This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
The culture crunch: Daniel Bell’s The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism
La Trobe University, Australia
Thesis Eleven 00(0) 1–13 ª The Author(s) 2013 Reprints and permissions: sagepub.co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/0725513613500383 the.sagepub.com
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
2 Thesis Eleven 00(0) of celebration and ceremony. the 18th amendment of the United States Constitution had been passed. prohibiting the sale. manufacture and transportation of intoxicating liquor. rub against the grain of those of his contemporaries. 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. ‘annoyed almost everyone’. activists and clergy erupted into a cheer. Bell’s thought is never really at home in one particular ideological or political current. While recently Bell may have been somewhat forgotten by the intellectual mainstream. writing some 55 years later. Bell forecasts a world beyond the classical conflicts that marked the turbulent first half of the 20th century. Cultural Contradictions stands in a long tradition of sociological prophecy that stretches right back to sociology’s very foundations. 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). Cultural Contradictions is definitely of its moment. ‘They are dead. in many ways. Daniel Bell seems to fit all the ideal types of the troubled intellectual of the 1970s: the finger-wagging conservative. as Fred Block (2011: 53) has put it. his face streaming with tears. the large and influential crowd of politicians. Prohibition would prove to be a pyrrhic victory for America’s moralistic minority. a new era could begin. this was seen to be a decisive victory over human vice. intoxicated by nothing but his own moral righteousness. the dispirited socialist. and what useful tools for thinking he can still give us. After a year of preparation. his two other most influential books. A scapegoat for almost every conceivable dissatisfaction. America was to be a dry nation. The women and children would be safe from their fathers. The worker would labour harder than ever. when Bell was documenting and analysing them in The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism. Daniel Bell’s work stands as arguably the most prophetic sociological analysis of post-war America. As the clock struck 12. To the people gathered together that evening. this was the moment that prohibition would take effect. over the forces of darkness. Building on this. Alcoholism had long been considered central to all that was holding the nation back from a life of moral rectitude and righteousness. Yet. and their repercussions were still working themselves out in the mid-1970s. it is worth considering what we can learn from him. These changes would prove decisive for the future of American society. At one minute past midnight William Jennings Bryan was on the stage. as we again struggle through times of ‘crisis’. To Daniel Bell. that sought the young child’s life’. If this is the case. in each case Bell breaks the mould. the hard-nosed political realist. a last ditch effort to circumvent changes that had already occurred. it was a war the consumers would decisively win. Twelve months earlier. And this is what makes his work so interesting. he triumphantly proclaimed to an audience bursting into applause (Hibben 2004: 365). and after decades of struggle. The popular conception of the 1970s is of a cynical and pessimistic decade. now the serpent was slain. After all. reading the tea leaves of the present in an attempt to augur tomorrow. His prophetic visions of the future of capitalism. over the devil. For Bell. lobbyists. at the same time. He transverses multiple positions with a counterintuitive heterodoxy that. the passing of history into a new and better time. The strong ideological . From The End of Ideology to The Coming of Post-Industrial Society.
