RIP Daniel Bell, 1919-2011

BELL-obit-articleInline Michael Kaufman in the NYT:

Mr. Bell’s output was prodigious and his range enormous. His major lines of inquiry included the failures of socialism in America, the exhaustion of modern culture and the transformation of capitalism from an industrial-based system to one built on consumerism.

But there was room in his mind for plenty of digressions. He wrote about the changing structure of organized crime and even the growing popularity of gangsta rap among white, middle-class, suburban youth.

Two of Mr. Bell’s books, “The End of Ideology” (1960) and the “Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism” (1978), were ranked among the 100 most influential books since World War II by The Times Literary Supplement in London. In titling “The End of Ideology” and another work, “The Coming of Post-Industrial Society” (1973), Mr. Bell coined terms that have entered common usage.

In “The End of Ideology” he contended — nearly three decades before the collapse of Communism — that ideologies that had once driven global politics were losing force and thus providing openings for newer galvanizing beliefs to gain toeholds. In “The Coming of Post-Industrial Society,” he foresaw the global spread of service-based economies as generators of capital and employment, supplanting those dominated by manufacturing or agriculture.

In Mr. Bell’s view, Western capitalism had come to rely on mass consumerism, acquisitiveness and widespread indebtedness, undermining the old Protestant ethic of thrift and modesty that writers like Max Weber and R.H. Tawney had long credited as the reasons for capitalism’s success.

He also predicted the rising importance of science-based industries and of new technical elites. Indeed, in 1967, he predicted something like the Internet, writing: “We will probably see a national information-computer-utility system, with tens of thousands of terminals in homes and offices ‘hooked’ into giant central computers providing library and information services, retail ordering and billing services, and the like.”