The culture crunch: Daniel Bell’s The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism
Andrew Gilbert
La Trobe University, Australia

Thesis Eleven 00(0) 1–13 ª The Author(s) 2013 Reprints and permissions: DOI: 10.1177/0725513613500383

Abstract Daniel Bell’s The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism lies at the intersection of the three ´ mile Durkheim main theoretical currents of sociological thought, those of Karl Marx, E and Max Weber. His ‘three realms’ methodology moves away from deterministic accounts that subordinate the political and cultural to the economic realm. By granting each realm an autonomy and principles of their own, Bell locates the contradictions of capitalism in the friction between them. With constant innovation, individual expressiveness and libertarian social values becoming forces in-and-of-themselves, prevailing social structures and the roles within them are left looking increasingly incoherent, illegitimate and meaningless. Likewise, the shift from Protestant asceticism to modernist hedonism creates a sharp tension between the demand for a disciplined and responsible workforce and the demand for economic growth through unrestrained and instantly gratifying consumerism. The result is a complex of crisis scenarios which were manifest with the end of the post-war boom. However, as other commentators have pointed out, Bell’s prophetic theses often seem to fail under the light of subsequent history. Keywords anomie, Daniel Bell, capitalism, crisis, debt, legitimation, modernism, post-modernism

As midnight approached on the night of 16 January 1920 at the First Congregational Church of Washington, DC, ecstatic eyes were fixed on the clock. It had been an evening

Corresponding author: Andrew Gilbert, Department of Sociology, La Trobe University, School of Social Sciences, Lvl 4 SS Building, La Trobe University, Bundoora, Melbourne, 3083, Australia. Email:

reading the tea leaves of the present in an attempt to augur tomorrow. at the same time. ‘They are dead. Alcoholism had long been considered central to all that was holding the nation back from a life of moral rectitude and righteousness. and their repercussions were still working themselves out in the mid-1970s. While recently Bell may have been somewhat forgotten by the intellectual mainstream. Daniel Bell’s work stands as arguably the most prophetic sociological analysis of post-war America. and what useful tools for thinking he can still give us. the large and influential crowd of politicians. when Bell was documenting and analysing them in The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism. Daniel Bell seems to fit all the ideal types of the troubled intellectual of the 1970s: the finger-wagging conservative. And this is what makes his work so interesting. he triumphantly proclaimed to an audience bursting into applause (Hibben 2004: 365). He transverses multiple positions with a counterintuitive heterodoxy that. and after decades of struggle. The worker would labour harder than ever.2 Thesis Eleven 00(0) of celebration and ceremony. Bell forecasts a world beyond the classical conflicts that marked the turbulent first half of the 20th century. Yet. Twelve months earlier. that sought the young child’s life’. activists and clergy erupted into a cheer. this was the shot that opened the final battle of a cultural war being waged between two ideal types of American character: the puritanical and self-disciplined small town Protestant against the hedonistic and impulsive consumer of the big city (Bell 1976: 64). over the forces of darkness. a last ditch effort to circumvent changes that had already occurred. this was seen to be a decisive victory over human vice. now the serpent was slain. The women and children would be safe from their fathers. These changes would prove decisive for the future of American society. After all. intoxicated by nothing but his own moral righteousness. it was a war the consumers would decisively win. After a year of preparation. it is worth considering what we can learn from him. Prohibition would prove to be a pyrrhic victory for America’s moralistic minority. Bell’s thought is never really at home in one particular ideological or political current. Cultural Contradictions is definitely of its moment. it is only natural that a discipline founded to make sense of the jarring shocks of the transition into modernity would cast an eye into the future. From The End of Ideology to The Coming of Post-Industrial Society. To Daniel Bell. Building on this. As the clock struck 12. To the people gathered together that evening. writing some 55 years later. The popular conception of the 1970s is of a cynical and pessimistic decade. For Bell. the 18th amendment of the United States Constitution had been passed. ‘annoyed almost everyone’. prohibiting the sale. in many ways. A scapegoat for almost every conceivable dissatisfaction. the dispirited socialist. his face streaming with tears. manufacture and transportation of intoxicating liquor. this was the moment that prohibition would take effect. his two other most influential books. The strong ideological . in each case Bell breaks the mould. lobbyists. the hard-nosed political realist. His prophetic visions of the future of capitalism. Cultural Contradictions stands in a long tradition of sociological prophecy that stretches right back to sociology’s very foundations. At one minute past midnight William Jennings Bryan was on the stage. as we again struggle through times of ‘crisis’. the passing of history into a new and better time. America was to be a dry nation. If this is the case. over the devil. a new era could begin. as Fred Block (2011: 53) has put it. rub against the grain of those of his contemporaries.

