Monday, January 31, 2011

Daniel Bell argued like a true Marxist or Marxian




Daniel Bell, the American sociologist who passed away on January 25 aged 1991, had an interesting soundbyte. He said that he was a socialist in economics, a liberal in politics and a conservative in culture. It might seem riven with contradictions but it exemplifies liberal humanism in its good if impractical sense. A socialist economic system would not allow liberal political criticism of the economy because the aim of the criticism would be to undermine the socialist assumptions of the economy. Similarly, a political liberal would find it hard to accept conservatism in matters of culture because he would think that a conservative culture is behind passive political behaviour which is bad for liberal politics. It is a concundrum in every which way. The Bell formulation is not just glib. It has something essentially Marxist about it. Bell was a Marxian in the loose sense of term, along with many other New York Jewish intellectuals of the 1930s. Marx admired the art of Greece and Rome and did not think that classical art was feudal, bourgeois or proletarian. He was also a political liberal in a sense because he did feel that freedom to think is essential and he argued for a communist economy so that people can lead a liberated life, the dream of a liberal.
Bell has also coined the term, 'post-industrial' and seems to have beaten Alvin Toffler's ideas in 'Third Wave' written in 1980. Bell also grappled with the idea as to why Marxism did not make a mark in America. He was a good Marxist who analysed things. It would have been interesting if some good Indian Marxist had engaged in a similar intellectual exercise. Some people might cite M.N.Roy, the disenchanted Marxist who then went on to forge rational humanism, which was a little too unrealistic.

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