Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings

By Charles Lemert | Go to book overview

finds itself seeking new purposes within a framework of political society that has rejected, intellectually speaking, the old apocalyptic and chiliastic visions. In the search for a "cause," there is a deep, desperate, almost pathetic anger.❖

W. W. Rostow ( 1916-) studied at Yale, where he received his B.A. in 1936 and his Ph.D. in 1940. He was also a Rhodes Scholar before serving in the Office of Strategic Services during World War II. From 1950 to 1961, he was professor of economic history at MIT. Rostow was special assistant to President John F. Kennedy in 1961, then served on the Policy Planning Council in the Department of State for five years. From 1966 to 1969, during the worst years of the war in Vietnam, he again served as special assistant in the White House. After his service under President Lyndon Johnson, he became professor of economics and history at the University of Texas. Rostow has written many books, including Process of Economic Growth ( 1952) and the more popular Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto ( 1960), from which the selection is taken. His superior academic credentials, along with his years of service in government, lent particular weight to his theory of economic modernization. He was one of the best and brightest to join the Kennedy administration in 1960, bringing with him a philosophy of economic history that was perfectly consistent with Kennedy's goal of reinvigorating the American Golden Age.


Modernization: Stages of Growth

W. W. Rostow( 1960)


The Traditional Society

First, the traditional society. A traditional society is one whose structure is developed within limited production functions, based on pre-Newtonian science and technology, and on pre-Newtonian attitudes towards the physical world. Newton is here used as a symbol for that watershed in history when men came widely to believe that the external world was subject to a few knowable laws, and was systematically capable of productive manipulation.

The conception of the traditional society is, however, in no sense static; and it would not exclude increases in output. Acreage could be expanded; some ad hoc technical innovations, often highly productive innovations, could be introduced in trade, industry and agriculture; productivity could rise with, for example, the improvement of irrigation works or the discovery and diffusion of a new crop. But the central fact about the traditional society was that a ceiling existed on the level of attainable output per head. This ceiling resulted from the fact that the potentialities which flow from modern science and technology were either not available or not regularly and systematically applied.

Both in the longer past and in recent times the story of traditional societies was thus a story of endless change. The area and volume of trade within them and between them fluctuated, for example, with the degree of political and social turbulence, the efficiency of central rule, the upkeep of the roads. Population--and,

____________________
Excerpt from The Stages of Economic Growth ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971), pp. 4-16.

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