While all three realms are certainly interrelated and interdependent. Each moves according to its own logic and principles. Marxism always remained a central tenet of Bell’s thought. not the scrupulous capitalist entrepreneur of the 19th century (Bell 1962: 1973). Finally. for example. As Beilharz (2006: 93) notes. It was borne out of a time of a growing sense of crisis in the mid-1970s. His previous thesis on post-industrialism. yet at the same time it must maintain public consent and be responsive to established conceptions of justice. increase returns and expand indefinitely. Cultural Contradictions moves outwards. centres predominantly on transformations within the economic and technical realm. and how can we fix it? Cultural Contradictions attempts to answer both of those questions. The technicians and scientists. the political and the cultural (Bell 1976: xi).Gilbert 3 programs of the West are now a thing of the past – the new age will be an age of pragmatism. The tone of Cultural Contradictions. are now the standard-bearers of advanced capitalism. In this way it is guided primarily by the principle of ‘equality’. on the other hand. such as in the Marxist or classical Liberal narratives. they remain irreducible to each other. In achieving these ends. This principle is the outcome of the imperatives to reduce costs. How can we explain modern society then? Bell is firstly insistent that we must begin by separating it out into ‘three distinct realms’: the techno-economic. the economy is governed by the principle of maximized efficiency – or ‘functional rationality’ as Bell describes it. And it is from a critique of historical materialism that Bell moves to an elaboration of the theoretical approach of Cultural Contradictions. growing stagflation and economic downturn all meant that the Keynesian approach to macroeconomics which had dominated the West since the Depression era was increasingly coming under question. In this work. Bell characterizes the three realms of modern society in the following way: Firstly. which better facilitate increasing specialization and organization. which is reflected in the representative and participatory structures at the centre of politics. it is through contrasting the different directions and antagonistic developments of the economic. It possesses a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. however. The polity. in collaboration with the expanding modern state. Three realms Bell’s overarching argument here is that the answers to these questions cannot be gleaned from an examination of the economy alone. the economic realm gives rise to structures of bureaucracy and hierarchy. only not as a doctrine to follow so much as something to be thought against. It must manage the diverse – and occasionally antagonistic – desires and interests of its populace in a non-preferential way. is distinctly more pessimistic than his previous works. the modes of consciousness and the ritualistic patterns through . Two big questions arose out of this situation: what went wrong. the cultural realm consists of the symbols of expression. the retreat of manual labour as the central occupational role of America opens up to a form of new society where information is currency and the chance of the marketplace is increasingly replaced by a state focused on planning and organization. must mediate between coercion and justice. The oil shock of 1973. political and cultural realms that Bell discovers the contradictions of advanced capitalism. Likewise. of a balancing act between competing interest groups.

