The Public Interest

The Cultural Contradictions Of Capitalism

Daniel Bell

Fall 1970

The relationship between a civilization's socioeconomic structure and its culture is perhaps the most complicated of all problems for the sociologist. A nineteenth century tradition, one deeply impregnated with Marxist conceptions, held that changes in social structure determined man's imaginative reach. An earlier vision of man--as homo pictor, the symbol-producing animal, rather than as homo faber, the tool-making animal---saw him as a creature uniquely able to prefigure what be would later "objectify" or construct in reality. It thus ascribed to the realm of culture the initiative for change. Whatever the truth of these older arguments about the past, today culture has clearly become supreme; what is played out in the imagination of the artist foreshadows, however dimly, the social reality of tomorrow.

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