The Fourth Epoch: Epilogue to the Unfinished Social Philosophy of C. Wright Mills

Donald Clark Hodges (1969) Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 29, No. 3.

The New Sociology is the tag given by Irving Louis Horowitz to the recent revival of large-scale, comparative and historical research in sociology pioneered by C. Wright Mills.1 As an international or global enterprise, it represents a renascence of the classic tradition in social philosophy of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a return to the mainstream and seminal concerns of Spencer, Marx, Durkheim, Weber, Mosca, Pareto, Mannheim and others. The increasing specialization of sociology during the past twenty-five years has sundered its connections with philosophy and with the humanistic ethos underlying the major efforts of sociologists in the past. As Mills saw it, sociology had become divided between professional zombies, IBM technicians and abstract statisticians, representing the main thrust of our universities and research institutes, and the conceptual fetishists or devotees of pure theory divorced from any reality except that of their own fanciful paper constructions.2 If we are looking for wisdom or knowledge relevant to significant human purposes and practices, this second style of sociological research is no more philosophical than the first.

It was Mills’ contention that the abstract empiricism of research technicians and the empty rationalism of speculative or grand theorists were each expressions of the bureaucratic ethos that has permeated the higher learning. These bureaucratic styles of research he characterized as either safe by trivialization or empty through formalization. The big money for research tends to be funneled into methodological investigations, where the tools of the profession become so overrefined that they cease to have significant social applications or are otherwise applied in ultrascientific fashion to small-scale problems of almost exclusive interest to the endowing enterprises and foundations. Support is also available for model-building at so general a level of abstraction that there is likewise little prospect of learning from its application anything important about human behavior or the direction of contemporary events. In effect, Mills’ third camp in sociology was a protest against the technological and conceptual ponderosity of the new obscurantism disguised as scientific research. And in these respects it paralleled Leslie White’s revival of a comparable tradition in anthropology, and Abraham Maslow’s Third Force preparing the foundations of a humanistic psychology.3

For a while, in an effort to steer a middle course between the Scylla of small group theory and the Charybdis of oracular social philosophies, sociologists turned their attention to the solution of middle-range problems such as studies of particular economic, political and religious institutions. But their investigations took for granted that these problems were soluble in abstraction from other dimensions and currents of social behavior and, secondly, that such autonomous research would pave the way eventually to a concerted collective assault upon more significant targets. 4 This piecemeal approach to large-scale theorizing never got off the ground floor. In practice, middle-range theory turned into an elaborate system of bookkeeping which was more descriptive than explanatory. With miniature sociological studies it shared features of bureaucratic exclusiveness or an inability to step across professional boundaries, and of bureaucratic torpor or blindness to the vital need for policies predicated upon knowledge of the prospects, directions and agencies of social change. It dealt with scattered problems in a fragmentary way. Pretending to be autonomously complete, middle-range investigations altogether failed to grasp the connections between the specific and the general, face-to-face behavior and the overall system. Instead of a via media between two extremes, it was incapable either of integrating or shifting back and forth between small group behavior, middle level institutions, and the macroscopic confrontations of power elites and power blocs.5

In a word, middle-range theory was unphilosophical in forfeiting the quest for a scientific overview and in abandoning the tasks of counsel in a world filled with turmoil. As I have said, it was no less bureaucratic than its rivals, except that it operated on middle ground between them. It took a moderator’s position in a debate between two extreme styles of research, when the crying need was to step outside the bureaucratic framework altogether.

At this juncture the New Sociology stepped in not so much to fill the gap as to integrate sociological research at several levels. 6 It is philosophical in a double sense of being interdisciplinary without being eclectic or vacuously pluralistic, and in its design for a policy science that will be humanitarian as well as humanistic. The orientation of the New Sociology is directed to changing the world as well as explaining it. Mills’ finished and unfinished writings pose two basic sets of problems: (1) What are the dominant ingredients in the mixture of structures, tendencies and agencies of change characterizing the present epoch, i.e., where do we stand, where are we going, and why? and (2) how can we shape the present as history in order to make it more viable for ourselves and others? 7 These problems, uniting both theory and practice, require for their solution an historical sociology that is also a philosophy of history, and the formulation of a policy science founded upon a science of human behavior.


The bureaucratization of sociology was for Mills a concomitant expression of the general tendency towards the bureaucratization of societies during what he envisioned as the Fourth Epoch or successor to the Modem Age. It is hard to believe that Mills, skeptical of conventional stereotypes as he was, could have adopted the traditional periodization of history into Ancient, Medieval and Modern.8 Although these divisions correspond roughly to Marx’s three epochs of slavery, feudalism and capitalism, they are not defined in exclusively economic terms. Marx’s assumption that work relationships condition in the last analysis both political and military behavior was unacceptable to Mills in view of the increasing role of the modern State in regulating economic life. At the same time, the belief that the labor movement was the primary agency of social change was ridiculed by Mills as historically unwarranted and tantamount to a labor metaphysic The Fourth Epoch is to be understood in terms of the Third Epoch from which it sprang. In economic terms the Third Epoch covers the period of the commercial and industrial revolutions and the birth and flowering of modern capitalism; in political terms it represents the rise of the nation-state; in military terms, the emergence of armies based on industrial technology and mass consumption; in social terms, the epoch of the old middle class or bourgeoisie; in cultural terms, the Renaissance followed by the Enlightenment.9 The Third Epoch gave way to the Fourth because of the accumulation, concentration and centralization of the means of power in economic, political and military institutions.10 In the process of enlarging and coordinating new means of power, small businessmen and free professionals belonging to the lower strata of the old middle class were displaced by a salaried professional and technical intelligentsia, whose top members in the military and political directorate have combined with business executives to form a new power elite. “- At the same time the effects of bureaucracy upon culture led to the suspension of critical intelligence and freedom, and the abdication of a Renaissance philosophy of man in favor of a bureaucratic rationality without reason.12

