Bell, Daniel

views updated May 11 2018

BELL, Daniel

(b. 10 May 1919 in New York City), sociologist, author, educator, and cofounder, with Irving Kristol, of the magazine The Public Interest in 1965.

Bell was the second son born to Benjamin Bell and Anna Kaplan, both of whom were garment workers. His father died in the influenza epidemic of 1920. Until the age of six, Bell spoke only Yiddish, but by the time he was thirteen he had mastered English and was reading the works of Karl Marx, John Stuart Mill, and other political theorists. He graduated from high school at age sixteen and entered City College of New York.

There he participated in the "alcove," a gathering of left-wing intellectuals that included Bell's Trotskyite classmates Irving Howe, Nathan Glazer, Seymour M. Lipset, and Irving Kristol. The group argued politics and together formulated their opposition to Stalinism. Although Bell was wary of ideological dogma, he joined the Young People's Socialist League, or "Yipsels," a group concerned with programs for social reform. Reflecting on his college years, Bell would later note that he was a socialist with a small S.

Bell graduated from City College in 1939 with a B.S. in sociology, and then enrolled in graduate courses in sociology at Columbia University, where he would eventually earn his Ph.D. in 1960.

Married three times, Bell wed his first wife, Nora Potashnick, on 20 September 1943. The couple had one daughter and later divorced. His second marriage, to Elaine Graham on 13 April 1949, also ended in divorce. Finally, in November 1960 Bell married Pearl Kazin, with whom he had a son.

A prolific essayist, Bell was a staff writer for The New Leader from 1939 to 1941 and its managing editor from 1941 to 1944. In 1945 he became editor of Common Sense, and he taught at the University of Chicago from 1945 to 1948. Fortune magazine employed him as its labor editor from 1948 to 1958, during which time he also served as a part-time lecturer in sociology at Columbia University. Also during the 1950s, Bell edited The New American Right (1955), a collection of essays by historians and sociologists on the rise of the conservative political movement following World War II. In 1963 he would expand and update the book under the title The Radical Right.

Following his resignation from Fortune, Bell returned to Columbia in 1959 as an associate professor of sociology. After completing his doctorate, he was promoted to the rank of full professor. He also served as chairman of Columbia's sociology department. During the student uprisings at Columbia in 1968, Bell played an important role as a negotiator between students and the administration and was instrumental in providing guidelines for restructuring educational policy at the university.

In 1960 Bell published The End of Ideology: On the Exhaustion of Political Ideas in the Fifties, which became one of the most important books of the decade and solidly established his reputation as one of the country's leading intellectuals. The End of Ideology consists of sixteen essays that Bell had published earlier in various journals over a ten-year period. The book subsequently became the source of a decade-long debate. Defining ideology as "the conversion of ideas into social levers," Bell welcomed the apparent drift away from "extreme" political ideologies that had characterized Western intellectuals in the 1940s and 1950s, but he also decried the loss of vitality in American political thought. He argued that the catastrophes associated with the Moscow show-trials, the Nazi-Soviet pact, the concentration camps, and the suppression of the Hungarian worker's revolt, had dealt a lethal blow to intellectuals' faith in the old ideologies. Traditional systems of thought, he asserted, had been "exhausted" and had lost their "power to persuade."

During the 1960s Bell's arguments divided intellectuals as they questioned whether there had been an "end of ideology," and if so, whether this was a sign of progress or decline. Bell, in turn, looked forward to a future when intellectuals would approach political life with a modesty shorn of grand hopes for change, committed to carefully measuring the consequences of their political activity. He argued that intellectuals had betrayed their responsibilities in earlier decades by surrendering critical thinking to the appeal of mass movements and dogmatic ideologies. Although Bell celebrated the end of ideologies, he also decried the trend toward bureaucratic rationality, as well as communal decay that made it difficult to define the "public interest." Bell rejected the belief that the alleged objectivity of the social sciences could replace conflict in the making of policy. Rather, he insisted that social problems were profoundly moral in character, and the reduction of the social sciences to a value-free method was part of the problem with modern bureaucratic society—not part of the solution to that problem.

