C. Wright Mills: Letters and Autobiographical Writings

Overview

"The extraordinary C. Wright Mills was an intellectual hero of the New Left, a model of the engaged academic. This volume of his letters and writings provides a fascinating insight into Mills as a person‹as a family man and a friend‹as well as a thinker. Mills packed so much into his terribly short life, and young people today should find inspiration in his enormous energy, his breadth of interest, and his political boldness."‹Howard Zinn, Boston University

"This carefully and lovingly edited volume is bound to revive interest in the work and ...

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Overview

"The extraordinary C. Wright Mills was an intellectual hero of the New Left, a model of the engaged academic. This volume of his letters and writings provides a fascinating insight into Mills as a person‹as a family man and a friend‹as well as a thinker. Mills packed so much into his terribly short life, and young people today should find inspiration in his enormous energy, his breadth of interest, and his political boldness."‹Howard Zinn, Boston University

"This carefully and lovingly edited volume is bound to revive interest in the work and life of one of the most creative radical intellectuals of the postwar years."‹Lewis A. Coser, Boston University

"C. Wright Mills was a passionate public citizen, and therefore, he wrote to be read beyond the academy. He succeeded, making many non-tenured people think, me included. This book further illuminates the life-force within this professor beyond borders."‹Nat Hentoff, author of Living the Bill of Rights

"C. Wright Mills: Letters and Autobiographical Writings is an invaluable guide to the thought and sensibilities of one of the greatest sociologists of the twentieth century. This book is a must for sociologists, social science students and historians."‹Saul Landau, Hugh O. La Bounty Chair of Applied Interdisciplinary Knowledge, California Polytechnic University

"The personal testimony of a courageous American thinker will afford younger readers a direct look at our past, and perhaps teach them—as Mills did for many of us—that living fully requires thinking largely."‹Norman Birnbaum, Georgetown University Law Center

"Mills was among the most intellectually engaging of American social scientists, and he deserves our continuing attention. As these letters and autobiographical essays bring out, he exemplified both a highly personal perspective and a commitment to issues of basic public importance. He saw the connections between biography and intellectual insight, and in this wonderfully edited collection, his writings demonstrate a clarity of perception that adds to our understanding of both his work and his period." ‹Craig Calhoun, President, Social Science Research Council

Author Biography: C. Wright Mills was a maverick social scientist who taught in Copenhagen, London, and Mexico City in addition to the United States. His work has been translated into twenty-three languages. Kathryn Mills works for a book publisher in Boston. Pamela Mills teaches American literature and composition in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Dan Wakefield is the author of New York in the Fifties (1992), which is the basis for a documentary film, Island in the City: The World of Spanish Harlem (1959), and many other works, including the best-selling novels Going All the Way (1970) and Selling Out (1985).