Mills’ closest followers have interpreted his Fourth Epoch mainly in cultural terms. In the concluding essay of The New Sociology, Byron Fox notes that the Fourth Epoch results from a collapse of the two principal ideologies characteristic of the modern world – liberalism and socialism.13 Similarly, Horowitz in his Introduction to the same volume interprets it as the successor not of capitalism but of the culture of the Enlightenment which symbolizes the Third Epoch.14 The Fourth Epoch derives from the ideological tensions generated by the two seemingly incompatible doctrines of liberalism and socialism, but is also predicated upon Mills’ distinction between industrial and postindustrial societies.15 Mills himself was largely responsible for this equivocation. As we shall see, the Fourth Epoch is defined by Mills in the following terms. First, he stresses the bureaucratization of both capitalism and communism, a U.S./U.S.S.R. parallelism leading to bureaucratic industrialism rather than communism as the political economy of post-bourgeois society. This is Mills’ variant of Weber’s thesis concerning a bureaucratic wave of the future and of the Heilbroner-Rostow-Kerr convergence theory. The second factor is the ascendancy of the military and political over the economic or technocratic wings of the bureaucracies in each country. Third, Mills uses a Three-World framework of political-military blocs within which the decisive conflict is not between East and West, but between the economically advanced and increasingly overdeveloped countries of North America, Western Europe and the Soviet Union, and the underdeveloped, colonial and neocolonial countries. Fourth, he notes the increasing irrelevance of humanism and its ideologies of liberalism and socialism to the problems, pivotal events, decisive trends and practical choices of a bureaucratized world. To this list could also be added a fifth factor, the de facto sovereignty of a power elite increasingly recruited from the top echelons of the new middle class. Here, however, we are drawing upon Mills’ earlier work to characterize the social dimension of his Fourth Epoch. ‘


Fundamental to Mills’ new epoch is its overriding bureaucratic character. He takes for granted Weber’s definition of bureaucracy in terms of fixed jurisdictions, rights and duties; hierarchical subordination and levels of graded authority ensuring the supervision of lower offices by higher ones; administration on the basis of written documents; professionalization and specialization of functions; administration by full- time officials; and office management conformable to stable and general rules of procedure which can be learned. 16 These characteristics of bureaucracy Mills summarizes under the heading of rationality or rationalization – the technical precision, speed, impersonality, continuity, unambiguity, calculation of results, and adaptation of means to authoritative ends effected through fixed jurisdictions, hierarchical sub- ordination, etc.17 In this sense, the growth of bureaucracy is not to be feared by anyone. In fact, the principal explanation of its advance is its obvious technical superiority over all rival forms of organization.18 As noted by Weber, bureaucratic structures bring about a concentration of the material means of administration and violence in the hands of a master.19 This master may be either outside and independent of the bureaucracy or its top administrative personnel. During the Modem Age the master was either an absolute monarch or capitalist entrepreneur. But now a Fourth Epoch is concentrating and centralizing control of production, administration and violence within the bureaucracy itself.20 Marx’s emphasis upon the concentration and centralization of capital is shown to be a special case of a more universal trend. For the wage earner is not alone in losing control over his materials, instruments and place of work; the office worker is similarly separated from the tools of administration, and the soldier from the means of violence. Already the political bureaucracies of the modern State have socialized or nationalized the symbols of authority and weapons of destruction. Consequently, the socialization of the means of production is tantamount to the total bureaucratization of society in its economic as well as political and military dimensions. Although such concentr tion and centralization is close to being total, Mills hesitated to call it totalitarian. Instead, the latter term is reserved for a monopoloid capitalism of the fascist type.21

For the most part Mills wavers between Weber’s pessimistic forecasts and Marx’ optimistic vision of a new society. Just as industrialization has increased the gap between economically advanced and underdeveloped countries, so bureaucratization has increased the gap between power elites and the comparatively impotent masses of the most advanced nations. In this view the labor movement and wage earners generally are becoming increasingly powerless vis-A-vis an almost but not quite omnipotent bureaucratic elite. In the Weberian theory political and corporate bureaucracies are in process of organizing under their control the whole of industrial activity. Efforts to resist from below the operation of Michels’ iron law of oligarchy are thus destined to failure. The question of domination, whether by the old capitalist or new middle class, is less decisive for an understanding of Mills’ Fourth Epoch than the question of the degree of bureaucratization. Consequently, the distinction between qualitatively different bureaucracies, such as state capitalist or state socialist, becomes of secondary importance compared to the concentration and centralization of power over human affairs. Instead of class struggle of the 19th century variety, we now live under the invisible dictatorship of a power elite. On the visible middle-levels of power, issues of limited scope are debated which seldom touch directly upon the crucial questions of foreign policy and structural economic, social and political reform. It is here that the public image prevails of countervailing powers, veto groups, checks and balances, civil rights and all-around compromise. 22 At the middle levels of power where competition between and within political parties continues to operate, where Congressional debates and resolutions make political news and capture the public eye, the ideology of classical liberalism is still something less than fanciful. Here, too, we find the locus of class struggle between labor unions and management for a bigger slice of the national product, with middle-ranking political functionaries acting as mediators. But this competitive, parliamentary, liberal and civil rights sector is not only divided against itself, but also weak and defenseless against the top-level powers concentrated and centralized in Mills’ ruling bureaucracy. Since social dissent has become peripheral to the centers of power, its objective function is little more than ceremonial. What still survives of 19th century liberalism is the parliamentary ritual and rhetoric.

The picture Mills paints of the structure of power in American society can now be summarized. Briefly, it consists of three layers representing, first, the power oligopoly of the leading economic, political and military establishments; second, competition between middle management, elected officials, small businessmen, professional associates and other organized publics over matters either of secondary importance or ritualistic significance for the exercise of power; and third, the political fragmentation and almost total powerlessness of undifferentiated masses at the bottom.23

