Monday, January 31, 2011

"Kronstadt was my Kronstadt"

It's easy to remember Daniel Bell for being wrong.  It was he, after all, who (in  "The End of Ideology") gave us one more of the crashingly misguided forecasts that see to be the fate of sociologists.  And in his case, a twopher: Bell's prediction that we would put ideology behind us and swim in the calm seas of technocracy--that prediction was picked up and kicked into overdrive by Frances Fukayama in "The End of History,"  (Michael Weiss in The New Criterion says Fukayama is "badly indebted" to Bell, and I am really not clear just how he means that).

In a sense, it hardly matters: important social thinkers have an impressive record of missing the point and still surviving to cast a shadow another day (think Marx, Hayek, Schumpeter). And Bell, for his part, was remarkably right in the sense that he rarely got lost in the commitments to the various insanities of his time.  Weiss (again) calls him "a bit of Trotsky, a bit of Kropotkin, and heaping dollops of Mills and Weber tossed into the mix."  He might have added "a bit of Montaigne."  For that was the real essence of Bell: he was an appreciator who didn't drink the kool-aide with the satisfying result that he has less to be ashamed of than some of his more enthusiastic neighbors.

That Trotskyism, for example, was never more than "a bit."  And later in life, when the Trotskyites became neo-Conservatives, Bell was a pains to tell people he wasn't a neo-conservative either.  Weiss (yet again) has the most telling Bell story (though I am not quite sure Weiss got the point himself:
When asked the symbolic question of the precise moment of his “split” with Marxism-Leninism, “Comrade, when was your Kronstadt?” -- a reference to the once pro-Bolshevik sailors who mutinied for food and pay and whom the Red Army mowed down like rabbits -- Bell’s reply was as simple as it was indicting of his entire radical cohort: “Kronstadt was my Kronstadt.”
Lots more good Bell stuff in links collected by Arts & Letters Daily (which I shamelessly pilfer because I am afraid they will roll of the A&L  front page and disappear): .. NY Times... Washington Post... The Chronicle... The Guardian... Slate... Boston Globe... National Post...  Harvard Crimson... Michael Kazin... Frum Forum... Morris Dickstein... 

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