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. It was borne out of a time of a growing sense of crisis in the mid-1970s. While all three realms are certainly interrelated and interdependent. which is reflected in the representative and participatory structures at the centre of politics. It must manage the diverse – and occasionally antagonistic – desires and interests of its populace in a non-preferential way. the political and the cultural (Bell 1976: xi). in collaboration with the expanding modern state. In this work. The tone of Cultural Contradictions. they remain irreducible to each other. centres predominantly on transformations within the economic and technical realm. it is through contrasting the different directions and antagonistic developments of the economic. Three realms Bell’s overarching argument here is that the answers to these questions cannot be gleaned from an examination of the economy alone. Two big questions arose out of this situation: what went wrong. It possesses a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. which better facilitate increasing specialization and organization. the modes of consciousness and the ritualistic patterns through . And it is from a critique of historical materialism that Bell moves to an elaboration of the theoretical approach of Cultural Contradictions. however. of a balancing act between competing interest groups. Bell characterizes the three realms of modern society in the following way: Firstly. is distinctly more pessimistic than his previous works. political and cultural realms that Bell discovers the contradictions of advanced capitalism. must mediate between coercion and justice. the economy is governed by the principle of maximized efficiency – or ‘functional rationality’ as Bell describes it. The polity. In achieving these ends. 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. As Beilharz (2006: 93) notes. His previous thesis on post-industrialism. yet at the same time it must maintain public consent and be responsive to established conceptions of justice. such as in the Marxist or classical Liberal narratives. Likewise. and how can we fix it? Cultural Contradictions attempts to answer both of those questions. the cultural realm consists of the symbols of expression. Finally. The oil shock of 1973. only not as a doctrine to follow so much as something to be thought against. 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. Each moves according to its own logic and principles. Marxism always remained a central tenet of Bell’s thought. for example. This principle is the outcome of the imperatives to reduce costs. the economic realm gives rise to structures of bureaucracy and hierarchy. not the scrupulous capitalist entrepreneur of the 19th century (Bell 1962: 1973). increase returns and expand indefinitely. on the other hand. Cultural Contradictions moves outwards. The technicians and scientists. In this way it is guided primarily by the principle of ‘equality’. are now the standard-bearers of advanced capitalism.Gilbert 3 programs of the West are now a thing of the past – the new age will be an age of pragmatism.
nothing really comes from without. Bell argues that. culture has well and truly replaced the economic as the motor of modernity (Bell 1976: 33–4). one of Bell’s key arguments is that this is no longer the case. but the reaction against it would represent a swing back to culture as the pilot of consciousness. present in the more expressive forms of art which disseminated during the 19th century. (Luka ´ cs 1995: 149) For Luka ´ cs. hence. this realm was almost synonymous with religion and. rationalization was still in the driving seat. battles in which Weber’s ideas would play no small part. The Protestant ethic may have enthroned the technical and economic sphere as the initial dominant force of modernity. what characterized 20thcentury culture was the growing hegemony of an ‘anti-rationalist’ critical cultural impulse. Bell considers art to be conducive to these sorts of moods. and traditional religious sensibilities have been replaced by a modern drive toward self-gratification (Bell 1976: 11–13). Indeed.4 Thesis Eleven 00(0) which individuals make sense of their world. The vanguard of this change was the movements of modern art: modernism. threatening an ominous future of stultifying bureaucracy and bleak disenchantment. and equated all manifestations of life with an affectionate surrender to transient moments. This clashed with the previously dominant culture of asceticism and discipline which had once served to legitimate the dominant trends in the economic sphere. Traditionally. And precisely because everything comes from within. There has long been a tension present in modernity between the structural demands of a rationalized. In effect. The story starts with culture. less rationalized and calculable sources of value. this is an extension of Max Weber’s ‘Protestant ethic’ thesis. However. It is a somewhat dystopic vision which. 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 those periods. in the late 20th century. This society sought all value in the calculation and measurement of . However. existential self as the locus of judgement (Bell 1976: 36). reflected in its institutions. Culture and modernism This reaction was initially an aesthetic one. However. never really panned out (Bell 1976: 53). This tension reaches back to early romanticism and even earlier. these art forms were initially encountered as insular and esoteric and met with derision by the public of more practically minded bourgeois consumers. The outcome would be the ascendance of new cultural sensibilities that rejected capitalist functional rationality and replaced it with the immediate. when Weber was writing. critiques of modernity mostly remained peripheral to the mainstream. accumulative capitalist economy and movements in the cultural sphere that search for more expressive. What Weber did not see so clearly were the cultural battles that would rage throughout the early decades of the 20th century. Bell argues. 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). ‘aesthetic culture’ was what became of a reaction to the alienation of bourgeois society.
