C. Wright Mills: Wikis


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C Wright Mills
Born 28 August 1916(1916-08-28)
Waco, Texas
Died 20 March 1962 (aged 45)
West Nyack, New York
Nationality United States
Alma mater Texas A&M University
University of Texas at Austin
University of Wisconsin–Madison
Occupation political sociologist

Charles Wright Mills (August 28, 1916, Waco, Texas – March 20, 1962, West Nyack, New York) was an American sociologist. Mills is best remembered for his 1959 book The Sociological Imagination in which he lays out a view of the proper relationship between biography and history, theory and method in sociological scholarship. He is also known for studying the structures of power and class in the U.S. in his book The Power Elite. Mills was concerned with the responsibilities of intellectuals in post-World War II society, and advocated public, political engagement over disinterested observation.


Life and work

Mills graduated from Dallas Technical High School in 1934.[1] He initially attended Texas A&M University but left after his first year and subsequently graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 1939 and received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1941. After a stint at the University of Maryland, College Park, he took a faculty position at Columbia University in 1946, which he kept, despite controversy, until his death by heart attack. In the mid-1940s, together with Paul Goodman, he contributed to Politics, the journal edited during the 1940s by Dwight Macdonald.[2]


  • The New Men of Power: America's Labor Leaders (1948) studies the Labor Metaphysic and the dynamic of labor leaders cooperating with business officials. Mills concluded that labour had effectively renounced its traditional oppositional role and become reconciled to life within a capitalist system. Appeased by "bread and butter" economic policies, Mills argued labour adopted a pliantly subordinate role in the new structure of American power.
  • White Collar: The American Middle Classes (1951) contends that bureaucracies have overwhelmed the individual city worker, robbing him or her of all independent thought and turning him into a sort of a robot that is oppressed but cheerful. He or she gets a salary, but becomes alienated from the world because of his or her inability to affect or change it.
  • The Power Elite (1956) describes the relationship between the political, military, and economic elite (people at the pinnacles of these three institutions), noting that these people share a common world view:
the military metaphysic: a military definition of reality;
possess class identity: recognizing themselves separate and superior to the rest of society;
have interchangeability (horizontal mobility): they move within and between the three institutional structures and hold interlocking directorates;
cooptation / socialization: socialization of prospective new members is done based on how well they "clone" themselves socially after such elites.

These elites in the "big three" institutional orders have an "uneasy" alliance based upon their "community of interests" driven by the "military metaphysic," which has transformed the economy into a 'permanent war economy'.

  • The Sociological Imagination (1959), Mills' most influential work, describes a mindset—the sociological imagination—for doing sociology that stresses being able to connect individual experiences and societal relationships. The three components that form the sociological imagination are:

1. History: how a society came to be and how it is changing and how history is being made in it

2. Biography: the nature of "human nature" in a society; what kind of people inhabit a particular society

3. Social Structure: how the various institutional orders in a society operate, which ones are dominant, how are they held together, how they might be changing, etc.

In The Sociological Imagination, Mills asserts that one must look inside oneself to help important research problems, and that social scientists "translate private troubles into public issues." [3] This translation means that you connect the problems you face in your biography to social institutions, the collection of which forms social structure and that you locate that structure in history. Additionally on this topic, Mills maintained throughout The Sociological Imagination that it is very difficult for most individuals in society to link their personal troubles to the cultural institutions in which they live.

The Sociological Imagination gives the one possessing it the ability to look beyond their local environment and personality to wider social structures and a relationship between history, biography and social structure.

Other important works include: The Causes of World War Three (1958), Listen, Yankee: The Revolution in Cuba (1960), and The Marxists (1962).

In a 1997 survey of members of the International Sociological Association which asked them to identify the ten books published in the 20th century which they considered to be the most influential for sociologists, The Sociological Imagination ranked second, preceded only by Max Weber's Economy and Society. [2].

The novel The Death of Artemio Cruz (1962), by Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes, is dedicated "To C. Wright Mills, true voice of North America, friend and companion in the struggle of Latin America". Dwight Macdonald had an off-again-on-again association with Mills, and sometimes, in his capacity as magazine editor, published Mills' material.