To advance the ideas in The End of Ideology, Bell, along with Irving Kristol, founded The Public Interest in 1965, with the aim to "transcend ideology through reasoned public debate and disinterested inquiry into public policy," and to promote rational choice in social planning. The magazine encouraged nonideological analysis and sought to influence policy makers, not politicians. During the course of the next eight years, its circulation rose from 5,000 to 11,000 by 1973. Although Bell was not a political activist, he insisted on his identity as a liberal, and as his disagreements with the conservative-minded Kristol increased, he eventually resigned as coeditor of the quarterly in 1973. He withdrew from its publications committee in 1982.

During the same year that Bell cofounded The Public Interest, he published the results of a yearlong study of undergraduate education on college campuses. Entitled The Reforming of General Education (1965), the report argued for the traditional values of the liberal arts and eschewed the trend to shorten undergraduate programs. The college experience, argued Bell, "should be four years of unforced maturation." He advanced support for a liberal arts curriculum that would inform the student's understanding of history and Western civilization before the concentration on a specific discipline began. Bell was concerned that education was becoming so functional that it was in danger of producing highly trained but intellectually impoverished specialists. He also contended that campus unrest constituted a rebellion by students against the "organizational harness" that had been forced on them at an early age.

In addition to his concern about the future of higher education, Bell was also interested in the use of sociology for social prediction. Appointed chairman of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences Commission on the Year 2000, he convened its first meeting in October 1965, and its subsequent deliberations became the basis for his book Toward the Year 2000 (1968), in which Bell noted that "The function of prediction is not, as is often stated, to aid social control, but to widen the spheres of moral choice." Because of the opportunity for collaborating with other scholars on problems of social prediction, Bell moved in 1969 from Columbia to Harvard University, where he collaborated with academic futurists on studies for the commission. His book The Coming of Post-Industrial Society (1973) was the result of his venture in social forecasting.

In 1976 Bell published The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, which, along with The End of Ideology, appeared on the Times Literary Supplement list of the 100 most important books of the second half of the twentieth century. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Bell was the Henry Ford II Professor Emeritus of the Social Sciences at Harvard, as well as scholar in residence of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Summing up his career, Bell described himself as a liberal in politics, a socialist in economics, and a conservative in culture.

There is no biography of Bell. The best sources can be found in magazine articles and fragments in books that deal with the 1960s, including William H. Honan, "They Live in the Year 2000," New York Times Magazine (9 Apr. 1967); Jay Nuechterlein, "The Good Liberal," National Review 42, no. 9 (14 May 1990): 42–45; Howard Brick, The Age of Contradiction: American Thought and Culture in the 1960s (1998); and Joseph Dorman, Arguing the World (2002).

Jack Fischel

Bell, Daniel

views updated May 09 2018


Daniel Bell (b. 1919) was born in New York City on May 10, to an immigrant Jewish family; though religion would later play a central role in his sociological theorizing, he considered his Jewishness to be ethnic rather than religious. He graduated from City College of New York in 1938, and after a year of graduate study at Columbia University spent the next twenty years in journalism, writing and editing for the New Leader, Fortune (as labor editor), and The Public Interest, which he cofounded with Irving Kristol in 1965. In 1958 he became an associate professor at Columbia, where he received a Ph.D. in 1960 and was promoted to full professor in 1962. In 1969 he moved to Harvard University, where he received a Henry Ford II endowed chair in 1980, from which he retired in 1990.

Bell's importance is based primarily on three books: The End of Ideology (1960); The Coming of Post-Industrial Society (1973); and The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism (1976). In these and related works, Bell defends a complex relation between science, technology, and ethics. On the one hand, he believes passionately in the science-based expertise of a technological elite; on the other, he clearly laments the loss of traditional cultural (including ethical) values in the anti-culture that accompanies technical elitism. As he explained in a new preface to the paperback edition of the third book just mentioned, he is "a socialist in economics, a liberal in politics, and a conservative in culture." In elaboration:

(1) I am a socialist in economics. For me, socialism is not statism, or the collective ownership of the means of production. It is a judgment on the priorities of economic policy. I believe that in this realm, the community takes precedence over the individual. (2) I am a liberal in politics—defining both terms in the Kantian sense. I am a liberal in that, within the polity, I believe the individual should be the primary actor, not the group. And the polity has to maintain the distinction between the public and the private. (3) I am a conservative in culture because I respect tradition; I believe in reasoned judgments of good and bad about the qualities of a work of art. I use the term culture to mean less than the anthropological catchall and more than the aristocratic tradition which restricts culture to refinement and to the high arts. Culture, for me, is the effort to provide a coherent set of answers to the existential predicaments that confront all human beings. (Bell 1979, pp. xii, xiv, xv)

