Joshua Sauvageau's Reviews > The Power Elite

The Power Elite by C. Wright Mills
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really liked it

I just picked this book up on a whim, cynically imagining that, even after 56 years, it may have some salience to the current American political structure. I was not disappointed. Or rather, I was, if only in our body electorate.

Having just finished watching the Zeitgeist Trilogy, perhaps I was primed for a work that many may consider a conspiratorial treatise. I won't deny that I was seeking independent verification of my own hypotheses, but I would be open to reading a counterpoint to this work, so long as it was as thoroughly researched and annotated as Mr Mills' book.

As this book was written during the Eisenhower administration, it is interesting to note that Ike himself warned us of what he termed "the military-industrial complex". Mills makes mention of this coming calamity throughout the book. With the recent Citizens United ruling, the power inherent in the corporations and the very wealthy is more potent than even Mills could have imagined.

The particular parallels between Mills' 1956 America and today are too numerous to mention, but I will note a few of them here:
...the structural clue of the power elite today lies in the economic order...the economy is at once a permanent-war economy and a private-corporation economy. American capitalism is now in considerable part a military capitalism, and the most important relation of the big corporation to the state rests on the coincidence of interests between military and corporate needs...

Here, a denunciation of the legislative body (remember, this is 1956, imagine the trend continuing down to the current congress):
In the first and second decades of the [twentieth] century, only a few bills were presented...these bills were considered during the ample time between committee study and their debate on the floor. Debate was of importance and was carried on before a sizable audience in the chamber. Legislation took up most of the member's time and attention. Today hundreds of bills are considered at each session; and since it would be impossible for members even to read them all-or a tenth of them-they have come to rely upon the committees who report the bills. There is little debate and what there is often occurs before an emptied chamber...While legislation goes through the assembly line, the Congressmen are busy in their offices, administering a small staff which runs errands for constituents and mails printed and typed matter to them.

And this, before the advent of the 24-hour news cycle:
...so long as the media are not entirely monopolized, the individual can play one medium off against another...[but] do people compare reports on public events or policies...? The answer is: generally no, very few do: (I) We know that people tend strongly to select those media which carry contents with which they already agree...no one seems to search out such counter-statements as may be found in alternative media offerings... (II) This idea of playing one medium off against another assumes that the media really have varying contents...this is not widely true...they compete more in terms of variations on a few standardized themes than of clashing issues.


The most salient features for me were Mills' treatment of the Celebrity and of mass society's desire for distraction from the political process (all in an era before reality TV and social media).

This all boils down to a dubious future for Jeffersonian democracy.
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Reading Progress

June 21, 2012 – Started Reading
June 21, 2012 – Shelved
June 21, 2012 –
page 18
4.17%
June 26, 2012 –
page 26
6.02%
June 28, 2012 –
page 37
8.56%
July 3, 2012 –
page 53
12.27%
July 5, 2012 –
page 108
25.0%
July 6, 2012 –
page 126
29.17%
July 7, 2012 –
page 176
40.74%
July 8, 2012 –
page 225
52.08%
July 13, 2012 –
page 278
64.35%
July 15, 2012 – Finished Reading

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