Defining the old, creating the new
Post-ideology and the politics of periodization
in Post-everything

In the late 1950s the emergence of a ‘post-ideological era’ was announced for the first time. Helmut Schelsky discussed the idea that German sociology had developed in a non-ideological direction, eventually leading to a ‘nachideologischen Epoche’ in sociology. In a review of Schelsky’s book Ortsbestimmung der Deutschen Soziologie Raymond Aron argued that this post-ideological phase characterized not only German sociology, but also sociology elsewhere and probably society as a whole. This chapter presents a Begriffsgeschichte of ‘post-ideological’ in the 1950s and 1960s and subsequently analyses the use of the concept as an intellectual and political positioning tool. By focusing on Edward Shils, Raymond Aron and Daniel Bell, this chapter discusses post-ideology in dialogue with the emergence of the so-called ‘end-of-ideology thesis’ within the context of the Cold War. This contextual reading strikingly reveals how the term post-ideological did not merely describe the world, it was first and foremost a performative concept used to force a political and intellectual intervention. This chapter also shows something else: while announcing the post-ideological era, authors often expressed the idea that society would gradually develop from one stage to another and actively strived for such a development. This emphasis on the sequence of historical stages hints at something we could call a historicist worldview.


It was in the late 1950s that the idea of a ‘post-ideological era’ made its first appearances. The German sociologist Helmut Schelsky, for instance, put forward the suggestion that German sociology had developed in a non-ideological direction, to the point of having reached a ‘nachideologischen Epoche’.1 In a review of Schelsky’s book, Raymond Aron argued that not only German sociology, but German society in general had entered this post-ideological phase. In this context, Aron referred to a debate that had started a few years earlier: the so-called ‘end of ideology’ debate.2

I argue that while annunciating a post-ideological age, many authors reasoned from the proposition that society was gradually developing from one stage to another. This often more implicit than explicit emphasis on the sequence of historical stages, paired with the urge to discuss them in their own historical context, hints at what I would call a ‘historicist worldview’. Of course, there are many definitions of the term ‘historicism’ available, which makes this term prone to misunderstandings. The definition used in this chapter draws on the German historian Friedrich Meinecke. For him, historicism stood for the idea that the present should be understood as a product of long-term historical developments, that these developments have led to different stages or epochs over time, and that these stages all had their own zeitgeist. These stages and their zeitgeists should be studied and evaluated on their own merits, which leads to an individualizing approach of history that pays sustained attention to historical contexts and temporal situatedness.3

This chapter does not claim that everyone who employed the term post-ideological was or is a historicist in Meinecke’s sense of the word. What I want to show, however, is that historicist modes of epochal thinking resonated in the use of the phrase ‘post-ideological’. By highlighting traces of historicism in the works of European and American scholars after World War II, this chapter aims to present a twentieth century example of historicist reasoning. I argue that the ‘post’ in post-ideological is not just a descriptive term but has a performative capacity as well; it was used to establish a desired situation rather than to describe a current situation. The ‘post’ in post-ideological therefore ‘breaks up time’, declares an era ended, and starts a new one.4

The first section presents a Begriffsgeschichte of post-ideology in the 1950s and 1960s in which the first appearances of the phrase will be analysed. The second section presents a short historiographical overview of the ‘end of ideology’ thesis as it was debated in the 1950s and 1960s. The third section examines the relation between the end of ideology thesis and historicist reasoning. This will be done by exploring historicist modes of epochal thinking in three key texts on the end of ideology, written by three key authors: Raymond Aron, Edward Shils and Daniel Bell.

Post-ideological: A short conceptual history

This conceptual history focuses on the earliest use of the phrase ‘post-ideological’.5 I will determine when the phrase was used for the first time, which authors were using it, and how they used it.6 My emphasis is on the question of whether people used the phrase ‘post-ideological’ to describe a phase, era, stage, age or epoch in history. This survey will stop around 1968, when more and more people started to use the concept – I will not take into account the rebirth of the concept in the 1990s.

It was probably in 1955 that the idea of a ‘post-ideological era’, ‘epoch’, ‘age’ or ‘period’ was mentioned for the first time. In a book review of Lionel Trilling’s The Opposing Self, Paul Pickrel characterized Trilling as ‘a true son of the age of ideology, feeling fully the appeal of the intellectual aggression we call ideology, the determination to make reality conform to the mind’s reading of reality; yet the essence of what he has to say is that the universe speaks in a voice beyond ideology, and that man can realize the fullness of his being only by listening to that voice’.7 Pickrel discussed Trilling’s ‘claim to intellectual leadership in this post-ideological age’.8 He did not elaborate on what exactly he understood a ‘post-ideological age’ to mean. Although he stated that ‘for the last century and a half, ideology has been the chief content of intellectual life’, he did not elaborate on its current post-status.9 Such offhand, largely descriptive uses of the phrase can be found in further book reviews and articles published between 1955 and 1958.10 A precise definition of the ‘post-ideological period’, however, was lacking.

The emergence of a post-ideological period was not only debated in the United States. In 1959 Helmut Schelsky, as mentioned in this chapter’s introduction, advanced the idea that German sociology had developed in a non-ideological direction, thereby entering a nachideologischen Epoche.11 Elsewhere in his book, Schelsky suggested that German sociology was not the only place where ideology came to an end. In his assessment, ideology was losing its importance for both Germany and sociology in general.12 In a 1960 review of Schelsky’s book, Raymond Aron focused specifically on this part of Schelsky’s thesis, stating that ‘post 1933 sociology could be characterized by its non-ideological character, which corresponds with the post-ideological character of the era we live in’.13

So around 1960 the phrase was used in several countries and languages, in texts that assumed their readers to be able to grasp what it meant. These readers were not necessarily academics: the term was used in political magazines, newspapers and several other genres.14 In 1963, for instance, a United Nations paper on the development of Latin America, written by José Medina Echevarría, explained why Europe and North America were experiencing a post-ideological phase, whereas such a development could not be detected in Latin America.