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Editorial Reviews

Todd Gitlin
The 'Tovarich' essays are among the highlights of the long overdue C. Wright Mills: Letters and Autobiographical Writings ... a book of many revelations and felicities that sees the light of day 38 years after Mills' death. This volume ... is not a critical study, nor does it satisfy :to adapt Joyce Carol Oates' term) pathographic impulses. But it is indispensable to a picture of intellectuals and politics in our time, tracing out the contours of a robust life of the mind, an odyssey that seems as quaint today as anything in Homer.
Library Journal
Marks an important contribution to our understanding of the provocative work of eminent sociologist Mills. The editors' descriptions of the contexts of many letters, a chronology of Mills's life, and notes on correspondents enrich this volume.
Publisher's Weekly
This collection...reminds us of the writer's scrupulous and generous mind, presenting ideas that continue to resonate today...[it] offers a glimpse into the writer's personal life as well as into his intellectual relationships with such vital 20th-century thinkers as David Riesman, Saul Alinsky, Leo Lowenthal, Harvey Swados and Dan Wakefield... One of the great discoveries included in the book is Mills's FBI file, which was started after he wrote the bestselling Listen, Yankee :1960), a defense of the Cuban revolution. This file, which documents a possible assassination attempt on Mills in response to the book, is a chilling reminder of the hostility faced by liberal intellectuals in the 1950.
Tariq Ali
In that unlovely decade, the 1950's, the figure of C. Wright Mills swept across cold-war America like a meteor....This collection of letters, skillfully assembled by his daughters, are alternately prosaic and lyrical, comic and tragic, the fragments of a prematurely truncated life....In his introduction to this collection, Dan Wakefield, a former student who became a close friend, writes movingly of Mills' artistic qualities.
John B. Judis
The anxious, conformist 1950's, it now appears, were a high-water mark in American social criticism ‹ from David Riesman, William F. Buckley Jr. and Dwight Macdonald to James Baldwin, Paul Goodman and, of course, C. Wright Mills. . . . Mills's view of his work as art and literature probably helped him to attain a certan objectivity even in the midst of his indignation.
Nation
A beautifully edited volume, [...Mills's] letters and autobiographical compositions show a consistent, sincere sense of his role as a redeemer of lost ideals...
In These Times
The letters are at their best displaying Mills' outsize personality. Almost every page conveys energy, vitality, immense animal spirits.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The U.S. intellectual and political world was jolted in 1962, when famed progressive political commentator and sociologist C. Wright Mills died of a heart attack at age 45. This collection of Mills's selected letters and shorter unpublished or uncollected writings reminds us of the writer's scrupulous and generous mind, presenting ideas that continue to resonate today. Edited by his daughters, the collection offers a glimpse into the writer's personal life as well as into his intellectual relationships with such vital 20th-century thinkers as David Riesman, Saul Alinsky, Leo Lowenthal, Harvey Swados and Dan Wakefield (who wrote the introduction to the book). Most illuminating are Mills's "letters" to "Tovarich," an imaginary friend in the Soviet Union, to whom he muses on American politics and the state of the world. He occasionally demonstrates his na vet , as when he writes about race relations in the U.S., but his insights are keen when he writes about university life and McCarthyism. One of the great discoveries included in the book is Mills's FBI file, which was started after he wrote the bestselling Listen, Yankee (1960), a defense of the Cuban revolution. This file, which documents a possible assassination attempt on Mills in response to the book, is a chilling reminder of the hostility faced by liberal intellectuals in the 1950s. (May) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
This book marks an important contribution to our understanding of the provocative work of eminent sociologist Mills, author of White Collar, The Power Elite, and The Sociological Imagination. Mills, who left a lasting impression on his Columbia University students (including author Dan Wakefield, who provides an introduction to this volume), challenged the status quo and anticipated the societal struggles of the 1960s (and beyond) in his energetic but all-too-brief life (he died in 1962 at the age of 45). Here Mills's daughters have selected some 150 letters Mills wrote to distinguished thinkers of his day. They create a fascinating picture of a passionate intellectual at work. Early letters to his family anticipate Mills's future directions. "So I am learning American history in order to quote it at the sons of bitches who run American Big Business," he wrote his parents in 1942. The editors' descriptions of the contexts of many letters,a chronology of Mills's life, and notes on correspondents enrich this volume. Highly recommended for both public and academic libraries.--Ellen Gilbert, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick, NJ Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780641929946
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 9/14/2001
  • Pages: 408
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author


C. Wright Mills was a maverick social scientist who taught in Copenhagen, London, and Mexico City in addition to the United States. His work has been translated into twenty-three languages. Kathryn Mills works for a book publisher in Boston. Pamela Mills teaches American literature and composition in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Dan Wakefield is the author of New York in the Fifties (1992), which is the basis for a documentary film, Island in the City: The World of Spanish Harlem (1959), and many other works, including the best-selling novels Going All the Way (1970) and Selling Out (1985).
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Read an Excerpt




Chapter One


GROWING UP IN TEXAS

    1916-1939


Just who are the men with guts? They are the men ... who have the imagination and the intelligence to formulate their own codes; the men who have the courage and the stamina to live their own lives in spite of social pressure and isolation.
Letter "by a Freshman" to the Battalion,
dated May 8, 1935


Charles Wright Mills, born in Waco, Texas, on August 28, 1916, remained in the Lone Star State for the first twenty-three years of his life. His father had moved there from Florida, but his mother and her parents were born in Texas. Although Mills left when he was a young man, a feisty Texan emphasis on individual autonomy remained in him, along with the psychology of the outlander. On the lighter side, Mills had a recreational interest in novels and movies about the Wild West and, as some of his letters show, he seemed to enjoy dramatizing his Texan roots.

