AN INDEPENDENCE DAY WEEKEND LOOK BACK AT C. WRIGHT MILLS AND ...July 2, 2011
Yesterday I wrote about my ambivalent feelings about Independence Day and the American Empire, hinting at the existence of a power elite whose methods - in spite of the break with the British Empire - haven't really changed. Indeed, there is a certain segment of the analytical community that views the American Empire as but a continuation of the British one, under new management.
In that vein, it's worth looking back at sociologist C. Wright Mills' 1956 classic study of The Power Elite (Oxford University Press, 1956). Consider these statements as, in part, the backdrop for President Dwight D. Eisenhower's farewell "military industrial complex" speech upon leaving office. For Mills, the basic structure of this American power elite was a trilateral basis, occupying economic, political, and military loci of power. (p. 6):
"They are in command of the major hierarchies and organizations of modern society. They rule the big corporations. They run the machinery of the state and claim its prerogatives. They direct the military establishment. They occupy the strategic command posts of the social structure, in which are now centered the effective means of the power and the wealth and the celebrity which they enjoy."(p. 4)
The danger to all this, as Mills points out - and this is the central point of my raising the issue of his book here - is that this notion becomes a secular version of providence:
"Such an elite may be conceived as omnipotent, and its powers thought of as a great hidden design. Thus, in vulgar Marxism, events and trends are explained by reference to 'the conspiracy of the bourgeoisie'; in Nazism, by reference to 'the conspiracy of the Jews'; by the petty right in America today, by reference to 'the hidden force' of Communist spies. According to such notions of the omnipotent elite as historical cause, the elite is never an entirely visible agency. It is in fact, a secular substitute for the will of God, being realized in a sort of providential design, except that usual non-elite men are thought capable of opposing it and eventually overcoming it."(p. 16, emphasis added).
Mills, in other words, has overturned conventional conspiracy-theory thinking, for he, like other academics that came after him - Quigley and Billington for example - is stating that the elite is very visible, if one knows what to look for. And that changes the scenario entirely, for it is not a hidden elite, but a deep parapolitical power structure that one is really dealing with.