To give a brief explanation for the ‘post-ideological’ phase in Europe and North America, it may be said that it is primarily due to the fact that on the spiritual plane Europe has to live on the ashes of the past, while on the material plane North America has to live on the affluency [sic] of the present. Of course this does not mean that the two cannot go together. But we should steer clear of any ‘ideology of post-ideology’, so reminiscent of the old ‘philosophy of philosophy’ or ‘sociology of sociology’.15

Although authors did not agree on the geographical boundaries of this post-ideological turn, the geographical element itself is important. Just like Echevarría, most authors focused on the decline of ideology in the Western world. Historian John Lukacs for instance believed that ‘Europe (and to some extent also the United States) seems to have entered the post-ideological age’.16 In 1959 Heinrich Gremmels, a German lawyer, was a lot more specific: ‘West Germany has an advantage over the rest of the world today, in so far, that we are already in the post-ideological situation in which we have long since learned not to attempt to solve the world’s mysteries.’17 The Canadian sociologist Léon Dion concluded something else, when he wrote: ‘In short, American society has entered the post-ideological era because it has achieved its goals.’18 Some authors were even of the opinion that the post-ideological age was a phenomenon also occurring in the communist world. Philip Mosely wrote: ‘Morally, though not politically, East-Central Europe has been moving into a Post-Stalinist and post-ideological stage of its development … To Soviet policy this new stage poses a complex challenge to overcome its notoriously simplistic approach of the recent past.’19

Besides the geographical element there were other features of post-ideology on which intellectuals diverged. One of these was the question whether the new era had already begun, or was still to arrive. Irving Howe thought it was already there: he consistently used it as an adjective for his own times.20 Konstanty Jeleński thought the post-ideological age was just about to start. Reuel Denney, on the other hand, seemed to take the post-ideological age for granted while concluding a book review with the statement that ‘[o]f all of the ways of saying that our own society is now living in a post-ideological age, this is the neatest’.21 Others, such as Roy Pierce, were less sure about the post-ideological status of the present: ‘If we are approaching, or are already in, a post-ideological age, it is proper to ask what is being offered in place of the ideologies which have disappeared (or may be disappearing).’22

Clearly, then, not all authors using the phrase were discussing the same thing. Post-ideological literature was something different from post-ideological politics or international relations. Moreover, authors were far from unanimous on where to locate the concept of post-ideology in place and time. The question whether post-ideological should be seen as a temporal signifier, however, can be answered with an unequivocal ‘yes’. Many appearances of the phrase between 1955 and 1965 referred to a phase, period, stage, age or era.

Despite the variety in meanings of the concept, authors considered this post-concept something that should be easily understood by their audiences. This is not without reason because post-ideology was contextually understood, and its context is best explained by another phrase: ‘the end of ideology’. Although there was no undisputed definition of this phrase either, most contemporaries would describe it as the thesis that fanatic political doctrines, Marxism in particular, were slowly vanishing from the Western world. According to some, this tendency was the outcome of profound political insight and modernization while others considered it the product of fierce repression.23 In the next section I will elaborate further on how post-ideology became a signifier of the end of ideology debate.

The end of ideology: A survey

At the 1960 Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), Konstanty Jeleński sketched some ‘Prospects for a Post-Ideological Society’ in which he suggested that the post-ideological period would follow ‘the end of ideology’.24 The CCF was an international organization for poets, writers, historians, philosophers and scientists with divisions in several countries. It offered stages for fierce anti-communism on the one hand, and celebrations of a mild social democratic, slightly conservative welfare state on the other. Although in 1966 it was revealed that the CCF had been financed by the CIA, it was initially considered a serious platform for the exchange of ideas and practices among intellectuals from all over the world.

From 1955 onwards, the phrase ‘end of ideology’ had become a recurring catchphrase at CCF conferences.25 It appeared in the CCF journal Encounter and in CCF-sympathetic journals like The Partisan Review and Dissent.26 As early as 1968, a first collection of essays on the topic appeared. It was titled The End of Ideology Debate and canonized some of the most important authors in the debate, including Shils, Aron, Bell and Seymour Martin Lipset.27 The debate itself became object of academic study in the years after. Job L. Dittberner was the first to study the end of ideology thesis from a historical perspective. His 1976 dissertation ‘The End of Ideology and American Social Thought: 1930–1960’ presented Shils, Bell, Lipset and Aron as the key theorists of the debate.