Mills’ projection of a bureaucratic evolution overshadowing the competition between different types of society incorporates with significant qualifications Bruno Rizzi’s theory of bureaucratic collectivism, James Burnham’s theory of managerial revolution, and subsequent theories of managerial evolution. Against Trotsky’s thesis of a degenerate workers’ state in the U.S.S.R., Rizzi and Burnham argued that the Soviet Union represented the regime of a new social class that was neither bourgeois nor proletarian, a new epochal order of society that was neither capitalist nor socialist.24 Partly under Veblen’s influence, Burnham identified the New Class with production managers, industrial experts and skilled technologists.25 On the other hand, Rizzi gave prominence to the political and military wings of the bureaucracy. Here we begin to see the advantages of Mills’ formulation in which the New Epoch includes Rizzi’s and Burnham’s models as special cases, with one important qualification that neither the bureaucracy as a whole nor any of its parts constitutes a new social class.26 On the contrary, the bureaucratization of society signifies the displacement of class competition by bureaucratic struggles at higher, middle and lower levels of decision-making.27 Unlike the revisionists of Trotskyism, Mills argues that the new epoch, far from requiring the supersession of capitalism by a new mode of production, is compatible with the coexistence of both state-capitalist and communist bureaucracies.28 As Horowitz tells us, Mills was interested in producing a monograph on “The Parallel: U.S. and U.S.S.R.” 29 Not that Mills was unaware of the profound differences between the two. But he believed that their different modes of production were compelling each, because of competition and Cold War, to increase the pace of bureaucratization and to adopt similar forms of total organization.30 Politically, geographically and ethnically both the U.S. and U.S.R.R. are superstates unlike the nation-states that dominated European politics during the Modem Age. In both countries economic development has become a fetish. Each is dominated by a power triad representing the bureaucracies of industry, government and military. Neither consumers’ sovereignty nor workers’ control is a faithful portrait of virtual corporate dictatorship in the U.S. and Party dictation in the U.S.S.R. The two-party, like the one-party, state is responsible to a bureaucratic elite instead of the mass of party members and ordinary citizens.

Mills’ thesis of a U.S./U.S.S.R. parallelism runs counter to earlier theories of managerialism and bureaucratic collectivism in affirming the coexistence of two different models of industrialization and industrial society – the classic way of capitalism and the new model of communism. Following Robert Heilbroner, Mills notes that communism is neither a successor to capitalism nor germinated within it, but a substitute peculiar to underdeveloped countries in their race to catch up with the West.31 Thus in place of the Rizzi-Burnham theory of bureaucratic succession, he offers us a convergence theory along the familiar lines developed by W. W. Rostow and Clark Kerr.32


The dominant bureaucratic structures of the Third and Fourth Epochs are functions, as we have seen, of economic, political and military variables. But Mills assigns a different weight to each in different historical periods. From the French Revolution to the First World War the pivotal events are most effectively explained in terms of economic variables, although the cultural determinism of liberal philosophies of history must also be considered.33 However, Mills believed that in the midtwentieth century political and military variables were in the ascendancy. The structure of capitalism had been so transformed since Marx’s time as to require a new assessment of the causal weight of economic institutions. Bearing in mind those countries where communist parties have a monopoly of power, the increasing interference of government in the economics of advanced capitalist societies and the even more pronounced role of the State throughout the underdeveloped world, Mills believed that political institutions may not only modify but also determine the organization of production.34 With the expansion of State powers, economic interests are gradually overridden. Economics is far from being an open sesame to the understanding of total social structures, in Mills’ view, and to suppose so is to become involved in Marxist oversimplifications concerning the role of the labor movement and class struggles in bringing about a new social order.

Although Mills denied any intention of replacing economic determinism by a political or military determinism, he does argue for the supersession of economic variables in explaining the master trends of the Fourth Epoch. His point is that the causal weights of different factors are not subject to any historically universal rule, but must be independently assessed in the light of each country and each historical period.35 The welfare state of the midtwentieth century, for example, is not determined by the mode of production, just as the possibilities of political history-making and structural reforms within capitalism are greater than Marx supposed within the limits of his somewhat narrow framework. 36 Capitalists have more political control over economic affairs than formerly, which enables them to perpetuate their influence and to forestall Marxist anticipations of industrial crises and economic misrule. Under political capitalism as well as communism according to Mills, the prime agency of historic change is less the economic base in Marx’s sense than the force of economic and political institutions working together.

Among the variables basic to his Fourth Epoch, political differences tend to overshadow conflicts of economic interests. Nationalism and nationalist rivalries since World War I have completely disrupted the class solidarity and vaunted workers’ internationalism of the Second and Third Internationals. Mills notes that politically and militarily organized supranational forces currently exercise greater influence over Marx’s wage earners than the economic interests that once held them together.37 Political and military institutions now reshape both the consciousness of men and the alliances between them. Economic differences are now greater between countries than between classes, thus contributing to divisions within the world labor movement and to tendencies toward class compromise. In Mills’ judgment, class struggle does not prevail and is fast becoming an historical relic; conflicts of economic interests are now institutionalized and bureaucratically resolved; and the labor movement is no longer the central agency of social change.38 In searching for a key to his Fourth Epoch, Mills turns from Marx’s “labor metaphysic” to the prospect of war as the most likely outcome of the parallel existence of the American and Soviet types of political economy. In these two countries he finds the leading bureaucrats to be virtually possessed by a martial outlook.39 Policymaking is for the most part determined by military variables; the threat of violence and the balance of fright are considered the decisive factors behind the play of current events. Mills singles out the arms race as the master line of action pursued by the bureaucratic elites of the two superpowers, a line independent of any economic or political goal. The accumulation of military might has become not only an end in itself, but also the ascendant purpose in other areas of decision making. Economic and political interests are subordinated to, and judged in terms of, their relevance to military actualities and possibilities.40 Thus, despite Mills awareness of significant differences between Soviet and American imperialism, both are explained in military rather than economic terms.

We have Mills to thank for dissecting and criticizing the self-alienation and crackpot realism of the military metaphysicians. Unlike his pree-minently theoretical criticism of Marx’s “labor metaphysic,” his criticism of the military perspective is presented in practical terms. Believing that a military catastrophe of world dimensions had ceased to be a vague possibility and was becoming a clear and present danger, Mills focused upon the warlords’ -penetration of political and diplomatic circles. He found that they had worked their way into the higher echelons of the big corporations, had profoundly influenced the direction of technology and scientific work, had transformed the universities into research appendages of the military, and had successfully entered the field of public relations and propaganda – all because the momentous decisions of this century had become international ones. 41 If Mills is right, a major characteristic of the epoch we have just entered is the primacy of military policy over domestic politics. And this means not only that the economics and politics of foreign relations are increasingly decided in terms of a military metaphysic, but that domestic policy likewise has become instrumental in reinforcing military goals.

