MILLS, C. Wright
The Power Elite
The power elite is composed of political, economic, and military men, but this instituted elite is frequently in some tension: it comes together only on certain coinciding points and only on certain occasions of ‘crisis.’ In the long peace of the nineteenth century, the military were not in the high councils of state, not of the political directorate, and neither were the economic men — they made raids upon the state but they did not join its directorate. During the ‘thirties, the political man was ascendant. Now the military and the corporate men are in top positions.
Of the three types of circle that compose the power elite today, it is the military that has benefited the most in its enhanced power, although the corporate circles have also become more explicitly intrenched in the more public decision-making circles. It is the professional politician that has lost the most, so much that in examining the events and decisions, one is tempted to speak of a political vacuum in which the corporate rich and the high warlord, in their coinciding interests, rule.
It should not be said that the three ‘take turns’ in carrying the initiative, for the mechanics of the power elite are not often as deliberate as that would imply. At times, of course, it is — as when ‘political men’ thinking they can borrow the prestige of generals, find that they must pay for it, or, as when during big slumps, economic men feel the need of a politician at once safe and possessing vote appeal. Today all three are involved in virtually all widely ramifying decisions.
Which of the three types seems to lead depends upon ‘the tasks of the period’ as they, the elite, define them. Just now, these tasks center upon ‘defense’ and international affairs. Accordingly, as we have seen, the military are ascendant in two senses: as personnel and as justifying ideology. That is why, just now, we can most easily specify the unity and the shape of the power elite in terms of the military ascendancy.