Gilbert 5 the object. The alternative however. they just become another one of modernity’s specialists. from the post-war era onward. the aesthete is not a coherent subject at all. This trend spilled out of the cultural realm and into economics. indicated by the growing popularity of the instalment plan and credit card (Bell 1976: 69–70). ‘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). even cliche ´ d. Nobody defended Protestant morality anymore. . and the dominant mode of culture became both self-expressive and dismissive of tradition and hierarchy. It moves from a small-town Protestant America – of closely knit communities. self-restraint. this milieu of avant-garde cultural critics and artists would gradually transform from being discontented outsiders into being the primary authors of mainstream culture. because they have blocked out any objectivity through which subjectivity can be dialectically realized. In this sense. isolated in their concerns to an excavation of their own fleeting sensations and emotions. strong religious sentiments. In the decades following the First World War. Likewise. previously a source of deep shame for the parsimonious middle classes. The result was that by the 1950s the concept of an avant-garde had little meaning. In doing so. class compromise. finally. frugality and moralism – to an urbanized America of cultural diversity. became legitimized as a means to fulfilment. this is initially complementary to the structural transformation from rural agricultural capitalism. then. this situation did not last. at the expense of the subject. Dovetailing with transformations in technology and social organization. mode of cultural expression. is one of transition. the modernist’s insular criticisms of the alienating experience of modern society became directed outwards. as artists tried to escape their roles as specialists and ‘break down’ the divide between artistic producer and consumer (Bell 1976: 96). however. which celebrated hedonistic mass consumption and individual possession. into a post-industrial society of state-centred economic organization and a knowledge economy. 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. it complements political developments: universal suffrage. and was thus unable to generate meaningful culture. The aesthete turns away from the outside world and focuses solely on the transient moods of the immediate subject as the foundation of value. Iconoclasm had become the normal. mass consumption. state-directed Keynesian macroeconomics. Entering into debt. which made the continued attacks on it even more tedious for Bell. The narrative. entailed an increasingly expressive and impressionistic retreat into a totalization of the self. leaving nothing sacred enough to meaningfully profane. as advertisers and manufacturers took up the trend toward self-fulfilment now ubiquitous in art and transformed it into a business model. 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. What began as the modernist revolution in aesthetics became a revolution in life-style. social liberalism. What was previously shocking to bourgeois sensibility had become normalized. Likewise. and liberal values. to mass industrialism and. For Bell. mass transportation. According to Bell. mass communication.
. Contrarily. shared culture. these cultural changes have become contradictory to the imperatives of the polity and economy. by abandoning the virtues of restraint and discipline endemic to the Protestant ethic. As Marvin Olsen has shown (1965: 37). autonomy and unadulterated intersubjectivity realized. Religious rewards for vocational work no longer hold any traction. modernism has undermined the key motivation for continued participation in society. subjects are left negotiating only with other subjects. like string puppets hanging from a hypostatized objective socio-economic structure. in advanced modernity a common ‘collective conscience’ is no longer possible. Bell’s concern is that. A cultural orientation that promises gratification. The consequences are manifold and Bell prophesizes a complex of different crisis scenarios emerging as the 20th century draws to a close. where the game was played against a world of technical and economic objects of humanity’s own making. Hence. and both appear in Bell.6 Thesis Eleven 00(0) Diagnoses Bell’s charge. and it is unclear what can replace them. in the long run. Instead. reification and disenchantment which pervaded the theses of classical sociology. (2) the industrial era. It is the Enlightenment ideal of a society of recognition. luxury and permissiveness lacks the motive forming power to legitimate the necessity of work. The first involves the cultural tasks of integration and meaning within an increasingly complex social order. with anomic breakdowns being temporary ruptures caused by abnormal circumstances (Durkheim 1964: 353). Another contradiction within culture is the growing sense of anomie pervading advanced capitalism. Perhaps the most fundamental contradiction regards the sustainability of production itself. Overspecialization undermines the possibility of a coherent. in the Durkheimian sense. where an economy of knowledge and service means the game is now played against each other. leading to the diagnoses of alienation. Instead we are left with a diffusion of different sub-cultures. The economy still requires a disciplined and reliable workforce. however. has always been to offer an integrative world-view which could provide a regulative framework that articulates and cognizes the social structure. for Bell. 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). there are two ways in which Durkheim used the concept of anomie in his work. 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). is that. The function of culture. (3) the post-industrial era. yet the cultural sphere is socializing individuals who explicitly reject this. 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. Occupational roles no longer appear within a clear division of labour. Bell’s analysis interestingly blends Durkheimian prognoses with a Weberian narrative of cultural development. Durkheim tends to assume that a culture based on organic solidarity is the product of an increasingly complex social order.
