The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism

By Daniel Bell | Go to book overview

Preface

THIS BOOK stands in a dialectical relation to my previous book, The Coming of Post-Industrial Society. In that volume, I sought to show how technology (including intellectual technology) and the codification of theoretical knowledge as a new principle for innovation and policy were reshaping the techno-economic order, and with it, the stratification system of the society as well. In these essays, I deal with culture, especially the idea of modernity, and with the problems of managing a complex polity when the values of the society stress unrestrained appetite. The contradictions I see in contemporary capitalism derive from the unraveling of the threads which had once held the culture and the economy together, and from the influence of the hedonism which has become the prevailing value in our society.

As in the previous volume, I also have a more formal theoretical intention. Almost all of contemporary social science thinks of society as some unified "system," organized around some single major principle (for Marx, it is property relations; for Talcott Parsons, it is a dominant value, such as achievement) which seeks to "reproduce" itself through the dominant institutions. It is my belief, on the other hand, that one can best analyze modern society by thinking of it as an uneasy amalgam of three distinct realms: the social structure (principally the techno-economic order), the polity, and the culture. The idea of post-industrialism, I argued, is limited specifically to changes in the techno-economic order. But changes in the social structure do not determine either the polity or the culture. If anything, in most instances in the contemporary world, it is the political order which has become the true control system of the society.

The argument elaborated in this book is that the three realms-- the economy, the polity, and the culture--are ruled by contrary axial principles: for the economy, efficiency; for the polity, equality; and

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