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The End of Ideology: On the Exhaustion of Political Ideas in the Fifties, with "The Resumption of History in the New Century" Paperback – September 27, 2000
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Praise for earlier editions:
The End of Ideology was one of the most influential, most controversial, and most misunderstood books about the 1950s. But it is not simply a central text of the intellectual history of those years (although it certainly is that). It is also a provocative discussion by one of America's most creative thinkers of political and philosophical issues that concern us still.
No one could consider himself politically literate without an intimate knowledge of the issues foreseen in The End of Ideology. (Theodore Draper)
Originally published in 1960, this collection of essays focuses on the protean nature of American society and the decay of Marxism and other systematic ideologies in the West...Arthur Schlesinger Jr. [has] admired the book's 'unflagging confidence, trenchancy, and authority.' (Scott Veale New York Times Book Review 2000-12-31)
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According to Bell, much of what sustained the old "urban progressivism" which, despite its flaws, was a force for much positive social change in the US, has largely disappeared. Bell predicted conditions peculiar to American society combined with trends like the steady decline in labor union membership, the steady progress of workplace automation and, even then, the emergence of mass electronic communications would make humans less willing to accept the singular utopian pronouncements of what he called "millennial" movements. Instead, ongoing social fragmentation, diversification and conflict would make coping with major socioeconomic problems along traditional "party" lines unrealistic and self-defeating if not impossible.
Given the persisting belief among many that traditional "government" and its obsolete solutions are failing us and the continued rise, diversification and notable influence of vocal, single-interest splinter groups with considerable access to a variety of powerful communications media--despite their familiar revolutionary noises--it is hard to disagree. There is much Bell couldn't have foreseen given his vantage point at the very end of the placid 1950s, but his perceptive yet readable critique of our traditional way of looking at many of our pressing social issues and our political history still has a compelling, hopeful freshness, its basis being, as in his quoting of Thomas Jefferson, "is that the present belongs to the living."
In essay on the resumption of history, Bell clears away much of the underbrush that has grown up around the notion of "global capitalism" by pointing out that the end of empire (and that includes the Soviet Union) and the colonial era has had the largest impact on world politics over the past forty years. The reignition of various ethnic groups whose identities had been suppressed under various Uber states and ideologies is just as important a part of the story. The 1975 introduction is a fascinating refutation of his, mostly Marxist, critics. For instance, C. Wright Mills, the maverick sociologist, apparently came after Bell for his review of Mills' "The Power Elite" (included in "The End of Idelogy"). Bell neatly dissects Mills' both in the essay and in his answer to Mills' criticisms. Bell, the empiricist, is the clear winner in these two rounds. The last chapter on Marxism is worth re-reading and re-reading for Bell knows the subject and the players intimately, as only a former boy Socialist born in New York's Lower East Side could. He explains how Marx's transmutation of Hegel's ideas into "dialectical materialism" set the stage for generations of leftist intellectuals to misinterpret or reinterpret events into Marxist prattle according to their understanding or lack of understanding thereof. It's a post-graduation education on Marxism in 35 dense, but, brilliant pages.
Two juicy chapters on the American "mafia" and the inflation of crime statistics and the stoking of public fear by law enforcement, although somewhat dated contain some remarkable insights: among them that the "mafia," like American business in general had to move from "production" to the "consumption" mode, i.e., turning toward the consumer to make money through gambling, and away from more traditional, less lucrative businesses such as prostitution. These two articles, written when he covered the labor beat for Fortune magazine, still have an edge now, as the same "crime wave" and "mafia" hysteria continue to be generated by the media and law enforcement.
Bell's wide-ranging knowledge, his clear-eyed appraisal of the American scene, his tenacity in trying to discover the real levers of power, are qualities one rarely finds in this era where shouting and sloganeering still suffice -- although much of this now comes not from the left-hand side of the spectrum, but the right.