The Roots of Western Culture. Chapter 8: The Rise of Social Thought
43 min read
43 min read
When in the first half of the nineteenth century Christianity and the new universalistic direction within humanism formed a dangerous alliance against the principles of the French Revolution, a third party entered the scene. It was greeted with suspicion by the others, for it did not suit the conservative orientation of the Restoration period. Romanticism and freedom idealism had clothed themselves in christian garments, but the new ally clearly was neither christian nor idealistic. To be sure, it did react with cynical criticism to the “ideology” of the French Revolution, and it did adapt itself to the historicistic and universalistic thinking of the Restoration. But the new ally believed that traditional Christianity was a historical phenomenon that had outlived itself. Likewise, it countered idealistic humanism with a program of a so-called “positive philosophy” whose task it was to discover the general laws governing the historical development of society. This program called for an exact investigation of brute social facts, free of idealistic prejudice. This menacing party and hybrid was modern sociology. Originated in France, it claimed that it was the new science of society-a claim that was indeed justified.
It is true that the phenomena of human society had drawn the attention of thinkers since Greek and Roman antiquity. But until the nineteenth century these phenomena had always been treated within the framework of political theory because the state was considered the “perfect society” which embraced all other communities that were rooted in the rational, social nature of man. The later humanistic theory of the state, dating from the sixteenth century, did not depart from this traditional approach to societal relationships. Humanistic political theory displayed two trends. In the first place we note a more empirical tendency, which was oriented to an inquiry into factual social phenomena. And in the second place we detect a more aprioristic tendency, especially in the natural-law tradition, which attempted to construe and justify all social bonds in terms of a social contract between individuals.
Similarly, the Historical School did not believe that the investigation of human society should be the concern of “sociology” understood as an independent science. The Historical School merely introduced a new “sociological attitude” which maintained that the various aspects of society (such as the juridical, the economic, the lingual, the aesthetic, and the moral) should be understood in terms of a mutual historical coherence as expressions of the same historical national character or spirit of a people.
The founder of the Historical School of jurisprudence, the famous German jurist Friedrich Karl von Savigny [1779-1861], emphasized that morals, language, law, art, and so on are merely dependent aspects of “culture” which emerges as a strictly individual configuration of a national spirit. For him these aspects grow out of a national spirit; originally developing unconsciously, they mature and finally perish when the source of the particular national spirit has “withered.” In this way Savigny opposed the unhistorical and aprioristic view of law defended by the natural-law theorists.
The Historical School aimed at applying the new “historicosociological” way of thought to all the special sciences concerned with social relationships, using the new approach not only in law but also in linguistics, economics, aesthetics, and ethics. Much of historicism’s success lay in this new sociological way of thinking. Teaching that language, law, morals, art, and so forth are dependent cultural aspects of an individual national community, the Historical School left the impression that historicism itself was grounded in concrete reality. If the Historical School had claimed that law, language, morals, and so on are only aspects of the “evolution of history,” its absolutization of the historical aspect of reality would have been clear. But the snare of historicism lay in the fact that its starting point lay in a concrete national community conceived of as a comprehensible social entity.
In the Restoration period many were prepared to admit that language, law, morals, economics, and so forth were only dependent aspects of the culture of a national community which displays a “nature” or a “spirit” of its own. On the authority of the new historical approach, many readily accepted the thesis that the national community itself is also a phenomenon of purely historical development. They did not see that the historical point of view focuses on only one aspect of the national community and that it is impermissible to reduce the other aspects to the historical. The national community, they argued, is a social reality, not an abstract aspect of society.
Nevertheless, as we noted, the Historical School did not give birth to a special science of human society. Instead, it aimed at permeating existing scientific disciplines with its new sociological and universalistic way of thinking. To the Historical School the sociological and the historical approaches were identical.
But the intentions of modern sociology were entirely different from those of historicism. Modern sociology was based on a remarkable and inherently contradictory connection between the universalistic thought of the Restoration and the older natural-scientific thought of the Enlightenment. As we saw earlier, the classical humanistic science ideal aimed at dominating nature by discovering general laws which explain phenomena in their causal coherence. To this end the natural-scientific method was elevated as the model for all scientific inquiry, although the method was not applied to the phenomena of human society to any significant extent. Precisely this application was the goal of modern sociology. Its early proponents reproached the leaders of the French Revolution for experimenting with society in the light of their “naturallaw ideologies” of freedom and equality without having the slightest notion of the real laws which govern social life. “Let us continue the solid tradition of the work of Galileo and Newton.” These were the words of Auguste Comte [1798-1857], the founder of the new sociology. This meant that the revolutionary experiments should give way to sound policies based on knowledge of the social facts instead of hollow metaphysical speculation. Sociology is the science of these facts. Hence Comte believed that it would become the most important science in the hierarchy of positive sciences. It would chart the course for the happiness of a new humanity that would overcome the blood and tears caused by the ignorance of the earlier leaders. This entire motive of modern sociology was thus nothing but the unadulterated nature motive of the classical humanistic science ideal. Sociology displayed the same optimistic rationalism.