The outcome would be the ascendance of new cultural sensibilities that rejected capitalist functional rationality and replaced it with the immediate. less rationalized and calculable sources of value. but the reaction against it would represent a swing back to culture as the pilot of consciousness. and traditional religious sensibilities have been replaced by a modern drive toward self-gratification (Bell 1976: 11–13). However. culture has well and truly replaced the economic as the motor of modernity (Bell 1976: 33–4). Culture and modernism This reaction was initially an aesthetic one. (Luka ´ cs 1995: 149) For Luka ´ cs. Traditionally. There has long been a tension present in modernity between the structural demands of a rationalized. The vanguard of this change was the movements of modern art: modernism. these art forms were initially encountered as insular and esoteric and met with derision by the public of more practically minded bourgeois consumers. And precisely because everything comes from within. Bell considers art to be conducive to these sorts of moods. present in the more expressive forms of art which disseminated during the 19th century. It is something Georg Luka ´ cs railed against over 100 years ago when he complained that: The fundamental lie of aesthetic culture or (in some of its serious representatives) its tragic paradox is that it has proscribed all real spiritual activity. In effect. existential self as the locus of judgement (Bell 1976: 36). this is an extension of Max Weber’s ‘Protestant ethic’ thesis. This society sought all value in the calculation and measurement of . However. this realm was almost synonymous with religion and. However. This clashed with the previously dominant culture of asceticism and discipline which had once served to legitimate the dominant trends in the economic sphere. and equated all manifestations of life with an affectionate surrender to transient moments. rationalization was still in the driving seat. Indeed. accumulative capitalist economy and movements in the cultural sphere that search for more expressive. This tension reaches back to early romanticism and even earlier. one of Bell’s key arguments is that this is no longer the case. Bell argues that. what characterized 20thcentury culture was the growing hegemony of an ‘anti-rationalist’ critical cultural impulse. never really panned out (Bell 1976: 53). reflected in its institutions. hence. threatening an ominous future of stultifying bureaucracy and bleak disenchantment. ‘aesthetic culture’ was what became of a reaction to the alienation of bourgeois society. critiques of modernity mostly remained peripheral to the mainstream. in the late 20th century. The Protestant ethic may have enthroned the technical and economic sphere as the initial dominant force of modernity. The story starts with culture. when Weber was writing. In those periods. Bell argues. What Weber did not see so clearly were the cultural battles that would rage throughout the early decades of the 20th century. It is a somewhat dystopic vision which. nothing really comes from without. as the work of art creates a space where hopes and fantasies of the unfulfilled self can be realized without having to confront the limitations imposed by exposure to concrete reality (Bell 1976: 110–11). battles in which Weber’s ideas would play no small part.4 Thesis Eleven 00(0) which individuals make sense of their world.

the aesthete is not a coherent subject at all. It moves from a small-town Protestant America – of closely knit communities. strong religious sentiments.Gilbert 5 the object. Entering into debt. is one of transition. Likewise. Dovetailing with transformations in technology and social organization. In the decades following the First World War. mass consumption. previously a source of deep shame for the parsimonious middle classes. however. The result was that by the 1950s the concept of an avant-garde had little meaning. What began as the modernist revolution in aesthetics became a revolution in life-style. In this sense. . and the dominant mode of culture became both self-expressive and dismissive of tradition and hierarchy. In doing so. Iconoclasm had become the normal. and the emergence of a welfare state that can mitigate the failures of capitalism are all of a piece with a culture that is sceptical of arbitrary authority and validates mass consumption for the middle and working classes. state-directed Keynesian macroeconomics. self-restraint. which celebrated hedonistic mass consumption and individual possession. Likewise. isolated in their concerns to an excavation of their own fleeting sensations and emotions. as advertisers and manufacturers took up the trend toward self-fulfilment now ubiquitous in art and transformed it into a business model. ‘Aesthetic culture’ can thus co-exist in an easy parallel with the iron cage as both are equally ‘onedimensional’ and isolated to their own concerns (Luka ´ cs 1995: 147). For Bell. at the expense of the subject. mass communication. The narrative. finally. because they have blocked out any objectivity through which subjectivity can be dialectically realized. frugality and moralism – to an urbanized America of cultural diversity. then. this is initially complementary to the structural transformation from rural agricultural capitalism. entailed an increasingly expressive and impressionistic retreat into a totalization of the self. became legitimized as a means to fulfilment. mass transportation. According to Bell. as artists tried to escape their roles as specialists and ‘break down’ the divide between artistic producer and consumer (Bell 1976: 96). mode of cultural expression. What was previously shocking to bourgeois sensibility had become normalized. from the post-war era onward. which made the continued attacks on it even more tedious for Bell. it complements political developments: universal suffrage. social liberalism. The alternative however. leaving nothing sacred enough to meaningfully profane. the modernist’s insular criticisms of the alienating experience of modern society became directed outwards. indicated by the growing popularity of the instalment plan and credit card (Bell 1976: 69–70). even cliche ´ d. Nobody defended Protestant morality anymore. this situation did not last. class compromise. this milieu of avant-garde cultural critics and artists would gradually transform from being discontented outsiders into being the primary authors of mainstream culture. into a post-industrial society of state-centred economic organization and a knowledge economy. and liberal values. these changes in behaviour and perception were central to the emergence of a Fordist economic model of growth through mass consumption throughout the 20th century. This trend spilled out of the cultural realm and into economics. to mass industrialism and. and was thus unable to generate meaningful culture. they just become another one of modernity’s specialists. The aesthete turns away from the outside world and focuses solely on the transient moods of the immediate subject as the foundation of value.