with no clear path back. too focused on the sacred. in the name of liberation. For Bell. what Durkheim. grounding moral compass than ever. . And this is where the two concepts of anomie intersect. spectacle and sensation. having discredited religion. religion has been in retreat. He is particularly venomous in his portrayal of counterculture. But it is precisely this moment that culture is most unable to live up to its task. we are more in need of a strong. we remain adrift in a meaningless sense of anomie. freedom of impulse. He clings to Durkheimian concepts because he does not want to accept the permanence of Weber’s secular disenchantment. feeding itself destructively on the capital of the past. But now we encounter the opposite problem. Over the last century. and the like (Bell 1976: 52). They always assumed gravitation back to equilibrium. apocalyptic moods and childish primitivism. Bell sees culture as a necessary balancing act between the dichotomies of restraint and release. Radicalism gave way to a cynical and rabid individualism (Bell 1976: 145). but soon there are no longer any boundaries left to break. And in the realm of culture. 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). A culture like this can live for a time. which he dismisses as anti-rational and self-obsessive: ‘All that there was. and by the 1970s it had exhausted itself. If modernism critically undermined religion and morality when it replaced them with aesthetic values. Its formerly anti-bourgeois. Without any sense of an object to struggle against.Gilbert 7 Here Bell is both sceptical and conservative. a process of profanation has made transgression a virtue. This should be the job of culture. Durkheim foresaw something of this when he wrote: ‘[O]ne does not advance when one walks toward no goal. though. eroticism. suggesting a swing back to religious sentiments as the existential answers provided by reason alone are found wanting. for Bell. A society that is too restrained. It destroyed culture. This sense of cultural deficit permeates his diagnoses of the 1960s as a dysfunctional decade of glorified violence. beyond the constraints imposed by art. The second concept of anomie involves a sense of meaninglessness and fluctuation that define. Bell is in partial agreement here. or – which is the same thing – when his goal is infinity’ (Durkheim 2006: 208). For now the problem remains. Counter-culture was no real culture at all. leaving nothing to work with except superficial shock. Secularization has eroded the sense of community that religion once engendered. is unsustainably stifling and totalitarian. 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). however. of a culture weighted away from regulation and incorporation and focused solely on release. The result is a disorientating anomic limitlessness. tradition and reason and replaced them with an exaltation of the hedonistic and irrational. modernism was finished as a creative force. The way in which these dichotomies are symbolized and codified has always been religion (Bell 1976: 166–7). the sacred and the profane. Bell considers this a dangerous cultural trend. revolutionary postures became colonized by commerce. the ‘post-modernist mood’ (Bell 1976: 51). and other functionalist accounts did not foresee is a society totally emptied of the sacred. It provides the psychological spearhead for an onslaught on the values and patterns of ‘ordinary behaviour’. Without a strong culture. However. It had nothing new to say. postmodernism pushes even further.
