In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick

SurrogacyTM

Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

Jia Tolentino

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

Short Cuts: Harry Goes Rogue

Jonathan Parry

Disjunction and AnalysisRalf Dahrendorf
Close

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website (www.lrb.co.uk — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.


  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
Close
Sociological Journeys: Essays 1960-1980 
by Daniel Bell.
Heinemann, 370 pp., £12.50, December 1980, 0 435 82069 9
Show More
Show More

The proof of a theory may lie in its application, but application means very different things in different corners of the universe of the mind. Expecting an eclipse of the sun at a certain time and place, and for a certain duration, is one kind of application. Producing a silicon chip which programmes certain operations is another kind. But in the social sciences there are no such tangible applications (and we all pay the price for the fact that some seem to believe that economics is different). It is true, I have sometimes dreamt of the weatherman after the television news being followed by a ‘social processes man’ who points at various parts of the globe and describes the unstable and thunderous condition in the Middle East, the stable high-pressure area over the Soviet Union, and the disturbing influence of Atlantic depressions on Europe. However, this is not going to happen, and if it were, it would still be different in kind from the application of theory in astronomy. It would be an exercise in Verstehen rather than straight application.

This is why social analysis is the queen of the social sciences. Pure theory, in most social sciences, remains strangely barren. To be sure, nobody should be precluded from playing the glass bead game, even if it leads to a conceptual salad of Parsonian irrelevance: but the game does little to bring social processes to life. Analysis, on the other hand, combines at the best of times three elementary virtues of human understanding: immersion in the facts and figures of a case; thought about their structure and dynamics (‘theory’); and a sense of direction which probably has to have a normative component.

Social analysis cannot be taught other than by example. Moreover, since it requires the ability to embrace a subject without merging with it – an ability which comes with experience – social analysis is an unlikely method for writing a dissertation. There are the great examples of the past, of course – Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire, Durkheim’s Suicide, Weber’s Protestant Ethic. The social analysis of total societies may be almost too much to try. Today, it has in part fallen into the hands of charlatans, who do little more than invent yet another name for the world in which we are living. Serious scholars, like Norbert Elias or Reinhard Bendix, have turned to the past as the key to the present. Some try to develop what they like to call Marxism, though Jürgen Habermas is one of the very few who do so with any degree of originality. Raymond Aron’s name must be mentioned, but his great analyses – though not Clausewitz and certain other books – are now somewhat dated. In this distinguished company, Daniel Bell has an undisputed and well-deserved place. Long before The Coming of Post-Industrial Society, he had established himself as one of the world’s foremost social analysts; since then, he has taken his analysis further in The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism. The collection of essays written between 1960 and 1980, and published under the title Sociological Journeys, offers a welcome opportunity to follow his paths and encounters during a crucial period.

In the twenty years in question, Bell had two main subjects of concern: the (rise of the) technology of the electronic age and its ‘engineers’, and the (decline of the) culture of modernism and its ‘new class’. (Some of the 17 essays are about socio-political analysis, but they are less strikingly original.) It is worth noting that the twenty years straddle what may well be one of the most significant periods of change in modern times: the évènements de mai, which did not remain confined either to Paris or to 1968; the withdrawal of the United States from its role as Ordnungsmacht, with consequent internal and international uncertainties, including 15 August 1971 – that is, the end of the convertibility of the dollar into gold, and of the post-war certainties of economic exchange; then, in 1973, the Yom Kippur war, with its multiple ramifications, among which the series of oil price increases, the consequent condemnation of the poor to starvation, and of the rich to an apparently everlasting recession, are the most important. It is difficult to think of another quinquennium which has cast doubt on so many assumptions; and one would like to know what a master of social analysis makes of such changes.

The answer is curious. Daniel Bell has thought hard about every one of the events mentioned, and about the chains of development in which they have to be seen. Sometimes, though rarely, he even hints at the possible ‘axial’ significance of the changes of 1968-1973. There is a change of mood in his Post-Industrial Society, about two-thirds along the way; and one remembers that the book was completed just before the Yom Kippur war. In the present volume, ‘The Future World Disorder’ refers explicitly to the structural changes since 1973 and not only, like Schumacher, advocates ‘appropriate scale’ but also ‘the use of the market principle for social purposes’ as remedies. ‘Ethnicity and Social Change’ is another essay in this category. Yet, in comparison with the great essays on technology, on intellectuals, on religion, these more topical ones look like pale, almost hesitant concessions, as if made to a reality of secondary importance. Bell’s central concern is with trends which remain strangely unaffected by more recent changes in the political economy and international context of modern societies. This need not be wrong: it could be argued that, on the contrary, the secular exaggeration of the immediate is one of the sins of instant social analysis. Yet Bell’s reticence raises questions, including that of whether his own toolbox of Verstehen fails in the face of certain processes.

One of his fascinations is with modern technology, and he conveys this fascination in his piece on ‘Teletext and Technology’. He starts with the process of ‘miniaturisation’ and its wonders (from four to 40,000 electronic components per square inch in a mere decade), then proceeds to computer communications, or ‘compunications’, and suddenly stops himself: ‘Information is power. Control over communication services is a source of power, and access to communication is a condition of freedom.’ Clearly, this is an important question. But apart from the fact that Bell contributes little to its solution, it is not the only one of its kind. Thus Bell calls it a ‘sociological truism’ that ‘all Americans (or all “moderns”), given as they are to enthusiasm, expect almost instant results once a technological process is discovered.’ But is there not an increasing and increasingly explosive disparity between technological possibilities and people’s ability, as well as readiness, to accept them? And is this not one of the differences between a period of happy growth and one of doubt and stagnation? It may well be that the resistance of London printers to automation, or that of German politicians to cable television, is just a losing battle with Luddite overtones. But there is the more difficult question of whether nuclear energy programmes have not been significantly delayed by popular reactions. Also one wonders whether Bell is right that the Bibliothèque Nationale and the Library of Congress will actually become obsolete – replaced by new information systems.

