Amitai Etzioni crisis of modernity

Amitai Etzioni – The Crisis of Modernity: Deviation or Demise?

“There are those who believe that the contemporary crisis of our society is a temporary, a limited setback as our civilization rises to higher plateaux of organization, knowledge, planning and competence, onward and forward into the ultra-modern (or technetronic) age.

The swelling symptoms of disaffection, especially the counter-culture of youth, are viewed as limited in scope and significance, and as only delaying progress. Even among the young, it is argued, only a minority rebels and those who do are mainly from among the students, largely in the humanities and some of the social sciences, who react to the growing obsolescence of their generalistic, abstract perspective. These rebelling few, these reactionary neo-Luddites, are said to perceive correctly that they will be even more out of place in the 1980s than they were in the late 1960s, as society will be run increasingly by a technological Clite, applied scientists and administrators. The rebellion is thus written off as a small, albeit troublesome, price that progress exacts. But obviously, we point out, not only students rebel. Racial minorities, senior citizens and significant segments of women are also increasingly disenchanted with ‘the good life’ that contemporary society is supposedly offering, and they act out their alienation.

Yet the significance of this broadening front is discounted because the goals of the various member groups vary significantly. The blacks (and other ethnic minorities), it is said, are fighting basically for their share in the system, their cut of the affluent pie; while the young radicals wish to slay the modern goose that lays the consumer eggs and to return to the culture (and economics and ecology) of poverty. And, it is added with some Schadenfreude, even the rebelling young are not in agreement.

Some seek a traditional revolution in the old leftist sense of the term, daydreaming of storming a Bastille or palace, mounting the barricades, followed by soviets of students, workers and peasants, taking over, ushering in the sunshine society. Others expect the same result to be achieved by personal acts of faith (by raising consciousness) and by a change of life style (What could General Motors do if we all chose to ride bicycles or, better yet, walk?). The friends of modernity point to the rapid rise and fall of various rebellion fads to document further their complacent thesis.

In 1968 there were major outbreaks of riots in black ghettos in scores of American cities; it was widely argued that, unless major reforms were made to favor the blacks, the subsequent summers would grow hotter until the whole country would go up in the flames of civil war. Actually, while the reforms that followed were small tokens, there were fewer fires in 1969, still fewer in subsequent years. The student uprising that gained momentum in the mid- and late 1960s was said then to endanger academia and polity alike. Louis J. Halle, writing in the New Republic, saw a ‘student drive to destruction’ which threatened ‘the breakdown of the discipline of civilization’, and it was no longer impossible that ‘Mr George Wallace or someone like him will become President of the United States in 1973.’ Dire consequences were predicted if the rebelling young who gave the political system its ‘last chance’ in the 1968 elections, by campaigning for Eugene McCarthy, were to find it unresponsive. The editor of The Notion opined that a ‘sizable number of voters will turn to a third party or a fourth …which if it cannot prevail in 1968will pave the way for national, radical change in 1972,’adding ominously, ‘provided the fat has not gone into the fire by then’.

But 1968 came and went; not just Gene but even Humphrey lost, and Nixon – anathema of anathemas -took over; yct in the following years the young were heard less of, not more. Soon, it is said, few will recall what the initials SDS stand for, and even the extremist, violence-prone Weathermen, who finally decided to talk down dynamiting, have just about blown themselves away. By 1971, L, not only had the campuses ceased to boil over, but even their internal turmoil had subsided.”

Amitai Etzioni
The Crisis of Modernity: Deviation or Demise?


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