    Mills's mother, Frances Wright Mills, also liked telling the stories of her Texas ancestors, although her view of them was quite different from her son's. We would like to share a letter she wrote to us and to our half-brother, Nikolas, one year after our father's death. Frances gave us a romanticized version of our ancestry, the Old West, Irish immigration, and pioneer stamina. Her letter also gives some sense of Frances herself, the mother who remained in Texas after her son moved away. She received twenty-one of the letters published in this book.


San Antonio, Texas

May19, 1963

I am writing to you, my grandchildren, and endeavoring to tell you about my father, Braxton Wright, because your own illustrious father used him and his greatness as a stepping stone to higher achievement. And this son of mine was much like his grandfather. It relates the life in part of a very simple man who lived and died a long time ago. He never achieved greatness nor honors, yet within him were some of the greatest qualities a man could possess. He understood his fellow man, and he had compassion and love for the down-trodden.

    He came in the evening of the roaming Indian, and he told many tales of the Indian. He was a cheerful and dramatic man. He knew Shakespeare and Browning. He studied the Bible because he always contended that it is a masterpiece.

    He loved his country. It was made from guts and sweat and the pioneer women he said were very wonderful. He loved the history of America and imbued a magnificent pride within me. He had a great pity for anything wounded or defenseless.

    My father left us when your father was a very small child. He used to rock him and tell him and your father's sister about the wild turkey gobblers, and he would call the turkey like the primitive Indians did—much to the children's delight.

    Braxton Bragg Wright (father of Frances Wright and grandfather of Charles Wright Mills) was born at Lagarta, Texas. Son of Calvin Wright and Emmeline Cook. The Cooks were Irish, Scotch, and French. She was a French Canadian girl who traveled down the eastern seaboard in a covered wagon with her family to marry Calvin Wright of New York State. He fought in the Battle of Atlanta in the Civil War under his Uncle Braxton Bragg. The family lived in Georgia and Mississippi and finally settled at Lagarta in Texas. Calvin Wright is buried at Lagarta as well as is Emmeline Cook Wright.

    Braxton Bragg met a tragic death at his ranch, La Chusa, at Tilden, McMullen County, Texas, in 1920 and is buried on a high hill over-looking the mesquite and cactus land of southwest Texas. He was born April 8, 1860. He had a very colorful life. In 1890, '91, '92, '93, he and his father, Calvin Wright, and his brother, Stonewall Jackson, skinned cattle who died from the terrible drought. At that time the land was unfenced. They took these cattle hides by freight cars to Kansas and sold them. Hides were much in demand for saddles and bridles. With this money they bought hundreds of sections of land for twenty-five cents an acre. Their vast ranch lands extended to Corpus Christi Bay and the border of Mexico. Calvin Wright was a frontiersman and he taught his sons the ways of the Indians and the Mexicans.

    He, Braxton Bragg Wright, studied law thru a mail correspondence course and possessed a degree by 1880. He was also interested in medicine, which he practiced. However he never finished medical school. He had a brilliant and inquisitive mind and studied and read constantly. He was considered to be an intellectual on matters of law and politics. He was the father of four sons and a daughter by his first marriage.

    On October 3, 1891, several years after the death of his first wife, he married Elizabeth Gallagher. From this union one child was born, Frances Ursula Wright.

    Now I shall tell you about your delightful, romantic and beautiful great grandmother, Elizabeth Gallagher Wright (Biggy). She was the eighth child born to Bryan and Margaret Gallagher in the year 1870, November 26th, in a small Irish settlement in South Texas. The Gallagher family are well known in Texas. They came to Texas and made homes during days of drought and hardships. She had seven sisters and four brothers, and most of them are buried in the little cemetery at Gussettville.

    My mother was a very beautiful and spiritual woman. She married my father, Braxton Bragg Wright, on October 3, 1891, in the old family home. They lived [in Ramarania, Texas] on a large ranch in a high ranch house where I was born, October 4, 1893. My mother bore a son the year before I arrived, but the child died at birth. In 1898 they moved to San Diego, Texas, and later, when I came to San Antonio to boarding school, they built a home here. Elizabeth Gallagher died on October 12, 1949, at the age of seventy-eight and is buried in San Fernando cemetery in San Antonio, Texas.

    Her parents, Margaret and Bryan Gallagher, were born in Leitrim County, Ireland, and together with their parents and many relatives and the McGlains, McMurrays, Shurans, and McMarrows, they crossed the ocean in a second-class freighter. They were driven from Ireland in 1840 by persecution from England on account of their religion (Catholic) and because of the potato famine. They were both seventeen years old. Landing in Galveston Bay after a three-months voyage of cold, hunger, storm, and sickness, they drove through the wilderness with their families by oxen team to Gussettville. The next year, 1841, Bryan and Margaret Gallagher were married and started together to build a homestead, which is still standing.

