Take Me to Your Leader

The Coming of Post-Industrial Society: A Venture in Social Forecasting

by Daniel Bell
Basic Books, 507 pp., $12.50

Many students of modern society have argued, usually in more or less open opposition to socialist theories, that changes in technology, the rise of new classes, the divorce between ownership and control of property, the shift from production of goods to production of services, and the growth of bureaucracy have created, in effect, a new form of society, to which the old debates about capitalism and socialism are increasingly irrelevant. The central features of this new society are usually seen to be the ascendancy of technique, the subordination of the market to bureaucratic controls, and the growing influence of scientific and technical elites. In addition, many theorists and publicists argue that these characteristics can be found in both the advanced capitalist and socialist countries; in other words that considerations of bureaucratic efficiency increasingly override ideological considerations, just as they override national and local variations, producing a homogeneous global civilization based on technological rationality.

Daniel Bell’s concept of post-industrial society, to which he has now given what is intended to be a magisterial and authoritative restatement, belongs in a long line of social thought developed by such theorists as Veblen, the early Walter Lippmann, James Burnham, John Kenneth Galbraith, David Bazelon, and Milovan Djilas. If this new book strikes the reader as not particularly original, it is because so many writers, including Daniel Bell himself in essays written over the last fifteen years, long ago made its central ideas familiar.

The Coming of Post-Industrial Society is a compendious summation rather than an attempt to break new ground. It deserves attention precisely because it promises to offer an ambitious and sweeping synthesis—a synthesis, moreover, written by a sociologist who is highly conscious not only of his immediate predecessors but of his nineteenth-century forebears as well. At a time when most academic sociologists busy themselves with trivial problems of behavioral and quantitative analysis, Bell has written a work that regards itself as standing in the grand sociological tradition of Marx and Weber. Bell hopes to rescue this tradition and bring it up to date. “My purpose,” he says at the outset, “is to restore some of the informing power of older modes of social analysis” (p. 10).

Although Bell follows Weber rather than Marx in stressing bureaucratic rationality as the key to modern society, he remains fascinated by—one might almost say fixated on—Marxian categories. Like many other commentators on Marx, he is tempted by the possibility that the “informing power” of Marxism can be restored by finding contemporary equivalents for the leading terms in the Marxian equation. Here as elsewhere, unfortunately, this procedure results in twisting Marxian terms unrecognizably out of shape. Thus Bell argues at one point, following the lead of that deep thinker Herman Kahn, that “military technology has supplanted the ‘mode of production,’ in Marx’s use of the term, as a major determinant of social structure” (p. 356). This formulation begs the question of whether military technology is not itself determined, or at least heavily …

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