Books : reviews

Robert Lilienfeld.
The Rise of Systems Theory: an ideological analysis.
Wiley. 1978

The twentieth century has seen systems theory emerge from science and technology to become a panacea for dealing with the problems of society. On the strength of philosophical and societal claims by systems technicians, the systems approach has been applied to such complex problems as urban planning, pollution control, crime and poverty.

Dr. Lilienfeld believes that society's problems cannot be engineered out of existence. This book records the multidisciplinary origins of systems theory in biology, cybernetics, communication theory and economics. It traces the migration of systems theory (or at least its terminology) into such fields as organization theory, psychiatry, social work and political theory. And it shows how original successes in limited areas were followed by failures in applying the approach to complex societal problems.

Dr. Lilienfeld concludes that systems theory is an ideology rather than a set of workable techniques, and urges a more becoming modesty in its missionary claims. He analyzes the explicit and implicit role of this newly emergent ideology in terms of increasing the bureaucratization and rigidity of society, its authoritarian potentialities, and its failure to deal with conflicting values in society.