The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism

By Daniel Bell | Go to book overview

1
The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism

THE RELATIONSHIP between a civilization's socio-economic structure and its culture is perhaps the most complicated of all problems for the sociologist. A nineteenth-century tradition, one deeply impregnated with Marxist conceptions, held that changes in social structure determined man's imaginative reach. An earlier vision of man--as homo pictor, the symbol-producing animal, rather than as homo faber, the tool-making animal--saw him as a creature uniquely able to prefigure what he would later "objectify" or construct in reality. It thus ascribed to the realm of culture the initiative for change. Whatever the truth of these older arguments about the past, today culture has clearly become supreme; what is played out in the imagination of the artist foreshadows, however dimly, the social reality of tomorrow.

Culture has become supreme for two complementary reasons. First, culture has become the most dynamic component of our civilization, outreaching the dynamism of technology itself. There is now in art--as there has increasingly been for the past 100 years--a dominant impulse toward the new and original, a self-conscious search for future forms and sensations, so that the idea of change and novelty overshadows the dimensions of actual change. And, second, there has come about, in the last 50 years or so, a legitimation of this cultural impulse. Society now accepts this role for the imagination, rather than seeing culture, as in the past, as setting a

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