    Back of the lives of these heroic, proud people there is much amazing history. Margaret Gallagher, my grandmother, your great great grandmother, died in her home September 19th, 1901. Her maiden name was McGinnis. Grandpa died May 28, 1909. They both sleep in the Gussettville cemetery.

    Charles Grover Mills: father of Charles Wright Mills, born at Blue Lake, Swannee County, Florida, on August 4, 1889. He was the son of Mary Jane Hawkins and Bun Mills, who were born [in] and lived around Live Oak, Florida, and who are buried in the town's cemetery. [...] The Mills family were English and Dutch. And the Hawkins were English and Irish.

    As you children become older your pride and memory of your own wonderful, brilliant father will increase, and it is good that his memory will be forever green.

    I know you will all endeavor to live up to his expectations of you. You have within you the blood of good pioneer stock. From the labors of your ancestors comes this our America.

    [...]

Your grandmother,
Frances Mills


Charles Wright Mills was five and a half years old when his grandfather (Frances' s father) Braxton Bragg Wright was killed. In contrast to Braxton Wright and his independent life on the ranch, Mills's father, Charles Graver Mills, was a white-collar representative of an insurance company. Mills was forty-one years old when he wrote the following selection from the unfinished manuscript "Contacting the Enemy: Tovarich, written to an imaginary Soviet colleague."


Fall 1957


GROWING UP: FACTS AND FANCIES

Let me tell you first about my grandfather and why I am not an oil millionaire.


    I grew up in Texas, curiously enough on no ranch but in Waco, Wichita Falls, Fort Worth, Sherman, Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio—in that order. My family moved around a bit. The reason I was not stabilized on a ranch is that my grandfather had lost my ranch. He was shot in the back with a .30-30 rifle, always it's in the back, but he really was. I've never got it altogether clear, but Braxton Bragg Wright, I have been told, liked the girls—married and unmarried, Mexican and white. This one was Mexican and married, a bad combination for him. My grandmother, Elizabeth Gallagher Wright, on the other hand, cared less for men than for the big city of San Antonio, and she loathed ranches. So my grandfather was shot and I did not grow up with cowboys on a ranch. For this I shall always be grateful. I do not want it, but still, late one night, sitting in a bar in Munich, and one afternoon in New York, and again one morning in August in the Hotel Angleterre in Copenhagen, I have thought about the cowboys of my native province.

    My God, what men they are. Or were. Or must have been. Or ought to have been. There is no movie like a cowboy movie. All the cowboys on the ranch in Texas where I could have grown up looked just like Gary Cooper. They were tall and slim, and they had that same steely eye, those long arms, and of course the great guns hanging. Every one of them, at one time or another, had taken the long walk in the dusty street before the wooden fronts of the stores behind which merchants trembled and villains lurked unseen but well located for obscene aggression. All my cowboys had come through that, and now they were men, quiet, unafraid men. Tested in that way, certain of themselves, they were each a compact being, just like the voice of Marshall Dillon.

    They cared less for women than women cared for them. In their world some women were altogether bad and some were very good indeed, and all their lives my cowboys were looking for a truly good woman, who at first seemed bad.

    About men, my grandfather on his ranch in Texas used to say: "Let them stay just a little on the other side of Winchester-rifle range. Lots safer for everybody that way. And then we'll all be good neighbors." Since he did get shot dead a few years later, he may have had a point. Let them stay just the other side of rifle range.

    I don't mind climbing a mountain when I come to it, although I'd not go out of my way to do it. I don't mind swimming a little creek or even building a little boat to get across a big one, although I'd rather a bridge were there. But I don't at all like all these silly little men in uniform all over the frontiers of the world stopping me and holding up travel to see who I might be, or to see whether I'm carrying two or five bottles of French cognac, or whether I've a stamp on a piece of paper, put there by some other little men in other uniforms. It's not really any of their damned business. All this national boundary stuff is a kind of highway robbery, isn't it? And a kind of spiritual robbery too. In a situation of human revolt, notice how quickly the boundaries fall to pieces. So let everyone stay just a little outside of Winchester-rifle range, but let each move along the edges of this range.