Aron, indeed, wrote a chapter titled ‘The End of the Ideological Age?’ in the aftermath of the 1955 Milan CCF congress. Shils turned the phrase into a slogan against political fanaticism in general and communism in particular. In 1960 Bell had published The End of Ideology: On the Exhaustion of Political Ideas in the Fifties, a collection of essays that concludes with an essay on ‘The End of Ideology in the West’.28 Lipset in the same year observed that the ‘characteristic pattern of stable Western democracies in the mid-twentieth century is that they are in a “post-politics” phase’ (thereby casually introducing yet another post-concept).29 Although the general theses of these authors revolved around themes such as modernization, decolonization, the end of socialism and developments in the Cold War, Dittberner and others stress that analyses and opinions differed from author to author.30

First of all, the concept of ideology has quite a kaleidoscopic character. To bring tangibility, Howard Brick identified its most striking features and asked what ideology meant to the authors.31 Brick argues:

From the various meanings of ‘ideology’, then, its ‘end’ could refer to the dismissal of totalitarian doctrines, or their waning appeal; to a realistic or pragmatic suspicion of all rigid formulas of ideas, that is, to fixed doctrines or ‘isms’, be they socially and politically destructive or seemingly benign, such as ‘vegetarianism’; or to the elimination of all mental illusions clouding human cognition.32

Brick’s account on the meaning of ideology in this context leads from Marx, via Mannheim, Adorno, Horkheimer, to the New York socialists in the 1940s, and the American liberals in the 1950s, all of whom left their traces in the debate.33 Brick tracks how former Marxists started to explore the end of ideology in the 1940s and how the debate on the thesis gradually turned into a culturally conservative, anti-Soviet and anti-communist discourse. Like Dittberner, Brick emphasizes the importance of Edward Shils’s 1955 essay ‘The End of Ideology?’, while also addressing Aron’s chapter from the same year.34 Brick emphasizes that most of the theorists of the end of ideology identified the turn from the 1950s to the 1960s as the beginning of a new era. Here Brick touches on something that is crucial for this chapter: the start of the debate on the end of ideology was not only a debate on what ideology was or should be, but also a debate about the demarcation of the present.35

In his 2016 PhD thesis Daniel Strand elaborates on this. He compares the end of ideology debate in the 1950s with a similar debate in the 1990s.36 To unveil the differences between the two debates, he dissects the ‘conceptualization of history’ and the ‘conceptualization of politics’ of some of its major authors. Strand deduces how Aron, Bell, Lipset, Shils, H. Stuart Hughes and the Swedish political scientist Herbert Tingsten used historical narratives for politically legitimizing a Western way of living.37 He asks how they assessed historical change and what forces they held responsible for the direction in which they saw history developing.38 Strand doubts whether these authors had clear assumptions about the ‘dynamics, directions and potential telos’ of the historical process: was history a linear process; was it necessarily evolving towards a better social order; was it circular; was it driven by laws-like forces or by autonomous human beings; did it have a goal?39

Strand convincingly argues that most of the authors were adherents of ‘modernization theory’ as described by Nils Gilman.40 In his Mandarins of the Future, Gilman links the ‘search for a post-ideological age’ – ‘an age in which science trumps politics’ – to the idea of an inevitable ‘historical convergence between the West, the communist countries and the postcolonial world’.41 Gilman studies how Lipset, Bell and Shils carried out the idea that all societies eventually transform into modern, post-ideological welfare states like the United States. He discusses the end of ideology thesis as a philosophy of history with a fascinating historico-geographical dimension: the opposition between industrial and non-industrial countries is not only an opposition in space, but also in time.42 In line with Gilman, Strand argues that the end of ideology thesis depicted the welfare state as a phase in the historical process. Because it succeeded a stage of political quarrel and ideological bickering, Strand concludes with the remark that many theorists of the end of ideology had a teleological and deterministic view on history.43

Lastly, the subtlest reflection on the intentions of the key authors in the end of ideology debate comes from the historian Giles Scott-Smith, who stated that:

Bell, Lipset, Shils and Aron were later criticized for having predicted the end of ideology, such that the events of 1960s proved them wrong. But prediction was not the goal. End-of-ideology discourse had three principal poles. First, it was a prescriptive comment on the most practical approaches to socio-economic management for satisfying basic needs. Second, it represented a pluralist ideal that the interests of all sections of society could be represented in the democratic system. But third, and most important, it signified a social scientific method that emphasized how the conditions of modern industrial society had developed in ways that precluded any worthwhile analysis from Marxism.44

Following Scott-Smith, we could argue that the end of ideology debate was more than a widely shared descriptive statement. It formulated the ambition to go beyond the ideologies, Marxism in particular, that had dominated the West hitherto. In this sense, it was a political enterprise as well.

Politics of periodization: reading Aron, Shils and Bell

Adding to the literature discussed so far, I would like to draw attention to the historicist subtext of the politics of periodization and the traces of historicist reasoning and epochal thinking in three key authors on the end of ideology. The texts under consideration are not studied as exponents of classical historicism, and this section does not try to unmask the authors as historicists. I focus on historicist reasoning that aims not merely to describe a phase, period or era, but that is employed to create a new era, to express a desired situation and to contribute to the formation of a new world by elaborating on this new world.

Raymond Aron

Raymond Aron was much interested in the study of philosophy of history in general and that of historicism in particular.45 However, the temptation to make this fascination for historicism the starting point of this section should be resisted. What is under scrutiny is the question of how and to what extent Aron used periodization as political tool. The concluding chapter of his The Opium of the Intellectuals, titled ‘The End of the Ideological Age?’, allows us to answer this question.

