University of California Press
This collection of essays attempts to take our cultural-historical bearings after almost two decades of disquiet, doubt, and disturbance. The questions that have been raised go to the heart of modern culture, the culture of progress. Processes, institutions, and values which have been taken for granted for two centuries have been brought into question. Are science and technology really “progressive” and beneficial in their consequences? Have they lead to the enhancement of welfare, greater happiness, and moral improvement? Is the continued growth of material productivity possible? Is it desirable? Are the institutions of progress viable and beneficial: public bureaucracies, business corporations, universities, research centers, political parties, interest groups, and the mass media? The questioning has been comprehensive, penetrating, and corrosive. We can speak of a crisis of modern culture without fear of exaggeration.
Unlike the terms “modernization” and “development,” which are used by sociologists and economists to refer to the increase and spread of the institutions, products, and services of modern civilization, “progress” is the name that our historical era of the last two or three centuries has bestowed upon itself. It is the real “name” of a self-conscious historical era, a term full of diffuse connotations and ambiguities. The changes to which it refers are not only changes of a certain sort, but they are changes presumed to be for the better. It represents a cultural self-identification, an assertion of a historical identity.
Progress and Its Discontent is divided into five parts. The first part deals with progress as a historical, ideological, and evolutionary concept. The second part appraises science and knowledge from the two perspectives of the prospects for their continued growth and the problem of the side effects and negative consequences of that growth. Part Three deals with the prospects and problematics of continued economic and technical progress. Part Four explores the political and sociological aspects of progress; and Part Five relates the idea of progress to the realms of the arts, morality, and religion.