There has long been debate over Mills' overall intellectual outlook. Mills is often seen as a "closet Marxist" because of his emphasis on social classes and their roles in historical progress and attempt to keep Marxist traditions alive in social theory. Just as often, however, others argue that Mills more closely identified with the work of Max Weber, whom many sociologists interpret as an exemplar of sophisticated (and intellectually adequate) anti-Marxism and modern liberalism. However Mills clearly gives precedence to social structure described by the political, economic and military institutions and not culture which is presented in its massified form as means to ends sought by the power elite, which puts him firmly in the Marxian and not Weberian camps.

While Mills never embraced the "Marxist" label, he nonetheless told his closest associates that he felt much closer to what he saw as the best currents of flexible, humanist Marxism than to its alternatives. He considered himself as a "plain Marxist", working in the spirit of young Marx as he claims in his collected essays: "Power, Politics and People" (Oxford university press, 1963). In a November 1956 letter to his friends Bette and Harvey Swados, Mills declared "[i]n the meantime, let's not forget that there's more [that's] still useful in even the Sweezy [4] kind of Marxism than in all the routineers of J.S. Mill [5] put together." [6]

There is an important quotation from Letters to Tovarich (autobiographical essay) dated Fall 1957 titled "On Who I Might Be and How I Got That Way":

“ You've asked me, 'What might you be?' Now I answer you: 'I am a Wobbly.' I mean this spiritually and politically. In saying this I refer less to political orientation that to political ethos, and I take Wobbly to mean one thing: the opposite of bureaucrat. […] I am a Wobbly, personally, down deep, and for good. I am outside the whale, and I got that way through social isolation and self-help. But do you know what a Wobbly is? It's a kind of spiritual condition. Don't be afraid of the word, Tovarich. A Wobbly is not only a man who takes orders from himself. He's also a man who's often in the situation where there are no regulations to fall back upon that he hasn't made up himself. He doesn't like bosses –capitalistic or communistic – they are all the same to him. He wants to be, and he wants everyone else to be, his own boss at all times under all conditions and for any purposes they may want to follow up. This kind of spiritual condition, and only this, is Wobbly freedom.[7] ”

These two quotations are the ones chosen by Kathryn Mills for the better acknowledgement of the nuanced thinking of C.W.Mills.

It appears that Mills understood his position as being much closer to Marx than to Weber, albeit influenced by both, as Stanley Aronowitz argued in A Mills Revival?. [8] Mills argues that micro and macro levels of analysis can be linked together by the sociological imagination, which enables its possessor to understand the large historical sense in terms of its meaning for the inner life and the external career of a variety of individuals. Individuals can only understand their own experiences fully if they locate themselves within their period of history. The key factor is the combination of private problems with public issues: the combination of troubles that occur within the individual’s immediate milieu and relations with other people with matters that have to do with institutions of an historical society as a whole. Mills shares with Marxist sociology and other "conflict theorists" the view that American society is sharply divided and systematically shaped by the ongoing interactions between the powerful and powerless. He also shares their concerns for alienation, the effects of social structure on the personality, and the manipulation of people by elites and the mass media. Mills combined such conventional Marxian concerns with careful attention to the dynamics of personal meaning and small-group motivations, topics for which Weberian scholars are more noted.

Mills had a very combative outlook regarding and towards many parts of his life, the people in it, and his works. In this way, he was a self proclaimed outsider.

“ I am an outlander, not only regionally, but deep down and for good. [9] ”

C Wright Mills' ideas also involve the Soviet Union. Mills was invited to the Soviet Union and acknowledged there for being critical of American society, yet Mills used the opportunity to attack Soviet censorship while there. Mills also holds in his ideas that the United States and Soviet Union are ruled by similar bureaucratic power elites and thus the two are convergent rather than divergent societies, which is a very controversial idea of Mills'.