    "Forgive me," you say, "but you really are wandering. I am trying to find out what sort of man you might be and something of how you came to be whatever you are. Won't you please tell me?"

    Yes, but you must let me tell you in my own way and you must not interrupt. The facts will come out, so far as I know them, but it is not altogether pleasant or easy to confront some of them. Surely you must understand that. I've got to clothe them just a little, at least in the beginning. What I was leading up to was that I suppose I could make a big thing out of this cowboy stuff, like a certain kind of good Limey novelist who writes about the "real England," saying what it is and is not. Now Tovarich, let us not do that sort of thing.

    I have driven trucks in the East Texas oil fields; I've helped dig a ditch between Long View and Talco; and I've driven a tractor hauling a combine in the wheat fields up in the Texas Panhandle. All that is true. But all of it is also a damned lie—like the lies of executives who claim they started at the bottom of a corporation of which their father, uncle, or brother owned the biggest hunk. I did do those things, but it was only in the summers, always knowing that come the fall, I'd be safe back at school.

    It is so easy to pose, to fake. How can I tell you? How can I know exactly how it was, how it is? I think it may help if I say: externally I've always had it very easy indeed, and I've often felt vaguely but undeniably guilty about that. Troubles I've usually brought on myself, and the fact that I have is of course related to the guilt arising from easy and unearned circumstance. Other men, I suppose, live for money, women, fun, comradeship. I seem perversely to like trouble better. I seek it out, and if I do not find it, I try to make it up. I am what any decent executive type or aspiring executive type would automatically call a born troublemaker. I am both presumptuous and, as my grandfather used to say, "as good as any damned body anywhere." But that's merely posing again—perhaps even seeking a "background," or trying to invent one or imagine one. In truth, I don't know a single thing my grandfather ever said, and I doubt if anything he might have said is at all memorable. My grandfather to me is a distant biological fact and nothing else whatsoever.

    I have often wondered why so many of my political colleagues need to adopt such postures as they do. It is possible to find out what one may really be about at any given time and how one got to be that way; it is possible to conduct this inquiry, this finding out, without being overwhelmed by attitudinizing. The trick, I think—although it's less a trick than a means of self-awareness—the trick is explicitly to include in your work the various postures you tend to fall into, report them, and exploit them intellectually.

    You say, "Isn't there some kind of theme that runs through your biography—that shapes it in some way?"

    Yes, in time I suppose I sought out certain self-images; at least certain kinds of circumstances began very early to accumulate, so that I think there may be a theme.

    First, I never really lived in an extended family. There was just my father, who traveled much of the time, my mother, and one sister three years older than I, whom I've not seen in years. (There was also grandmother Biggy, who seems always to have been around.) The social point is this: I didn't really know the experience of "human relations" within a solid, intimate family setup, certainly not continuously.

    My parents as a couple had few if any friends. In fact for long periods, when I was in Sherman and Dallas, going to high school, my immediate family was quite fragmentary, as my father was traveling in his work for weeks at a time. So you see, quite apart from any prior inclination, by virtue of occupational and family fact, I was thrown as a very young child with my mother, and at quite an early age this tie was also broken and I was alone. I do not remember exactly when this tie was broken but certainly this was so by the last year of high school, when I first began to read in the upstairs room with the blue-and-white linoleum floor at 3600 Lover's Lane [in Dallas]. Thus I was well prepared for the explicit isolation that occurred at Texas A & M. That was my first year of college.

    This isolation of my family was a prototype of my own isolation. In grammar school and high school and college—in fact, until my first marriage?—I never had a circle of friends. There was for me no "gang," no parties. I had a single "chum" in Wichita Falls and another in Sherman—the most important boyhood friend, with whom I spent one or two summers on his elder brother's wheat ranch; at A & M, there was no one. What happened there was that the group I began to care about, to seek approval from, shifted to several professors, a librarian, an English professor, the French professor, and an agricultural economist. Even before that—in high school—the shift had been made to a teacher of architecture and an instructor of psychology.

    My "background" contained no intellectual or cultural benefits. I grew up in houses that had no books and no music in them. At least the only music I remember ever hearing in the house was a hillbilly version of "How You Gonna Keep 'em Down on the Farm?" and I was in the second year of college when I first heard classical music. It was Tchaikovsky's Pathetique used in a demonstration of some equipment in a physics laboratory. The first stage play I ever saw was also that second year of college: The Cherry Orchard by Chekhov. (Isn't it curious that they were both Russian in origin?)

