The Roots of the Arab Spring   /   Fall 2011   /    Book Forum: The Cultural Contradictions Of Capitalism By Daniel Bell

Connections Missed and Contradictions Unexplored

Wilfred M. McClay

For all of its ambition and sweep, Daniel Bell’s Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism today reads very much as a work of the ’70s, with themes that one finds running through much of the most penetrating social criticism of that time, such as the work of Christopher Lasch, or the early neoconservative writers with whom Bell made common cause. It was a time when many of the overblown hopes of the postwar era were in the process of crashing down, in the form of eco- nomic stagnation, horrendous inflation, swelling welfare rolls, rampant urban crime, a general loss of national confidence in the wake of vietnam and Watergate, an exhaustion of high modernist culture accompanied by a shocking degradation of popular culture and public morality—indeed, a long list of national woes: economic, diplomatic, cultural, spiritual. The watchword of the day was the need for limits: limits on growth, on greed, on hubris, on consumption, on environ- mental spoliation, on technology, on tampering with biological nature, on armaments, on ambi- tious social policy, on narcissism, on self-indulgence, and above all, on expectations. one sees all these themes richly on display in Bell’s book.

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