Mills’ reflections on the role of military variables in the Fourth Epoch have been expanded by Horowitz and raised to the status of an explicit military determinism. Some variables are capable of explaining a greater degree of variance than others: in sixteenth-century Italy they were political factors; in eighteenth-century England they were economic ones; and in the twentieth century they are military ones.42 Today we witness a tendency for local conflicts to become subordinated to international configurations of power. In underdeveloped countries especially these conflicts tend to come under external, foreign management. Communist subversion is fundamentally political in character, although it is becoming increasingly military in response to foreign sponsored counter-insurgency and the forcible suppression of popular movements. It is the new U.S. imperialism with its nonrecognition of national boundaries and its global commitments that is rapidly militarizing directly or indirectly the entire world.43

In underdeveloped countries the price of U.S. economic assistance is all too frequently political reaction. Military aid goes to suppress national liberation movements including, in the case of the Dominican Republic, even liberal efforts at reform. Horowitz offers Latin America as a prime example of the extent to which native military forces determine the outcome of politics in the Third World. Besides the recent emergence of military dictatorships in Indonesia, Algeria and sub-Saharan Africa, in Latin America seven countries during the past decade have experienced one or more military coups (Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Honduras), while three others suffered under continuous military domination (Paraguay, Haiti, Nicaragua). 44 Current U.S. policies of military globalism may have operated behind the scenes in more than one instance. Horowitz’ point is that native armed forces can be readily seduced by the promise of foreign military aid and that American legitimation of limited war justifies both non- intervention in the case of military coups and unlimited intervention against popular-based movements.


In view of Mills’ parallelism thesis and the increasing militarization as well as bureaucratization of the two superblocs, the fundamental politico-economic and military cleavage in the world today is not that between East and West. Instead of competing only with each other whether directly or for the allegiance of the rest of the world, the giant powers must also compete separately with their dwarflike cousins to the South. Here a color barrier reinforces the economic differences between the NATO powers and their colonial, neocolonial and excolonial past and present subjects. Fidel Castro in his 2nd Declaration of Havana was perhaps the first contemporary statesman to give prominence to the racial issue in the North-South antagonism between developed and underdeveloped countries. The mestizos of America, Africa and Asia, “Che” Guevara notes with animus, have not had the good fortune of being born from blond, Anglo-Saxon parents. This remark, which is reproduced in the final selection of his book on The Marxists, leads Mills to argue that Marxism must now embrace theories of under- developed countries as well as those of Soviet-type and advanced capitalist regimes.45

At the time of his death, Mills was turning from studies of the bureaucratic elites of the Big Two to a closer examination of autonomous developments in the Third World. His book on Cuba was only a beginning. Yet it brought him from the position of the European third force into the stance of the New Left which has its basis in the Third World. The propositions of classical Marxism had been de-Europeanized by the guerillas of the Sierra Maestra and permitted to revolutionize the countryside in defiance of the urban outlook of Marxists and revisionists alike. Horowitz tells us that the book Mills was preparing on The New Left was intended as a basis of a new political sociology. 46 In his uncompleted manuscripts Mills notes that the great contest between American capitalism and Russian communism is likely to be decided in favor of the latter, but that a still greater contest is taking place between the Second and Third Worlds.47 Although the New Left had yet to become a sect in America, it was the prevailing mood of those new nations leaning in the direction of socialism but away from involvement in the Cold War. And to Mills it promised a brave new world, opening new possibilities for growth and experimental syntheses with the advanced technology and humane elements of the old.48

The three-world framework of Mills’ projected comparative and international sociology can be traced to these features of his own de-Europeanization. His hope that underdeveloped countries would free themselves from tutelage to North American and Soviet models led him to formulate a third way to industrialization in which the entire range of practical alternatives might be compared and their respective costs and benefits weighed in the balance. His objection to the Soviet model was that its costs outweighed the benefits to the living, if not those who came after. Workers in communist countries have been struggling to achieve a consumer’s paradise, a giant department store where they can buy the things of which they dream. But this is precisely the American model of an overdeveloped society in which the means of consumption are so plentiful that life is dominated by a struggle for status in the objects consumed. 49 Here fashion is queen and planned obsolescence is a central feature of the competition between styles of living. The properly developing society in which men are dominated neither by invidious competition for status nor by struggle for a minimum standard of decency would permit a reasonable choice among several styles of life free from the artificially cultivated fetishism of fashion and consumption for its own sake.50 Only by this road, Mills believed, would the benefits of economic development more than match its dehumanizing costs. It was the path actually chosen by Cuba and it was also to be found in Yugoslavia. The Green Revolution was Cuba’s name for it; socialist humanism was another.

Mills’ tripartite division of the world was predicated upon a model of the historical stages of economic growth within which the fundamental cleavage is between the overdeveloped societies of the North Atlantic community and the underdeveloped societies throughout the greater part of the globe. Somewhere in between he located the Soviet bloc. For Mills the Soviet Union seems to have telescoped underdevelopment, balanced or proper development, and overdevelopment.51 In the Russian countryside the search for subsistence is still dominant; in the activities of the Soviet cultural apparatus a widening of the choices for decision- making resembles a properly developing society; and in the Soviet government and Party apparatus a bureaucratic style of life has emerged which, contrary to Isaac Deutscher and many Western observers, represents features of the overdeveloped rather than the underdeveloped society.

Even more basic than these economic criteria was Mills’ classification in terms of continental power blocs: Western, Soviet bloc, and Third World. Although his major sociological effort remained unfinished, he left us with at least one statement of his principal units of investigation. The three major components of the world’s social structure during the Fourth Epoch were explicitly identified with the nations, first, of West Europe and North America; second, of the Soviet bloc; and third, of the underdeveloped regions.52 To be sure, some ambiguity remains. Is or is not China, for example, a member of the Soviet bloc? Is the Soviet bloc exactly coterminous with the Warsaw Pact nations? Are the non- NATO countries of Western Europe members of a Western power bloc? And so on.

