Charles Wright Mills 1916-1962
Charles Wright Mills remains to this day a largely unrecognized contributor to sociological theory. Yet in a short lifetime he published a number of well-crafted works on divergent topics. Mills was not stranger to controversy. He was always a critic, not merely of the institutional structure of society but of those human scientists who too easily accept the status quo. Mills believed that the failure of intellectuals is part of the larger failure of "rationality" in the modern era. Such a condition emerges when the rationality of the existing order is assumed, and it become only reasonable to think and act to further that order. Hence, reason (for example, that manifested in science) may serve an irrational purpose in an irrational order (such as the development of high-tech weapons systems for profit and the "defense" of world markets).
In the broadest sense, Mills lived before his intellectual time. He struggled virtually alone to keep alive the conflict imagery of critical thought during one of the more conservative periods in American history. However, the fact that Mills became one of the intellectual fathers of the New Left in the 1960s remains both a blessing and a curse. One the one hand, his preliminary efforts were to inspire new critical scholarship. On the other, much of what is theoretically sophisticated in his work has been overlooked and the legacy of Mills relegated by critics to polemic. Yet during his life, this futurist inquired widely into the world of labor leaders, the rising legions of white-collar workers, personality and social structure (with Hans Gerth), the specter of world war, the Cuban revolution, and of course, the range of intellectual responsibility. However, among them all, one effort is distinctive: the rise to power of an elite triad in the modern era (Perdue, 1986, p. 347).