The following is a guest post from Mark Edwards. Mark teaches American history and politics at Spring Arbor University in Michigan. He has published numerous articles, including in Diplomatic History, Religion and American Culture, and Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions. His first book is The Right of the Protestant Left, and he is currently at work on a related project, The Christian Origins of the American Century: A Life of Francis Pickens Miller.
Writing in The End of Ideology (1955, pp. 21-22, 36), Daniel Bell proclaimed mass society criticism “the most influential social theory in the Western world today.” He summarized mass society talking points this way:
Revolutions in transport and communications have brought men into closer contact with each other and bound them in new ways; the division of labor has made them more interdependent; tremors in one part of society affect all others. Despite this greater interdependence, however, individuals have grown more estranged from one another. The old primary group ties of family and local community have been shattered; ancient parochial faiths are questioned; few unifying values have taken their place. Most important, the critical standards of an educated elite no longer shape opinion or taste. As a result, mores and morals are in constant flux, relations between individuals are tangential or compartmentalized, rather than organic. . . . The stage is thus set for the charismatic leader, the secular messiah, who, by bestowing upon each person the semblance of necessary grace and of fullness of personality, supplies a substitute for the older unifying belief that the mass society has destroyed.
While Bell sympathized with the many culture critics had sensed the “radical dehumanization of life” since World War I, he also considered mass society grievance “an ideology of romantic protest against contemporary life.” Bell’s dismissal begs the question: How could so many people be so profoundly misguided about techno-corporate capitalist modernity? Continue reading