Post-Intellectualism and the Decline of Democracy: The Failure of Reason and Responsibility in the Twentieth Century

Post-Intellectualism and the Decline of Democracy: The Failure of Reason and Responsibility in the Twentieth Century

Post-Intellectualism and the Decline of Democracy: The Failure of Reason and Responsibility in the Twentieth Century

Post-Intellectualism and the Decline of Democracy: The Failure of Reason and Responsibility in the Twentieth Century

Synopsis

Our society's institutional infrastructures--our democratic political system, economic structures, legal practices, and educational establishment--were all created as intellectual outgrowths of the Enlightenment. All our cultural institutions are based on the intellectual idea that an enlightened citizenry could govern its affairs with reason and responsibility. In the late 20th century, however, we are witnessing the disintegration of much of our cultural heritage. Wood argues that this is due to our evolution into a post-intellectual society--a society characterized by a loss of critical thinking, the substitution of information for knowledge, mediated reality, increasing illiteracy, loss of privacy, specialization, psychological isolation, hyper-urbanization, moral anarchy, and political debilitation. These post-intellectual realities are all triggered by three underlying determinants: the failure of linear growth and expansion to sustain our economic system; the runaway information overload; and technological determinism. Wood presents a new and innovative social theory, challenging readers to analyze all our post-intellectual cultural malaise in terms of these three fundamental determinants.

Excerpt

I recently reviewed a book which was about the electronic revolution and its relationship to democracy. The author was enthusiastic about how computer technology would restore the concept of participatory democracy by allowing citizens to participate in continuous plebiscites and by giving them direct access to legislators. He compared this situation to the kind of democracy that existed in the fifth century B.C. in Athens, and he didn't seem to think that there was much difference between a nation of 250 million people spread across a continent and a city-state of about 5,000 slave-holding citizens. As a consequence, he spent a good deal of time delighting in our good fortune. Technology, he believes, has come just in time to save us.

Donald Wood sees things more deeply than this. He understands that the threats to a democratic way of life cannot be so easily defended against by technological innovation; in fact, cannot be defended at all by technological innovation. He quotes Lewis Lapham telling us the following: "The hope of democratic government descends from the ancient Greeks by way of the Italian Renaissance and the Enlightenment, but no matter how often it has been corrupted and abused . . . it constitutes the only morality currently operative in the world." Professor Wood's book is about the kind of morality that democracy stands for, how it came to be, what the dangers are to it, and how we might proceed to preserve it. To accomplish such a task, one must have a deep understanding of history as well as a keen sense of contemporary social, technological, and political trends. This is exactly the sort of knowledge Professor Wood possesses, and there is no other phrase for what he has accomplished than tour- de-force.

I am confident that readers of this book will take seriously Professor Wood's arguments, will come to fear and disdain the post-intellectual age, and will be cheered by Professor Wood's sensible remedies to the failure of reason and responsibility.

Neil Postman New York City, 1996 . . .

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