Crackpot Realism — C. Wright Mills


The view that all is blind drift is largely a fatalist projection of one’s own feeling of impotence and perhaps, if one has ever been active politically in a principled way, a salve of one’s guilt. The view that all of history is due to the conspiracy of an easily located set of villains, or of heroes, is also a hurried projection from the difficult effort to understand how shifts in the structure of society open opportunities to various elites and how various elites take advantage or fail to take advantage of them. To accept either view—of all history as conspiracy or of all history as drift—is to relax the effort to understand the facts of power and the ways of the powerful.

C. Wright Mills — The Power Elite

Chapter thirteen of Mills’ The Causes of World War Three is the commonly cited source of his use of the concept of ‘crackpot realism.’ Rick Tilman’s (2007) ‘Thorstein Veblen and the Enrichment of Evolutionary Naturalism‘ identifies Mills’ introduction to Veblen’s Theory of The Leisure Class, as an early usage of the term to describe various illusory beliefs and practices exposed by Veblen; and shows how the term is still found useful, in his case to case to extend the term to focus on “the coexisting status of corporate “gaming” and the epidemic of gambling addiction by governments and individuals (Las Vegasization)”, and how, to him it ” amounts to what Mills termed “crackpot realism.” More to the point, we call gambling legalization “jackpot realism”, which ignores the ugly side of the trend to the advantage of people in power.” While Veblen is (like Mills) quite often dismissed or relegated as a ‘crackpot’ or whose work is ‘satire’, this deliberately misses the point and inspiration his work provides — and it also avoids who he influenced. Writing of John Kenneth Galbraith shortly after his death in 2006, Scott McLemee wrote:

Like Veblen, he had a knack for translating satirical intuitions into social-scientific form. But Galbraith also worked the other way around. He could parody the research done by “the best and the brightest,” writing sardonically about what was really at stake in their work.

And so too did Mills in The Sociological Imagination, particularly with Talcott Parson’s work, where Mills after quoting a lengthy extract offers to translate it into English and begs us to carry on reading his book after such an off-putting example. Galbraith seems to have engaged in a similar form of of what we could call ‘re-description’ in his ‘The McLandress Dimension’, attributed to “Mark Epernay.” Much in the manner of the narrator’s adulation of DeSelby in Flann O’ Brian’s, The Third Policeman, ‘Herschel McLandress’, is described as “the former professor of psychiatric measurement at the Harvard Medical School and chief consultant to the Noonan Psychiatric Clinic in Boston. The researcher was a frequent recipient of grants from the Ford Foundation.” McLemee adds:

The work that defined his career was his discovery of “the McLandress Coefficient” – a unit of measurement defined, in laymen’s terms, as “the arithmetic mean or average of intervals of time during which a subject’s thoughts centered on some substantive phenomenon other than his own personality.”

McLemee also notes the emergence of another close satire, with the ‘Report from Iron Mountain,’ which he argues was a satire on the “crackpot realism” of the Rand Institute and the like, adding that it was concocted by Leonard Lewin, a humor writer, and Victor Navasky, the editor of The Nation.

But the parody was so good as to be almost seamless. It proposed the most extreme ideas in an incredibly plodding fashion. And the scenarios were only marginally more deranged-sounding than anything mooted by Herman Kahn, the strategist of winnable thermonuclear war.

In the confusion over whether it was real or not (a sort on mini-version of Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds hysteria still enjoyed by conspiracy theorists), McLemee has ‘Herschel McLandress’ joining in to say he was on the committee that did the initial brainstorming and provides a link to the satire ““.

The response to Vebelen and Mills’ work as ‘satire’ could also be a product of what John Patrick Diggins’ work on Vebelen, quoting Robert Heilbroner’s (1953) The Worldly Philosophers, called Vebelen’s ability to gaze upon ‘industrial warfare’ and the ‘businessman as predator’ with the ‘eyes of a stranger.’ For Diggens Mills described the crackpot realists of capitalism as those

…who posed as practical men of affairs but in reality are “utopians” who live in their own “delusional world” of profits, war, and destruction. Mills found Veblen most useful as a thorn in the side of the complacency of the fifties, and, as an academic outcast himself, he readily identifies with “the only comic writer among modern social scientists.” But Mills also believed that Veblen was “not quite serious enough about prestige because he did not see its full and intricate relation to power.”

