The Power Elite

The Power Elite



The Pequod Review:

C. Wright Mills's classic book The Power Elite is too moralistic and too unsubstantiated, and he often fails to recognize important distinctions between various types of elites (political, economic, etc.). But Mills nonetheless makes several perceptive observations. Here for example he comments on the fact that "crises" always seem to pass without any meaningful change:

What element of the higher circles - what would-be element - has such immorality not touched? Perhaps all those cases that come briefly to public attention are but marginal - or, at any rate, those that were caught. But then, there is the feeling that the bigger you are, the less likely you are to be caught. There is the feeling that all the petty cases seem to signify something grander, that they go deeper and that their roots are now well organized in the higher and middle American ways of life. But among the mass distractions this feeling soon passes harmlessly away. For the American distrust of the high and mighty is a distrust without doctrine and without political focus; it is a distrust felt by the mass public as a series of more or less cynically expected disclosures. Corruption and immoralities, petty and grand, are facts about the higher circles, often even characteristic facts about many of them. But the immoral tone of American society today also involves the lack of public sensibility when confronted with these facts. Effective moral indignation is not evoked by the corrupt public life of our time; the old middle-class moralities have been replaced in America by the higher immorality.


"Crisis" is a bankrupted term, because so many men in high places have evoked it in order to cover up their extraordinary policies and deeds; as a matter of fact, it is precisely the absence of crises that is a cardinal feature of the higher immorality. For genuine crises involve situations in which men at large are presented with genuine alternatives, the moral meanings of which are clearly opened to public debate. The higher immorality, the general weakening of older values and the organization of ir responsibility have not involved any public crises; on the contrary, they have been matters of a creeping indifference and a silent hollowing out.