Above all, Mills understood sociology, when properly approached, as an inherently political endeavor and a servant of the democratic process. In The Sociological Imagination, Mills wrote:

“ It is the political task of the social scientist -- as of any liberal educator -- continually to translate personal troubles into public issues, and public issues into the terms of their human meaning for a variety of individuals. It is his task to display in his work -- and, as an educator, in his life as well -- this kind of sociological imagination. And it is his purpose to cultivate such habits of mind among the men and women who are publicly exposed to him. To secure these ends is to secure reason and individuality, and to make these the predominant values of a democratic society. [10] ”

Personal life

When studying at the University of Texas, Mills met his first wife, Dorothy Helen Smith, who was also a student there. After they were married in 1937, Dorothy Helen, who became known as "Freya," worked to support the couple while Mills did graduate work, in addition to copyediting and typing many of the texts he wrote during this period, including his Ph.D. dissertation. They separated in New York City in 1945 and were divorced in 1947.

Mills' second wife was Ruth Harper, a statistician who worked with Mills on White Collar, published in 1951 and The Power Elite, published in 1956. Mills and Ruth were married in 1947, separated in 1957, and divorced in 1959.

Mills' third wife was Yaroslava Surmach, an American artist of Ukrainian descent whose varied work included glass paintings, book illustrations, and stained glass window designs. They were married in 1959, about three years before Mills' death in 1962.

By a strange coincidence, all three women died within a period of less than three months, Ruth on July 1, 2008, Freya on August 19, 2008, and Yaroslava on September 17, 2008. Mills had one child with each wife: Pamela (with Freya), Kathryn (with Ruth), and Nikolas (with Yaroslava).


The Society for the Study of Social Problems established the C. Wright Mills Award in 1964 for the book that "best exemplifies outstanding social science research and an great understanding the individual and society in the tradition of the distinguished sociologist, C. Wright Mills." The criteria are for the book that most effectively:

1) critically addresses an issue of contemporary public importance,

2) brings to the topic a fresh, imaginative perspective,

3) advances social scientific understanding of the topic,

4) displays a theoretically informed view and empirical orientation,

5) evinces quality in style of writing,

6) explicitly or implicitly contains implications for courses of action.[3].

See also

Further reading

  • Irving Louis Horowitz, C. Wright Mills, an American Utopian (1983).
  • Rick Tilman, C. Wright Mills, A Native Radical and his American Roots (1984). ISBN 0-02-915010-8.
  • John Eldridge, C. Wright Mills, Key sociologist (1983).
  • Kathryn Mills, ed., with Pamela Mills, C. Wright Mills: Letters and Autobiographical Writings, introduction by Dan Wakefield (University of California Press, 2000). ISBN 0-520-23209-7.
  • Tom Hayden with Contemporary Reflections by Stanley Aronowitz, Richard Flacks, and Charles Lemert, Radical Nomad: C. Wright Mills and His Times (2006). ISBN 1-59451-202-7.
  • Kevin Mattson, Intellectuals in Action: The Origins of the New Left and Radical Liberalism, 1945-1970 (2002). ISBN 027102206X.
  • G. William Domhoff, "Mills's The Power Elite 50 Years Later" in Contemporary Sociology, November 2006.
  • Stanley Aronowitz, "A Mills Revival?", in Logos Journal, Summer 2003.
  • Keith Kerr. Postmodern Cowboy: C. Wright Mills and a New 21st Century Sociology. (Paradigm 2008) ISBN 1594515794
  • Daniel Geary, "Radical Ambition: C. Wright Mills, the Left, and American Social Thought" (University of California Press 2009). ISBN 0520258363
  • Daniel Geary, "'Becoming International Again': C. Wright Mills and the Emergence of a Global New Left" in "Journal of American History," December 2008 [4]