Diggens argues that Mills was so fixated with the idea of a power elite that he mistook an “effect for a cause,” equating power as the source rather than the result of prestige, adding: “Power requires the ability to compel, prestige the ability to persuade.” With regard to Alexander Passerin d’Entreves (1967) The Notion of the State, and his description of Plato’s ‘Argument of Thrasymachus,’ it is at times difficult to be able to distinguish between the two when it is made so. Thrasymachus argues that justice is only a name for describing that which, in the city, the ruler wills and desires. To this Socrates says that the ruler may make many mistakes as to what is to his advantage, and that mere submission is no final answer to the problem of political obligation. Thrasymachus concedes that obedience may be the result not only of physical force, but of the skill and ability of the ruler, but refuses to admit —despite Socrates arguing that the skill and ability of a ruler might take into consideration the advantage of the ruled — Thrasymachus has it that to talk of justice in relation to the state is irrelevant: “If one is determined to do so at any cost, one must recognise that ‘injustice, when great enough, is mightier, freer, and more masterly than justice.’

Hannah Arendt argues in ‘On Violence’ that Alexander Passerin d’Entreves (is the ‘only author she knows’ who) distinguishes between power and violence — although she ignores his thoughts on Plato and Thrasymachus). She includes a round up of Sartre’s, Clausewitz’s, Voltaire’s understanding of power (borrowed from d’Entreves and a bit too concise) including Mills (who I cannot find in d’Entreves): “All politics is a struggle for power; the ultimate kind of power is violence”, which she sees as echoing Max Weber’s definition of the state as “the rule of men over men based on the means of legitimate, that is allegedly legitimate, violence.” This she finds odd (and Weber she alligns with Trotsky) because this “makes sense only” if one follows Marx’s “estimate of the state as an instrument of oppression in the hands of the ruling class.” But everybody might be united if we note the inclusion of deception in Socrates’ response to Thrasymachus; and that d’Entreves takes till only page 17 to get to Plato’s theory of the ‘Noble Lie’ — which seems to me to be the plastic toy of the crackpot realist — which, in its essence establishing rigid class division, tells us that only certain people can be leaders: the ‘guardians of gold.’ Persuasion too is an important factor in power, for d’Entreves the noble lie is “now termed ‘ideology’, or ‘myth,’ or ‘political formula’, and should also be seen in connection to the theory that compares the state to an organism, a body or a person. But Mills is not talking about the crackpot realists in an abstract manner — he is specifically talking about an identifiable small group after studying its make-up and those around it and where they get their ideas from.

As Freddy Pearlman notes in a work which aimed to trace the development of Mills thought, it is significant that the longest quotation from Veblen’s works which Mills chose for his introduction says:

“The current situation in America is by way of being something of a psychiatrical clinic. . . . Perhaps the commonest and plainest evidence of this unbalanced mentality is to be seen in a certain fearsome and feverish credulity with which a large proportion of the Americans are affected.

Pearlman also notes that “Credulity is a state of delusion” and tries to unearth Mill’s motives and values inherent in his writing (quoting Mills from (1955) “On Knowledge and Power,” Dissent, Vol. 11, No. 3):

Among these values none has been held higher than the grand role of reason in civilization and in the lives of its civilized members. And none has been more sullied and distorted by men of power in the mindless years we have been enduring. Given the caliber of the American elite, and the immorality of accomplishment in terms of which they are selected, perhaps we should have expected this. But political intellectuals too have been giving up the old ideal of the public relevance of knowledge. Among them a conservative mood—a mood that is quite appropriate for men living in a political vacuum—has come to prevail.

