The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism

By Daniel Bell | Go to book overview

5
Unstable America: Transitory and Permanent Factors in a National Crisis

FOR ANYONE considering the State of the Union at the opening of the 1960s, a question about the sources of political and social instability would have seemed an improbable one. The United States was then seemingly at the height of its powers. The Communist world, after the 1956-1957 convulsions in Poland and Hungary, was apparently failing into disarray. Domestically, there had been eight years of relatively high prosperity at stable prices. The threat of radical-right extremism, embodied by Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, had faded away. The social justice movement for the blacks was under way, beginning with the epochal Supreme Court decision of 1954 ( Brown v. Board of Education), which had legitimated the black claim for integration; and the Eisenhower administration itself had taken the highly symbolic step of sending federal troops into a Southern community ( Little Rock, Arkansas) to protect the right of black children to enter white schools. Like the public personality of President Eisenhower himself, the country seemed bland, self-assured, and eager to advance the broad, if platitudinous, conceptions of universalism in foreign affairs and progress at home.

There were some small clouds on the horizon. Economic growth had slowed down, so that by the end of the 1950s it was no longer rising at a rate sufficient to match the increases in the labor force and in productivity. From 1953 to 1960, the labor force grew at a

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