Daniel Bell

  • Daniel Bell, who died Jan. 25 at 91, wrote two of the most influential books of the second half of the 20th century: The Coming of Post-Industrial Society, which explained how new information technologies were transforming the economy, and The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, a critique of the moral consequences of mass prosperity. Both, beautifully written and passionately argued, will be read long into the future.

    Bell, born Daniel Bolotsky in New York City, was one of the City College graduates of the late 1930s who, along with Irving Howe, Irving Kristol and Nathan Glazer, came to be known as the New York Intellectuals. While most of that group went through a variety of political and intellectual phases, Bell was different. He was a longtime social democrat who melded his belief in a mixed economy and political pluralism with a cultural conservatism that saw both the affluence of capitalism and the '60s counterculture as dangers to society's "moral temper."

    His skeptical temperament made him leery of both the claims of self-defined elites and the supposed promise of modernism. He saw a will to power in the first and nihilism in the second. Mocking what became postmodernism, Bell liked to cite a Yiddish saying: "If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there."

    Siegel, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, is the author of The Prince of the City