External links


  1. ^ Short biography of C. Wright Mills published in the Dictionary of Modern American Philosophers in 3 volumes by Thoemmes Press, Bristol, UK, 2004
  2. ^ TIME April 4, 1994 Volume 143, No. 14 - "Biographical sketch of Dwight Macdonald" by John Elson (Accessed 4 December 2008)
  3. ^ [Mills, C Wright. THE SOCIOLOGICAL IMAGINATION Fortieth Anniversary Edition. Oxford University Press, 2000.]
  4. ^ Paul M. Sweezy, founder of Monthly Review magazine, "an independent socialist magazine".
  5. ^ I.e., liberal intellectuals.
  6. ^ 7-nov-2007 17.07 library.umass.edu Remo, I just reviewed the Mills correspondence in the Swados Papers, and, yes, that is an accurate quote. In a letter dated Nov. 3rd [1956] Mills writes, "What these jokers -- all of them -- don't they realize that way down deep and systematically I'm a goddamned anarchist. I'm really quite serious and I'm going over the next few years to work out the position in a positive and clean-cut way. In the meantime, let's not forget that there's more still useful in even the Sweezy kind of Marxism than in all the routineers of JS Mills put together." I'm happy to send you a photocopy of the entire letter if you like. Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of further assistance. Best regards, Danielle -- Danielle Kovacs Curator of Manuscripts Special Collections and University Archives W.E.B. Du Bois Library University of Massachusetts 154 Hicks Way Amherst, MA 01003 (413) 545-2784 [1].
  7. ^ From C. Wright Mills: Letters and Autobiographical Writings, edited by Kathryn Mills with Pamela Mills, introduction by Dan Wakefield (University of California Press, 2000.), pag.252. Wobblies were members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), and the direct action they favored included passive resistance, strikes, and boycotts. They wanted to build a new society according to general socialist principles but they refused to endorse any socialist party or any other kind of political party. Site of IWW.
  8. ^ "These perspectives owed as much to the methodological precepts of Emile Durkheim as they did to the critical theory of Karl Marx and Max Weber. Using many of the tools of conventional social inquiry: surveys, interviews, data analysis—charts included—Mills takes pains to stay close to the “data” until the concluding chapters. But what distinguishes Mills from mainstream sociology, and from Weber, with whom he shares a considerable portion of his intellectual outlook, is the standpoint of radical social change, not of fashionable sociological neutrality." A Mills Revival?.
  9. ^ [Horowitz, Irving L. C. Wright Mills: An American Utopian. New York: Free Press, 1983.]
  10. ^ [Mills, C Wright. THE SOCIOLOGICAL IMAGINATION Fortieth Anniversary Edition. Oxford University Press, 2000.]


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

C. Wright Mills (1916-08-28 – 1962-03-20) was an American sociologist, best remembered for studying the structure of power in the U.S. in his book The Power Elite. Mills was concerned with the responsibilities of intellectuals in post-World War II society. He advocated relevance and engagement over disinterested academic observation as a "public intelligence apparatus" in challenging the policies of the institutional elites in the "Three" (the economic, political and military).