These and other unanswered questions are taken up by Horowitz in an attempt to develop and reformulate the germs of Mills’ new sociology. The crucial variables defining the scope of Mills’ three worlds of development are identified with the military-political elements of power.53 The basic concept is that of power bloc.54 Like Mills, Horowitz is convinced of the overriding military character of the Big Two and of the predominance within their ruling circles of a military metaphysic. But unlike Mills, he includes independent as well as nonaligned and non- satellite nations within the Third World instead of restricting its membership to underdeveloped nations. And this makes the Third World an even more likely candidate for the role of intercessor, moderator and guarantor of peace in the world today.55

Independence of Cold War issues rather than economic underdevelopment is a sufficient condition of membership in the Third World according to this interpretation. Thus marginal membership is assigned to countries as dissimilar as China and Canada, Yugoslavia and Sweden. 56 As aligned but nonetheless independent, China belongs to the Third World, whereas on political and ideological grounds it belongs to the Second World.57 The non-NATO countries of Western Europe are likewise gravitating towards the Third World. Even countries within NATO are showing their independence, notably France and Canada, while some signatories to the Warsaw Pact, like Poland and Romania, are believed to be operating largely within a Third World orbit.58 In this admittedly amorphous collection of nations we find represented every continental area, economic system and ideological commitment. Most of the nations and over two-thirds of the earth’s people are given Third World membership. Presumably, the one basic feature they share in common is more important than their many differences. Beneath the fog of competing ideologies and economic systems we find the convergence of martially-oriented, permanent-war economies on the one hand, and peaceful, nonaligned, independent nations on the other.59


In his lengthy chapter on machinery and modern industry in the first volume of Capital, Marx describes how the intelligence and freedom of independent craftsmen are transferred in the process of industrialization to the gigantic physical forces concentrated in the factory mechanism. The scientific skills embodied in machinery displace the reasoning process of the individual workman, who likewise loses his freedom by becoming a mere appendage instead of the master of the machinery he tends. In effect, his reason and freedom are expropriated by the technocratic powers and organization of modern industry.

A similar process takes place with the bureaucratization of cultural life. Among the master tendencies of Mills’ Fourth Epoch is the transfer of the conditions of cultural decision-making from artists to businessmen and political overseers. By the dehumanization of the individual Mills meant his loss of reason and freedom, which is perhaps most evident in the areas of education, communication and research. In the over- developed society not only are ordinary individuals confronted by a monopolization of news media and means of expression, by the subordination of formal learning to the requirements of corporate, political and military establishments, but intellectuals likewise are losing control over the means of culture production through the expropriation of their cultural apparatus.60 The bureaucratization of culture has brought to the forefront the administrative intellectuals engaged in war-relevant social research; the commercialization of knowledge is rivalled only by its nationalization.61 Like the tender of machines, the cultural workman has become an adjunct instead of the master of his occupational tools. Increasingly, he neither owns his own product nor engages in independent research. The intellectual debates and pivotal decisions are left to others, while he produces culture according to orders.

In some respects the individual is as free and reasonable as before. He continues to make choices and to deliberate about alternatives. But the choices are trivialized and the alternatives are circumscribed. Freedom, as Mills defined it, is not merely the opportunity to choose between alternatives handed down by others. It includes the power to formulate alternatives, to debate them, and only afterwards the right to choose.62 The extent of human freedom is conditioned by the scope and powers allowed to individual reasoning. In the bureaucratized society where culture-making decisions are made from on top, freedom and rationality are likewise centered in bureaucratic elites instead of ordinary citizens. Cultural workmen, too, are dispossessed, which contributes to their alienation and culminates in their withdrawal from public life. 63 As Mills viewed the effects of bureaucratization upon the alienated individual, the Fourth Epoch poses a major threat to cherished values. The humanist tradition in the West, the ideal of Renaissance Man, and the optimistic outlook and faith in human progress transmitted by the Enlightenment are imperilled by the tendency of contemporary corporate, political and military structures to germinate organization men.

Promethean defiance of the bureaucratic Establishment has abdicated to the complacency of the Cheerful Robot, whose rationality is without reason and whose programmed choices lack freedom.64 In their classic 19th century formulations both liberalism and socialism embodied the assurances and expectations of the humanist ideals of Greece and Rome. Both were originally insurgent creeds of classes and parties on the road to power; yet each has become the empty rhetoric of bureaucracies in now consolidated economic and political systems.65 Their crises of disillusionment and increasing irrelevancy as adequate explanations of contemporary events are symptoms of the decline of that past epoch, which is anachronistically called the Modem Age.66

In Mills’ terms, the issue between liberalism and socialism or classical Marxism is over cultural and political philosophies rather than rival politico-economic systems.67 Liberalism is, of course, the older, having reached its ascendancy in the 18th century, whereas socialism was not to emerge as a major ideology until the middle of the following century. The year 1848 represents a watershed between a liberalism that was about to exhaust itself and the new socialist ideology. Although both are typically modern, liberalism continues to lag culturally behind socialism. Yet Mills believed that the most viable and enduring features of liberalism had become incorporated into classical Marxism, i.e., the furtherance of reason through economic planning and of freedom through the abolition of exploitation.68

The contemporary crisis in humanism over which Mills was sorely troubled involved a double challenge. In practical terms, the individual’s abdication of freedom and reason to giant organizations meant that history-making had become the prerogative of bureaucratic elites unresponsive to humanistic goals; and theoretically speaking, it meant that Victorian Marxism and the liberalism of John Locke and the figures of the Enlightenment had failed to describe accurately, to explain and predict the master trends of tomorrow. The official liberalism of the overdeveloped society came increasingly to disguise the actual state of affairs. It was so rigid, monolithic and subservient to reactionary policies at home and abroad that there was no longer any hope for it. At the same time, Mills found that bureaucratic Marxism, Soviet style, was under pressure from revisionist and liberalizing tendencies throughout the underdeveloped countries and Eastern Europe. Thus, although each had become bureaucratized during the Fourth Epoch, in Mills’ opinion Marxism rather than liberalism offered a more viable form of humanism. Since the death of Stalin socialism had become, once again, a liberating creed. The breakup of orthodoxy among Marxists had made socialism increasingly relevant to the Third World, where it is now the dominant ideology. In sharp contrast to the dehumanization and de facto conservatism of the liberal rhetoric and the dogmas of Soviet Marxism, socialism has been given a new lease on life in areas where it was least expected. Both practically and theoretically it became attuned to new developments, rejecting Marx’s “labor metaphysic” for the agency of a New Left, the young intelligentsia of students, journalists and professors all over the world who derived their inspiration from de-Stalinization and from radicalizing tendencies within the developing nations.69 The question was whether to apply the term ‘socialism’ to these emergent forces. They were certainly not Marxist, except under pain of distorting intellectual history and adopting the certainties of a dead orthodoxy. 70 Defined in terms of ideals, the Third World might well qualify as socialist; by the criterion of public ownership of the means of production, however, we should have to designate it by another term. Mills hesitated to become embroiled in a verbal controversy over the uses and misuses of the term ‘socialism.’ 71 Nevertheless, consistency should have led him to argue that socialism, like Marxism, belonged to a bygone age.