In a critical intellectual biography, Malcolm Waters (1996) questions all three self-characterizations by challenging the sociological distinctions in which they are grounded. Adapting the structural-functionalism of Talcott Parsons, Bell rejects any holistic understanding of contemporary society and instead distinguishes between three realms, each ruled by a different axial principle and displaying a different axial structure. In terms of their different central values, the techno-economic realm pursues material growth, the polity consent of the governed, and cultural novelty or originality. Each of these three realms may also be characterized by special relationships between the individual and the social order, basic processes, and structural problematics. Waters summarizes these distinctions in a grid supplied by Bell himself (see Figure 1).

Waters's criticisms—which are those of a friendly critic who is convinced that Bell is a major sociological theorist—are as follows. First, with regard to economic socialism, Bell's position is singularly weak. It entails no more than commitment to a minimum standard of living, for example in health care. A more robust socialist would question the capitalist ownership of the means of production. In fact in the economic sphere Bell is no more than a liberal.

Second, with regard to political liberalism, Bell is more convincing. "Bell makes explicit statements consistent with Jeffersonian democracy about individual rights, small government (notwithstanding a grudging

The General Schema of Society
RealmTechno-economic (social) StructurePolityCulture
SOURCE: Adapted from Waters (1996), p. 35.
Axial principleFunctional rationalityEqualitySelf-realization
Axial structureBureaucracyRepresentationReproduction of meanings and artifacts
Central value-orientationMaterial growthConsent of the governedNovelty and originality
Relationship of individual to social orderRole segmentationParticipatorySovereignty of the whole person
Basic processesSpecialization and substitutionBargaining and legal reconciliationDisruption of genres by syncretism
Structural problematicsReificationEntitlements, meritocracy and centralizationPostmodernist anti-nomianism

approval of the New Deal) and the sanctity of the private sphere. [However] in [Post-Industrial Society] politics is not a source of last-resort interventions but rather an arena within which primary steering, namely planning, takes place" (Waters 1996, p. 168).

Third, with regard to cultural conservatism, Waters accepts this self-characterization but sees a problem with "his insistence that the three realms are [interdependent]. If he wants a return to authoritative standards in culture then there must be a source of such standards, and its only possibility is an illiberal state" (Waters 1996, p. 168–169).

Waters concludes that Bell is neither a neo-conservative, socialist, nor much of a liberal. "Despite all interest in the future possibilities of technology and post-industrialism Bell is an old-fashioned, traditionalistic, elitist conservative" (Waters 1996, p. 169). Bell might respond that Waters has simply misunderstood the nuances of his positions, while others, especially leftist critics, have good grounds for arguing that Bell is a neo-conservative despite his denials.


SEE ALSO Critical Social Theory;Democracy;Industrial Revolution;Information Society;Socialism.


Bell, Daniel. (1960). The End of Ideology: On the Exhaustion of Political Ideas in the Fifties. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.

Bell, Daniel. (1973). The Coming of Post-Industrial Society: A Venture in Social Forecasting. Basic Books.

Bell, Daniel. (1976). The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism. New York: Basic Books. Paperback edition with new preface was published in 1979; twentieth anniversary edition with a new 50-page afterward by the author was published in 1996.

Waters, Malcolm. (1996). Daniel Bell. London: Routledge. A critical but favorable intellectual biography.

Daniel Bell

views updated May 29 2018

Daniel Bell

The American sociologist Daniel Bell (born 1919) greatly influenced American political and economic thought through his books The End of Ideology and The Coming of the Post-Industrial Society.

Born in Brooklyn in 1919 to Jewish immigrant parents, Daniel Bell was raised in New York's Lower East Side. Bell's early childhood was difficult. His father died when he was six months old and Bell's mother worked long hours in a factory to support herself and her son. She was forced to put Bell in a day orphanage. Bell's childhood was spent in a world characterized by poverty and the hopes and frustrations of a Jewish immigrant population drawn largely from Eastern Europe. For a variety of historical and sociological reasons, this population maintained a clear and persistent association with Socialist politics.

