end-of-ideology thesis

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Although not originated by the American sociologist Daniel Bell, this very controversial thesis is commonly identified with him, thanks to the publication in 1960 of a book of his essays entitled The End of Ideology. The central thrust of the thesis is suggested by the subtitle of this book: ‘On the Exhaustion of Political Ideas in the Fifties’. Bell's argument is that the great political ideologies of the 19th century, liberalism and socialism especially, each of which he conceives of as ‘a set of beliefs, infused with passion, and seek[ing] to transform the whole of a way of life’, finally lost their ability to mobilize the people of the advanced industrial societies in the 1950s. This, he suggests, happened for two main reasons. First, because of the failure of these ideologies to prevent war, economic depression, and political oppression. And second, because of the modifications to capitalism brought about by the changes summarized by the term welfare state. Although Bell acknowledged the continuing and indeed increased importance of ideology in ‘the rising states of Asia and Africa’, his conclusion was that in the industrialized West, social improvement would and could only come through what he was later to term ‘“piecemeal” change in a social-democratic direction’.

Subjects: Sociology.

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