In “The End of Ideology” he contended — nearly three decades before the collapse of Communism — that ideologies that had once driven global politics were losing force and thus providing openings for newer galvanizing beliefs to gain toeholds. In “The Coming of Post-Industrial Society,” he foresaw the global spread of service-based economies as generators of capital and employment, supplanting those dominated by manufacturing or agriculture.
In Mr. Bell’s view, Western capitalism had come to rely on mass consumerism, acquisitiveness and widespread indebtedness, undermining the old Protestant ethic of thrift and modesty that writers like Max Weber and R.H. Tawney had long credited as the reasons for capitalism’s success.
He also predicted the rising importance of science-based industries and of new technical elites. Indeed, in 1967, he predicted something like the Internet, writing: “We will probably see a national information-computer-utility system, with tens of thousands of terminals in homes and offices ‘hooked’ into giant central computers providing library and information services, retail ordering and billing services, and the like.”
Mr. Bell became an influential editor of periodicals, starting out with The New Leader, a small social democratic publication that he referred to as his “intellectual home.” He joined Fortune magazine as its labor editor and in 1965 helped found and edit The Public Interest with his old City College classmate Irving Kristol, who died in 2009.
Though The Public Interest never attained a wide readership, it gained great prestige, beginning as a policy journal that questioned Great Society programs and then broadening into one of the most intellectually formidable of neoconservative publications.
“It has had more influence on domestic policy than any other journal in the country — by far,” the columnist David Brooks wrote in The New York Times in 2005.
As both a public intellectual and an academic, Mr. Bell saw a distinction between those breeds. In one of his typical yeasty digressions in “The End of Ideology,” he wrote: “The scholar has a bounded field of knowledge, a tradition, and seeks to find his place in it, adding to the accumulated, tested knowledge of the past as to a mosaic. The scholar, qua scholar, is less involved with his ‘self.’
“The intellectual,” he went on, “begins with his experience, his individual perceptions of the world, his privileges and deprivations, and judges the world by these sensibilities.”