  • To have peace and not war, the drift toward a war economy, as facilitated by the moves and the demands of the sophisticated conservatives, must be stopped; to have peace without slump, the tactics and policies of the practical right must be overcome. The political and economic power of both must be broken. The power of these giants of main drift is both economically and politically anchored; both unions and an independent labor party are needed to struggle effective.
    • The New Men of Power (1948).
  • If we accept the Greek's definition of the idiot as an altogether private man, then we must conclude that many American citizens are now idiots. And I should not be surprised, although I don't know, if there were some such idiots even in Germany.
    • "Structure of Power in America", The British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 9 (March 1958)
  • In the United States… a handful of corporations centralize decisions and responsibilities that are relevant for military and political as well as economic developments of global significance. For nowadays the military and the political cannot be separated from economic considerations of power. We now live not in an economic order or a political order, but in a political economy that is closely linked with military institutions and decisions. This is obvious in the repeated "oil crisis" in the Middle East, or in the relevance of Southeast Asia and African resources for the Western powers…
    • Character & Social Structure (1954).
  • The more we understand what is happening in the world, the more frustrated we often become, for our knowledge leads to feelings of powerlessness.
    We feel that we are living in a world in which the citizen has become a mere spectator or a forced actor, and that our personal experience is politically useless and our political will a minor illusion. Very often, the fear of total permanent war paralyzes the kind of morally oriented politics, which might engage our interests and our passions. We sense the cultural mediocrity around us-and in us-and we know that ours is a time when, within and between all the nations of the world, the levels of public sensibilities have sunk below sight; atrocity on a mass scale has become impersonal and official; moral indignation as a public fact has become extinct or made trivial.
    We feel that distrust has become nearly universal among men of affairs, and that the spread of public anxiety is poisoning human relations and drying up the roots of private freedom.We see that people at the top often identify rational dissent with political mutiny, loyalty with blind conformity, and freedom of judgment with treason. We feel that irresponsibility has become organized in high places and that clearly those in charge of the historic decisions of our time are not up to them. But what is more damaging to us is that we feel that those on the bottom-the forced actors who take the consequences-are also without leaders, without ideas of opposition, and that they make no real demands upon those with power.
    • Letters & Autobiographical Writings (1954) [University of California Press, 2000], pp. 184-185.
  • The point is that we are among those who cannot get their mouths around all the little Yeses that add up to tacit acceptance of a world run by crackpot realists and subject to blind drift. And that, you see, is something to which we do belong; we belong to those who are still capable of personally rejecting. Our minds are not yet captive.
    • Letters & Autobiographical Writings (1954) [University of California Press, 2000], p. 185.
  • To really belong, we have got, first, to get it clear with ourselves that we do not belong and do not want to belong to an unfree world. As free men and women we have got to reject much of it and to know why we are rejecting it.
    • Letters & Autobiographical Writings (1954) [University of California Press, 2000], p. 187.
  • Those in authority within institutions and social structures attempt to justify their rule by linking it, as if it were a necessary consequence, with moral symbols, sacred emblems, or legal formulae which are widely believed and deeply internalized. These central conceptions may refer to a god or gods, the 'votes of the majority,' the 'will of the people,' the 'aristocracy of talents or wealth,' to the 'divine right of kings' or to the alleged extraordinary endowment of the person of the ruler himself.
    • Character & Social Structure (1954)
  • If you do not specify and confront real issues, what you say will surely obscure them. If you do not embody controversy, what you say will be an acceptance of the drift to the coming human hell.
    • Foreword, The Marxists (1962)
  • IBM Plus Reality Plus Humanism=Sociology
    • Power, Politics, and People Boston: Beacon Press, (1963)
  • Every revolution has its counterrevolution — that is a sign the revolution is for real. And every revolution must defend itself against this counterrevolution, or the revolution will fail.
    • Listen Yankee (1960), pp. 54.
  • We know well that all new cultural beginnings today must be part of world culture; that no truly intellectual life can occur if the mind is restricted; that no art can have genuine and everlasting value if it is not in a universal language. East and West. God knows there is enough restriction. Enough laziness of stereotypes. Smash them, we say to ourselves. And the only way to do that is to open up a true world forum that is absolutely free.
    • Listen Yankee (1960), pp. 144-145.
  • Here's to the day when the complete works of Leon Trotsky are published and widely distributed in the Soviet Union. On that day the USSR will have achieved democracy!
    • Mills was invited to speak in the Soviet Union as an honored guest, due to his criticisms of economies in the West; he was asked to make a toast at a banquet, and in his contrarian way, toasted Trotsky, whose works had been banned in the Soviet Union by Stalin. Reported in Saul Landau, "C. Wright Mills: The Last Six Months", Ramparts (August 1965), p. 49-50.

White Collar :The American Middle Classes (1951)

  • [A]s a proportion of the labor force, fewer individuals manipulate things, more handle people and symbols.
    • P. 65.
  • Nobody talks more of free enterprise and competition and of the best man winning than the man who inherited his father's store or farm.
    • Section One: The Competitive Way of Life.
  • In a society of employees dominated by the marketing mentality, it is inevitable that a personality market should arise. For in the great shift from manual skills to the art of 'handling', selling and servicing people, personal or even intimate traits of employees are drawn into the sphere of exchange and become commodities in the labor market.
  • Kindness and friendliness become aspects of personalized service or of public relations of big firms, rationalized to further the sale of something. With anonymous insincerity, the Successful Person thus makes an instrument of his own appearance and personality.
  • In the formulas of 'personnel experts', men and women are to be shaped into the 'well rounded, acceptable, effective personality.' Just like small proprietors, they cannot higgle over prices, which are fixed, or 'judge the market' and accordingly buy wisely.
  • The personality market, the most decisive effect and symptom of the great salesroom, underlies the all pervasive distrust and self-alienation so characteristic of metropolitan people. Without common values and mutual trust, the cash nexus that links one man to another in transient contact has been made subtle in a dozen ways, and made to bite deeper into all areas of life and relations. People are required by the salesman ethic and convention to pretend interest in others in order to manipulate them. In the course of time, and as this ethic spreads, it is got on to. Still, it is conformed to as part of one;s job and one's style of life, but now with a winking eye, for one knows that manipulation is inherent in every human contact. Men are estranged from one another as each secretly tries to make an instrument of the other, and in time a full circle is made: one makes an instrument of himself and is estranged from it also.