In criticizing Mills we are at a disadvantage in not knowing how he might have developed his epochal sociology. Even so, the outlines are clear. Since its fundamental propositions were formulated before his death, they can be criticized in full force. The basic limitations of his model are the following: first, the overriding wave of the future is not bureaucracy in general but the displacement of capitalist by socialist bureaucracies in particular; second, the tendency for the military wing of bureaucracies to dictate policy to the political and industrial wings is peculiar to capitalist bureaucracies only, while a military metaphysic is definitely alien to the bureaucratic elites of the socialist powers; third, a Three-World framework is misleading because in fact there are only two power blocs, two socioeconomic systems and corresponding international economies, the capitalist and socialist ones; and fourth, the so-called crisis of contemporary humanism is a crisis within liberalism rather than socialism, while the germs of a New Left come not from any Third World but from movements of national liberation in the very bowels of the First.

These criticisms may seem anticlimactical since they would obviously restore the Two-World framework that Mills struggled so valiantly to demolish. The new sociology represents an effort to have the best of both worlds without being politically committed to either. The question, however, is whether the evidence points in the direction of socialism, to a convergence of socialist and capitalist modes of production and forms of bureaucratization, or to the eventual ascendancy of a Third World.

The concept of a Fourth Epoch, we have seen, is basically a function of two variables: bureaucratization and industrialization. But industrialization is no more unique to the Modem Age than bureaucratization is peculiar to its successor. In the first place, industrialization and bureaucratization began in the Third and continue to develop within the Fourth Epoch; bureaucratization is not the child of industrialization but its companion in arms. Secondly, the Modem Age is coextensive with capitalism in its mercantile as well as industrial phases; after all, the Commercial Revolution preceded the Industrial Revolution by more than a century. Thirdly, the motor of social change in these two revolutions was profit-making, and the agency was the capitalist or middle class. Fourthly, the capitalist class has given way to a new middle stratum of autonomous and salaried bureaucrats, who are nonetheless proletarians in one of Marx’s special senses. Fifthly, the pivotal events of the New Age, beginning with the October Revolution of 1917, include the autonomous Yugoslav, Vietnamese, Chinese and Cuban revolutions as well as the socialization of the occupied countries of Eastern Europe. Sixthly, for the past fifty years history-making in the West has consisted largely of a series of responses to the Russian Revolution and its gathering influence in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Seventhly, during this brief period socialism has steadily encroached upon the capitalist world market, until we can say with Mills that capitalism is currently losing the struggle to retain its European and North American supremacy. We might also cite the superior growth rates of socialist countries, their capacity to develop without the artificial stimulus of a permanent war economy, and the increasing appeal of socialism to the underdeveloped sectors of world capitalism. Although highly selective, these data focus upon the most important events of the New Age, pivotal in the sense of influential upon the actual making of history.

And in view of these basic trends, the wave of the future is not unqualified bureaucratization but socialization, with all that this implies for human freedoms.

Let us consider next Mills’ second thesis concerning the dominance of a military metaphysic and the special weight assigned to military variables in explaining pivotal events of the Fourth Epoch. Mills lays himself open to two major criticisms: first, although the military metaphysic characterizes Western societies, it comes under daily public and official censure within the Soviet bloc; second, even in the West the evidence indicates that military variables are less influential than economic ones in the formulation of long-range policies.

It is difficult to understand how or why Mills let himself be deceived by Western journalism concerning alleged Soviet military intentions. Since October 1917, the Soviet Union has deluged the West with antiwar, antiimperialist and peace propaganda that has no parallel in previous history. It took the initiative in seeking collective security agreements during the 30’s and only as a last resort, after being snubbed by England and France, did it seek temporary relief in the Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact of 1939. Its three-months war with Finland was fought for limited military objectives designed to strengthen the defenses of Leningrad, and left Finland still a sovereign state capable of waging a second war against the Soviet Union from 1941 to 1945. The contrast between Tsarist policies toward Finland and Poland and those of the Soviet Union suggests that military variables have been far less influential than heretofore in determining Soviet relations with these two countries. It was an alliance of Western capitalist powers that invaded the Soviet Union in June, 1941, and Finland, Hungary and Rumania along with Italy joined Germany in this campaign. Unlike the United States and token forces representing other Western powers, the Soviet Union remained aloof from the Korean War. And the Warsaw Pact was signed more than six years after the consummation of the NATO bloc on April 4, 1949, and then only in direct response to the incorporation of the German Federal Republic into NATO and the resurgence of a German army commanded by former Hitler generals.

Underlying the Soviet Union’s remarkable peace record, which has yet to be emulated by any comparable Western power, are the built-in obstacles to armaments production typical of socialist economies still geared to primitive capital accumulation. Unlike the United States, the high economic growth rates of socialist countries are not dependent upon production for waste. On the contrary, wealth in the form of military hardware fails to reenter the cycle of production; consequently it interferes with the process of capital accumulation and seriously obstructs Soviet economic efforts to catch up to and surpass the United States. Lingering memories of the 20 million Soviet casualties suffered during World War II have resulted in widespread fear of war and abhorrence for the symbols of violence throughout the Soviet bloc. Even war toys are either not manufactured at all or limited to one or two noiseless models with a limited circulation.