Bell is concerned with bringing restraint and a sense of the sacred back into culture. However. For Bell. Prescription? Here. the problem has been traced to the way popular values can legitimize the activity of the state. hedonistic culture in religious form. 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. Bell retains a political liberalism with its emphasis on the rights of the individual. His suggestion is religion (Bell 1976: 166–7). and this progress Bell views positively. The journey of politics from the Second World War to the moment Bell was writing was one of a growing welfare state. it was emotional. emancipation is not the answer. based on a communicative ethic grounded in the ‘ideal speech situation’ (Habermas 1975: 110). This is what culture must speak to. subsequent developments have seen the rise of a culture of entitlement. where every family member’s physical needs must be met before the desires of others are fulfilled. While he hopes for no socialist . Bell describes this as the expansion of the ‘public household’. although it is never really spelled out how a return to religion fits with this or where it would come from. Traditionally. The problem here is that there is a political price for failing to satisfy these desires. If anything. he is quick to dismiss contemporary evangelical revivals as little more than reformulations of a self-oriented. in a very similar vein to Ju ¨ rgen Habermas’s Legitimation Crisis. expanding civil rights and investment in education and technological research. as both the means and ends to liberation. where the expectation is that the public household is there to satisfy every want. where the imperative is accumulation and competition and individuals are treated as commodities within it (Bell 1976: 220–23). these contradictions go a long way in explaining crises of inflation. This is contrasted with the capitalist economy. the promise of full employment. particularly in the wake of the Great Depression. it should perhaps be viewed as the problem. Habermas looks forward to a rational culture. The relation was more than economic. Technology and reason have expanded humanity’s capacity to dominate nature. not just act as a safety net of needs fulfilment (Bell 1976: 239–40). but there are existential questions that arise out of the finitude and contingency of human life. Political actors must therefore balance the panoply of demands arising from a diverse and complex post-ideological society with the state’s budgetary limitations. 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. which rationality can never solve once and for all. recession and fiscal pressure that characterized the 1970s. and it is Bell’s contention that only religion is sufficiently ambiguous and hermeneutic enough to meaningfully sustain this.8 Thesis Eleven 00(0) The contradictions become even sharper when we consider the political realm. For Bell. while at the same time providing a hospitable environment for private enterprise. This stands as the dialectical centre of an Enlightenment project of emancipation. What he instead points to is a ‘public philosophy’. yet seeks to temper its excesses through a strengthened sense of public virtue (Bell 1976: 255). the private household was a unit insulated from market forces. and the possibility of crisis if the cultural realm produces dysfunctional values. however. However.
Waters suggests that Bell’s emphasis on the necessity of symbolic and cultural motivations to work. By his own confession. And it is not due to some inner direction to complete God’s work in the world. Indeed. hedonistic culture creates wants that the eager consumer must perform labour to fulfil. This still continues today. Block argues that it is the failure to heed warnings like those of Bell. As Howard Brick remarks. fuelled by resentment of a perceived underclass of under-serving welfare dependants. these arguments can be pushed even further. where an engaged public actively debate the direction of both state policy and cultural values (Bell 1976: 278). Likewise. occludes an alternative interpretation that sees a motivational force in material gratification (Waters 1996: 144). Herbert Marcuse’s interpretation in One Dimensional Man is that gratifying consumerism . Hence: ‘the fit between the instrumental worker. post-industrial society (Waters 1996: 170–1). 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. he never set out to lay down doctrine (see Beilharz 2006: 96). Bell’s call for a ‘public philosophy’ has ‘no embodiment in the society around him’. he sees a greater level of economic equality and the mutual recognition it entails as integral to his project. he is thus left looking strategically impotent (Brick 1986: 210). but out of a driving sense of competitiveness and ambition. as evidenced by such phenomena as the Tea Party movement. reflexive. At the same time. that would propel neo-liberal and monetarist governments to power across the western world (Block 2011: 55). What is lacking is a clear understanding of how this can be achieved in a post-ideological and post-industrial society. However. Jefferson Pooley is essentially making the same criticism when he points to the way a hedonistic lifestyle has colonized the corporate office environment. The public philosophy must be able to contain excessive economic appetites but remain pragmatic and adaptable in its distribution of goods (Bell 1976: 259. Pooley points to statistics that show people currently work longer hours than they ever have. particularly in its close examination of post-modernism and its sense of a more subjectively fashioned. the yuppie entrepreneur.Gilbert 9 utopia. and transcend unbridled market liberalism. in the direction of neo-Marxism. These governments would come to feed on an individualistic and self-directed culture in an attack on sentiments of equality and collectivism. the rapacious consumer and a spectacular. and what it may look like. In the end. it looks vaguely like the Habermasian idealized public sphere. and of the centrality of religious discipline in this. It anticipated many developments which would take place in the discipline over the following decades. which eventually led to the financial crisis of the late 2000s (Block 2011: 61). de-hierarchized artistic arena is indissoluble’ (Waters 1996: 145). In this narrative. now ‘replete with pool tables and dress-down Fridays’ (Pooley 2007: 409). Cultural Contradictions represented a landmark in sociology. Block nods to Bell’s prescience in anticipating a middle class ‘permanent tax revolt’. Bell would have probably accepted this later charge. 277).