Pearlman states that Mills, who in 1946 had not opposed a passive, detached, “realistic” description of the state as it monopolized the use of legitimate violence within its domain, two years later indignantly writes:

There is no opposition to public mindlessness in all its forms nor to all those forces and men that would further it. But above all—among the men of knowledge, there is little or no opposition to the divorce of knowledge from power, of sensibilities from men of power, no opposition to the divorce of mind from reality.

Pearlman argues that the reality which these ‘men of knowledge’accept without opposition is described in The Power Elite:

America—a conservative country without any conservative ideology—appears now before the world a naked and arbitrary power, as, in the name of realism, its men of decision enforce their often crackpot definitions upon world reality. The second‑rate mind is in command of the ponderously spoken platitude.In the liberal rhetoric, vagueness, and in the conservative mood, irrationality, are raised to principle. Public relations and the official secret, the trivializing, campaign and the terrible fact clumsily accomplished, are replacing the reasoned debate of political ideas in the privately incorporated economy, the military ascendancy, and the political vacuum of modem America.

Drawing on Pearlman’s description, Mills’ rejection of the the divorce of mind from reality, enjoins him to distinguish the men from the masks, he can see the human beings who renounce their humanity and alienate their selves in roles (Plato’s ‘guardians of gold’) instead of creating their own lives; he does not call it alienation, but he describes it as a dominant fact about everyday life in American society. This annoyed his contemporaries but what also probably annoyed them was he seemed to be enjoying himself as he sated in “The Unity of Work and Leisure,” Journal of the National Association of Deans of Women (January, 1954):

Today many people have to trivialize their true interests into ‘hobbies,’ which are socially considered as unserious pastimes rather than the center of their real existence. But only by a craftsmanlike style of life can the split domains of work and leisure become unified; and only by such self‑cultivation can the everyday life become a medium for genuine culture. . . The mere chronological fact of more time on our hands is a necessary condition for the cultivation of individuality, but by no means guarantees it. As people have more time on their hands, most of it is taken away from them by the debilitating quality of their work, by the pace of their everyday routine, and by the ever‑present media of mass distraction.

Pearlman argues that Mills’ analysis of the mediators between consciousness and existence now had ‘nothing in common’ with the “skill groups that specialize in telling us how we feel or with the symbol cartels selling motives to shifting masses which he had seen from his vantage point on Mt. Olympus,” and quoting from Mills’ On Knowledge and Power:

Public relations displace reasoned argument; manipulation and undebated decisions of power replace democratic authority. More and more, as administration has replaced politics, decisions of importance do not carry even the panoply of reasonable discussion it? public, but are made by God, by experts, and by men like Mr. Wilson. . . . The height of such mindless communications to masses, or what are thought to be masses, is the commercial propaganda for toothpaste and soap and cigarettes and automobiles.

For Mills a great number of his intellectual colleagues:

…by the work they do not do they uphold the official definitionsof reality, and, by the work they do, even elaborate it.

Edwards Shils and Daniel Bell were probably the more vocal denouncers of Mills, and both saw him as “the Joe McCarthy of sociology” according to Mike Forrest Keen’s (2003) Stalking Sociologists: J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI Surveillance of American Sociology, and could not or feigned not to understand what he wanted with sociology —to which, as a reply, he places some remarks by Mills in the introduction to Veblen that the sociologist:

“…opens up our minds, he gets us ‘outside the whale,’ he makes us see through the official sham. Above all, he teaches us to be aware of the crackpot basis of the realism of those practical Men of Affairs who would lead us to honorific destruction.”

Keen’s work aimed to outline J. Edgar Hoover’s internal security apparatus’ special disdain for sociologists, placing many of its more prominent figures under surveillance and marginalizing sociologists such as W. E. B. Du Bois and Mills, while aiming to suppress the development of a Marxist tradition in American sociology, to push the mainstream of the discipline away from a critique of American society. And this can of course be coupled with the encouragement and subvention of other more pliant sociologists such as Shils and Bell via other wings of the covert intelligence apparatus —a process which is of itself a demonstration of crackpot realism.