Mills was also mistaken concerning the pivotal role of military variables and military decision-making within the United States. That war-contract awards in 1958 were close to 50 billion dollars is evidence of the business interests served through defense spending. Guaranteed markets and profitable investment outlets are tied to an expanding war economy – and Mills says as much in discussing the economic benefits of brinkmanship and continual war preparation.72 Military intervention and threats to intervene are used to forestall confiscation of U.S. properties abroad or otherwise to obtain adequate compensation. In order to establish his case for the primacy of military variables Mills would have to show that most foreign and domestic policy-making is pursued for some other purpose than maintaining the operation of a capitalist economy. He did not do this nor is it likely he could have done so. A militarily dominated economy would be self-defeating almost by definition, since failure by the military to give preeminence to economic considerations encourages overcomitment and the pursuit of military objectives at any price. In the long run, militarism spells the fall of Empire, and there is little indication as yet, despite the high cost of death in Southeast Asia, that the United States has reached this impasse. Although Mills makes a strong case for the increasing autonomy of the military in American life, he overreaches himself in trying to establish its hegemony. He gives us not just a strong and convincing argument for military materialism, but also an almost completely unsubstantiated one for military determinism. An exaggerated emphasis upon questions of power and a corresponding neglect of the economic conditions and limits of policymaking led him to impute irrationalities to the military ends served by our economy far in excess of those actually existing. In developing Mills’ Three-World framework, Horowitz’ crucial mistake is also to overrate political and especially military variables. The nonaligned position of certain underdeveloped countries and their disengagement from military blocs defines for Horowitz their membership in a Third World, while their mixed economies are only auxiliary in reinforcing an independent position between capitalism and socialism .

The leading nations formulating the politics and ideologies of the Third World in 1966, Horowitz tells us, were Indonesia, Ghana, India, Ceylon, the United Arab Republic, and Yugoslavia. 73 But the first two have since been victimized by pro-Western military coups, while India, too, has turned towards the West. The decisive explanation for these shifts, as of the recent military coups in Algeria, Brazil, Argentina and elsewhere, must be in terms of the capitalist-socialist confrontation of economic systems rather than of autonomous developments within the Third World. Close examination should indicate that most underdeveloped countries are independent neither of the capitalist world market and corresponding financial obligations to the First World, nor of military and political pressures from the United States. The Third World is a fiction, a euphemism for the excolonial and neocolonial countries, whose internal affairs are managed from abroad indirectly through the world market rather than directly as in the continuing colonies of the great powers. Disengagement from military blocs and the politics of neutralism are only frosting on the cake. Underlying the political and military independence of the emerging nations is their economic dependency upon the leading metropolises of world capitalism which exercise an invisible control from afar. No more than Switzerland, nominally unaligned but actually a banking center and luxury resort of Western capitalism, are the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America members of an autonomous Third World. Their independence, like that of Switzerland, depends on the concurrence of the Great Powers. As marginal members of the Third World, Horowitz includes those Western nations not organically linked with NATO along with Communist countries outside the Warsaw Pact.74 But this is tantamount to the same kind of military oversimplification of history — the division of the world into military blocs and neutrals – as the one espoused by the crackpot realists and military metaphysicians Mills criticized.

Horowitz’ three-tier framework of international stratification offers little more than a stages-of-growth classification of old and emerging nations. The number of antagonisms is reduced to those operating within and between each of his three worlds of development. Although this model applies equally well to socialism and to capitalism, it cannot account for their interaction at the same or a different stage of development. The basic concepts of overdevelopment, proper development, and underdevelopment explain considerably less than the five stages of growth distinguished by Rostow. Moreover, Mills’ concept of proper or balanced development has too few applications to existing societies to warrant its use as a major category of analysis; in fact it is more of a policymaking term than anything else. Neither he nor Horowitz focuses upon the chain of metropolis-satellite relationships, which is decisive in explaining the related phenomena of imperialist exploitation and national liberation struggles in underdeveloped countries.75 The stratification of capitalism as an international system is more effectively analyzed in terms of the superordinate and subordinate links between world leaders, auxiliaries, independents, dependents and passive-colonial peoples within a geographically shrinking world market.76 And presumably, the socialist world system may be also stratified, if not in the same way, at least in terms of a comparable metropolis-satellite chain of relationships. The origins and history of the concept of the Third World need reviewing at this point. Initially, it had a comparatively narrow application to the newly emergent nations in Africa and Asia.77 Subsequently, it came to include the underdeveloped countries that are unaligned with the Big Two, among others Yugoslavia and the United Arab Republic.78 It was then extended to cover Latin America.79 In some quarters the Third World stands for the entire range of underdeveloped countries, whether aligned or unaligned with the major blocs.80 Horowitz grants marginal membership even to some developed nations inside NATO and the Warsaw Pact, although he excludes the de jure colonies and territories militarily occupied by the Great Powers. This usage obviously belongs at the broad end of the spectrum. But it is precisely at this end that the concept loses most of its specificity, becoming a catchall for those nations pursuing a policy of peace or otherwise endeavoring to break loose from the sterilities of the Cold War.

Finally, Mills’ formulation of the contemporary crisis of humanism is theoretically unwarranted and practically misleading. It is not a crisis in socialism at all, but in the survivals of eighteenth and nineteenth century liberalism that are ill adapted to present needs. Most people still live under the pressure to eke out a bare subsistence; consequently, a concern for the dignity of the individual, parliamentary procedures and freedom of expression may not even figure in their list of priorities. Mills was mistaken in holding that socialism and liberalism are equally fundamental in characterizing the Modem Age. In fact socialism was not to acquire the status of Her Majesty’s loyal opposition until after the Russian Revolution of 1917, and then only in the flabby dress of social democracy. The year 1848 was not a watershed between two world ideologies so much as a spring or rivulet testifying to the birth of socialism. The giant contest between them begins in October, 1917. Again, Mills was mistaken about the irrelevance of classical Marxism or socialism within the Soviet bloc. Despite dogmatic revision, Marx’s socialism still shines forth through the pores of official orthodoxy. As might have been expected, his theoretical model has become dated. But his method and general framework of analysis live on. His terminology not only enjoys wider acceptance than Mills’ own, but also promises to increase in influence. Socialism is irrelevant in the overdeveloped society, but it is precisely there that we confront a crisis in contemporary humanism.