All these, however, are minor points compared with the much bigger question of what exactly the role of technology is in modern societies, and whether it is undergoing significant changes at this time. Bell asserts, indeed almost assumes, that technology continues to be a great productive force which progresses unstoppably and informs the ‘techno-economic realm’. Could it not be that technology, from having been a great productive force of modern societies, has now become part of their relations of production, and that new forces are to be found outside the laboratories of AT&T and ICI? Is not one of the profound changes marked by the quinquennium around 1970 perhaps the discovery of the first stirrings of new social forces – nameless as yet, but if anything anti-technological? Could it be that there is something in Bell’s approach that makes it difficult for him to notice such changes?

One need only raise the last question to realise that Bell has an uncanny way of being at least one step ahead of any reviewer: of course he is aware of changing attitudes to technology and economic development. When he describes the ‘new class’ as less a class than an attitude, he makes the point for us. His sensitivity is too great for him to miss any important social phenomenon. Time and again one gasps with the excitement of discovery as one follows Bell’s rich analyses. Often, they are so condensed, so full of evidence and thought about both sides of the picture, that one wonders for which side a case is made. But of course great analysis is not about making cases all the time: it is about understanding. In his ability to understand complex socio-cultural processes, Bell is surely unrivalled in contemporary writing. All this is not to say that the earlier questions about technology as a productive force are answered satisfactorily by him: but it is to say that his style of thinking and writing somehow seems to leave these questions by the roadside as he gets on with his sociological journeys.

No one can get on without some sense of direction, and these essays enable us to find out where Bell is going. The piece on ‘The “Intelligentsia” in American Society’ contains moving passages about the gradual integration of New York’s Jewish intellectuals into the society of their choice. That they were, among other things, a clique, Bell makes clear both deliberately and involuntarily. If Bell attacks Harrington for having followed Fromm in charging him with misquoting Marx, which Bernstein knew could not be true, then the comment has an unintended irony: ‘Old factional habits never change.’ But this is only one side of the genealogy of New York’s intelligentsia. The other is political. It is marked by the gradual transition from radical socialism through the vacuum of ‘the end of ideology’ to the new conservatism of today’s Commentary, and to a new confidence in one’s religious and cultural origins.

Does one explain the Soviet Union by history or theology? For many of us, the answer lay not in history, but in the nature of man. It was the end of a belief in much of Marxism. The fact that the opportunity for murder arises when a man is unrestrained by law became an important consideration in the thoughts of those who began to return to Judaism.

Here, the vital core of Bell’s thinking begins to appear.

It is reflected in his view of culture and modernity. This he pursues in a series of essays on ‘American Exceptionalism’, on ‘Modernism’, on ‘Jewish Identity’, but, most clearly, in the well-known paper, ‘The Return of the Sacred?’ ‘Will there be a return of the sacred, the rise of new religious modes? Of that I have no doubt.’ It is fascinating to follow Bell to his ‘retreat from the excesses of modernity’. There are, he says, needs of morality, of redemption and of mysticism which suggest the return of the sacred, but there is above all ‘the resurrection of Memory’: ‘We stand, I believe, with a clearing ahead of us. The exhaustion of Modernism, the aridity of Communist life, the tedium of the unrestrained self and the meaninglessness of the monolithic political chants all indicate that a long era is coming to a close.’ What will follow? Bell admits ignorance, yet adds: ‘I am bound, in the faith of my fathers, to the thread, for the chord of culture – and religion – is memory.’

The resulting picture oscillates in intriguing ways. At one moment, it appears perfect, and perfectly plausible: a society which rediscovers memory while organising its worldly affairs in the most rational possible manner; a society, perhaps, which has regained time by invention and technology; a society, to be sure, which may or may not succeed in its new ventures. Then the picture falls apart, and ‘compunication’ does not tally with ‘the return of the sacred’. Bell, plausibly, does not like the built-in imprecisions of ‘dialectical’ thinking. But his own prescription leaves similar doubts. ‘At most times,’ he says, ‘societies are radically disjunctive.’ By that, he means that ‘the techno-economic realm’, ‘the polity’ and ‘the culture’ can follow their own contradictory paths. In the introduction, he even asserts that, in fact, ‘each realm has a different rhythm of change.’ Whereas technology and economy progress, culture is circular, returning time and again to the same questions. It is thus wrong to claim any determinism of culture by economics, or vice versa. Bell seems to make a theory of abandoning all theory, even that element which could, and perhaps should, be a part of social analysis. Disjunction means, after all, that the world falls apart, or rather that it is left in as many pieces as appear to the non-analytical eye. But then, Bell’s eyes are anything but non-analytical, and, mysteriously, his anti-theory of disjunction does not prevent him from turning seemingly disparate facts into a plausible whole: a supreme example of social analysis in which immersion in the subject, stunning knowledge about anything that might be relevant to it, and a sensitivity that is sharpened by a profound cultural, not to say religious commitment, seem to make theory altogether unnecessary.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.