Marriott Alumni Magazine

Spring Summer 1977 Exchange

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EXCHANGE: BOOKS The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism Daniel Bell Basic Books, 1976 Harvard sociologist Daniel Bell is known as one of America's most important social critics. His interests range from economics and politics to educational reform and art history. He is equally at home in theory and in the practical world of policy formation. Over the years he has become a sought-after adviser to government agencies and to academic and business institutions. In his volume, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, Bell draws on his broad background to approach contemporary society (largely American society) from multiple perspectives. At the heart of Bell's thesis is his theory of the disjunction of realms, a theory that argues that contemporary society is divided into three separate and sometimes incongruent elements--the techno-economic structure, the polity, and the culture. Bell argues that these realms function in different ways and that they often contradict each other. Thus, a stimulus effecting change in the economic sphere may differ from one creating change in the area of social justice or in the arts and religion. Bell states that it is therefore quite possible for a person to be a "conservative" in religious views and a "liberal" in the realms of the polity, etc. The "cultural contradictions of capitalism" to which Bell's title refers are essentially the conflicts that occur between the capitalist economic system, with its attendant values, and a culture that Bell calls "modernism." The techno-economic order "is ruled by an economic principle defined in terms of production through the ordering of things, including men as things." But culture "is prodigal, promiscuous, dominated by an antirational, anti-intellectual temper in which the self is taken as the touchstone of cultural judgments, and the effect on the self is taken as the measure of the aesthetic worth of experience." Bell supports his theory of cultural-economic disjunction with a wide-ranging analysis of modern culture. He treats the arts, literature, sexual behavior, philosophy, and religion and sees in all of these areas a tendency toward lack of restraint and hedonism. He locates the source of this hedonism in the "rampant individualism" of middle-class economics. But he feels that when this individualism spreads to cultural areas, it begins to work against the economic system. If Bell's thesis is correct, the consequences are obvious: we will have an economic system in which hard work, savings, efficiency, and the like continue to be highly valued, and at the same time will have a culture that increasingly emphasizes pleasure, self-gratification, and consumption. Sometimes, in fact, the former system will encourage the latter behavior. Advertising, in an attempt to stimulate economic growth, may glorify the very hedonism that undermines the ethic upon which capitalism is based. The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism is a book filled with thought-provoking ideas about modern society. Whether or not the reader agrees with Bell's conclusions, he will find the book an excellent stimulus for thought about present American conditions. -Todd A. Britsch Associate Professor of Humanities Blind Ambition: The White House Years John Dean Simon and Schuster, 1976 John Dean's book is rooted in ambition and grows from his Nixon-era Senate testimony. The book is distinguished from the others in the Watergate literary foliage by its anecdotes and details that Dean was either too honest or too shrewd to present before. Yet, Dean presents many facts but little self-revelation. He reveals this tendency early in the first chapter "As always, I was masking my inner calculations and feelings, this time behind an appearance of friendly sincerity." Dean works in an organization that considers itself under siege. Control is tight, and loyalty is the price of trust. It is not until he is

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