As Mills’ influence grew his work on Cuba became problematic for the authorities, who had since at least 1958 and before the overthrow of Batista, planned a covert invasion and de-stabilisation of the island much in the manner of Guatemala and Iran. This process had been considered cheap and a reliable cover — and ‘delighted both President and the Dulles brothers‘ — for the darker side of US foreign policy, and despite the revelations of a string of secret wars continues to the present time. As Andrew Kopkind and JoAnn Wypijewski’s (1995) The Thirty Years’ Wars: Dispatches and Diversions of a Radical Journalist, 1965-1994, put it:

CIA-watchers estimate that there are at least fifty live covert-ops around the world, from Algeria to Zambia. Many of those involve terrorism on a scale so grand that they make the odd Arab hijacking or kidnapping look like a quiet day in Miami.

One can also still see the orbit round crackpot realism that captures the imagination of social historians who argue that because intervention was covert, it in fact offers evidence of institutional restraints,” as part of the ‘democratic peace proposition,’ (democracies don’t attack other democracies) refuted by Errol Anthony Henderson’s (2003) Democracy and War: The End of an Illusion?

To return to Keen’s observations on Mills, the FBI’s covert informant, “T-1” also noted that Mills (prior to his “showdown with A. A. Berle Jr. on Latin American policy) had received an anonymous letter warning him that an American agent disguised as South American would assassinate him on his next visit to Cuba, other poison pen letters followed (also addressed to Eisenhower, Dulles and Hoover). According to Keen, the FBI regarded Mills work as Cuban propaganda — not talk of satire here, and this would seem to be the trajectory: satire, propaganda, subversion — and would monitor his TV appearance. This gave rise to the twenty-six page report based on thirteen confidential informants.

Crackpot Realism and the political directorate

Possibly the key passage in relation to his other work and relevant to our time and offering an insight into the intended depth of the term theoretically is as an analysis of significant structural aspects of the state:

“In the U.S. today, there are no nationally responsible political parties offering and standing upon alternative political orientations and programmes. There is no significant senior civil service composed of professional men whose careers are secure and independent of private interests. The leading men of the U.S. government —the political directorate—are neither professional party politicians nor professional civil servants; they are former generals and former corporation men or hangers-on of the highest business and legal circles. The state in which we live, in its personnel and in its persistent outlook, does indeed appear at times a committee of these ruling circles of corporation and high military.” (Mills, 1958: 88)

Was it intended as a metaphor is it a theory or a model; was its relevance exclusively specifically to the proponents of ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’? Mills makes an interesting distinction between a theory and a model in his study and collection of key Marxist texts.

A model is a more or less systematic inventory of the elements to which we must pay attention if we are to understand something. It is not true or false; it is useful and adequate to varying degrees. A theory, in contrast, is a statement which can be proved true or false, about the causal weight and the relations of the elements of a model. (p38 1962)

For those who view cold war American academia as intellectually closed by anti-communist, The Marxists is an incongruous book: a lucid presentation of Marxist thought as part of the enlightenment. Mills seems unperturbed, his view of McCarthy’s effect as over-played throughout the land

The Marxists is Mills as an ‘Anarchist,’ there is no veneration of Marx, and in balance, no genuflection towards America’s military, industrial and governmental cabal’s view of reality. Mills approach has elements then that can be identified as influenced by Frankfurt School theorists whose presence in America would betoken the Allies that would fracture after the war and the advent of the nuclear age, Marcuse we should remember, worked for the OSS, Mills lectured the Army, that a divergence emerged is not in dispute. The Causes of World War Three is then another extension of Weber’s multifaceted social theory and was not a ‘value-neutral’ analysis of bureaucratic organizations, nor was it written in an accepted academic form: there are no citations or references as such, possibly this was to reach towards the ‘publics’ unrepresented in academia and emblematic of Mills’ interest in Dewey, but it is worth noting that Bell’s End of Ideology apes this style to a certain perverse extent, but again even with ‘The God That Failed’ he seems unperturbed — but when he detects a social ‘thing’ centrifugally propelling towards a militarized view of reality (the “NATO intellectual” as he called them) that he senses something unsettling in America — the buy out of social science, the end of cowboys like him.