At the age of 13 the then Daniel Bolotsky joined the Young People's Socialist League, a youth organization of the Socialist Party. Particular components of this heightened political environment had a powerful effect on Bell's later views about leftist politics. Debates with the militant Young Communist League and the frustration of using non-violent means to advance the cause of American trade unionism in an age of union-busting made Bell sensitive to extremism on both the right and the left. It was the insights born of these experiences that later made Daniel Bell a prominent and astute observer of the American labor movement, first as a staff writer and editor of The New Leader and then as labor editor of Fortune.

Until he left Fortune in 1956, Bell wrote articles about the changing face of the American labor movement. He emphasized the declining role of ideology—specifically Marxism—in the movement. These articles became the working models for his controversial book The End of Ideology (1960). Bell's thesis in this book was that Marxism no longer evoked the passions of American intellectuals because it had become irrelevant to the American experience. Marxism emphasized righting the social and economic inequalities produced by capitalism. However, as Bell wrote, in America these inequalities were resolvable through existing political and administrative structures.

The development of these themes—the "exhaustion of the political left" and the irrelevance of ideology in American political thought—occupied Bell throughout his career as an American sociologist and policy analyst. They led him to construct his theory of the postindustrial society, which was a theory of social change. He identified the United States, Germany, and Japan as societies undergoing major structural changes. The most significant of these changes were the displacement of the traditional market economy, the growing preeminence of the public sector in sponsoring basic scientific research, and a new reliance on stochastic methods and abstract thinking in the planning process.

In The Coming of the Post-Industrial Society (1973), Bell characterized this society as an arena in which the working political, cultural, and economic principles were contradictory and in conflict. Politically, there was an emphasis on democracy. Culture was undergoing both deinstitutionalization and radicalization. In economics, there was an emphasis on rationalism and efficiency. This view constituted Bell's non-Marxist conflict theory of social change and was the first significant challenge to Talcott Parson's structure-functionalist view of contemporary American society. Bell's theory calls for a new philosophy of welfare state liberalism. Bell called it the philosophy of the "public household."

The Coming of the Post-Industrial Society and the call for a new philosophy of the public household were the fruits of Bell's work as chairman of the Presidential Commission on the Year 2000 (1966-1968). He helped articulate an agenda of social welfare and political problems which challenged the basis of American liberalism. His publications earned him a reputation as something of a futurist. Also cementing his stature as a futurist was his 1976 book The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism. In this work Bell presages such later predominant theories as the relationship of capitalism and culture as modes of production and consumption, post structuralism, deconstruction, and quite accurately as Bell puts it, "The underlying problem.. (of the) ..breakup in the very discourses—the languages, and the ability of a language to express an experience."

Bell's futurism was of a specific kind. His task was to ask the questions which Western society must answer if there is to be domestic peace and stability in the future. Implicit in Bell's asking was the admonition to move slowly; to eschew extremism. This grew out of Bell's early experiences in the American trade union movement and out of his own intellectual struggle to reconcile the "Hellenistic" world view of Karl Marx and John Dewey with the "Hebraism" of Rheinhold Niebuhr. "Hellenism" has faith in the inevitability of social progress through science and reason. The "Hebraic" world view emphasizes the limits of planning and reason in human affairs.

Bell also earned the reputation of being a neoconservative precisely because of his predisposition to move slowly and to be wary of extremism. He shared the neoconservative designation with such peers and colleagues as Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Nathan Glazer, and Irving Kristol. The applicability of such labels is always debatable. What was not debatable was Bell's place in the social sciences. He was a relevant and challenging sociologist whose critical analyses of contemporary economic theory and American capitalism defied simplistic categorization. His self evaluation served well. Bell claimed to be "a liberal in politics, a conservative in culture, and a socialist in economics."

Beginning in 1969, Bell served as Henry Ford Professor of Social Science at Harvard University and in the late 1980s as a Pitt Professor at Cambridge University, England. In 1988 he traveled to the former Soviet Union, a place very close to his heart, to give a series of lectures at various universities. Together with Irving Kristol Bell founded and edited Public Interest, a social policy journal.