The fact that Aron’s chapter, published just before the Milan conference of 1955, focuses on the end of an ‘ideological age’ is an obvious first indication for his mode of thinking. However, it might be helpful to say something about the book in general first. It argues that the binary political choice between the abstract idea of the market and the equally abstract idea of communism is not valid anymore. Although Aron rejects the errors of both absolutism and relativism, he first and foremost opposes political absolutism. Addressing his French colleagues, he states that ‘[t]he attitude of the French intellectuals is determined by national pride and nostalgia for a universal idea’.46 What follows is an elaboration on the idea that ideology – Marxism in particular – has developed into a secular mode of prophecy.47 Marxist religion offers a metaphysical wholeness in times of technical boundlessness and political desperation, and – hence the title of the book – serves as a playground for intellectuals. To understand how obsolete Marxism had become for Aron, it suffices to read one of his concluding remarks:

The secular religions dissolve into politico-economic opinions as soon as one abandons the dogma. Yet the man who no longer expects miraculous changes either from a revolution or an economic plan is not obliged to resign himself to the unjustifiable. It is because he likes individual human beings, participates in living communities, and respects the truth, that he refuses to surrender his soul to an abstract ideal of humanity, a tyrannical party, and an absurd scholasticism.48

While breaking down Marxism, Aron referred to ‘ages’, ‘epochs’, ‘periods’ and ‘stages’ all the time, although not always in a negative manner.49 While criticizing Marxism for the use of epochal concepts in speculative philosophies of history, he does not reflect on his own use of such concepts. Part two of the book, on ‘The Idolatry of History’, contains Aron’s most elaborate contemplations on the meaning of history, the historical method, the use and abuse of history, and other relevant questions. Here Aron touches on the theme of ‘historical-units’, which brings him into conversation with Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee. Aron states: ‘Thus the historian, unlike the sociologist or the philosopher, seeks unity not so much in a privileged cause as in the singularity of the historical unit – epoch, nation or culture.’ He then asks: ‘What are historical units? Can one grasp unity through time and the individuality of the unit?’50 But his answer is not as clear as his question. Again, Aron appears to be more interested in a critique of ideology than in developing a philosophy of history of his own.

Aron eventually argues that the ambition to predict or to steer the historical process is typical of ideological reasoning. This leads to an interesting observation. On the one hand, the book wants to avoid historical determinism and therefore criticizes ideological thinkers who are too strict in their epochal demarcations. Aron particularly condemns Marxism for its speculative character and rejects all metaphysical accounts of history and political theology. On the other hand, Aron himself points to an epochal transition from an age dominated by secular religions, at least in the West, to a new era of mild social democracy and conservative liberalism. About this epochal change Aron writes: ‘That which characterizes the present period is no longer an excess of faith, but of skepticism.’51 The same idea can be found in Aron’s argument about the emergence of a ‘phase post-idéologique’ in his review of Schelsky’s book on German sociology.52 This review clearly shows that Aron is not without an agenda himself. For him, the post-ideological age is not a mere description, it is a preferred situation.

Edward Shils

Just like his friend Aron, Edward Shils was among the first to use the phrase ‘the end of ideology’.53 In ‘The End of Ideology?’ – often considered a starting point of the end of ideology debate – Shils gave an overview of papers presented at the 1955 CCF conference:

Almost every paper was in one way or another a critique of doctrinairism, of fanaticism, of ideological possession. Almost every paper at least expressed the author’s idea of mankind cultivating and improving its own garden, secure against obsessional visions and phantasies, and free from the harassment of ideologists and zealots. It was the intention of the conference’s organisers to move thought further around the turning point to which we have come in the last years. This turning point might be described as the end of ideological enthusiasm.54

Shils was convinced that a Western way of living – non-ideological, scientific, rational, democratic, equalitarian and economically advanced – was about to defeat socialism.55 As Daniel Strand analyses:

In essence, Shils suggested that the modernized and industrialized Western democracies could be seen as being ahead of the decolonized countries which, due to their economic difficulties and absence of liberal democratic institutions, were still plagued by ideological conflicts. In this way, Shils’s version of the end of ideology suggested that different countries were located in different historical times.56

Shils thought of ideologies not as subtle structures of belief, but as totalitarian systems. Just like Aron he strongly opposed Marxism for being ‘obsessed with totality’.57 Again like Aron, he connected ideologies with Millenarianism for their simplistic eschatological and teleological outlook.58 Marxism was unable to deal with complexity and contingency because it thought in a static and timeless truth: ‘It distinguishes sharply between the children of light and the children of darkness.’59 Instead Shils preferred ‘civil politics’ based on traditional civil values and tradition – the theme on which he presented a paper at the 1955 conference. He encouraged ‘depoliticized politics’, as Stephen Turner puts it, and wanted people to engage with the ‘workshop, neighborhood, club, church, team, family, friends, trade union, school, etc’, not with political parties or grand narratives.60 But as Turner adds: ‘Civility is on the one hand highly particularized, with an identifiable series of self-understandings and a continuous sequence of transmission that varies from political tradition to political tradition, as manners vary; but is also a highly generic notion, for civility operates, analogously to Tocqueville’s “equality”, throughout advanced societies, and with similar consequences.’61 This focus on historicity remained important throughout his career, for instance in 1966 when Shils pleaded for historical approaches in the social sciences. In his view, academia should not fall prey to one-size-fits-all models of the kind that could be found in both ideology and non-historical social science.62

Despite his emphasis on the importance of organically changing traditions, his sympathy for historicity and unicity, and his aversion of metaphysics, Shils never considered himself a historicist.63 His judgement of ‘German historical and philological scholarship in the nineteenth century’ was far from positive, as he described it as being ‘imbued with romantic hatred of the rational, the economic, the analytic spirit, which it castigated as the source and the product of the revolutionary, rationalistic trend of Western European culture’.64 Nevertheless I would argue that Shils showed himself to be indebted to historicism, not because he thought of himself as a historicist, but because of traces of historicist reasoning that emerge in his work.65

In short, Shils did not dismiss every form of ideal-based politics. He even realized that, to a certain extent, ideology is part of the human condition. At the same time, he sketched an image of a world slowly developing into a place without ideology. His statement on the ‘great tasks to be undertaken amidst the ruins of the ideologies’ illustrates not only his belief in the beginning of a new epoch, but also that he was ready to help shape it.66

Daniel Bell

Daniel Bell’s 1960 The End of Ideology: On the Exhaustion of Political Ideas in the Fifties is a rich, deeply historical volume about American society in transition. As a collection of essays – some written as contributions to the CCF – it touches upon a wide array of ideas, authors and developments. Looking back upon the volume in 1988, Bell argued that it was often mistaken for a monograph and better known for its title than for its content.67 And indeed: only one chapter has the end of ideology as its central topic: ‘The End of Ideology in the West: An Epilogue’. This title could obviously be understood as the epilogue to the book, but in a more daring mode, one could also argue that Bell himself wrote the epilogue to an era.