    The first books I remember ever reading—in the last year of high school, when I suddenly became awake for the first time—were a set of small books, bound in pale blue, and entitled, I think, "The Psychology of Success." They were all about Will-Power-by-God, which my father had or borrowed in connection with his work as an insurance salesman. These volumes I took very full notes on, in a minute handwriting, in a set of midget notebooks, as if I were trying to hide it all. The other book I remember from that time was Clarence Darrow's autobiography, an eighteenth-century rationalist tract. In my first year of college I came upon a textbook account of C. H. Cooley and G. H. Mead, in terms of which I first came seriously to begin to analyze myself.

    Thus intellectually and culturally I am as "self-made" as it is possible to be. As a friend of mine used to say, "a mushroom." The fact that I seized these academic standards and internalized them deeply meant, in turn, a further cutting off of self from my family background and the social setting at large as well. By the time I went to college, I think no one I had previously known, including family members, really counted for me as a point of reference. I was cut off and alone, and I felt it at the time.

    All this also meant that my education was quite poor. There was no context, no background to prepare me for it. To become educated—in the sense in which I first became more or less fully aware of what that might be, at Texas A & M—meant to create myself as if in a vacuum, to find sources of approval for it and models for that kind of life where no standards, models, expectations had existed at all on any cultural level.

    A friend of mine from the University of Texas had some inkling of all this: my friendship with him was intellectually and morally the closest I had had up to then. (Of course, one never has any friendships so consequential as those of adolescence.) But its major consequence was to sharpen the focus of all my drives towards work, specifically intellectual work, as my very salvation. I remember the moment when he and I exchanged intellectual roles and I became intellectually ascendant, at least in my own mind, in the relationship. We were walking along in front of the YMCA and I was stronger in some argument. Whether it's true or not doesn't matter. I felt it. At the time I didn't know it, but this meant that again I was alone—or at least very much on my own—my own leader.

    Out of all this came the search for, the demand for, absolute autonomy. The great energies the search has demanded and created, the burdens of loneliness that often accompanied it, and the difficulties of achieving any durable and really deep "human relations" have thus arisen out of quite specific social and cultural contexts. Intellectually I saw with Stendhal: "I see but one rule: to be clear. If I am not clear, all my world crumbles." And with Albert Geurard: "The man who thinks creates a little zone of light and order in the cosmic murk." To realize the psychological meaning of such heroic mottoes for intellectuals—well, it takes one beyond loneliness to the very edge of reason itself: "I think," wrote Descartes, "hence I am." So I have other mottoes too. But the theme is clearly isolation. Its net result is the demand, the compulsion if you will, for autonomy. I don't like "alienation" or any such fancy terms. I am not, and never have been, alienated. I mean just plain isolation; but' of course the cumulative effect of it is self-sought isolation.


After graduating from Dallas Technical High School, Mills entered a large military school, Texas Agricultural & Mechanical College. Later Mills thought his father had not believed his son was sufficiently masculine; military college was intended to help make a man of him. In any case, Mills was deeply disappointed with his year at Texas A & M.

    Mills and his roommate, who shared the post of freshman class president, also shared the task of stirring up trouble on campus by collaborating on the following letter to the college newspaper, concerning the distribution and use of power within the student body at the college. (Many years later Mills reflected on what this early effort meant to him, in a letter to Hans Gerth, dated December 7, 1943, which appears on p. 55.)


To the Battalion, published in the issue dated April 3, 1935


STUDENT FORUM

    Digressions on College Life

There are some vital questions which are always a point of issue in every place where men live together. Discontent and unrest can be found wherever society is found. No matter how good, how fair, and how just a group of people may be as a whole, there will always be some individuals in it who feel themselves slighted and maltreated by the rest. Usually these people have only themselves and their incapacity for adjustment to blame; but once in a while we come across a society which has sprung up on a false basis and is sustained on false principles of human conduct justified only by ignorance and narrow thinking. It is just this kind of society that exists at A and M College and will continue to exist as long as there are not enough of its members who dare to change it.

    Observation and experience have led me to believe that the influence of living social conditions on the campus upon the students is more harmful than beneficial. I do not aim to take the pessimistic point of view and say that these conditions cannot be changed and so we may as well get used to them. Nor am I going to follow the suggestion to get out since the climate here does not suit me. I propose rather to write down my thoughts on what goes on around me in the hope that they may in some way help to bring about the change which is so necessary for the welfare of the student body.

