Diagnosis of Our Time, by Karl Mannheim
THE significance of Dr. Mannheim’s latest book transcends the time and place of its composition. The ideas presented in Diagnosis of Our Time constitute a powerful antidote to Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom and the propaganda of other protagonists of laissez faire. The book had its inception in England during the war’s imminence and its first tragic years, and its chapters were originally presented as magazine articles, lectures before university audiences, a B.B.C. broadcast, and as a discussion outline for a group of Christian thinkers. While the immediate references are to wartime England, the generalizations have a validity for all Western civilization in the reconstructive tasks ahead. It is a book about contemporary social conflicts and the inner predicaments of the individual-of which War and dictatorship are but symptoms-and about what social science has to offer in the way of guidance toward an integrated democratic culture. Dr. Mannheim, in his diagnosis of our time, rejects with equal force the facile, dogmatic and one-sided generalizations of the religionist and the Marxian critics. That there is a widespread rejection of religious sanctions for individual conduct and that the institutions of religion are no longer central in the social order are clinical notes but not a diagnosis. To preach the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man may be adequate as a soporific, but it is painfully inadequate as a social cure. That this is an age of transition from a laissez faire to a collectivist economy is a definition of one of the crucial areas of the disease, not a description of the disease itself; and exclusive obsession with economics won’t cure it.
Seen against the backdrop of history, the disease of our mass society, which is based on power technology, consists in the presence in its culture of uneliminated and undigested deposits of ideas, ideals, principles and values that originated in earlier stages of the development of Western civilization. Our concepts of property, which were crystallized in an age of small-scale farming and handicrafts, are in conflict with the present-day realities of economic interdependence on a national and global scale. The ethics of the small neighborly community have not been assimilated in the culture of our present mass society. Within the moral consciousness of the individual the demands of custom, religious insight, reason and utility cancel each other out. One result is that the intellectual and moral vacuum thus created has attracted the ethos and the mythos of sheer force; the other result is a type of a democracy that does not know its own values or is so tolerant as to be indifferent to them.
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