The intentions of Mill’s and Gerth’s understanding and interpretation of Weber diverges significantly from the orthodoxy that Talcott Parsons’ version and its exegesis came to represent, an aspect of which as is inferred in Burawoy’s (2007) observation that Parsons’ The Structure of Social Action (1937) was used as the foundation for what came to be known as ‘modernization theory,’ in which US society was the model to be celebrated and emulated by the rest of the world. Its other proponent Walt Rostow had the distinction of being one of the first to gain secret CIA funding. Any history of this divergence has been hampered by the denial of access and secrecy attendant in all crackpot realism. That which has been pieced together forms no part of mainstream thinking, really.

Mill’s work anticipated this in an odd way with its interpolation of aspects of that which sociology’s older generations had excluded from their acceptable canon; and not just with Veblen. In his definitive study of the sociological imagination Mills defined it in terms of classic social analysts and lists Spencer, Mannheim, Schumpeter, W. E. H. Lecky and E. A. Ross “graceful, muckraking, upright”; Ross was anathema on several levels and Mills’ list is an assortment which are not meant to be simply combined to produce the perfect sociology, the point made here is that E. A. Ross is rehabilitated and ‘muckraking’, a revealing term historically, is re-instated as sociology: thus Steffens, Tarbell, Sinclair and so on are allowed and their work counts.

The corollary of who counts is what counts and who is counting. Was Columbia really giving us a picture of reality, what was the picture of its reality, what of its research work in terms idiosyncratic work— but what of the interesting people they chucked out for no good reason, or those who they would not countenance, who, up to fairly recently would include exclusions based on anything like ethnic origin, sex etc,) who was counting what was excluded.

A conscript army had waged a world war against an Axis politically orientated towards the right. The Korean war had caused friction within the American elite: would Curtis LeMay have took it from Kennedy? If we look at Quigley’s (Eisenhower bit) account the Eisenhower administration were connected to control of McCarthy only through (Angleton or Dulles?) the far-right were causing real problems. The success of covert American intrigue in Guatemala, Iran waned sharply and the Bay of Pigs had unveiled the ‘Invisible Government’, the Bismarkian butchery — how the sausages were made and how the universities had lent a hand. Dulles brothers, Rostow modernization — it was all supposed to be so subtle and so secret — the Babylon Lottery: but think of how much we (the masses) know about the invisible government: was Mills saying we were governed by a secret elite or friends and patrons of some of his colleagues.

Mills had immediate political concerns, his work implied personal engagement in global politics (that is the problem with planning to blow up the world — it might galvanize opinion) and was more than willing to pronounce on the hypocrisy and irresponsibility of governing elites as Weber did to the Kaiser. This merging of historical and political concerns is part of Mills’ structural analysis of the concentration and integration of power and leads quite logically to an analysis of those who wield that power and specific projects — such as the Bay of Pigs covert operation or Cuban Missile Crisis.

What of our questions what did he actually say about crackpot realism? Using a Mr. Dulles as ‘so fine an exemplar’:

In crackpot realism, a high-flying moral rhetoric is joined with an opportunist crawling among a great scatter of unfocused fears and demands. In fact, the main content of “politics” is now a struggle among men equally expert in practical next steps—which, in summary, make up the thrust toward war—and in great, round, hortatory principles. But without any programme. (Mills, 1958: 90)

For Mills the crackpot realism is a term best reserved for the upper echelons, the éminences grises. The arms race steering the planet to war is caused by the definition of world reality clung to by the elites, these definitions and ideologies serve as a mask behind which “elite irresponsibility and incompetence are hidden” and are simultaneously “traps for any attempt to reason seriously and adequately about war as a political issue, and about peace as the moral keystone of a human programme.” The continual preparation for war becomes the furthering of the coinciding interests of the power elite: the centralised means of violence maintaining a planned flow of profit and providing the mask for subsidized capitalism, but it also requires a political vacuum:

“…they are able to operate as causes largely because of civilian hesitations and political vacillation. Military and corporate elites have been able to come together and share higher decisions, as well as make them separately, because of the fact of the political vacuum.” (Mills, 1958: 88)

Is the term still useful when extended beyond the Mutually Assured Destruction doctrine to the exhortions of today’s global wars.

