THE CULTURAL CONTRADICTIONS OF CAPITALISM by Daniel Bell

THE CULTURAL CONTRADICTIONS OF CAPITALISM

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KIRKUS REVIEW

This book rests on nostalgia for the peaceful 1950's, when Bell rose to prominence as a messenger announcing ""the end of ideology""; Bell now wishes people would curb their ""unrestrained appetite"" and return to ""tradition."" He begins with a polemic against the idea that society is ""integral,"" and offers instead a poor man's structuralism, a common-sense division of social spheres into the economic, political and cultural. The book addresses each of these in turn. Modernist culture, Bell accurately insists, has been senile for the last 50 years, and the counterculture grows more and more bestial. However, the only poles of artistic expression Bell defines are classical imitation of reality, or iconoclastic transformation of that reality into chaos--which seems to leave out such great artists as Goya or Breughel. On the level of politics, Bell deplores the decay of US global ascendancy, which will be complete by the year 2000. On the economic level, he identifies the ""mountain of debt"" and deficiency of real production as key problems. But murderous inflation or dictatorial economic controls are seen as the only alternatives: a ""tragic sense of life"" is recommended. In order to justly distribute what remains, ""undue and illegitimate influence and command of resources"" should be avoided. Who defines and enforces ""legitimacy"" is not explored; and Bell's other principle, ""to each according to the powers and privileges appropriate to each sphere,"" raises the same question. Writing like Boethius besieged by Goths, Bell defends humane liberalism, but explicitly opposes the ""hubris"" that produced liberalism's highest accomplishments. And Bell's right to lament the immorality of the counterculture and the persistence of ""appetite"" remains a dubious one, since it was he who denied the existence of fundamental moral problems beyond technical patchwork.

Pub Date: Jan. 29th, 1975
Publisher: Basic Books