The End of Ideology

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The End of Ideology: On the Exhaustion of Political Ideas in the Fifties (ISBN 0-674-00426-4) is a collection of essays published in 1960 by Daniel Bell, who described himself as a "socialist in economics, a liberal in politics, and a conservative in culture". He suggests that the older, grand-humanistic ideologies derived from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries had been exhausted, and that new, more parochial ideologies would soon arise. He argues that political ideology has become irrelevant among "sensible" people, and that the polity of the future would be driven by piecemeal technological adjustments of the extant system.


At the time, Bell was attacked by critics, left-wing and otherwise. Broadly speaking, hostile criticism of The End of Ideology boiled down to five general concerns:

  • It was a defense of the post-1945 status quo
  • It was downplaying genuine political debate in favor of "technocratic guidance" from social and cultural elites
  • It was substituting consensus for moral discourse
  • Its intellectual honesty was compromised by its author's outspoken anti-Stalinism. (He had been a social democrat in his youth.)
  • It was disproven by the return of radical discontentment in politics, marked by the 1960s and 1970s youth agitations in the West and the rise of extremist politics in the third world. (Actually, Bell anticipated this in his book. He did, however, fail to anticipate the resurgence of "free market" ideology in the 1970s.)


A variety of theories have emerged, even before Daniel Bell's work. Karl Marx, influenced by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, stated that once a state progressed from capitalism, a classless society would emerge, rendering ideology irrelevant (cite?). Daniel Bell, in the 1950s, is often seen as the standard-bearer for the theory. James Burnham, a philosopher and political theorist as well as senior editor of National Review, proffered a similar thesis that foresaw the advent of a state of technocrats, all capable of finding the best answers to political and social problems, making ideology extinct.

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