The Power Elite (1956)

  • The economy - once a great scatter of small productive units in autonomous balance, has become dominated by two or three hundred giant corporations, administratively and politically interrelated… The political order, once a decentralized set of several dozen states with a weak spinal cord, has become a centralized executive establishment which has taken up into itself many powers previously scattered… The military order, once a slim establishment in a context of distrust fed by state militia, has become the largest and most expensive feature of government.
    • P. 7; discussing sectors of society which Mills feels have only recently become the dominant factors in determining the ultimate course of society.
  • America is a nation with no truly national city, no Paris, no Rome, no London, no city which is at once the social center, the political capital, and the financial hub.
    • P. 47.
  • The market is sovereign and in the magic economy of the small entrepreneur there is no authoritarian center… in the political sphere… the equilibrium of powers prevails, and hence there is no chance of despotism.
    • P. 242, describing the view commonly held in the eighteenth century.
  • The broadening of the economic order which came to be seated in the individual property owner… dramatized by Jefferson's purchase of the Louisiana Territory… "The supremacy of corporate economic power… consolidated by the Supreme Court decision of 1886 which declared that the Fourteenth Amendment protected the corporation… [the New Deal, leading to], within the political arena, as well as in the corporate world itself, competing centers of power that challenged those of the corporate directors.
    • P. 270-272; key shifts in power relations which Mills contends have brought us to the current state.
  • The American elite does not have any real image of peace — other than as an uneasy interlude existing precariously by virtue of the balance of mutual fright. The only seriously accepted plan for peace is the full loaded pistol. In short, war or a high state of war-preparedness is felt to be the normal and seemingly permanent condition of the United States.
  • For the first time in American history, men in authority are talking about an 'emergency' without a foreseeable end,...Such men as these are crackpot realists: in the name of realism they have constructed a paranoid reality all their own.
  • America - a conservative country without any conservative ideology - appears now before the world a naked and arbitrary power, as, in the name of realism, its men of decision enforce their often crackpot definitions upon world reality. The second-rate mind is in command of the ponderously spoken platitude. In the liberal rhetoric, vagueness, and in the conservative mood, irrationality, are raised to principle. Public relations and the official secret, the trivializing campaign and the terrible fact clumsily accomplished, are replacing the reasoned debate of political ideas in the privately incorporated economy, the military ascendancy, and the political vacuum of modern America.
  • These men have replaced mind with platitude, and the dogmas by which they are legitimated are so widely accepted that no counterbalance of mind prevails against them. They have replaced the responsible interpretation of events with the disguise of events by a maze of public relations.
  • What the main drift of the twentieth century has revealed is that the economy has become concentrated and incorporated in the great hierarchies, the military has become enlarged and decisive to the shape of the entire economic structure; and moreover the economic and the military have become structurally and deeply interrelated, as the economy has become a seemingly permanent war economy; and military men and policies have increasingly penetrated the corporate economy.
  • In a public, as we may understand the term, (1) virtually as many people express opinions as receive them, (2) Public communications are so organised that there is a chance immediately and effectively to answer back any opinion expressed in public. Opinion formed by such discussion (3) readily finds an outlet in effective action, even against – if necessary – the prevailing system of authority. And (4) authoritative institutions do not penetrate the public, which is thus more or less autonomous in its operations.-In a mass, (1) far fewer people express opinions than receive them; for the community of publics becomes an abstract collection of individuals who receive impressions from the mass media. (2) The communications that prevail are so organised that it is difficult or impossible for the individual to answer back immediately or with any effect. (3) The realisation of opinion in action is controlled by authorities who organise and control the channels of such action. (4) The mass has no autonomy from institutions; on the contrary, agents of authorised institutions penetrate this mass, reducing any autonomy it may have in the formation of opinion by discussion.
  • The top of modern American society is increasingly unified and often seems wilfully co-ordinated: at the top there has emerged an elite of power.The middle levels are a drifting set of stalemated balancing forces: the middle does not link the bottom with the top.The bottom of this society is fragmented,and even as a passive fact,increasingly powerless:at the bottom there is emerging a mass society.
  • But now that war has become seemingly total and seemingly permanent, the free sport of kings has become the forced and internecine business of people, and diplomatic codes of honor between nations have collapsed. Peace is no longer serious; only war is serious. Every man and every nation is either friend or foe, and the idea of enmity becomes mechanical, massive, and without genuine passion. When virtually all negotiation aimed at peaceful agreement is likely to be seen as 'appeasement,' if not treason, the active role of the diplomat becomes meaningless; for diplomacy becomes merely a prelude to war or an interlude between wars, and in such a context the diplomat is replaced by the warlord......In other words 'the morale of the State Department is so broken that its finest men flee from it, and advise others to flee.'
  • Without an industrial economy, the modern army, as in America, could not exist; it is an army of machines. Professional economists usually consider military institutions as parasitic upon the means of production. Now, however, such institutions have come to shape much of the economic life of the United States.
  • Religion, virtually without fail, provides the army at war with its blessings, and recruits from among its officials the chaplain, who in military costume counsels and consoles and stiffens the morale of men at war.
  • The family provides the army and navy with the best men and boys that it possesses. And, as we have seen, education and science too are becoming means to the ends sought by the military.

