BELL, DANIEL (1919–2011), U.S. sociologist. Like many New York intellectuals, Bell, who was born to Polish immigrants, was deeply affected by the Great Depression. He grew up in the slums of the Lower East Side and his first language was Yiddish. He always viewed Zionism with a skeptical eye and Socialism, not Judaism, was his real religion as a boy.
Bell read widely, attending the Socialist Sunday School, and was tempted to join the Communist Party. His anarchist relatives in Mohegan Colony, N.Y. were horrified. Bell was handed pamphlets on the Russian sailors' rebellion at Kronstadt that Leon Trotsky had brutally suppressed. They dispelled any illusions he might have harbored about the true nature of Bolshevism. When Bell continued his studies, he was the only member of his circle who resisted the lure of Trotskyism.
In 1940, he became managing editor of the socialist weekly The New Leader, which featured the writings of a number of future liberal cold warriors including Melvin J. Lasky and
. Bell excoriated industry for war profiteering and revered the magazine's editor, Sol M. Levitas, a Menshevik who had fled the Bolsheviks and who exposed the delusions of many New York intellectuals about the true nature of Stalin's Russia. Bell went on to write for many years for Henry M. Luce's Fortune magazine, but always felt the academic tug. In the late 1940s, he taught at the University of Chicago before moving to New York, where he taught at Columbia University and was close friends with scholars such as
. Bell also wrote for the journal Encounter and worked for the Congress for Cultural Freedom in Paris from 1956 to 1967.
Bell's legacy rests with his books, which traverse immense terrain and are studded with footnotes that themselves often constitute minor essays. In 1960 Bell's book The End of Ideology created a sensation by declaring that the old categories of left and right were becoming defunct. Next Bell turned his attention to the unresolved tension between capitalism and morality. In the Coming of Post-Industrial Society, Bell prophesied the shift away from a manufacturing to a knowledge society that has taken place in the U.S. and Europe. But Bell did not believe that the quest for control over information would fundamentally alter the nature of human beings. He noted that "what does not vanish is the duplex nature of man himself – the murderous aggression, from primal impulse, to tear apart and destroy; and the search for order, in art and life, as the bending of will to harmonious shape."
If ideology was at an end, the Public Interest, which Bell co-founded with Irving Kristol in 1965, was supposed to supply sound social science solutions to the problems that faced the U.S. But politics intruded. Like other New York intellectuals, Bell was horrified by the aggression and primal impulses displayed by student radicals who rioted at Columbia in 1968. He and others saw the New Left as totalitarian, hedonistic, and jejune. It was indulging in revolutionary rhetoric that almost irreparably damaged the university – the institution that had offered a passport to the wider intellectual world for Bell and others. Nothing filled Bell with more contempt than the daydreamers about revolution and utopia who ended up creating bloodshed and tyranny.
But unlike Kristol, Bell never moved to the right or accepted the term "neoconservative." Instead, he remained focused on his academic work and moved to Cambridge, Mass., to become a professor of sociology at Harvard in 1969. In 1976, he amplified his observations about capitalism and hedonism in his classic The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism. In a sweeping historical tour de force, Bell sought to show how capitalism had over the centuries inexorably weakened the authority of the very bourgeois societies it had brought into being. Where self-denial had allowed the Fuggers in Europe to amass great wealth, the bounty created by postwar American capitalism had created an unmoored individual indulging mainly in self-gratification. The individual, he concluded, "can only be a cultural wanderer, without a home to return to." The result is to threaten the vitality of capitalism itself.
Though he retired from teaching, Bell continued to write on politics and cultural matters in journals such as Dissent. Bell described himself as a socialist in economics, a liberal in politics, and a conservative in culture. His profound insights have ensured that his own works are beyond ideology and have become classics.