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The Power Elite
The Power Elite is a book written by the sociologist, C. Wright Mills, in 1956. In it Mills calls attention to the interwoven interests of the leaders of the military, corporate, and political elements of society and suggests that the ordinary citizen is a relatively powerless subject of manipulation by those entities. The structural basis of The Power Elite is that, following World War II, the United States was the leading country in military and economic terms. The book is something of a counterpart of Mills' 1951 work, White Collar: The American Middle Classes, which examines the growing role of middle managers in American society. A main inspiration for the book was Franz Leopold Neumanns book Behemoth: The Structure and Practice of National Socialism in 1942, a study of how Nazism came into a position of power in a democratic state like Germany. Behemoth had a major impact on Mills and he claimed that Behemoth had given him the "tools to grasp and analyse the entire total structure and as a warning of what could happen in a modern capitalist democracy". (C.Wright Mills: Power, Politics and People, (New York, 1963 p.174)).
Chapter 1: The Higher Circles
• This chapter provides a description of the power elite and the mechanism through which it acquires and exercises its power on a national level. • He describes the contemporary means of power as the hierarchies of state, military and the big corporate institutions. Other, previously decisive institutions such as family and religion are pushed aside in the contemporary United States. They adapt to contemporary life, which in turn is set and determined by the new means of power. • Wealth, power, and popularity, in this system, attach to the positions that individuals occupy, and not to the individuals themselves. • The power elite of the US, which never faced competition due to the absence of feudal structures (aristocracy and religion), monopolize power from the get-go. 1. It becomes a caste within the upper classes, and makes all decisions that have important consequences. 2. It is not a group of rulers whose every decision is correct and every consequence of such decisions is as expected. 3. It is limited by the means of power, the techniques of power, and the means of communication. However, their limitations are much less compared to previous ruling classes, due to the expansion and centralization in the means of power. • To study the unity of the US power elite, one should investigate: 1. the psychology of the elite in their respective environments (their psychological similarities) 2. the interrelations between the military, economical, and political institutions they are part of (the social intermingling of the means of power) 3. the co-operation between the means of power (i.e. the military, big corporations, and state) • The main theses of the book, as set by Mills, are: 1. Historical circumstances have led to the rise of power elite, 2. They now make key decisions, 3. The enlargement and centralization of means of power increased the potency of the consequencs of their decisions,
which makes it impossible for them to become dissidents. the congress itself. the middle class has come to be dependent on the state and replaced by a new middle class (white-collar employees). It is not the political power of the Congress. The power elite is much more unified and powerful than the "mass society" (Chapter 13). that has expanded and centralized. 7. The prime focus of the theory is the Congress. the power in congress comes with seniority. that is yet another part of the impotent mass society. or that of key Congressmen. 2. and hence. It assumes that the different balances that keep the society in equilibrium requires them to be independent of each other. Moreover. Furthermore. the seniors manipulate and determine what will happen in the Congress.The Power Elite 4. state. However. 5. Mills describes and critiques the theory of balance that constitutes an important element of contemporary US ideology regarding economy and government. they cannot be seen as elements of a balancing system. And the major issues of the electorate usually cannot find space in political campaigns. this was translated from the theory that the division of political powers would balance the powers and leave no space to despotism. 4. In contemporary US economy. However. In politics. The 'checks-and-balances' system is outdated and inapplicable to contemporary US political and economical life. The lobbies that are supposed to be checks-and-balances are now part of the state. military and so on) are independent of each other any longer. none of them (labour. 6. • Mills identifies a number of flaws with this theory: 1. Labour unions themselves became institutions that choose leaders and send them to corporate positions once those leaders become established. 3. one's power balance means for another a power imbalance. however. they are structured so that discussion is limited to certain viewpoints and the substantive issue will be stalemated. Balance of power implies equality of power. whose jobs cannot provide them with tools (political freedom and economic security) to be independent. or even the congressional committees. • According to the theory of balance. . the small entrepreneurs that once consisted the economy are replaced by a handful of centralized corporations. 2 Chapter 11: The Theory of Balance • In this chapter. In the mean time. Major interests do not compete with each other. In economy. The doctrine of the harmony of interests / balance of power makes dissidence appear to be the source of chaos and disturbance. the state and the economy are kept in balance by competing interests. but instead co-operate to promote several interests as they coincide. 8. If they come up. hence congress people will have to stay in the Congress as long as possible. which is fragmented and impotent. The founding fathers' idea of a checks-and-balances-state is grounded in their belief in the US middle class as the stabilizer and the pivot of the class balance in the US. however its members are members of the upper classes and cannot actually be the representatives of the interests of the lower classes of the society. this was translated from the economic theory that stated that there was no authoritarian center to the sovereign economic system. business.