Bell first and foremost discussed the role and status of ideology. He analysed the roots and history of the concept and distinguished between interpretations of the concept of ideology as proposed by Bacon, de Tracy and Marx, but also noted that ‘in popular usage the word ideology remains … a vague term’, which could encompass many things.68 Clarifying things, Bell drew on Karl Mannheim’s distinction between the particular and the total conception of ideology. When Bell discusses ideology, it is total ideology which is

an all-inclusive system of comprehensive reality, it is a set of beliefs, infused with passion, and seeks to transform the whole of a way of life. This commitment to ideology – the yearning for a “cause,” or the satisfaction of deep moral feelings – is not necessarily the reflection of interests in the shape of ideas. Ideology, in this sense, and in the sense that we use it here, is a secular religion.69

Although the chapter ‘The End of Ideology in the West: An Epilogue’ is not mainly about Marxism, the other essays in the book clarify that this is the secular religion Bell focused on. According to Bell, Marxism has lost its attractiveness in the West, after a strong consensus on the ‘acceptance of a Welfare State; the desirability of decentralized power; a system of mixed economy and of political pluralism’.70 A new kind of politics leads beyond traditional ideological outlooks and focuses on novel utopias that distinguish themselves from ideologies by being less categorical and less simplified because they ‘specify where one wants to go, how to get there, the costs of the enterprise, and some realization of, and justification for the determination of who is to pay’.71

But Bell was not just analysing the end of a particular kind of politics, he also discussed the end of an era. His mode of reasoning is illustrated when he starts his chapter with references to ‘a few periods in history when man felt his world to be durable, suspended surely, as in Christian allegory, between chaos and heaven’.72 He states that at some moments in Ancient Egypt and in the Hellenistic period, just as in the years around the French Revolution, daily life changed so dramatically that there was a before and an after. Bell goes on that his own ‘age, too, can add appropriate citations – made all the more wry and bitter by the long period of bright hope that preceded it’.73

The idea that Bell is writing the epilogue of an era finds some confirmation in the last pages of the chapter, where Bell writes that the ‘end of ideology closes the book, intellectually speaking, on an era, the one of easy “left” formulae for social change’.74 The book then closes with a somewhat dramatic quote from Alexander Herzen:

Do you truly wish to condemn all human beings alive today to the sad role of caryatids … supporting a floor for others some day to dance on? … This alone should serve as a warning to people: an end that is infinitely remote is not an end, but, if you like, a trap; an end must be nearer – it ought to be, at the very least, the labourer’s wage or pleasure in the work done. Each age, each generation, each life has its own fullness.75

It is not without reason that Brick characterizes Bell mentality as ‘clearly a utopian one’.76

In 1988, Bell retrospectively described the last chapter of his book as a text that ‘noted, in melancholy fashion, a new phase’. Describing himself as ‘a participant in these intellectual wars’, Bell admitted that he had been particularly critical of the totalitarian ambitions of Marxism.77 That Bell was perhaps more than just ‘a participant in the debate’, is apparent from the fact that he fuelled the debate about the end of ideology in more ways than by merely writing a book. He not just participated in the CCF but was one of the first who knew that the CIA supported this intellectual endeavour too.78 For Bell, Marxism stood for an ideology that – at least in certain circles – had been dominant for a period of time. It therefore is not just the end of Marxism that Bell advocated, it is not even the end of ideology as such. What he does declare ended, however, is the age in which ideology is a noteworthy factor to consider in the Western world. As said, this chapter does not want to suggest that Bell should be seen as a full-blown historicist. At other times he even appeared to be an anti-historicist.79 But the fact that there is a tendency to epochal thinking in his work, unmistakably shows a residual historicist element.

Conclusion: Politics of periodization

This chapter has argued that the phrase ‘post-ideological’ as it appeared in the 1950s was mostly used as an adjective to a period, era, phase or stage that was considered to be over – or one that should come to an end. Although the adjective could be combined with a broad variety of nouns – such styles, politics and ways of living were considered post-ideological – the majority of the authors used the concept to propose a delineation of historical time.80 In this context, post-ideology appeared together with other post-concepts such as post-political and post-industrial, often in work by the same authors, such as Daniel Bell. The end of ideology debate provided a context for them all.

