Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings

By Charles Lemert | Go to book overview

Daniel Bell ( 1919-) grew up on New York City's Lower East Side, the son of working people. He finished high school at age sixteen and entered City College, where, like many young New York intellectuals, he was part of the anti-Communist Left. After graduating from college in 1938, he studied for his Ph.D. at Columbia University, then taught briefly at the University of Chicago. From 1948 to 1958, he wrote for Fortune magazine while maintaining ties with the academy. In 1959, Bell joined the faculty of Harvard University, where he has remained until the present. Bell has written numerous books and articles, including The End of Ideology ( 1960), from which the selection is taken, and The Coming Post-Industrial Society ( 1973). Though Bell defends the scholar against the intellectual in "The End of Ideology in the West", many would consider him every bit the intellectual by another definition--a serious, informed, and intelligent general social theorist of modern society. Obviously, by the time he began to write for Fortune in 1948, Bell had already relinquished the leftism of his youth. Yet as one can see from this text, the more centrist, even conservative instincts of his adult years were still informed by, and directed against, Marxist social theory. Bell's writings are taken seriously, for good reason, by social theorists from many points in the political spectrum.


The End of Ideology in the West

Daniel Bell( 1960)

This age, too, can add appropriate citations--made all the more wry and bitter by the long period of bright hope that preceded it--for the two decades between 1930 and 1950 have an intensity peculiar in written history: world-wide economic depression and sharp class struggles; the rise of fascism and racial imperialism in a country that had stood at an advanced stage of human culture; the tragic selfimmolation of a revolutionary generation that had proclaimed the finer ideals of man; destructive war of a breadth and scale hitherto unknown; the bureaucratized murder of millions in concentration camps and death chambers.

For the radical intellectual who had articulated the revolutionary impulses of the past century and a half, all this has meant an end to chiliastic hopes, to millenarianism, to apocalyptic thinking--and to ideology. For ideology, which once was a road to action, has come to be a dead end.

Whatever its origins among the French philosophes, ideology as a way of translating ideas into action was given its sharpest phrasing by the left Hegelians, by Feuerbach and by Marx. For them, the function of philosophy was to be critical, to rid the present of the past. ("The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living," wrote Marx.) Feuerbach, the most radical of all the left Hegelians, called himself Luther II. Man would be free, he said, if we could demythologize religion. The history of all thought was a history of progressive disenchantment, and if finally, in Christianity, God had been transformed from a parochial deity to a universal abstraction, the function of criticism--using the radical tool of alienation, or self-estrangement--was to replace theology by anthropol

____________________
Excerpt from The End of Ideology (Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, 1960), pp. 369-375. Reprinted by permission of the author.

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