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Taking It Big

Taking It Big: C. Wright Mills and the Making of Political Intellectuals

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Taking It Big
    Book Description:

    C. Wright Mills (1916--1962) was a pathbreaking intellectual who transformed the independent American Left in the 1940s and 1950s. Often challenging the established ideologies and approaches of fellow leftist thinkers, Mills was central to creating and developing the idea of the "public intellectual" in postwar America and laid the political foundations for the rise of the New Left in the 1960s. Written by Stanley Aronowitz, a leading sociologist and critic of American culture and politics, Taking It Big reconstructs this icon's formation and the new dimension of American political life that followed his work.

    Aronowitz revisits Mills's education and its role in shaping his outlook and intellectual restlessness. Mills defined himself as a maverick, and Aronowitz tests this claim (which has been challenged in recent years) against the work and thought of his contemporaries. Aronowitz describes Mills's growing circle of contacts among the New York Intellectuals and his efforts to reenergize the Left by encouraging a fundamentally new theoretical orientation centered on more ambitious critiques of U.S. society. Blurring the rigid boundaries among philosophy, history, and social theory and between traditional orthodoxies and the radical imagination, Mills became one of the most admired and controversial thinkers of his time and was instrumental in inspiring the student and antiwar movements of the 1960s. In this book, Aronowitz not only reclaims this critical thinker's reputation but also emphasizes his ongoing significance to debates on power in American democracy.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50950-3
    Subjects: History, Political Science, Sociology
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction and Overview
    (pp. 1-27)

    C. Wright Mills defies classification in the neat compartments of scholarly disciplines and ideology. His was a restless mind in the classical traditions of Marx, Thorstein Veblen, and Max Weber, all of whom broke through methodological rituals and drew widely from philosophy, social science, and the arts. Mills culled such sources as newspapers, census data, and ethnographic studies. He sometimes invoked popular novels to illustrate his points. Yet even as he performed some sociological procedures early in his career, he sharply criticized what he later termed “abstracted empiricism”—the practice of confining social science to small studies or specific domains...

  5. 1 Mills’s Sociology and Pragmatism
    (pp. 28-53)

    Not surprisingly, given the dominance of pragmatism over wide areas of American philosophy and social thought during the first forty years of the twentieth century, the University of Texas philosophy faculty included several prominent exponents of this perspective. At Texas, Mills studied with David Miller, who wrote an early influential book on George Herbert Mead, and the economist Clarence E. Ayres, a follower of Thorstein Veblen’s institutional approach, whom Mills admired but did not hesitate to differ from on specific points. From these teachers Mills acquired a broad knowledge of the history of philosophy and an appreciation and comprehensive understanding...

  6. 2 Mills and the New York Intellectuals
    (pp. 54-84)

    The position of intellectuals in modern societies and their political and ideological roles have been—and remain—vexing questions for social theory, particularly for its radical variants. Are intellectuals ineluctably tied to their social backgrounds, or are they, as we have seen in Karl Mannheim’s discourse, free floating and independent of the interests of prevailing social classes? Or can they be considered a class with its own interests that, because of their relatively unique social function as producers and disseminators of knowledge, exert an influence that potentially cannot be reduced to their numbers? Citing the transformation within modern societies where...

  7. 3 On Mills’s The New Men of Power
    (pp. 85-124)

    Almost every young intellectual who chooses to make a living as a professor in the American academy faces the imperative to conform to the requirements dictated by the traditions and the rules of her or his chosen discipline and of the universities. For an especially ambitious person, it is not enough to be a decent teacher or publish articles and books in respectable journals. To obtain a position at one of the very few elite institutions, not only must the work be noticed by the gatekeepers of their discipline, but the candidate must also be careful to ruffle as few...

  8. 4 White Collar
    (pp. 125-149)

    The “middle class” is located at the apex of the American imagination. Rather than simply being a descriptive category that refers to a social group or formation, the term hovers near the leading edge of American politics and ideology. Candidates for public office never cease to evoke the middle class as the object of their discourse. Every economic topic, including taxes, jobs, and housing, contains references to the plight of—or the interests of—the “middle class.” And the middle-class ideal, whatever it might be, is said to mark American history and culture and set the United States of from...

  9. 5 On Social Psychology and Its Historical Contexts: The Origin of Psychology as an Independent Discipline
    (pp. 150-166)

    The disciplines of social science made a relatively late entrance in Western thought. For centuries after Galileo and Copernicus forged the contours of modern physical sciences, social relations were considered beyond the scope of the sciences. Consequently, as late as the nineteenth century they were taken as objects of political and moral philosophy; natural science tried to reduce society and social relations to the categories of physics and biology, a tendency that has, in recent years, been revived by the reductionist wing of the discipline of neuropsychology, whose advocates believe that we can discover the sources of virtually all emotional...

  10. 6 The Structure of Power in American Society
    (pp. 167-186)

    The last decade of Mills’s life witnessed his political radicalization. Although he had been an opponent of perhaps the most popular war in U.S. history and always harbored deep suspicions of the powers that be, until the early 1950s it is fair to say that despite his adherence to a “third camp” politics he was far more tolerant of the United States as a liberal democracy than he was of Stalinist regimes. His main political ties were with labor progressives such as J. B. S. Hardman, social democrats like Hans Gerth, and mildly dissident liberal academics such as Richard Hofstadter...

  11. 7 What Is a Political Intellectual?
    (pp. 187-213)

    For the past five hundred years, the intellectual has been a contested social type. In the feudal era, the priests were virtually the only intellectual class in most societies. But with the slow dismantling of feudal social relations, which began in the fourteenth century, secular intellectuals emerged in various capacities, as literary figures (Dante), civil servants to the nobility (Machiavelli), and natural scientists such as Copernicus and Galileo. Throughout modern history, intellectuals have struggled for autonomy, combating the efforts of the state and religious institutions to transform them into technicians of the prevailing order—or, more egregiously, to shut them...

  12. 8 Taking It Big
    (pp. 214-239)

    Not only was The Power Elite a bestseller, but it also raised Mills to the stature of an international figure. The book was eventually translated into fifteen languages and received widespread notice abroad as well as at home. Its foreign reception was far more favorable than its acclaim in the United States, at least until after Mills’s death. From 1956 until his final illness in 1961, Mills traveled incessantly: Denmark, Norway, Italy, Germany, Austria, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Russia, and Cuba. He lectured to academic and nonacademic audiences and frequently gave newspaper, radio, and TV interviews. He also delivered a...

  13. Afterword Mills Today
    (pp. 240-250)

    In 1958, after fifteen years of virtually uninterrupted postwar prosperity—dramatic economic growth, near full employment (in the 1950s, 3 percent joblessness was considered the upper acceptable limit), rising incomes for a majority of its population, and a mainly suburban and exurban housing boom never before experienced in its history—America experienced its first major recession since the 1930s. Before that, when economists and politicians took note of stubborn signs of poverty, they were prone to attribute significant unemployment and privation to personal deficiencies or regional causes: coal was being partially eclipsed by oil, so Pennsylvania and the southern Appalachian...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 251-260)
    (pp. 261-264)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 265-278)