Further Reading

For information on Bell's earlier career as a journalist, see his autobiographical essay "The Moral Vision of the New Leader" in New Leader (December 24, 1973). For further information on Bell's development and on neoconservatism see Irving Kristol's "Memoirs of a Trotskyist" (New York Times Magazine (January 23, 1977). For discussions of Bell's theory of postindustrial society and neoconservatism, see Benjamin S. Kleinberg, American Society in the Post-Industrial Age (1973); Nathan Liebowitz, Daniel Bell and the Agony of Modern Liberalism (1985); and Peter Steinfel's, The Neoconservatives (1979). A Bell interview on his historic trip to the former Soviet Union can be found in the journal Society (September/October 1989) and an overview of several of Bell's reissued books appears in The New Leader (December 16-30, 1996). Bell's own major works are listed above and are joined by his anthology The Winding Passage: Essays and Sociological Journeys, 1960-1980 (1980). □

Bell, Daniel

views updated Jun 27 2018


BELL, DANIEL (1919– ), U.S. sociologist. Like many New York intellectuals, Bell, who was born to Polish immigrants, was deeply affected by the Great Depression. He grew up in the slums of the Lower East Side and his first language was Yiddish. He always viewed Zionism with a skeptical eye and Socialism, not Judaism, was his real religion as a boy.

Bell read widely, attending the Socialist Sunday School, and was tempted to join the Communist Party. His anarchist relatives in Mohegan Colony, n.y. were horrified. Bell was handed pamphlets on the Russian sailors' rebellion at Kronstadt that Leon Trotsky had brutally suppressed. They dispelled any illusions he might have harbored about the true nature of Bolshevism. When Bell continued his studies, he was the only member of his circle who resisted the lure of Trotskyism.

In 1940, he became managing editor of the socialist weekly The New Leader, which featured the writings of a number of future liberal cold warriors including Melvin J. Lasky and Sidney *Hook. Bell excoriated industry for war profiteering and revered the magazine's editor, Sol M. Levitas, a Menshevik who had fled the Bolsheviks and who exposed the delusions of many New York intellectuals about the true nature of Stalin's Russia. Bell went on to write for many years for Henry M. Luce's Fortune magazine, but always felt the academic tug. In the late 1940s, he taught at the University of Chicago before moving to New York, where he taught at Columbia University and was close friends with scholars such as Lionel *Trilling and Richard *Hofstadter. Bell also wrote for the journal Encounter and worked for the Congress for Cultural Freedom in Paris from 1956 to 1967.

Bell's legacy rests with his books, which traverse immense terrain and are studded with footnotes that themselves often constitute minor essays. In 1960 Bell's book The End of Ideology created a sensation by declaring that the old categories of left and right were becoming defunct. Next Bell turned his attention to the unresolved tension between capitalism and morality. In the Coming of Post-Industrial Society, Bell prophesied the shift away from a manufacturing to a knowledge society that has taken place in the U.S. and Europe. But Bell did not believe that the quest for control over information would fundamentally alter the nature of human beings. He noted that "what does not vanish is the duplex nature of man himself – the murderous aggression, from primal impulse, to tear apart and destroy; and the search for order, in art and life, as the bending of will to harmonious shape."

If ideology was at an end, the Public Interest, which Bell co-founded with Irving Kristol in 1965, was supposed to supply sound social science solutions to the problems that faced the U.S. But politics intruded. Like other New York intellectuals, Bell was horrified by the aggression and primal impulses displayed by student radicals who rioted at Columbia in 1968. He and others saw the New Left as totalitarian, hedonistic, and jejune. It was indulging in revolutionary rhetoric that almost irreparably damaged the university – the institution that had offered a passport to the wider intellectual world for Bell and others. Nothing filled Bell with more contempt than the daydreamers about revolution and utopia who ended up creating bloodshed and tyranny.

But unlike Kristol, Bell never moved to the right or accepted the term "neoconservative." Instead, he remained focused on his academic work and moved to Cambridge, Mass., to become a professor of sociology at Harvard in 1969. In 1976, he amplified his observations about capitalism and hedonism in his classic The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism. In a sweeping historical tour de force, Bell sought to show how capitalism had over the centuries inexorably weakened the authority of the very bourgeois societies it had brought into being. Where self-denial had allowed the Fuggers in Europe to amass great wealth, the bounty created by postwar American capitalism had created an unmoored individual indulging mainly in self-gratification. The individual, he concluded, "can only be a cultural wanderer, without a home to return to." The result is to threaten the vitality of capitalism itself.

Though he retired from teaching, Bell continued to write on politics and cultural matters in journals such as Dissent. Bell described himself as a socialist in economics, a liberal in politics, and a conservative in culture. His profound insights have ensured that his own works are beyond ideology and have become classics.

[Jacob Heilbrunn (2nd ed.)]