5. Those. 4. 2. Liberals. and is in a fifth stage as of Mills' writing. Marx. their honor codes will be those that support their own interests. 1. The key question is what their honor codes are. state and corporate entities were more or less united. .” (p. 3. Since World War II: 1. • He defends his critique of power elite as such: 1. and the military is not. The question is not whether they are honorable or not. They may be honorable people. • The phrase “Power Elite” captures the simplicity of other theorists: 1. State and Corporate entities became hardly distinguishable. from World War I until the end of World War II: competing (and balanced) centers of power within the power elite form in political and economic areas. • The inner core of the power elite consists of those who interchange commanding roles in various dominant hierarchies (the “big three”) and the corporate lawyer and the financial banker. honor is not universal. In fact. During the early nineteenth cc: the power elite became a number of top groups. patriotism and its principles vary greatly. 258) 3. 4. power elite was able to move from one role to another. The New Deal. no one) do not have such flexibility. • Even though the power elite itself as a ruling force is constant. they are the ones who are determining what those very duties are. They do not. 2. State and Military became hardly distinguishable. 3. Instead. warlords became very influential in US politics. • The constant involvement of the nation in wars (and the making of crises as permanent and total) makes it possible for the power elite to use national security as a pretext for secrecy of intentions and in planning and execution. They (i. 2. Not the politicians but the warlords and the corporate chiefs decide about military actions. They have certain personal and business interests and [whatever this really means] “to ask a man suddenly to divest himself of these interests and sensibilities is almost like asking a man to become a woman. who view warlords as the dictators of the system. However. The economy is now both a war economy and a private corporate economy. and state power. American democracy is now only a formality. Even though these individuals know each other. the individuals who constitute it and occupy positions in the dominant hierarchies of the state. 4. Like codes of honor. As the focus of the power elite “shifted their attention from domestic to international affairs” (read: from colonizing the Americas to colonizing all of it). One cannot argue that they are doing their duties. And of course. and cannot adapt to the necessities of their jobs as they rise in stature.The Power Elite 3 Chapter 12: The Power Elite • The American power elite has gone through 4 stages.e. From 1886 until World War I: corporations acquired the rights of a person and received the initiative to govern (from the state). with his overemphasis on the capitalist as the only holder of power 2. who play the role of the unifier between the big three. each of which loosely constructed and loosely overlapping. corporate chiefs enter the political sphere. economic. the economy. democracy is being dominated by the corporate chiefs. From the Revolution through the administration of John Adams: as military. who see the politician as the head of the system 3. there is not unified policy / ideology that ties them together or in one position. These too are rooted in one's personal history. the phrase “Power Elite” forces us to consider the union of the military.
the very people at the top of the hierarchy lack such ideologies useful for public consumption -their only cultural heritage is that of getting and holding on to money. disappears as the experience of the public turns into that of the mass: narrower and limited to their routine and structural (out-of-their-own-control) environment from which they cannot escape. • Differences between (criteria for determining whether it is) a public and a mass: 1. let alone action. the ratio of givers and takers of opinion. Chapter 14: The Conservative Mood • The conservative theories that seek to legitimize the power elite's actions are faulty. 2. because the US lacks the feudal stage. age. Simultaneously. possibility of answering back an opinion without the fear of reprisal.The Power Elite 4 Chapter 13: The Mass Society • The public (of the public opinion) is the essence of 18th century theory of democracy. • However. Opinion-making (through mass media and compulsory education) therefore became an accepted technique of getting and holding on to power. (1) virtually as many people express opinions as receive them. which is thus more or less autonomous in its operations. They now guide our very experiences. 1. And there is a widening gap between the leaders and the members of these mass parties. the restricted size of the public (by education. Even though conservatives push for a certain traditionalism. and property [race]) turned into an enlarged mass with the only qualification of citizenship and age."In a public. 3. construct our standards and sense of reality. • In terms of organization. And (4) authoritative institutions do not penetrate the public. sex.-In a mass.) to hold on to and to promote as models of their theories. and intimidation. Hence they destroy any expectation of reasonable exchange of opinion. 