Perhaps the most fundamental contradiction regards the sustainability of production itself. The function of culture. modernism has undermined the key motivation for continued participation in society. Occupational roles no longer appear within a clear division of labour. Instead we are left with a diffusion of different sub-cultures. leading to the diagnoses of alienation. by abandoning the virtues of restraint and discipline endemic to the Protestant ethic. where the game was played against a world of technical and economic objects of humanity’s own making. As Marvin Olsen has shown (1965: 37). luxury and permissiveness lacks the motive forming power to legitimate the necessity of work. is that. reification and disenchantment which pervaded the theses of classical sociology. The consequences are manifold and Bell prophesizes a complex of different crisis scenarios emerging as the 20th century draws to a close. (2) the industrial era.6 Thesis Eleven 00(0) Diagnoses Bell’s charge. with anomic breakdowns being temporary ruptures caused by abnormal circumstances (Durkheim 1964: 353). The economy still requires a disciplined and reliable workforce. there is a contradiction opening between the functional rationality demanded by economic realm and a growing anti-rational turn in the cultural realm toward immediate self-gratification (Bell 1976: 84). . subjects are left negotiating only with other subjects. Hence. Contrarily. autonomy and unadulterated intersubjectivity realized. Overspecialization undermines the possibility of a coherent. Religious rewards for vocational work no longer hold any traction. in the long run. for Bell. Bell’s concern is that. however. Another contradiction within culture is the growing sense of anomie pervading advanced capitalism. He traces the patterns of work through three historical phases (Bell 1976: 146–7): (1) a pre-industrial ‘game against nature’ where labour was extractive and subject to the contingencies of the natural world. It is the Enlightenment ideal of a society of recognition. where an economy of knowledge and service means the game is now played against each other. Instead. and both appear in Bell. But the tendencies toward specialization and differentiation put a strain on the individual’s ability to symbolically represent social reality and their position within it (Bell 1976: 95). Bell’s analysis interestingly blends Durkheimian prognoses with a Weberian narrative of cultural development. like string puppets hanging from a hypostatized objective socio-economic structure. in advanced modernity a common ‘collective conscience’ is no longer possible. Durkheim tends to assume that a culture based on organic solidarity is the product of an increasingly complex social order. yet the cultural sphere is socializing individuals who explicitly reject this. shared culture. (3) the post-industrial era. in the Durkheimian sense. The first involves the cultural tasks of integration and meaning within an increasingly complex social order. there are two ways in which Durkheim used the concept of anomie in his work. these cultural changes have become contradictory to the imperatives of the polity and economy. A cultural orientation that promises gratification. and it is unclear what can replace them. has always been to offer an integrative world-view which could provide a regulative framework that articulates and cognizes the social structure.

