What Is a Summary of ‘The Promise’ by C. Wright Mills?


“The Promise” is the first chapter in the 1959 book by C. Wright Mills called The Sociological Imagination. Mills was a researcher who studied relationships between people and the world. In the first chapter of his book, Mills explores a variety of topics, ranging from apathy to bureaucracy.

The Sociological Imagination

In 1998, Mills’ book was called one of the most important books about sociology from the 1900s. The book talks about how change impacted men and women throughout the 1900s. It talks about changes that occurred during the time period and how people understood the changes they experienced. He believed that this changed social order.

In “The Promise,” Mills claims that each person should adopt a sociological imagination. This is a way of thinking and asking questions. He claims that people should be asking sociological questions.

Mills’ Thoughts About Sociology

Mill felt that researchers had a responsibility to determine how the social environments of people were connected to the wider historical and social contexts. He studied milieu, social environments in which individuals lived in. This helped establish an approach called structural functionalism.

In summation, Mills determined that the way people respond and act is mainly based on the things happening around them at the time. Personality and character traits are not an indication that somebody will react a certain way.

Mills’ Thoughts About Apathy

Mills writes about apathy. Apathy occurs when somebody does not care about something. Mills saw apathy as dangerous. He also believed apathy to be especially dangerous to the creation of modern society. One example he gives is based on the idea that ordinary people began to hand over power to small groups of elites. He also discusses the idea that most people feel trapped by their current lives. He says they feel trapped because they can’t view their lives any differently. 

When Do People Act?

Mills also argues that a person may not act if their values are not threatened. They are in a state of well-being. When people believe their values are being threatened, they go into crisis mode. When this happens, they still sometimes are unable to act. They are powerless.

In this chapter, Mills describes a man living in the 1950s. This man is powerless. He only cares about his daily routine. He works hard and comes home to his family. His role in the world is limited. Mills also discusses anxiety about nuclear war that occurred through the 1950s. The man in his story cannot have an impact on global politics or the fact that war could happen.

The Main Problems in American Society

In “The Promise,” Mills writes about five problems he sees in American society. He describes them as alienation, threats to democracy, conflict between human reason and bureaucracy, threats to freedom, and lack of moral sense. Mills discusses the need to view human experience, history, and current events as parts of one whole.