Commentary Magazine

Article Preview

The Power Elite, by C. Wright Mills

- Abstract

Like Professor Mills’s earlier books, The Power Elite is an uneven blend of journalism, sociology, and moral indignation. Having previously examined labor leaders and white-collar workers, Mills here turns his attention to the topside of American society: the old families enshrined in the Social Register, the celebrities of the mass media, the corporation executives, the generals and admirals, and the major politicians. But he does a good deal more than merely buttress a series of descriptive accounts of these august circles with the conventional apparatus of sociological research; his chief concern is with developing a theory of where the decisive power lies in American society, how it got there, and how it is exercised.

Mills maintains that the United States is run by a “power elite” of corporation executives, military men, and politicians whose interests converge or coincide, and who “are in a position to make decisions with terrible consequences for the underlying populations of the world.” This theory is introduced in the opening chapter. The middle chapters, dealing with the various American upper classes, old and new, constitute an attempt to document and illustrate the central thesis, which is then elaborated in the final section of the book, where Mills examines and rejects alternative views. He closes with a ringing indictment of American society as immoral, politically irresponsible, and led by the “second-rate mind.”

About the Author