    What effect has the overbearing attitude of the upperclassman on the mind of the freshman? Does it make the freshman more of a man? Most assuredly not, for there can be no friendship born out of fear, hatred or contempt; and no one is a better man who submits passively to the slavery of his mind and body by one who is less of a man than he. Since when has it been true that oppression and the suppression of free thinking have become acceptable to the American youth? Can it be that he accepts these because he has grown indifferent to the problems facing him and takes the easiest way out? It would be hard to believe that this should be the case, in fact. I am sure it is not. The freshman submits to the will of the upperclassman only because he has been led to conceive a distorted idea of sportsmanship and true manhood. He is afraid to defy them and stand alone not so much because of what they might do to him but because of what they might think of him. And so we have the freshman living a life of mental unrest and stress, unwilling to do that which he believes is wrong, and yet forced to do it by his fear of public opinion.

    College students are supposed to become leaders of thought and action in later life. It is expected they will profit from a college education by developing an open and alert mind to be able to cope boldly with everyday problems in economics and politics. They cannot do this unless they learn to think independently for themselves and to stand fast for their convictions. Is the student at A and M encouraged to do this? Is he permitted to do it? The answer is sadly in the negative. Indeed, it is established law among upperclassmen that freshmen should not be allowed to think. As soon as one shows signs of rebellion against the feudal autocracy at college, he is forced back into the folds of automats from which he tried to escape. His spirit is crushed, his heart embittered, and his mind molded in a standard pattern. Of course not all freshmen are affected in the same way. Some, the privileged few, may go through it all and come out unchanged. Others, weaker than the former, come out as human robots with shattered spirit, no will power, no self-confidence and no self-respect. Still there are others who become cynics losing faith in man and society. Whoever is in either of these three groups could have been in the class of the energetic, the independent, and the optimistic, if conditions affecting his early life in college had been otherwise.

    On the student alone rests the responsibility of making A and M free from sham, hypocrisy and feudalistic customs which can bring harm only upon themselves.

By a Freshman


An anonymous upperclassman defended the traditions at A & M in a response that was printed the following week in the Battalion. The upperclassman wrote that a look at the lives Of A & M graduates will "show that a finer bunch of citizens never lived"; the A & M experience taught students to lead and be led and it "turned out smart men who raised hell and had a lot of fun." The letter stated that, like religion, the status quo at A & M was "good enough for our fathers so why should we try to change it." The student went on to say that A & M builds men, indeed cadets, who "used to have a little guts," who were treated with some respect by the authorities. In closing, the upperclassman wrote that in "the ridiculous article" the freshman had claimed that "some freshmen come through it all with crushed spirit, no will power, and other rot. [...] If you want the things you advocate, why didn't you go to Texas, or Tarleton instead of trying to help the rest of your crowd finish ruining A and M?" The rejoinder follows.


To the Battalion, published in the issue dated May 8, 1935


STUDENT FORUM

    Another Viewpoint

    Recently there appeared in these columns the most delicate and subtle of satires. I have no doubt that it was written in an inspired moment of a great thinker's life. So beautifully subtle was it and so diligently at study (and busy disciplining the men who have been here only seven months or so) are the great majority of our student body that the thought has occurred to me that perhaps this bit of everlasting though subtle truth was read in much too hasty a manner.

    And so assuming that some of the more rapid readers took this thing literally in case they did not see the obvious weakness (I am sure it was intended to be obvious) of its arguments, I am going to be a bit more blunt in expressing my opinion of the juvenile techniques in which the majority of our students indulge. (And if you don't care to hear my opinion this Bat has many other interesting things which you may read. So go read them and don't ask me why I came here, or if I don't like A and M, why don't I go to another school. Such questions are obviously insane, for the highest form of patriotism is criticism. I am interested in the potentialities of this institution and I intend to do my small share toward their development.)

    In none of these controversies of principle do the writers seem to pierce the root of our problem. The effect of our system is not so detrimental during our first year as it is during the other three. Outside of taking his time from study or creative leisure, the character of the freshman is not to any extent negatively changed (assuming, of course, that he is not influenced by "the men who have guts"—as last week's writer so artistically labeled our rougher element). And then he trades one for three. For three years he shouts and feet hit dormitory floors; for three years his room is cleaned up and his laundry taken and got by other men. For three years he can, if he wishes, use his class distinction to satisfy his individual prejudices; can force his ego and will upon other men. For three years we run his errands, carry his cigarettes.