Radicalism gave way to a cynical and rabid individualism (Bell 1976: 145). The result is a disorientating anomic limitlessness. But now we encounter the opposite problem. The way in which these dichotomies are symbolized and codified has always been religion (Bell 1976: 166–7). of a culture weighted away from regulation and incorporation and focused solely on release. apocalyptic moods and childish primitivism. we are more in need of a strong.Gilbert 7 Here Bell is both sceptical and conservative. They always assumed gravitation back to equilibrium. freedom of impulse. It had nothing new to say. a process of profanation has made transgression a virtue. too focused on the sacred. . Over the last century. Durkheim foresaw something of this when he wrote: ‘[O]ne does not advance when one walks toward no goal. Counter-culture was no real culture at all. leaving nothing to work with except superficial shock. Bell sees culture as a necessary balancing act between the dichotomies of restraint and release. eroticism. modernism was finished as a creative force. This sense of cultural deficit permeates his diagnoses of the 1960s as a dysfunctional decade of glorified violence. And in the realm of culture. with no clear path back. For Bell. was the pathetic celebration of the self – a self that had been emptied of content and which masqueraded as being vital through the playacting of Revolution’ (Bell 1976: 144). Without a strong culture. Its formerly anti-bourgeois. in the name of liberation. religion has been in retreat. revolutionary postures became colonized by commerce. having discredited religion. however. what Durkheim. Yet he acknowledges that any future religious revival must take place as individual choices and will not manifest itself as a unitary social order (Bell 1976: 169). beyond the constraints imposed by art. and other functionalist accounts did not foresee is a society totally emptied of the sacred. He is particularly venomous in his portrayal of counterculture. A culture like this can live for a time. feeding itself destructively on the capital of the past. For now the problem remains. It provides the psychological spearhead for an onslaught on the values and patterns of ‘ordinary behaviour’. This should be the job of culture. Without any sense of an object to struggle against. However. suggesting a swing back to religious sentiments as the existential answers provided by reason alone are found wanting. tradition and reason and replaced them with an exaltation of the hedonistic and irrational. which he dismisses as anti-rational and self-obsessive: ‘All that there was. And this is where the two concepts of anomie intersect. the ‘post-modernist mood’ (Bell 1976: 51). or – which is the same thing – when his goal is infinity’ (Durkheim 2006: 208). grounding moral compass than ever. spectacle and sensation. If modernism critically undermined religion and morality when it replaced them with aesthetic values. but soon there are no longer any boundaries left to break. for Bell. and by the 1970s it had exhausted itself. It destroyed culture. But it is precisely this moment that culture is most unable to live up to its task. Secularization has eroded the sense of community that religion once engendered. though. is unsustainably stifling and totalitarian. and the like (Bell 1976: 52). The second concept of anomie involves a sense of meaninglessness and fluctuation that define. Bell considers this a dangerous cultural trend. the sacred and the profane. He clings to Durkheimian concepts because he does not want to accept the permanence of Weber’s secular disenchantment. postmodernism pushes even further. Bell is in partial agreement here. we remain adrift in a meaningless sense of anomie. A society that is too restrained.

which rationality can never solve once and for all. hedonistic culture in religious form. it should perhaps be viewed as the problem. recession and fiscal pressure that characterized the 1970s. The problem here is that there is a political price for failing to satisfy these desires. while at the same time providing a hospitable environment for private enterprise. in a very similar vein to Ju ¨ rgen Habermas’s Legitimation Crisis. and the possibility of crisis if the cultural realm produces dysfunctional values. Bell is concerned with bringing restraint and a sense of the sacred back into culture. Prescription? Here. however. For Bell. For Bell. This is contrasted with the capitalist economy. This is what culture must speak to. Traditionally. the problem has been traced to the way popular values can legitimize the activity of the state. where the expectation is that the public household is there to satisfy every want. The relation was more than economic. However. and it is Bell’s contention that only religion is sufficiently ambiguous and hermeneutic enough to meaningfully sustain this. yet seeks to temper its excesses through a strengthened sense of public virtue (Bell 1976: 255).8 Thesis Eleven 00(0) The contradictions become even sharper when we consider the political realm. His suggestion is religion (Bell 1976: 166–7). although it is never really spelled out how a return to religion fits with this or where it would come from. Technology and reason have expanded humanity’s capacity to dominate nature. subsequent developments have seen the rise of a culture of entitlement. Bell argues that the modern state has developed into a public household that initially sought to meet the needs of its citizens as a way of ameliorating the deficiencies and exploitation of the market. the promise of full employment. expanding civil rights and investment in education and technological research. Political actors must therefore balance the panoply of demands arising from a diverse and complex post-ideological society with the state’s budgetary limitations. However. not just act as a safety net of needs fulfilment (Bell 1976: 239–40). these contradictions go a long way in explaining crises of inflation. based on a communicative ethic grounded in the ‘ideal speech situation’ (Habermas 1975: 110). it was emotional. He is also sceptical about unrestrained capitalism. This is a consciousness that returns a sense of civitas – a unity of shared rights and responsibilities – to the centre of cultural life. as both the means and ends to liberation. If anything. The journey of politics from the Second World War to the moment Bell was writing was one of a growing welfare state. emancipation is not the answer. What he instead points to is a ‘public philosophy’. Bell retains a political liberalism with its emphasis on the rights of the individual. This stands as the dialectical centre of an Enlightenment project of emancipation. particularly in the wake of the Great Depression. and this progress Bell views positively. Bell describes this as the expansion of the ‘public household’. he is quick to dismiss contemporary evangelical revivals as little more than reformulations of a self-oriented. but there are existential questions that arise out of the finitude and contingency of human life. While he hopes for no socialist . where the imperative is accumulation and competition and individuals are treated as commodities within it (Bell 1976: 220–23). Habermas looks forward to a rational culture. the private household was a unit insulated from market forces. where every family member’s physical needs must be met before the desires of others are fulfilled.

