The more I read about the late Daniel Bell, the more I like him. I recently picked up a copy of his classic The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism. I’ve set it aside to read Fukuyama’s latest, but I intend to pick it up again very soon. The book description from Barnes and Noble: “This classic analysis of Western liberal capitalist society contends that capitalismâ€”and the culture it createsâ€”harbors the seeds of its own downfall by creating a need among successful people for personal gratificationâ€”a need that corrodes the work ethic that led to their success in the first place. With the end of the Cold War and the emergence of a new world order, this provocative manifesto is more relevant than ever.”
Bell gave an interview in September 2010 to Utopian, just a few short months before his death. A brief excerpt:
“Iâ€™ve written, as you probably know, that Iâ€™m a socialist in economics, a liberal in politics, and a conservative in culture.”
“And youâ€™ve never had any trouble reconciling those?
“Not in the least! Iâ€™m against the idea of totality, which is a whole Marxist concept. I believe there are different logics in the different realms. The economy is, more or less, a system in which interdependence is established through the different variables of supply and demand. The polity is not a system, it is an order, held together by coercion and consent. Culture has two dimensions. One is the dimension of forms that exist, and the other is the dimension of meaning …
“Ok, so the realms may be autonomous. But do you not think they are intimately related? In Cultural Contradictions, you write of how Americaâ€™s crumbling cultural values threaten the economic realm.
“Let me go back for a minute because this is crucial. If thereâ€™s no single dimension that runs across these different realms, then what is so special about them? Iâ€™m a socialist in economics because I believe that every human being has a right â€” if you want to put it that way â€” to a decent living standard. It goes back to Aristotle. If a man is not a member of the polity, he is either a beast or a God. So that there ought to be a â€œrightâ€ to give everybody a decent standard of living. Being a member of the society gives rise to a claim on the economy. Iâ€™m a liberal in politics because I believe in merit. And I therefore believe that oneâ€™s position in society ought to be determined on the basis of merit. In culture, Iâ€™m a conservative because I believe in judgment, forms, and meanings.
“So thatâ€™s why I can assume a certain logical coherence to the idea of being a socialist in economics, a liberal in politics, and a conservative in culture.”