Further analysis of this end of ideology debate reveals that its key contributors did not aim to declare all forms and manifestations of ideology to be passé, they first and foremost sought to relegate Western modes of ‘dogmatic’ Marxism to the past. Shils most explicitly emphasized this uniquely Western element in his endeavour, but Bell and Aron similarly pointed to the primacy of the Western world. All authors initially expected ideologies to remain or flourish in Asia and Africa. Bell for instance, expected a dominant role for ideology in Africa and Asia, however he was not expecting a revival of Marxism there. He pointed at new ideologies of ‘industrialization, modernization, Pan-Arabism, color, and nationalism’.81

Following Scott-Smith and Lipset, we might say that the end of ideology was not a ‘prediction’ of the future, and more than a striving for the end of ideology in general.82 The authors discussed in this chapter longed for a new era, a fresh start in several ways; they longed for a change in the sociopolitical situation. As Dennis Wrong characterized the end of ideology debate in 1968: ‘All of these writers … tend to favor the development they describe, although their precise attitudes differ, some taking a “tragic” view of politics and the human condition while others are complacent.’83 Their shared political ambition to change the Western world was given form with words. The concept ‘post-ideological’ helped shape a new era.

Although all authors noted a tension between the rejection of ideology on the one hand and their teleological, sometimes even utopian, appeal to a post-ideological age on the other, they continued in their endeavour because, as Aron said, ‘the post-ideological phase is not a symptom of exhaustion, but, on the contrary, a mark of a progress in scientific consciousness’.84 The post-ideological was not just a description, it was a sign of a political programme, too. Authors used this language to declare Marxism irrelevant at a time when a great part of the world was still under its spell.

By emphasizing this applied form of epochal thinking, the historicist tendencies in the politics of periodization, and the use of historicist utterings that could be read as speech-acts trying to go beyond the current epoch, this chapter argues that even among American and French intellectuals in the 1950s, in the social sciences and the humanities some elements of classic historicism were kept alive. Even though the authors I discussed can hardly be called historicists, and sometimes even took anti-historicist positions, there was a residual historicism at work in how they wrote about stages, ages and eras. They drew on a historicist tradition, a mode of thinking, that, through authors like Mannheim, had travelled from Europe to the US, and remained topical in post-war debates.