he sees a greater level of economic equality and the mutual recognition it entails as integral to his project. And it is not due to some inner direction to complete God’s work in the world. as evidenced by such phenomena as the Tea Party movement. post-industrial society (Waters 1996: 170–1). but out of a driving sense of competitiveness and ambition. Block nods to Bell’s prescience in anticipating a middle class ‘permanent tax revolt’. Hence: ‘the fit between the instrumental worker. and transcend unbridled market liberalism. only it is couched in much more conservative language. Commentary So what can we make of Bell’s prophetic text nearly four decades later? As Malcolm Waters has noted. which eventually led to the financial crisis of the late 2000s (Block 2011: 61). these arguments can be pushed even further. Bell would have probably accepted this later charge. now ‘replete with pool tables and dress-down Fridays’ (Pooley 2007: 409). he never set out to lay down doctrine (see Beilharz 2006: 96). However. Likewise. the yuppie entrepreneur. it looks vaguely like the Habermasian idealized public sphere. Cultural Contradictions represented a landmark in sociology. de-hierarchized artistic arena is indissoluble’ (Waters 1996: 145). By his own confession. in the direction of neo-Marxism. Herbert Marcuse’s interpretation in One Dimensional Man is that gratifying consumerism . In this narrative. In the end. Waters suggests that Bell’s emphasis on the necessity of symbolic and cultural motivations to work. the rapacious consumer and a spectacular.Gilbert 9 utopia. It anticipated many developments which would take place in the discipline over the following decades. particularly in its close examination of post-modernism and its sense of a more subjectively fashioned. fuelled by resentment of a perceived underclass of under-serving welfare dependants. Block argues that it is the failure to heed warnings like those of Bell. The public philosophy must be able to contain excessive economic appetites but remain pragmatic and adaptable in its distribution of goods (Bell 1976: 259. Jefferson Pooley is essentially making the same criticism when he points to the way a hedonistic lifestyle has colonized the corporate office environment. As Howard Brick remarks. Bell’s call for a ‘public philosophy’ has ‘no embodiment in the society around him’. where an engaged public actively debate the direction of both state policy and cultural values (Bell 1976: 278). These governments would come to feed on an individualistic and self-directed culture in an attack on sentiments of equality and collectivism. and what it may look like. What is lacking is a clear understanding of how this can be achieved in a post-ideological and post-industrial society. reflexive. he is thus left looking strategically impotent (Brick 1986: 210). hedonistic culture creates wants that the eager consumer must perform labour to fulfil. This still continues today. occludes an alternative interpretation that sees a motivational force in material gratification (Waters 1996: 144). Pooley points to statistics that show people currently work longer hours than they ever have. 277). Indeed. At the same time. that would propel neo-liberal and monetarist governments to power across the western world (Block 2011: 55). and of the centrality of religious discipline in this.

