A Politics of Peace:
Reflections on C. Wright Mills's “The Causes of World War III”
FOR the past decade C. Wright Mills has been a very special phenomenon on the American intellectual horizon. As the author of three probing and impassioned studies of our contemporary society -the series beginning with The New Men of Power and running through White Collar to The Power Elite-he has bulked too large to be dismissed out of hand. Yet no one- neither scholar nor publicist-seems to have known quite how to take him. Thus the reception of his books has always been unpredictable: it has oscillated wildly between academic boycott and succes de scandale, with little in between in the way of serious consideration of his ideas in their own terms. More than anything else it has been a reaction of embarrassment. For what chiefly distinguishes Mr. Mills is his talent for writing about embarrassing things in an embarrassing fashion.
A moralist who has chosen to put on the ill-fitting garment of the systematic theoretician of society, Mr. Mills is a sport and a deviant among American sociologists. His colleagues quite correctly belabor him for his imprecise research methods and his weakness for emotional language. And he has returned the compliment by taxing them for their failure to deal with really large social issues. “The poor man’s David Riesman,” he has sometimes been called, and the epithet, for all the injustice it does to both men, is substantially accurate. It suggests that both are concerned with assessing the new type of American society whose outlines have emerged in the past twenty or thirty years- a society variously characterized in terms of “mass,” “conformity,” “other-direction,” or “suburbia.” In the same fashion the comparison draws attention to the things that radically separate the two men: Riesman directs his attention primarily to the new middle class, his tone is urbane and humorous, and he finds positive possibilities for individual “autonomy” in the social changes he sees going on around him; Mills has an unfashionable concern for the urban poor, his tone is angry and explosive, and he is quite sure that the current course of events is both depressing and dangerous.
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