The most obvious cause of these re-evaluations has been the bankruptcy of the materialist enterprise itself. For well over a hundred years, the idea of progress was identified with economic development and with its capacity to motivate and shape social improvement. Those differences of opinion that existed did not challenge this world view, but only conceptions as to how its goals might best be attained. Its most extreme form, the iron dogma of "scientific materialism", sought to reinterpret every aspect of history and human behaviour in its own narrow terms. Whatever humanitarian ideals may have inspired some of its early proponents, the universal consequence was to produce regimes of totalitarian control prepared to use any means of coercion in regulating the lives of hapless populations subjected to them. The goal held up as justification of such abuses was the creation of a new kind of society that would ensure not only freedom from want but fulfilment for the human spirit. At the end, after eight decades of mounting folly and brutality, the movement collapsed as a credible guide to the world's future.
I think there are few people left who would disagree with this.
Other systems of social experimentation, while repudiating recourse to inhumane methods, nevertheless derived their moral and intellectual thrust from the same limited conception of reality. The view took root that, since people were essentially self-interested actors in matters pertaining to their economic well-being, the building of just and prosperous societies could be ensured by one or another scheme of what was described as modernization.
People *are*, for the most part, "self-interested actors" when it comes to economics, which is one reason communism didn't work. People just don't spend or invest money out of concern for the common welfare. The only limit on "self-interest" here is that people will sometimes forgo economic opportunities for other types of advantage i.e. for their family's well-being (e.g. career women who follow "the Mommy track") or for reasons of personal self-fulfillment or even personal ethics. I'm not sure that "modernization" could really be called a "scheme", though, except in instances where the government did some deliberate planning, e.g. the rural electrification projects back in the 30s and 40s. A lot of it has to do with technological advances. I'm sitting here at a computer, not because anybody had a "scheme", but because a combination of creative minds and economic forces made it possible. Sure, Bill Gates could be said to have had a "scheme" to write software, but that's like saying I had a "scheme" to be a teacher.
It also strikes me as odd to see a capitalist economic system as "social experiementation"; it's simply what happens when the government refrains from interference with individual economic decisions -- and there's virtually no such thing as a purely laissez-faire system anyway. I would be very curious to see exactly what sort of economic model the UHJ would approve of.
The closing decades of the twentieth century, however, sagged under a mounting burden of evidence to the contrary: the breakdown of family life, soaring crime, dysfunctional educational systems, and a catalogue of other social pathologies that bring to mind the sombre words of Bahá'u'lláh's warning about the impending condition of human society: "Such shall be its plight, that to disclose it now would not be meet and seemly."2
The "social pathologies" discussed here pretty much peaked in the 1970s, but through the 1980s, there was a conservative backlash -- crime is down, drug use is down, teenage pregnancy is down, educational standards were toughened. Various organizations, including our schools, proclaim "zero tolerance" for a host of ills ranging from violence to drugs to sexual harrassment. For all the troubles that plague us, my children are growing up in a less "pathological" society than I did.
And it's easy to forget the social pathologies that prevailed in the Western world at the beginning of the 20th century, but which have greatly dimininshed, especially where the treatment of women, children, and ethnic minorities are concerned. It's easy to complain about "dysfunction" in education, but at the beginning of this century most children left school at what would now be considered unacceptably young ages in order to work. You can gripe about "family breakdown", but a world in which women were forced to remain in abusive marriages through fear of social disapproval and inability to support themselves had very little to brag about. It does seem, sometimes, that for every advance, there's yet another problem, but that doesn't mean that progress hasn't been made.