and Bell does stress the enabling effect of consumer goods and available credit on the hedonistic turn. that for many employed in service economy. though. and that pleasure is now tainted because of it. For Redner. and turn into theatres of competition over employment. The point is not that they originated in different places. Updating Marcuse. although Cremin also inverts it by arguing that work is expanding outward into pleasure. Looking back to Luka ´ cs. According to Cremin. The escape of modernism into everyday life was co-determinate with economic transformation. it ceases to be truly recreational at all. rather it is that there are unintended consequences to both consumerism and modernism. 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. helping them reconcile themselves with a totalitarian society of social domination (Marcuse 1964: 83–90). is just a means to divert attention away from the enduring fact of capitalist domination (Cremin 2011: 119–22). this is perhaps somewhat unfair.10 Thesis Eleven 00(0) and hedonistic leisure actually pacifies and constrains the individual. promotions and social capital. and the way they let the demands of the economic sphere determine their analysis of culture. the development of modernism did indeed involve an aesthetic isolation from bourgeois society. Similarly. while certainly not suggesting a turn to Marx. This coincides with an increasing structural instability. argues that Bell’s disjunctive view of economy and culture grants these two realms too much independence. as a deficient and erroneous way to understand the interaction of the economic. 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. forcing workers into a state of constant anxiety about economic security. when recreation becomes interwoven with the routines and demands of work. as would he point to their frameworks. Leisure itself ceases to be fun as the worker seeks to utilize that time calculatedly and competitively. this points to a limitation in Bell’s work. or as a time to facilitate the kinds of social networking necessary to stay ahead in the job market. Harry Redner. rather than seeing them both as the product of bourgeois society (Redner 2013: 190–1). 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. however. In one sense. political and cultural realms. labour proceeds with a similar monotony to that of an assembly line. this is true. and that these have meant that the different realms are now taking . for Cremin. 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. It is worth pointing out. seeing it more as a series of extra-curricular activities which become impressive additions to their resume. the contradiction between modernism and capitalism plays out ‘almost as if they occurred in different societies’. 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). Moreover. Any frivolity inside the workplace. But Bell’s tripartite methodology has come under sharp criticism too. In another sense. This bears some relation to Pooley’s point. 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.
Conclusion The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism is undoubtedly the product of a specific moment. the global economy had entered into deeply turbulent waters. while their homes continued to be foreclosed and the occupants found themselves thrown out onto the street. To the chagrin of much of the public. combined with financial deregulation. and imposes the imperative to repay it. This rising debt. Public opinion is generally dismissed. like Occupy Wall Street. 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’. It delays the repayment for satisfactions and serves to obscure the financial limitations of the consumer (Bell 1976: 69–70). however. which can be considered an effective means of ‘defusing social discontent’ and stabilizing the market (Harvey 1974: 244). there has been a demonstrable rise in household debt to compensate for stagnating wages and retreating state entitlements. As we have seen. in the light of recent events. and after nearly 40 years Keynesian hegemony over social policy and macroeconomics was coming apart at the seams. 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. it just points us back to Marx.Gilbert 11 society in contradictory directions. and oppositional movements. A mortgage gives someone a stake in the system. If anything. Likewise. For example. Nothing had yet developed to . Debt is again a source of shame. 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. Perhaps this just suggests that. He does not consider how it may have the opposite effect. in the years following Cultural Contradictions. sharply accelerating an already growing trend of private home foreclosures and leaving the world financial industry on the verge of total collapse. When it was published in 1976. in the hands of austerity’s champions. leads into other considerations with which we can relate Bell’s work to our own times. Bell’s call for civitas is more relevant – even if more distant – than ever. but only when held by a socially supportive state. have either been ignored or violently repressed by the state. The state naturally stepped in. Moreover. While the consequences of this have been uneven. 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. 24 July 2011). at everyone else’s (quite literal) expense. but it did not pander to popular interests (Graeber 2011: 381). fuelled a real estate asset bubble that imploded in 2007. as it demonstrates the dominant influence of big capital over politics. in Bell’s narrative household debt only encourages gratifying consumerism. The spectre of debt. 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. 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. David Harvey has argued that debt has a disciplining and conservatizing effect on the workforce.