as any notion of a post-industrial escape from alienation would surely seem entirely foreign to someone employed in a contemporary call centre or data entry firm. It is worth pointing out. But Bell’s tripartite methodology has come under sharp criticism too. helping them reconcile themselves with a totalitarian society of social domination (Marcuse 1964: 83–90). this points to a limitation in Bell’s work. forcing workers into a state of constant anxiety about economic security. An endless procession of fleeting and immediate satisfactions helps distract the consumer from both a deep inner unhappiness and a comprehension of the social costs their imperialist civilization is extolling on the foreign Other. hedonism becomes a role where the aspiring individual demonstrates their ability to enjoy life as a signifier of their immanent success and employability (Cremin 2011: 40). argues that Bell’s disjunctive view of economy and culture grants these two realms too much independence. and Bell does stress the enabling effect of consumer goods and available credit on the hedonistic turn. labour proceeds with a similar monotony to that of an assembly line. In one sense. that for many employed in service economy. when recreation becomes interwoven with the routines and demands of work. Updating Marcuse. although Cremin also inverts it by arguing that work is expanding outward into pleasure. the contradiction between modernism and capitalism plays out ‘almost as if they occurred in different societies’. The point is not that they originated in different places. or as a time to facilitate the kinds of social networking necessary to stay ahead in the job market. as would he point to their frameworks. it ceases to be truly recreational at all. and that pleasure is now tainted because of it. Looking back to Luka ´ cs. The escape of modernism into everyday life was co-determinate with economic transformation. this is perhaps somewhat unfair. Any frivolity inside the workplace. and that these have meant that the different realms are now taking . political and cultural realms. and the way they let the demands of the economic sphere determine their analysis of culture. This coincides with an increasing structural instability. The idea of a closing gap between pastimes and occupations is likely specific to an elite minority situated at the higher levels of the economic hierarchy. Moreover. and turn into theatres of competition over employment. Leisure itself ceases to be fun as the worker seeks to utilize that time calculatedly and competitively. though. while certainly not suggesting a turn to Marx. is just a means to divert attention away from the enduring fact of capitalist domination (Cremin 2011: 119–22). Bell would likely dismiss neo-Marxist accounts like those of Marcuse and Cremin as nothing more than symptomatic of the very pathological limitlessness he had diagnosed. this is true. In another sense. According to Cremin. promotions and social capital. rather than seeing them both as the product of bourgeois society (Redner 2013: 190–1). the development of modernism did indeed involve an aesthetic isolation from bourgeois society. seeing it more as a series of extra-curricular activities which become impressive additions to their resume. This bears some relation to Pooley’s point. for Cremin. For Redner. however.10 Thesis Eleven 00(0) and hedonistic leisure actually pacifies and constrains the individual. Similarly. rather it is that there are unintended consequences to both consumerism and modernism. as a deficient and erroneous way to understand the interaction of the economic. Colin Cremin argues that leisure is becoming ever more illusory in advanced capitalist society as the sites of hedonistic play increasingly become colonized by the job market. Harry Redner.

This sort of activity seems to fly in the face of crisis narratives which see legitimation as the central problem for a political sphere assailed by contradictory interests. Bell’s vocabulary of entitlement and hedonism turns into his intentions into its opposite: justification for a sacrifice of public needs for the needs of continual and untrammelled accumulation by the financial elite. combined with financial deregulation. in the years following Cultural Contradictions. Conclusion The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism is undoubtedly the product of a specific moment. leads into other considerations with which we can relate Bell’s work to our own times. as it demonstrates the dominant influence of big capital over politics. Bell’s call for civitas is more relevant – even if more distant – than ever. the global economy had entered into deeply turbulent waters. fuelled a real estate asset bubble that imploded in 2007.Gilbert 11 society in contradictory directions. like Occupy Wall Street. there has been a demonstrable rise in household debt to compensate for stagnating wages and retreating state entitlements. Perhaps this just suggests that. while their homes continued to be foreclosed and the occupants found themselves thrown out onto the street. in Bell’s narrative household debt only encourages gratifying consumerism. however. and oppositional movements. To the chagrin of much of the public. The state naturally stepped in. sharply accelerating an already growing trend of private home foreclosures and leaving the world financial industry on the verge of total collapse. the state worked hard to shore up the biggest investment firms with a series of bailouts that created a tab totalling over $12 trillion (New York Times. in the hands of austerity’s champions. Blindness to the coercive aspects of the contemporary economy – both in the workplace and the home – leads to overstatements on the role of culture and undermines Bell’s predictive power. 24 July 2011). This rising debt. have either been ignored or violently repressed by the state. Moreover. at everyone else’s (quite literal) expense. It is interesting to think about the connection between a growing demographic of debt-encumbered homeowners and the growing resentment toward entitlement and tax expenditure that Bell mentions. any prospect of a revived civitas was well and truly buried by a revitalization of classical liberal economics and a delegitimization of the Keynesian expanded ‘public household’. If anything. it just points us back to Marx. For example. The spectre of debt. and after nearly 40 years Keynesian hegemony over social policy and macroeconomics was coming apart at the seams. which can be considered an effective means of ‘defusing social discontent’ and stabilizing the market (Harvey 1974: 244). but it did not pander to popular interests (Graeber 2011: 381). Public opinion is generally dismissed. Likewise. While the consequences of this have been uneven. Debt is again a source of shame. in the light of recent events. When it was published in 1976. It delays the repayment for satisfactions and serves to obscure the financial limitations of the consumer (Bell 1976: 69–70). David Harvey has argued that debt has a disciplining and conservatizing effect on the workforce. He does not consider how it may have the opposite effect. Nothing had yet developed to . but only when held by a socially supportive state. A mortgage gives someone a stake in the system. As we have seen. and imposes the imperative to repay it.