Far from being autonomous, the humanism of the Third World turns out to be Marx’s socialism freed from the dogmatism of Soviet revisionaries. And the young intelligentsia or agency of the New Left is not excluded from a labor movement; for from it, it belongs to the educated stratum of Marx’s proletariat.


1 Irving Louis Horowitz, ed. The New Sociology (New York: Oxford, 1964).

2 Irving Louis Horowitz, ed., Power, Politics and People: The Collected Essays of C. Wright Mills (New York: Oxford, 1963), pp. 569-572.

3 Leslie A. White, The Science of Culture (New York: Grove Press, 1949), and The Evolution of Culture (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1959); Abraham H. Maslow, Motivation and Personality (New York: Harper & Row, 1954) and Toward a Psychology of Being (Princeton: Van Nostrand, 1962).

4 Horowitz, “An Introduction to The New Sociology,” The New Sociology, pp. 21-22.

5 Peter Worsley, “Bureaucracy and Decolonization: Democracy from the Top,” The New Sociology, pp. 374-375.

6 Power, Politics and People, pp. 571b572.

7 Horowitz, “An Introduction to C. Wright Mills,” Power, Politics and People, p. 16.

8 Power, Politics and People, p. 236.

9 Ibid., pp. 25-26.

10 Ibid., pp. 25, 244.

11 Ibid., pp. 27-38, 277, 391.

12 Ibid., pp. 245, 293. See also C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination (New York: Oxford, 1959), pp. 165-176.

13 Byron Fox, ‘The Emerging International Sociology,” The New Sociology, pp. 478, 481.

14 “An Introduction to The New Sociology,” op. cit., p. 41.

15 Ibid., pp. 41, 43.

16 H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills, ed. and trans., From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (New York: Oxford, 1958), pp. 196-198.

17 Gerth and Mills, “Introduction: The Man and His Work,” From Max Weber, pp. 49-50.

18 From Max Weber, p. 214,

19 Ibid., pp. 221-224.

20 “Introduction: The Man and His Work,” op. cit., pp. 49-50; Power, Politics and People, pp. 25-30, 53-71.

21 Power, Politics and People, pp. 67, 231; see also pp. 170-178.

22 Ibid., p. 30.

23 Ibid., pp. 27-38, 221-235.

24 Leon Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, trans. Max Eastman (New York: Merit, 1965); Bruno Rizzi, La Bureaucratisation du Monde (Paris, 1939); James Burnham, The Managerial Revolution (New York: John Day, 1941).

25 Thorstein Veblen, The Engineers and the Price System (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1963), p. 72.

26 Power, Politics and People, p. 66.

27 Ibid., pp. 30-38.

28 Ibid., pp. 58-59, 63-64, 152-153.

29 Irving Louis Horowitz, “The Unfinished Writings of C. Wright Mills: The Last Phase,” Studies on the Left (1963), Vol. 3, No. 4, p. 5.

30 Power, Politics and People, pp. 241-243.

31 Ibid., pp. 152-56. See Robert L. Heilbroner, The Future as History (New York: Grove Press, 1959), pp. 98-99.

32 W. W. Rostow, The Stages of Economic Growth (London: Cambridge, 1960); Clark Kerr et al, Industrialism and Industrial Man (Cambridge: Harvard, 1960).

33 C. Wright Mills, The Marxists (New York: Dell, 1962), p. 124.

34 Ibid.

35 Ibid., p. 126.

36 Ibid., p. 125.

37 Ibid., pp. 127-128.

38 Ibid., p. 128.

39 C. Wright Mills, The Causes of World War Three (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1958), pp. 47-48.

40 Ibid., pp. 48-49.

41 Ibid., P. 54.

42 Irving Louis Horowitz, Three Worlds of Development: The Theory and Practice of International Stratification (New York: Oxford, 1966), pp. 287-289.

43 Ibid., pp. 286-290.

44 Ibid., p. 289. 45 The Marxists, pp. 467-473.

46 “The Unfinished Writings of C. Wright Mills,” op. cit., p. 10.

47 Ibid., pp. 12-15.

48 Power, Politics and People, p. 156.

49 Ibid., p. 150.

50 Ibid., pp. 150, 240.

51 “The Unfinished Writings of C. Wright Mills,” op. cit., pp. 8-9.

52 Power, Politics and People, p. 257.

53 “‘An Introduction to The New Sociology,” op. cit., pp. 43-44.

54 Three Worlds of Development, pp. 39, 41, 44.

55 Ibid., p. 16.

56 Ibid., pp. 18-19, 22.

57 Ibid., p. 18.

58 Ibid., p. 22.

59 Ibid., p. 62.

60 Power, Politics and People, p. 226.

61 Ibid., p. 225.

62 The Sociological Imagination, p. 174.

63 Power, Politics and People, pp. 231-232.

64 Ibid., p. 245.

65 The Marxists, p. 19.

66 Ibid., p. 15; The Sociological Imagination, p. 166.

67 The Marxists, pp. 14-22; The Sociological Imagination, pp. 166-167.

68 The Marxists, p. 14.

69 Power, Politics and People, pp. 256-259.

70 The Marxists, p. 131.

71 Ibid., p. 100.

72 The Causes of World War Three, pp. 56-57.

73 Three Worlds of Development, p. 18.

74 Ibid., pp. 18-19.

75 Andre Gunder Frank, Capitalism and Underdevelopment in Latin America (New York: Monthly Review, 1967), pp. 8-12, 145-150.

76 Oliver C. Cox, Capitalism as a System (New York: Monthly Review, 1964), pp. 4-6, 196-198, 238-246.

77 Mario Rossi, The Third World: The Unaligned Countries and the World Revolution (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1963), pp. 4-5.

78 Raymond Aron et al, World Technology and Human Destiny (Ann Arbor: Michigan, 1963), p. 18n.

79 Walter C. Clemens, Jr., ed., World Perspectives on International Politics (Boston: Little, Brown, 1965), “Introduction,” pp. 9-12.

80 Fritz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Constance Farrington (New York: Grove, 1963), pp. 77-83.

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