If I haven’t convinced you to get his book and read it, perhaps you would read  Scott Bonn’s 2017 article in Psychology Today at 

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