swingers by night: Re-reading Daniel Bell on capitalism and its culture. Ethics and Enjoyment in Times of Crisis. ed.html Olsen ME (1965) Durkheim’s two concepts of anomie. Available at: http://www. Oxford: Blackwell. New York: Free Press.12 Thesis Eleven 00(0) definitively replace it. London: Pluto Press. Harvey D (1974) Class-monopoly rent. ´ (2006) Suicide: A Study in Sociology. ´ (1964) The Division of Labor in Society. Brick H (1986) Daniel Bell and the Decline of Intellectual Radicalism: Social Theory and Political Reconciliation in the 1940s. where their anxiety about change focuses them too exclusively on what has been lost and leaves little room for what is becoming. trans. . Block F (2011) Daniel Bell’s prophecy.nytimes. The Review of Communication 7(4): 401–410. New York: Basic Books. Brooklyn: Melville House. to beat a path to stability and enduring liberty. Bell’s purpose was to diagnose and to intervene. Marcuse H (1964) One Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society. Luka ´ cs G (1995) Aesthetic culture. 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. Cremin C (2011) Capitalism’s New Clothes: Enterprise. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. 24 July. New Brunswick: Transaction. London: Routledge. Simpson G. Breakthrough Journal 1: 53–61. Regional Studies 8(3/4): 239–255. Bell D (1973) The Coming of Post-Industrial Society: A Venture in Social Forecasting. Culture and the Individual in the Age of Globalization. References Beilharz P (2006) Ends and rebirths: An interview with Daniel Bell. the conservatives remain fixated on the necessity of the fading culture and morality of their fathers. William Jennings Bryan. Redner H (2013) Beyond Civilization: Society. New York: The Free Durkheim E Press. Habermas J (1975) Legitimation Crisis. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. New York: Basic Books. trans. It is a cycle that repeats itself over successive generations. New York: Farrar & Rinehart. Bell D (1962) The End of Ideology: On the Exhaustion of Political Ideas in the Fifties. Durkheim E Graeber D (2011) Debt: The First 5000 Years. The Sociological Quarterly 6(1): 37–44. ´cs Reader. Pooley J (2007) Straight by day. It was therefore a time of crisis in the most literal sense. 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). Bell D (1976) The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism. McCarthy T. Hibben P (1929) The Peerless Leader. Thus. Thesis Eleven 85: 93–103. In: The Luka 146–159. If Bell’s dire warnings of an irresponsible culture kicking the legs out from beneath itself have not proven to be prescient. New York Times (2011) Adding up the government’s total bailout tab. finance capital and the urban revolution. unable to recognize those of their daughters and sons. Boston: Beacon Press. Kadarkay A. This is one mould Daniel Bell does not break. it is down to prejudices shared by cultural conservatism generally.com/interactive/2009/02/04/business/20090205-bailout-totals-graphic.
London: Routledge. 27 May. His research focus is on a comparison of crisis narratives in 20th-century social theory.Gilbert 13 Robin C (2013) Nietzsche’s marginal children: On Friedrich Hayek. . Waters M (1996) Daniel Bell. The Nation. pp. Author biography Andrew Gilbert is a PhD candidate in Sociology at La Trobe University. 27–36.