. . . The expectation of war solves many problems of the crackpot realists; it also confronts them with many new problems. Yet these, the problems of war, often seem easier to handle. They are out in the open: to produce more, to plan how to kill more of the enemy, to move materials thousands of miles. . . . So instead of the unknown fear, the anxiety without end, some men of the higher circles prefer the simplification of known catastrophe. (Mills, 1958: 87)

For an example such as Ledeen the expectation of war is permanent: this would still seem an accurate description of Ledeen-style crackpot realism; this would still seem an accurate description of the Intelligence Summit-style crackpot realism and its underlying assumptions, and it would seem, a prediction of the very geographical subject of their realism:

. . . They know of no solutions to the paradoxes of the Middle East and Europe, the Far East and Africa except the landing of Marines. Being baffled, and also being very tired of being baffled, they have come to believe that there is no way out—except war—which would remove all the bewildering paradoxes of their tedious and now misguided attempts to construct peace. In place of these paradoxes they prefer the bright, clear problems of war—as they used to be. For they still believe that “winning” means something, although they never tell us what [. . .] Some men want war for sordid, others for idealistic, reasons; some for personal gain, others for impersonal principle. But most of those who consciously want war and accept it, and so help to create its “inevitability,” want it in order to shift the locus of their problems. (Mills, 1958: 88)

One can also see Anarchist traits in Todd Gitlin’s outline of Mill’s ‘paradoxes’:

He was a radical disabused of radical traditions, a sociologist disgruntled with the course of sociology, an intellectual frequently skeptical of intellectuals, a defender of popular action as well as a craftsman, a despairing optimist, a vigorous pessimist, and all in all, one of the few contemporaries whose intelligence, verve, passion, scope—and contradictions—seemed alive to most of the main moral and political traps of his time. (Gitlin, C. Wright Mills, Free Radical)

Mill’s statements are also paradoxes because despite (apparently) sound reasoning from acceptable premises, for some, he leads us to a conclusion that seems senseless, logically unacceptable, or self-contradictory. But it is not entirely unlike the conflict between quantum mechanics and the general theory of relativity known as the information paradox. The notion that people’s lives are not only bounded by social circumstance but deeply shaped by social forces not of their own making, has, as a consequence a tragic aspect with a social root in the failure of democracy as it has been extended in the post war years. This information paradox is artificially maintained at a very basic level, but is creaking a bit under the weight of its own remote political class. Mill’s polemical categories like “crackpot realism” and “the military metaphysic,” that need for the uniform (did Mills really advance Balzac’s character types?) have been extended by Domhoff’s empirical work on CFR comparative analysis, here crackpot realism has its institutes.

For Gitlin Mills could never consider idealism a psychiatric diagnosis, and this holds in contra-distinction to the crackpot realists. Mills stated that “way down deep and systematically I’m a goddamned anarchist,” can crackpot realists think of themselves as rebel outsiders: the Intelligence Summit is composed of outsiders, and who if they would they disagree with this — the last line in The Sociological Imagination?

Before you are through with any piece of work, no matter how indirectly on occasion, orient it to the central and continuing task of understanding the structure and the drift, the shaping and the meanings, of your own period, the terrible and magnificent world of human society in the second half of the twentieth century.

Gitlin argues that Mills’ main criticism of the two dominant tendencies of mainstream sociology focused on the “bloated puffery of Grand Theory” and the “microscopic marginality of Abstracted Empiricism”, and that these concerns are relevant to a sociology that has “slipped still deeper into the troughs Mills described”.