The Sociological Imagination (1959)

  • [O]ne could translate the 555 pages of The Social System into about 150 pages of straightforward English. The result would not be very impressive.
    • P. 31, commenting on the verbosity of the chief work of competing sociologist Talcott Parsons.
  • It is the political task of the social scientist — as of any liberal educator — continually to translate personal troubles into public issues, and public issues into the terms of their human meaning for a variety of individuals. It is his task to display in his work — and, as an educator, in his life as well — this kind of sociological imagination. And it is his purpose to cultivate such habits of mind among the men and women who are publicly exposed to him. To secure these ends is to secure reason and individuality, and to make these the predominant values of a democratic society.
  • One great lesson that we can learn from its systematic absence in the work of the grand theorists is that every self-conscious thinker must at all times be aware of — and hence be able to control — the levels of abstraction on which he is working. The capacity to shuttle between levels of abstraction, with ease and with clarity, is a signal mark of the imaginative and systematic thinker
  • A society in which all men and women would become people of substantive reason, whose independent reasoning would have structural consequences for their societies, its history and thus for their own life fates.
    • p. 174.
  • Above all, do not give up your moral and political autonomy by accepting in somebody else's terms the illiberal practicality of the bureaucratic ethos or the liberal practicality of the moral scatter. Know that many personal troubles cannot be solved merely as troubles, but must be understood in terms of public issues — and in terms of the problems of history making.
    • Appendix: "On Intellectual Craftsmanship"

The Causes of World War Three (1960)

  • For the corporation executives, the military metaphysic often coincides with their interest in a stable and planned flow of profit; it enables them to have their risk underwritten by public money; it enables them reasonably to expect that they can exploit for private profit now and later, the risky research developments paid for by public money. It is, in brief, a mask of the subsidized capitalism from which they extract profit and upon which their power is based.
  • An expensive arms race, under cover of the military metaphysic, and in a paranoid atmosphere of fright, is an economically attractive business. To many utopian capitalists, it has become the Business Way of American Life."
  • Some men want war for sordid, others for idealistic, reasons; some for personal gain, others for impersonal principle. But most of those who consciously want war and accept it, and so help to create its "inevitability," want it in order to shift the locus of their problems.
  • They know of no solutions to the paradoxes of the Middle East and Europe, the Far East and Africa except the landing of Marines. Being baffled, and also being very tired of being baffled, they have come to believe that there is no way out—except war—which would remove all the bewildering paradoxes of their tedious and now misguided attempts to construct peace. In place of these paradoxes they prefer the bright, clear problems of war—as they used to be. For they still believe that "winning" means something, although they never tell us what.

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