U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Daniel Bell (1919-2011)

Daniel Bell passed away yesterday at his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at the age of 91.  Bell was, of course, a leading sociologist and public intellectual, whose long and fascinating career is, and will likely long be, of great interest to U.S. intellectual historians.  A leading Cold War liberal thinker in the 1950s, Bell later became a founding co-editor of The Public Interest which eventually made him a charter neoconservative, though Bell’s version of neoconservatism was always idiosyncratic. Irving Kristol declared that his college friend and co-editor represented the “social democratic wing” of neoconservatism. Bell, for his part, referred to himself as a right-wing social democrat, “a socialist in economics, a liberal in politics, and a conservative in culture.”

4 Thoughts on this Post

  1. I loved this passage from The End of Ideology (via the obit—bolds mine):

    As both a public intellectual and an academic, Mr. Bell saw a distinction between those breeds. In one of his typical yeasty digressions in “The End of Ideology,” he wrote: “The scholar has a bounded field of knowledge, a tradition, and seeks to find his place in it, adding to the accumulated, tested knowledge of the past as to a mosaic. The scholar, qua scholar, is less involved with his ‘self.’

    “The intellectual,” he went on, “begins with his experience, his individual perceptions of the world, his privileges and deprivations, and judges the world by these sensibilities.”

  2. I hope to write more later (crazy busy semester start and all), but Tim inspired me to share a couple lesser known Bell quotes on his sense of the place of the intellectual. First, from his 1946 essay “A Parable of Alienation,”

    “We reject the basic values of American society as they stand. The increasing centralization of decision, the narrowing of ideas of free moral choice, the extension into all domains, particularly the cultural, of the rationalized, stilted forms of mass organization and bureaucracy, the rising sense of nationalism as a product of war, all of these heighten the awareness that the way of life resulting from these pressures – the rawness, vulgarity, mass sadism, and senseless sybaritism, the money lust and barbaric extravagances – can only stifle creativity and free living.”

    The second from his review of 1984 in the New Leader,

    “One has to live in the world and accept it in all its frightening implications. one has to live consciously and self-conscously, in the involvement and in the alienation, in the loyalty and in the questioning, in the love and in the critical appraisal. Without that persistent double image, we are lost. At least we can live in paradox.”

    Both quotes can be found in my larger discussion of Bell in Intellectuals Incorporated. Btw, I interviewed Bell in 2003 in his home. Though he tended to lose himself in recollections, he remained a sharp and engaging man, and was quite markedly willing to think reflectively about his past even as he intently sought to win me around to his way of thinking. I persist in thinking he is more important and original than he is usually given credit for being (he seems to be usually seen as either sadly lapsed radical, consensus-era sell out, or a peculiar variant of neo-con).

  3. Bell’s self-description of his worldview (which I had not read before) is uncannily like the one I have given to those who have asked (leaving aside for the moment the Buddhist spiritual orientation): “a Marxist in economics, a Social Democrat in politics, and a Confucian in culture.” Although I would forswear any identification whatsoever with what typically falls within the category of neo-conservatism. Of course the ripples from my worldview are found in a backyard puddle of rainwater, while those of Bell’s were….

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