He would be amused at the way in which postmodernists, Marxists, and feminists have joined the former grandees of theory on their “useless heights,” claiming high seriousness as well as usefulness for their pirouettes and performances, their monastic and masturbatory exercises, their populist cheerleading, political wishfulness, and self-important grandiosity. He would not have thought Theory a serious blow against irresponsible power. I think he would have recognized the pretensions of Theory as a class-bound ideology—that of a “new class,” if you will—to be criticized just as he had exposed the supervisory ideology of the abstracted empiricists in their research teams doing the intellectual busywork of corporate and government bureaucracies. I think he would also have recognized, in the grand intellectual claims and political bravado of Theory, a sort of Leninist assumption—a dangerous one—about the irreplaceably high mission of academics.

If we see Mills as realistic and anti-crackpot in sounding the alarm about the destructive power in the hands of the American and Soviet national security establishments of yesteryear, then we might also want to acknowledge the statements he made in relation to the control of weapons of mass destruction and those who are in a position to launch them in a wider context:

Ours is not so much a time of big decisions as a time for big decisions that are not being made. A lot of bad little decisions are crippling the chances for the appropriate big ones.

Gilpin makes an observation that Mills “wrote about the Enlightenment without a sneer,” but makes the criticism that Mills probably exaggerated the unanimity of powerful groupings. Gilpin sees an extrapolation from the “prosperous, post-New Deal, liberal-statist consensus that united Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy more than it divided them” as containing an underestimation of the “potential for a conservative movement”. A political class and bureaucracy as it were. But he concedes that “about the centralization of power where it counted most, he was far more right than wrong.”

Who these men were, how they got to their commanding positions, how there had turned out to be so much at stake in their choices—there could be no more important subject for social science. Whatever the failings of Mills’ arguments in The Power Elite, his central point obtained: the power to launch a vastly murderous war existed, in concentrated form. This immense fact no paeans to pluralism could dilute.

What happens when the people with their hands on the rudder turn out to be crazy — who really wants to think about that? What was to fuel Robert MacNamara through the Vietnam war other than crackpot realism? What did Team B engage in with their fictional re-assessment of Soviet military strength? But “Realism” had early exponents in 20th-century American “Realists,” often diplomats and policy-makers like George F. Kennan and Hans Morgenthau here the Realist contends that, in a manner analogous to the laws of physics, states in the state-system must behave in certain predictable ways.

Kennan of course was, as “Mr. X” in Foreign Affairs in 1947, one of the architects of the Cold War, but quickly turned critic as Washington policy-makers turned his rather modest notion of “containment” into a militarized global crusade. The new breed of Realists, who grew up in the Cold War, were cut from different cloth. (Stromberg, Joseph (2002) ‘Crackpot Realism’ Again? November 18,

A little unpredictable there, but for Stromberg this scientism and the behaviorist orientation, both in scholarship and policy-making, are behind the phrase “crackpot realism” as an integral part of “bureaucratic rationality” which — in what you are beginning to call the ‘academic governmental complex’ — wields “abstracted empiricism” as its major tool and, and when that fails, brings in essentially empty “Grand Theory” to take up the slack in the research program.

That Grand Theory itself rested, in the end, on the same assumptions as abstracted empiricism, meant that if the latter was flawed, no serious intellectual progress could made along either path. (Stromberg, 2002)

Stromberg argues that our (the US’) present discontents, at home and abroad, are deeply rooted in:

[T]he mechanistic Anglo-American “empiricist” tradition in epistemology – from Bacon through Bentham, and on to the RAND Corporation. If, owing to various methodological assumptions, no questions can ever arise about the morality or practicality of US (or any power’s) imperial hegemony, there will certainly be a field day for those who can treat the whole thing as a merely technical exercise in giving advice to power. This is why we talk about a State-Military-Industrial-University Complex.

Mills witnessed the first time in American history when men in authority were talking about an ’emergency,’ and all that implies, without a foreseeable end. The only seriously accepted plan for peace was war or a high state of war preparedness that is now felt to be the normal permanent condition of the United States. The constant lookout for future wealth and privilege has rendered the lessons of the past – or any talk about them – irrelevant. In the name of realism men in authority have “constructed a paranoid reality all their own; in the name of practicality they have projected a utopian image of capitalism.” America is the leader of the Free World made to conform to the image of freedom as devised by a small elite.


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