The Power Elite

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Mills, C. Wright. The Power Elite. Oxford University Press; New Ed edition (January, 2000)

In reading the first chapter of Mills' The Power Elite, images conjured themselves in mind of the nineteenth century Russian aristocracy as portrayed in Tolstoy's War and Peace. This may have been more than coincidence since Mills does indeed take up Tolstoy's argument as to the independence of History from the wills of single men (a view to which Mills is firmly opposed) (pp. 25-27). However, Mills' depiction of the interacting and interlocking ‘higher circles' of the military, political, and business elite (the ‘power elite'), who control society, was not meant to describe early nineteenth century feudal Russia, but mid-twentieth century industrial, and liberal democratic America.

Mills does indeed seem to have a penchant for nineteenth century literature, particularly the realists, such as Tolstoy and Balzac (of whom he is also an avid quoter). In his own self, he combines these writers' shared powers of intricate description with their common trait of social criticism, to present a startling analysis of contemporary America.[1] It is perhaps this that Mills brings uniquely into sociological studies of class stratification, power and the state; with his nineteenth century perceptual lens and the new scientific tools of the emerging academic discipline of sociology, he is a able to see beyond the mere convenient rhetoric of liberal democracy, and straight into the alarming trends towards the centralization of power in America, and to the decline of the once proud Great American Public.

Using an idea similar to Michels' ‘Iron Law of Oligarchy', Mills convincingly debunks the misleading myth of pluralism (or the ‘theory of balance') that America is still ‘individualistic'—in

any true sense of the word—and demonstrates how power has become increasingly concentrated on a national scale. The small businesses have been replaced though amalgamations and...
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