Doc Bonn Explains the Power Elite in the US and How They Influence Your Life.

Dr. Scott Bonn,Power Elite,Mass Deception

The late sociologist C.W. Mills in 1956 observed that a small group of wealthy and powerful individuals controlled America’s dominant institutions (i.e., political, economic and military).  More specifically, he noted that the governing elite in the U.S. are composed of: 1) the highest political leaders, including the president and a few key cabinet members and advisors, 2) major corporate owners and directors, and 3) the highest ranking military officers.  Mills called this group the power elite.

Although the power elite constitute a close-knit group, these individuals are not part of a grand conspiracy that secretly manipulates world events in order to pursue their own diabolical self interests.  It is not a dictatorship and it does not rely on the physical torture of fellow citizens in order to maintain its dominant position in society.  Quite significantly, the power elite do not have to.  Because of their control over the key institutions in U.S.society, the power elite need not resort to harsh physical coercion in order to maintain their interests and achieve their goals.

Membership in the power elite, despite its relatively small size, is not closed to outsiders, although some of its members gain their status due at least in part to being born into prominent families.  An example of this is former president George W. Bush, the son of a wealthy oilman and also former U.S. president.  Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, leveraged family wealth and social connections to achieve elite status through business entrepreneurship.  Another prominent, contemporary member of the power elite group is Dick Cheney.  He has held key positions in the federal government, including White House Chief of Staff under Gerald Ford, Secretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush and Vice President under G.W. Bush.  Cheney has also held key corporate positions, including Chairman of Halliburton, a leading U.S. military contractor heavily involved in the Iraq war.

Regardless of personal history, Mills argued that membership in the power elite is limited to those few individuals who effectively control the political, economic and military institutions in society.  Interestingly, Mills was echoed in 1961 by President Eisenhower in his farewell address when he warned of the self-serving acts of the “military-industrial complex”—that is, his term for the power elite.

What really binds the power elite to one another are their mutual interests, social networks, and the adoption of elite ideology and values.  The importance of social networks cannot be overstated for it is in these powerful, yet informal, networks that bonds are formed, elite values learned and heritage shared.  Although diversity is increasing in the U.S., the majority of the power elite are still white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant males.  Members of the power elite attend the same private schools and universities, join the same clubs and fraternities, belong to the same churches and charities, and live in the same neighborhoods.  They work and play together, and they employ one another.  White elites enjoy broad-based, informal social networks that provide access to information and referrals that result in preferential employment opportunities.

Once inside of organizations, privileged, white males are sponsored to the top of the hierarchy by other (older) white, male mentors.  This phenomenon, known as “homosocial reproduction,” refers to the tendency of a homogenaic organization to reproduce itself by continuously promoting the same types of individuals.  This process tends to exclude women and minorities while protecting the white, male status quo in the U.S.  The consequences of homosocial reproduction are profound because elite, white, social networks ensure that the concentration of power and control over the key institutions of society remain in the privileged hands of the few.

In sociology, we define “power” as the ability of an individual or group to exert its will on others despite the latter’s resistance.  The power elites’ control over the dominant institutions in the US (i.e., political, economic and military) enables them to exert their will over society and achieve their goals without the need for harsh physical coercion.  The power elite maintain their dominance by controlling the very institutions that define the US and enable the nation to function on a day-to-day basis.  Moreover, they define who/what is good and evil in society and, as a result, determine who should be rewarded and who should be punished.

Dr. Scott Bonn,Mass Deception

How does the concentration of power in the hands of the few power elite make you feel?  I’d like to hear your thoughts on this topic.

Please submit your comments below or email me directly at  Follow me @DocBonn on Twitter.

  Dr. Scott Bonn is Professor of Sociology and Criminology at Drew University and a media expert.  He is the author of the critically acclaimed book “Mass Deception: Moral Panic and the U.S. War on Iraq” and is currently writing a book about the public’s fascination with serial killers.


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Posted on April 25, 2012, in Mass Deception and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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