Elite - Identity and Social Structure

Identity and Social Structure

C. Wright Mills wrote in his 1957 book The Power Elite of the "elite" as "those political, economic, and military circles, which as an intricate set of overlapping small but dominant groups share decisions having at least national consequences. Insofar as national events are decided, the power elite are those who decide them." Mills states that the power elite members recognize other members' mutual exalted position in society. "As a rule, 'hey accept one another, understand one another, marry one another, tend to work and to think, if not together at least alike.'" "It is a well-regulated existence where education plays a critical role. Youthful upper-class members attend prominent preparatory schools, which not only open doors to such elite universities as Harvard, Yale, and Princeton but also to the universities' highly exclusive clubs. These memberships in tuen pave the way to the prominent social clubs located in all major cities and serving as sites for important business contacts."

The men who receive the education necessary for elitist privilege obtain the background and contacts that allow them to enter three branches of the power elite, which are: The Political Leadership: Mills contended that since the end of World War II corporate leaders had become more prominent in the political process, with a decline in central decision-making for professional politicians. The Military Circle: In Mill's time a heightened concern about warfare existed, making top military leaders and such issues as defense funding and personnel recruitment very important. Most prominent corporate leaders and politicians were strong proponents of military spending. The Corporate Elite: According to Mills, in the 1950s when the military emphasis was pronounced, it was corporate leaders working with prominent military officers who dominated the development of policies. These two groups tended to be mutually supportive."

According to Mills, the governing elite in the US primarily draws its members from three areas: (i) the highest political leaders (including the president) and a handful of key cabinet members and close advisers; (ii) major corporate owners and directors; and (iii) high-ranking military officers. These groups overlap, and elites tend to circulate from one sector to another, consolidating power as they do so.

Unlike the ruling class, a social formation based on heritage and social ties, the power elite is characterized by the organizational structure through which its wealth is acquired. According to Mills, part of the power elite is "the managerial reorganization of the propertied classes into the more or less unified stratum of the corporate rich." Domhoff further clarified the differences in the two terms: "The upper class as a whole does not do the ruling. Instead, class rule is manifested through the activities of a wide variety of organizations and institutions... Leaders within the upper class join with high-level employees in the organizations they control to make up what will be called the power elite."

The Marxist theoretician Nikolai Bukharin anticipated the power-elite theory in his 1929 work, Imperialism and World Economy: "present-day state power is nothing but an entrepreneurs' company of tremendous power, headed even by the same persons that occupy the leading positions in the banking and syndicate offices".

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