1 Helmut Schelsky, Ortsbestimmung der Deutschen Soziologie (Düsseldorf: Eugen Diederichs Verlag, 1959), p. 35.
2 Raymond Aron, ‘Sociology allemagne sans idéologie?’, Archives européennes de sociologie, 1:1 (1960), 170–4, 170.
3 Friedrich Meinecke, Die Entstehung des Historismus (Munich: Carl Hinrichs, 1965), p. 2.
4 This metaphor is borrowed from Chris Lorenz and Berber Bevernage (eds), Breaking Up Time: Negotiating the Borders between Present, Past and Future (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013).
5 Although the term has been used by many authors, research on the development of the concept is scarce. Only more recent uses of the concept have been subjected to critical scrutiny, for instance by Michael Freeden, ‘Confronting the chimera of a “post‐ideological” age’, Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, 8:2 (2005), 247–62.
6 It is hardly possible to prove that a phrase or word was not used before a certain date. However, no earlier uses of the phrase ‘post-ideological’ and its equivalents or conjugations in French, German, English and Dutch have been found. Searches have been conducted in databases such as Google Books, EBSCO, JSTOR, Springer, WorldCat, ProQuest, Gallica, Delpher, Germanistik im Netz and in newspapers like The Washington Post, The New York Times, Die Zeit, Die Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Le Monde. Unfortunately, Le Figaro has been digitized only until 1942. Since Raymond Aron was an editor to this newspaper and one of the first to use the phrase, it might be that earlier mentions can be found there.
7 Paul Pickrel, ‘The Opposing Self: Nine Essays in Criticism, by Lionel Trilling’, Commentary Magazine (1955), 398–400, 398. Daniel Bell considered Lionel Trilling as one of his ‘intellectual nesters’: Daniel Bell, The End of Ideology: On the Exhaustion of Political Ideas in the Fifties (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2nd edn, 2001), p. 300.
8 Pickrel, ‘The Opposing Self’, 399.
9 Ibid., 398.
10 Irving Howe describes Wallace Stevens as ‘a forerunner of post-crisis, post-ideological man’ in Irving Howe, ‘Another Way of Looking at the Blackbird’, New Republic (4 November 1957), 16–19, 17. Amiya Chakravarty writes that ‘Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s oft-repeated faith in a rapidly evolving, post-ideological period (postpresent ideologies, that is) in a changing world, and his insistence that we not only help the meliorative forces but prepare our minds for the larger freedoms could be further amplified’. A. Chakravarty, ‘India and America by Phillips Talbot and S. L. Poplai’, Saturday Review (26 April 1958).
11 Schelsky, Ortsbestimmung, p. 35.
12 Ibid., pp. 55–6. To Schelsky ‘post-ideological sociology’ first and foremost was a discipline in which big ideas and overarching theories had disappeared.
13 Aron, ‘Sociologie allemande sans idéologie?’, 170–5, 170. Original: ‘la sociologie d’après 1933 se caractérise par son caractère non idéologique, qui répond d’ailleurs au caractère post-idéologique de l’époque que nous vivons’. Aron was not the only one who used the term ‘post-ideological’ in a review of this book; it can also be found in the review of Kurt Wolff: Kurt H. Wolff, ‘Review’, American Sociological Review, 25:4 (1960), 586–7, 586.
14 For example: Reuel Denney, ‘Review: Less is More’, The Virginia Quarterly Review, 38:3 (1962), 513–17, 516.
15 José Medina Echevarría, Economic Development in Latin America: Sociological Consideration (Mara del Plata: United Nations Economic and Social Council – Economic Commission for Latin America, 1963), p. 71.
16 John Lukacs, Decline and Rise of Europe: A Study in Recent History, with Particular Emphasis on the Development of a European Consciousness (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, [1965] 1976), p. 261.
17 Heinrich Gremmels, An der Milvischen Brücke: Europäische Gesinnung und politische Bildung (Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1959), p. 91. Original: ‘Westdeutschland hat heute der Welt gegenüber insoweit einen Vorsprung, als wir bereits in der postideologischen Situation sind, in der wir längst auf die Lösung irgendwelcher Welträtsel grundsätzlich zu verzichten gelernt haben.’
18 Léon Dion, ‘Les origines sociologiques de la thèse de la fin des idéologies’, Il Politico, 27:4 (1963), 788–96. Original: ‘Bref, la société Américaine serait parvenue à l’ère post-idéologique parce qu’elle aurait réalisé ses buts.’
19 Philip E. Mosely, ‘Ideological Diversities and Crisis within the Communist Area’, Modern Age, 9:4 (1965), 343–53, 353.
20 Howe, ‘Another Way of Looking’, 17; Irving Howe, ‘In Fear of Thinking’, New Republic (28 May 1962), 25–6, 25; I. Howe, ‘The Negro revolution’, Dissent, 10:3 (1963), 205–14, 207.
21 Denney, ‘Review: Less is More’, 516.
22 Roy Pierce, ‘Liberalism and Democracy in the Thought of Raymond Aron’, Journal of Politics, 25:1 (1963), 14–35, 14.
23 This definition is inspired by a longer definition given by Howard Brick, ‘The End of Ideology Thesis’, in Michael Freeden and Marc Stears (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Political Ideologies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. 90–112, p. 90.
24 Konstanty Jeleński, ‘Introduction’, in Jeleński (ed.), History and Hope: Tradition, Ideology, and Change in Modern Society (New York: Congress for Cultural Freedom; Books for Libraries Press, 1962), pp. 1–13, pp. 11–13.
25 The phrase appeared for the first time in 1946 in Albert Camus, ‘The Confusion of Socialists’, in Camus, Between Hell and Reason: Essays from the Resistance Newspaper Combat 1944–1947 (Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press, 1991), pp. 124–5. The first time a comparable phrase was used in the context of the CCF was in 1951: H. Stuart Hughes, ‘The End of Political Ideology’, Measure, 2:2 (1951), 146–58. Several conceptual histories have been written about this concept. Lipset starts his with Friedrich Engels, while others start with the 1951 article ‘The End of Political Ideology’ (on the Berlin CCF) from Stuart Hughes or even the Frankfurt School. These are plausible points of departure, but since I focus on the connection with post-ideology, I take the period around the 1955 CCF as my point of departure. Cf. Seymour Martin Lipset, ‘A Concept and Its History: The End of Ideology’, in Lipset, Consensus and Conflict: Essays in Political Sociology (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1985), pp. 81–109, p. 82; Hughes, ‘End of Political Ideology’, 146–58.
26 Max Beloff, ‘Discussion’, Encounter, 6:2 (1956), 71–4, 73; J. H. Goldsmith, ‘Paris Letter’, Partisan Review, 23:1 (1956), 81–90, 83; Raymond Aron, ‘Coexistence: The End of Ideology’, Partisan Review, 25:3 (1958), 230–40; Harold Rosenberg, ‘Twilight of the Intellectuals’, Dissent, 5:3 (1958), 221–8, 222.
27 Chaim I. Waxman (ed.), The End of Ideology Debate (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1968). Later a few other articles and essays appeared on this topic. See, for example, Lipset, ‘A Concept and Its History’.
28 Bell, End of Ideology, pp. 402–3.