3. They do not have any ideology. and self. (4) The mass has no autonomy from institutions. • With the expansion of the means of mass persuasion (also known as “mass deception”). identity. (2) The communications that prevail are so organised that it is difficult or impossible for the individual to answer back immediately or with any effect. (2) Public communications are so organised that there is a chance immediately and effectively to answer back any opinion expressed in public. the public of the public opinion became the target of intense efforts of control. these conservative theorists also lack pre-capitalist figures (aristocracy. peasant. The conservative defends irrational traditionalism against human reason and denies people's right to self-control and self-determination. • The creation of a pseudo-world by the mass media is made possible by the structure of the society which enables people to choose only that which is of the same opinion as they are. Opinion formed by such discussion (3) readily finds an outlet in effective action. for the community of publics becomes an abstract collection of individuals who receive impressions from the mass media. • In terms of scale. • or in his own words in The Power Elite. (3) The realisation of opinion in action is controlled by authorities who organise and control the channels of such action. 2. reducing any autonomy it may have in the formation of opinion by discussion". there has been a shift from private communities to the mass party as the major unit of organization. needs. even against – if necessary – the prevailing system of authority. 4. manipulation. agents of authorised institutions penetrate this mass. the penetration of institutional authority into the public. on the contrary. The members get lost in the crowd and the participating members become the leader's tools of manipulation. (1) far fewer people express opinions than receive them. This is a fairy tale: it is not even close to how the US system of power works – the issues that determine their fate are neither discussed nor determined by the public. They lack pre-industrial elements who might subscribe to these traditionalist ideas: the power elite itself abhor . the opportunity for people to act out their opinions collectively. as we may understand the term. The remote possibility of debate and discussion. wants. contemporary systems are transforming the communities of public into mass societies. petty bourgeoisie etc.
Wright Mills: The Power Elite  C. htm . Political rhetoric became monolithic.1 1958  C. they are politically indifferent. uncertainty. • The mass society itself is also left without any moral standards to hold on to. as groups. com/ aronowitz.The Power Elite conservatism. External links • • • • • • • C. org http:/ / www. html http:/ / elite. asadi. uni-muenster. Wright Mills and his Power Elite: Actuality today?  References        http:/ / www. • American liberalism has been made painless for the power elite. de/ PeaCon/ dgs-mills/ Millspage-info. institutionalized feature of the US power elite. csub. How Power Elite was made  Sociology-Congress in Köln 2000 workshop: C. wbenjamin. Neumanns study Structure of Nazi Germany in Power. “as individuals they are defenseless. and mindless in its quest for wealth and power. the US power elite has been getting increasingly immoral. On Intellectual Craftsmanship from The Sociological Imagination.British Journal of Socoiology.Wright Mills. html http:/ / www. Wright Mills: The Power Elite Flash Video  C.Aronowitz  C.9. or even rise against. asadi. and the general acceptance of this immorality is an essential feature of the mass society. Politics and People  A Mills Revival? by S . thirdworldtraveler. divergent liberal positions came to be employed in the same homogeneous liberal terms.” Even though most relate (and wrongfully so) power with knowledge and ability. logosjournal.About F. It went into a moral and intellectual decline in the last half century.No. edu/ ~akebede/ SOC502Mills2. com/ Book_Excerpts/ PowerElite. ignorant.Structure of Power in American Society. org/ Behemoth. • The higher immorality is a systematic. htm http:/ / craftsmanship. stupid (in terms of not valuing reason as one's key characteristic in life). some have given in to the immorality embodied in accomplishment.Vol. and doubt is spread through military and economic crisis. While fear. pdf http:/ / www. org http:/ / www.W Mills. irresponsible. 5 Chapter 15: The Higher Immorality • Especially following the second half of the nineteenth century. Wright Mills.
Verdatum. MakeRocketGoNow. Tglaisyer. Hmains. Mehmetaergun. TwinsMetsFan. Wetman. Roger Gianni. Cmdrjameson. Nixeagle. Alexander Tendler.org/licenses/by-sa/3. Aristotle1990. Jenblower.org/w/index. Crosbiesmith. TMS3000. Ericfarsad.wikipedia. 46 anonymous edits License Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3. Cryptic.0 Unported //creativecommons. BD2412. The Anome.php?oldid=442310654 Contributors: 83d40m. Hu12. J.Article Sources and Contributors 6 Article Sources and Contributors The Power Elite Source: http://en. FrozenPurpleCube. Madmedea. Talos2503. Pegship. Milch.0/ . Bearcat. Yworo. Bobo192.
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