New York: Free Press. New York: Basic Books. Bell D (1973) The Coming of Post-Industrial Society: A Venture in Social Forecasting. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. New York: The Free Durkheim E Press. 24 July. The Sociological Quarterly 6(1): 37–44. New Brunswick: Transaction. Breakthrough Journal 1: 53– Thus. Habermas J (1975) Legitimation Crisis. Pooley J (2007) Straight by day. Block F (2011) Daniel Bell’s prophecy. The Review of Communication 7(4): 401–410. the conservatives remain fixated on the necessity of the fading culture and morality of their fathers. Brooklyn: Melville House. Kadarkay A. Cremin C (2011) Capitalism’s New Clothes: Enterprise.nytimes. ´ (1964) The Division of Labor in Society. Durkheim E Graeber D (2011) Debt: The First 5000 Years. As Corey Robin has perceptively remarked: ‘Conservatives from Edmund Burke to Robert Bork have conflated the transformation of values with the end of value’ (Robin 2013: 31). Available at: http://www. London: Pluto Press. It is a cycle that repeats itself over successive generations. swingers by night: Re-reading Daniel Bell on capitalism and its culture. Brick H (1986) Daniel Bell and the Decline of Intellectual Radicalism: Social Theory and Political Reconciliation in the 1940s. like the orthodox Marxist who clings to a classical conception of politics wholly determined by the economic world under it and dismissive of any structural adaptation beyond this. Hibben P (1929) The Peerless Leader. ´ (2006) Suicide: A Study in Sociology. Bell’s purpose was to diagnose and to intervene. It was therefore a time of crisis in the most literal sense.html Olsen ME (1965) Durkheim’s two concepts of anomie. New York: Basic Books. where their anxiety about change focuses them too exclusively on what has been lost and leaves little room for what is becoming. unable to recognize those of their daughters and sons. Thesis Eleven 85: 93–103. William Jennings Bryan. . it is down to prejudices shared by cultural conservatism generally. London: Routledge. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. In: The Luka 146–159. Bell D (1962) The End of Ideology: On the Exhaustion of Political Ideas in the Fifties. Marcuse H (1964) One Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society. Harvey D (1974) Class-monopoly rent. References Beilharz P (2006) Ends and rebirths: An interview with Daniel Bell. Oxford: Blackwell. finance capital and the urban revolution. Ethics and Enjoyment in Times of Crisis. Regional Studies 8(3/4): 239–255. This is one mould Daniel Bell does not break. ´cs Reader. Boston: Beacon Press. ed.12 Thesis Eleven 00(0) definitively replace it. New York: Farrar & Rinehart. trans. Bell D (1976) The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism. If Bell’s dire warnings of an irresponsible culture kicking the legs out from beneath itself have not proven to be prescient. McCarthy T. Simpson G. trans. to beat a path to stability and enduring liberty. Luka ´ cs G (1995) Aesthetic culture. Culture and the Individual in the Age of Globalization. New York Times (2011) Adding up the government’s total bailout tab. Redner H (2013) Beyond Civilization: Society.

27–36.Gilbert 13 Robin C (2013) Nietzsche’s marginal children: On Friedrich Hayek. pp. . Author biography Andrew Gilbert is a PhD candidate in Sociology at La Trobe University. 27 May. The Nation. London: Routledge. His research focus is on a comparison of crisis narratives in 20th-century social theory. Waters M (1996) Daniel Bell.

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