Daniel Bell, The End of Ideology

Biographical profile found in the book

Daniel Bell, who came to political awareness in the Depression and joined the Young People's Socialist Leagye in 1932 at the precocious age of 13, has been an editor of Common Sense, The New Leader, and Fortune. He has taught at the University of Chicago and at Columbia University, where he is now a professor of sociology.

From the Conclusion

[O]ne finds, at the end of the fities, a disconcerting caesura. In the West, among the intellectuals, the old passions are spent. The new generation, with no meaningful memory of these old debates, and no secure tradition to build upon, 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. The theme runs through a remarkable book, Convictions, by a dozen of the sharpest young Left Wing intellectuals in Britain. They cannot define the content of the "cause" they seek, but the yearning is clear. In the U.S. too there is a restless search for a new intellectual radicalism. Richard Chase, in his thoughtful assessment of American society, The Democratic Vista, insists that the greatness of nineteenth-century America for the rest of the world consisted in its radical vision of man (such a vision as Whitman's), and calls for a new radical criticism today. But the problem is that the old politico-economic radicalism (pre-occupied with such matters as the socialization of industry) has lost its meaning, while the stultifying aspects of contemporary culture (e.g., television) cannot be redressed in political terms. At the same time, American culture has almost completely accepted the avant-garde, particularly in art, and the older academic styles have been driven out completely. The irony, further, for those who seek "causes" is that the workers, whose grievances were once the driving energy for social change, are more satisfied with the society than the intellectuals. The workers have not achieved utopia, but their expectations were less than those of the intellectuals, and the gains correspondingly larger.

The young intellectual is unhappy because the "middle way" is for the middie-aged, not for him; it is without passion and is deadening. Ideology, which by its nature is an all-or-none affair, and temperamentally the thing he wants, is intellectually devitalized, and few issues can be formulated any more, intellectually, in ideological terms. The emotional energies--and needs--exist, and the question of how one mobilizes these energies is a difficult one. Politics offers little excitement. Some of the younger intellectuals have found an outlet in science or university pursuits, but often at the expense of narrowing their talent into mere technique; others have sought self-expression in the arts, but in the wasteland the lack of content has meant, too, the lack of the necessary tension that creates new forms and styles.

...The end of ideology is not---should not be--the end of utopia as well. If anything, one can begin anew the discussion of utopia only by being aware of the trap of ideology. The point is that ideologists are "terrible simplifiers." Ideology makes it unnecessary for people to confront individual issues on their individual merits. One simply turns to the ideological vending machine, and out comes the prepared formulae. And when these beliefs are suffused by apocalyptic fervor, ideas become weapons, and with dreadful results.

There is now, more than ever, some need for utopia, in the sense that men need--as they have always needed--some vision of their potential, some manner of fusing passion with intelligence. Yet the ladder to the City of Heaven can no longer be a "faith ladder," but an empirical one: a utopia has to specify where one wants to go, how to get there, the costs of the enterprise, and some realization of, and justification for the determination of who is to pay.

The end of ideology closes the book, intellectually speaking, on an era, the one of easy "left" formulae for social change. But to close the book is not to turn one's back upon it. This is all the more important now when a "new Left," with few memories of the past, is emerging. This "new Left" has passion and energy, but little definition of the future. Its outriders exult that it is "on the move." But where it is going, what it means by Socialism, how to guard against bureaucratization, what one means by democratic planning or workers' control--any of the questions that require hard thought, are only answered by bravura phrases.

If the end of ideology has any meaning, it is to ask for the end of rhetoric, and rhetoricians, of "revolution" of the day when the young French anarchist Vaillant tossed a bomb into the Chamber of Deputies, and the literary critic Laurent Tailhade declared in his defense: "What do a few human lives matter; it was a beau geste." (A beau geste that ended, one might say, in a mirthless jest: two years later, Tailhade lost an eye when a bomb was thrown into a restaurant.) Today, in Cuba, as George Sherman, reporting for the London Observer summed it up: "The Revolution is law today although nobody has said clearly what that law is. You are expected to be simply for or against it and judge and be judged accordingly. Hatred and intolerance are wiping out whatever middle ground may have existed."

The problems which confront us at home and in the world are resistant to the old terms of ideological debate between "left" and "right," and if "ideology" by now, and with good reason, is an irretrievably fallen word, it is not necessary that "utopia" suffer the same fate. But it will if those who now call 1oudest for new utopias begin to justify degrading means in the name of some Utopian or revolutionary end, and forget the simple lessons that if the old debates are meaningless, some old verities are not--the verities of free speech, free press, the right of opposition and of free inquiry.

A Bibliographical Statement

A number of these essays appeared first in the pages of Comentary and Enounter, and my most eduring obligation is to Irving Kristol, who, as an editor of the two magazines, prompted these articles, and, as friend, wrestled to bring order out of them.

Three of the longer essays were first presented as papers from conferences sponsored by the Congress for Cultural Freedom, an international organization of intellectuals opposed to totalitarianism. I was fortunate in being able to work for a year in Paris, in 1956-57 (while on leave from Fortune) as director of international seminars for the Congress. I learned much in discussion with the seminars planning committee -- Raymond Aron, C.A.R. Crossland, Michael Polanyi, Edward Shils -- several of the essays, particularly on the themes of ideology, reflect these talks. With Melvin Lasky, an old comrade, and with Herbert Passin, there was a stimulus of exhilarating, and exhausting, conversation in Paris and Toyko. Anyway, in equating obligation with pleasure, I owe much to Michael Josselson, administrative secretary of the Congress, whose practical political wisdom was oftern ballast for intellectual fancies.

Chapter 13: Section A appeared in the New Leader, April 1, 1957, as part of its symposium on the younger generation. Section B appeared in the Saturday Review of Literature, March 21, 1955; Section C, in the New Leader, December 9, 1957; Section D in Encounter, September, 1959.

Go to responses to Bell's thesis.


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