    And the excuse for all this is that it develops leadership.

    If this is leadership then my sociology text is very wrong—because this sort of control is based on nothing save force. Any social control which rests on force is wrong. When paddles and muscles rule, ignorance also reigns.

    No one with common "horse sense" can stand on the two feet of the genus Homo and distinctly say that three years of being waited on does not affect an individual ... true one finds it hard to think of any good effect.

    And so if it's good enough for ole pappie, it's good enough for us! What wonderful irony ... nothing could be more obviously leaky. Then why, my old traditionalist, do you not ride in buggies? Your granddad did. The more intelligent students here are not content with our present system. And tomorrow A and M shall also rise slowly from its foolish buggy and enter a streamlined roadster.

    Just because a thing has been done by a number of people over a number of years does not make that thing necessarily good. The hand of the past has its functions; it stabilizes; it held conquered territory. But with it alone there can be no progress, no advancement toward sane and more rational techniques. We must criticize and change.

    Lots of verbiage has been slung about men with "guts." Before we use a term, let's put Plato on it. Just who are the men with guts? They are the men who have the ability and the brains to see this institution's faults, who are brittle enough not to adapt themselves to its erroneous order—and plastic enough to change if they are already adapted; the men who have the imagination and the intelligence to formulate their own codes; the men who have the courage and the stamina to live their own lives in spite of social pressure and isolation. These my friends, are the men with "guts."

By a Freshman


After his freshman year, Mills transferred to the University of Texas at Austin, where he completed his B.A. in sociology and his M.A. in philosophy. In October 1937, as a twenty-one-year-old student in Austin, Mills married twenty-four-year-old Dorothy Helen Smith from Oklahoma. A friend of Mills's who was studying literature and knew Norse mythology nicknamed Dorothy Helen "Freya," after a Norwegian goddess. Freya was the second of four children born to a banker and his wife, a former teacher. After graduating from Oklahoma College for Women in 1935 with a B.S. in commerce, Freya enrolled in the master's program in sociology at the University of Texas, where she met Mills. When she and Mills married, she stopped studying so that she could work full time to help support the couple. (She worked on the staff of the director of the Women's Residence Hall at the University of Texas.)

    During his last year as a student at the University of Texas, Mills submitted an essay entitled "Language, Logic and Culture" to the American Sociological Review. On February 23, 1939, Read Bain wrote Mills to let him know that the journal would not publish the essay, although they would be willing to consider a condensed version of it. He also jokingly mentioned that Mills had not included postage for the return of the manuscript unless it had been confiscated by Howard P. Becker, who originally received the package. Mills sent the following letter with his revision of the article.


To Read Bain, from Austin, Texas, dated March 2, 1939

Dear Sir:

    Much that was dear to my heart I have unselfishly cast aside! I have cut and cut and cut, and this is as short as I can make it.

    Believe me grateful for your specific suggestions for deletion. I have found them good, and in the main I have followed them. Hence, if you decide to publish the article you may affix to the title a footnote to that effect. [...]

    Thanks for your considerations, and go easy on Becker. He swiped no postal funds. I remain the unashamed culprit.

Cordially,
C. Wright Mills


"Language, Logic and Culture" was published in the October 1939 issue of the American Sociological Review. This was Mills's first professional publication; when it came out, he promptly sent a copy to Robert K. Merton, asking for comments and initiating a correspondence and professional association that, as the reader will see, extended throughout Mills's career.

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Table of Contents

Preface xi
Remembrance xvii
My Father Haunts Me xxi
Acknowledgments xxv
Introduction 1
I. Growing Up In Texas: 1916-1939 19
II. Graduate Studies: Madison, Wisconsin, 1939-1941 37
III. Starting Out: College Park, Maryland, 1941-1945 45
IV. Taking It Big: New York, New York, 1945-1956 91
V. An American Aboriginal Goes Abroad: From New York to Europe and Mexico, 1956-1960 205
VI. The Last Two Years: New York and Cuba, 1960-1962 309
Chronology 343
Books 349
Notes On Selected Correspondents 353
About The Editors 359
Glossary Of Abbreviations 361
Index 363
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