29 Seymour Martin Lipset, The Political Man: The Social Bases of Politics (New York: Doubleday, 1960), p. 92.
30 Job L. Dittberner, The End of Ideology and American Social Thought, 1930–1960 (Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1979), pp. 130–6; Christopher Adair-Toteff, ‘Mannheim, Shils, and Aron and The “End of Ideology” Debate’, Politics, Religion & Ideology, 20:1 (2019), 1–20, 1.
31 Brick, ‘End of Ideology Thesis’, pp. 90, 102.
32 Ibid., p. 91.
33 Ibid., pp. 94–5.
34 Edward Shils, ‘The End of Ideology?’, Encounter, 5:5 (1955), 52–8, 53.
35 Brick, ‘End of Ideology Thesis’, pp. 99–100.
36 In the early 1990s a new debate on the end of ideology emerged, in which authors like Anthony Giddens, Francis Fukuyama, Jaques Rancière, and Chantal Mouffe discussed ‘post-politics’, among other things. A good overview of the debate can be found in Japhy Wilson and Erik Swyngedouw (eds), The Post-Political and Its Discontents: Spaces of Depoliticisation, Spectres of Radical Politics (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014).
37 Daniel Strand, The End of Ideology in the 1950s and the Post-Political World of the 1990s (Stockholm: Department of Culture and Aesthetics Stockholm University, 2016), p. 100.
38 Strand quotes Hermansson Adler and Peter Osborn to clarify his ideas on ‘concepts of history’ (Strand, End of Ideology, pp. 16–17).
39 Ibid., p. 17.
40 Nils Gilman, Mandarins of the Future: Modernization Theory in Cold War America (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003).
41 Ibid., p. 56; Strand, End of Ideology, p. 49.
42 Gilman, Mandarins of the Future, pp. 58–61.
43 Strand, End of Ideology, pp. 26, 41–51, 58–60, 182–4.
44 Giles Scott-Smith, ‘The Congress for Cultural Freedom, the End of Ideology and the 1955 Milan Conference: Defining the Parameters of Discourse’, Journal of Contemporary History, 37:3 (2002), 437–55, 443.
45 Raymond Aron, Dimensions de la conscience historique (Paris: Plon, 1961), p. 24; Raymond Aron, Introduction à la philosophie de l’histoire (Paris: Gallimard, 1939); Raymond Aron, Memoirs: Fifty Years of Political Reflection, trans. George Holoch (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1990).
46 Raymond Aron, The Opium of the Intellectuals, trans. T. Kilmartin (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2001), p. 318.
47 Steinmetz Jenkins argues that Aron did not only reject Marxism, but neoliberalism as well. I think this thesis does not contradict what I argue in this chapter, but discussion of the parallels is beyond the scope of this chapter. Daniel Steinmetz Jenkins, ‘The Other Intellectuals: Raymond Aron and the United States’ (PhD dissertation, Columbia University, 2016).
48 Aron, Opium of the Intellectuals, pp. 323–4.
49 Over a hundred hits include historicist arguments like: ‘Let man in history regard his own epoch in the perspective which the passage of time allows to the historian: our grandsons will accept, perhaps with gratitude, so why not follow their example in advance?’ (ibid., p. 113).
50 Ibid., p. 146.
51 Ibid., p. xxiii.
52 Aron, ‘Sociologie allemande’, 170, 175.
53 Shils, ‘End of Ideology’, 52–8.
54 Ibid., 53.
55 Strand, End of Ideology, pp. 72, 130.
56 Ibid., p. 104.
57 Edward Shils, ‘Ideology and Civility: On the Politics of the Intellectual’, Sewanee Review, 66:3 (1958), 450–80, 452.
58 Ibid., 459.
59 Ibid., 460.
60 Stephen Turner, ‘The Significance of Shils’, Sociological Theory, 17:2 (1999), 125–45, 138; Edward Shils, The Torment of Secrecy: The Background and Consequences of American Security Policies (Glencoe, IL: The Free Press, 1956), p. 226, as cited in Strand, End of Ideology, p. 127.
61 Turner, ‘Significance of Shils’, 141.
62 Edward Shils, ‘Seeing it Whole’, Times Literary Supplement (28 July 1966), 647–8.
63 Shils did use the word historicism mainly to choose sides with Karl Popper in his battle against what he considered historicism. Pooley reflects on the problematic use of the concept ‘historicism’ in Shils’s work, but does not elaborate on the question whether Shils himself should be called a historicist. See Jefferson Pooley, ‘Edward Shils’ Turn Against Karl Mannheim: The Central European Connection’, American Sociologist, 38:4 (2007), 364–82, 378–9. Although the relation between Shils and Karl Mannheim is very interesting in this context, there isn’t scope to discuss it satisfactorily in this chapter. Cf. Edward Shils, ‘Karl Mannheim’, The American Scholar, 64:2 (1995), 221–35; David Kettler and Volker Meja, Karl Mannheim and the Crisis of Liberalism (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1995), p. 239 and Stephen Turner, ‘The Young Shils’, Tradition & Discovery: The Polanyi Society Periodical, 39:3 (2012), 43–51.
64 Edward Shils, ‘The Intellectuals and the Powers’ in Shils, The Intellectuals and the Powers and Other Essays (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, [1958] 1972), pp. 3–41, p. 20.
65 Shils did not develop a theory on the stage-like development of society, though at a few moments (while reflecting on the development of social sciences) he hinted on how traditions developed in stages. At other moments he rejected thinking in stages for being too simplistic. His struggle with this theme can be found in many places in his work, for instance in Edward Shils, Tradition (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1981), pp. 131, 140; Edward Shils, The Calling of Sociology and Other Essays (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1980), pp. 228, 232.
66 Shils, ‘End of Ideology’, 57.
67 Bell, End of Ideology, p. 409.
68 Ibid., p. 399.
69 Ibid., p. 399–400.
70 Ibid., pp. 402–3.
71 Ibid., p. 405.
72 Ibid., p. 393.
73 Ibid., p. 393.
74 Ibid., p. 405.
75 Ibid., p. 407.
76 Howard Brick, Daniel Bell and the Decline of Intellectual Radicalism (Madison, WN: University of Wisconsin Press, 1986), p. 210.
77 Bell, End of Ideology, p. 413.
78 Frances Stonor Saunders, Who Paid the Piper? (London: Granta Books, 2000), p. 395.
79 Bell was for instance reluctant on what ‘modernity’ should mean. He later referred to modernity as an ‘attitude’ that ‘is not necessarily not one element of time or a period but a more general element of human behaviour’. So here he appears to step away from the historicist notion. Peter Beilharz, ‘Ends and rebirths: an interview with Daniel Bell’, Thesis Eleven, 85:1 (2006), 93–103, 101.
80 Judith Shklar, for example, spoke about the ‘post-ideological state of mind’: J. Shklar, ‘The Political Theory of Utopia: From Melancholy to Nostalgia’, Daedalus, 94:2 (1965), 367–81, 378. A year later, though, she wrote about the ‘post-ideological age’: J. Shklar, Political Theory and Ideology (New York: MacMillan, 1966), p. 19.
81 Bell, End of Ideology, p. 403.
82 Lipset, ‘Concept and Its History’, p. 81.
83 Dennis Wrong, ‘Reflections on the End of Ideology’, in Waxman (ed.), End of Ideology Debate, pp. 116–25, p. 116.
84 Aron, ‘Sociologie allemande’, 172. Original: ‘La phase post-idéologique n’est pas un symptôme d’épuisement mais bien au contraire la marque d’un progrès de la conscience scientifique.’


An intellectual history of post-concepts


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