But the founders of the new science also drew from the historicosociological approach of the Restoration period. They attempted to link the natural-scientific method with the universalistic conception of human society, concurring with the Historical School that society is an organic whole in which the various relationships function only as parts. They readily conceded that constant structures do not exist in society and that societal relationships are purely historical in character. In particular, they were convinced that language, law, economics, art, morality, and religion cannot be studied abstractly, since these can be comprehended only as non-self-sufficient facets of the “social whole” which relate to each other in indissoluble interaction. Unlike the Historical School, however, they sought this social whole not in a national community but in what they called “society” [la societe]
Modern sociology emphatically rejected the irrationalistic traits of historicism, since these did not mesh with its own rationalistic approach. Because of this the new sociology pointed to the alleged shortcomings within the historical approach. The Historical School had argued that the search for general laws in historical development is at odds with the nature of historical inquiry itself. According to the Historical School the historian focuses his inquiry on the absolutely individual, unique phenomenon which never repeats itself in the same way and which can only be understood in similarly individual coherences. If the historian can detect a definite direction in the course of history, he must ascribe it to a “hidden law” of an “individual spirit of a people” which we must refer back to divine providence as the destiny [Schicksal] of a people.
Modern sociology rejected this irrationalistic turn within the humanistic motive of science and freedom. At this juncture it intended to continue the rationalistic tradition of the classical science ideal. Believing that genuine science searched for a clear formulation of universal laws explaining particular phenomena, the new sociology claimed that it would for the first time initiate an authentic science of history. Thus historicism was given a rationalistic redirection in modern sociology which in the second half of the nineteenth century completely overcame the earlier irrationalism.
Modern sociology gave itself the task of explaining societal relationships in terms of their causes. In doing this, it continued the Enlightenment tradition of the natural-scientific method which had been elevated to the classical humanistic science ideal. Thus in the religious ground motive of humanism, the nature motive, which was directed to the mastery of reality, once again regained ascendancy. At the same time, however, modern sociology attempted to connect the natural-scientific method of investigation with the universalistic view of human society defended by Romanticism and by the Historical School. This means that “society” was interpreted as an “organic whole” whose parts are inextricably interwoven and thus comprehended, in their typical function and significance, only in terms of that organic whole.
This synthesis between the natural-scientific method of the Enlightenment and the universalistic approach of the Restoration period was internally contradictory. As we have seen, the universalistic position was the result of an irrationalistic shift of the freedom motive. The point of departure for universalism was not the abstract, rational “individual” but the individual community. The universalistic way of thought, which had always viewed temporal society as an individual whole, arose as a rival to the natural-scientific view of reality. Its source was not the nature motive but the freedom motive of humanism.
Natural science analyzed complex phenomena into their simplest elements, explaining these elements by means of general laws. When this procedure was applied to social relationships, such collective entities as the state, the church, and the family were reduced to mere interactions among “individuals,” society’s simplest elements. Consequently, the “individual” was divorced from all his genuinely individual, irreducible characteristics as a neutral example of the genus “rational, free man.”
Universalism and historicism objected to this abstract, leveling, and atomistic approach by accounting for man’s total individuality and his wholly unique inclination as determined by the individual character of the national community of which he is a member. This universalistic approach did not acknowledge general laws which govern society. The individual whole-that is, the national community-was given primacy. This community could not be explained in a natural-scientific fashion as a constellation of elements; rather, it could only be accepted as an irreducible, individual whole. This whole determined the nature of its members in an absolutely individual way.
Consequently, when modern sociology sought to reconcile the opposite approaches of the Enlightenment and the Restoration, it entangled itself in a contradiction. The insoluble dualism within the humanistic ground motive again expressed itself in an internal conflict within scientific thought.
For how did modern sociology understand the whole? It conceived of the whole not as an individual national community, as Romanticism and the Historical School had done, but as “society.” To grasp the meaning of “society” correctly we must consider the distinction between “state” and “society” which arose first in the eighteenth century, even before the French Revolution.
We have already pointed out that prior to the nineteenth century the problems of human society were treated within the framework of political theory. The distinction between state and society was unknown in antiquity and in the Middle Ages. Among the Greeks and the Romans the lack of such a distinction was due to a totalitarian conception of the state which was simultaneously regarded as a religious community. Hence the christian religion, which accepted only Christ’s kingship in the church, was seen as an enemy of the state. The scholastic literature of the Middle Ages preserved the totalitarian idea of the state, although it did not of course accept the state as a religious community. In conformity with the roman catholic ground motive of nature and grace, the scholastics viewed the state as the total community only in the realm of nature. Above it stood the church, the supranatural institution of grace and the total community embracing all of christian life.
Both the Greco-Roman and the scholastic way of thinking were essentially universalistic. The roman catholic nature motive sought to synthesize the christian ground motive of creation, fall, and redemption with the Greek ground motive of form and matter. Along with the Greek ground motive Roman Catholicism adopted the Greek view of society, but accommodated it to its view of the church. The idea of the state had not become a reality during the Middle Ages because the “natural substructure” of society was still largely undifferentiated. Nevertheless, great scholastics like Thomas Aquinas continued to theorize in terms of the Greek and Roman conception of the state.
During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when the state began to develop in the form of an absolute monarchy, humanistic political theory also linked itself to the Greco-Roman idea of the totalitarian state. But at this stage the new political theory came under the influence of the humanistic ground motive of nature and freedom. In the first centuries of the modern period, attempts were made to justify an absolute state that would absorb all the other spheres of life. The classical humanistic ideal of science provided the theoretical framework for the absolute state according to the model of the natural-scientific method. It built the state from its “elements” in such a way that all spheres of life came under the state’s absolute sovereignty and control. In this way attempts were made to dismantle the feudal structure of medieval society in which governmental authority lay in the hands of private lords. In the modern period the humanistic motive of control inspired the idea that the state is an instrument of domination. The mastery motive was the motive of nature in its classical humanistic sense.
In its first period the humanistic theory of natural law also accommodated itself to this motive of control. Hugo Grotius, Thomas Hobbes, and the German jurist Samuel Pufendorff [1632-1694] accepted Bodin’s absolutistic concept of sovereignty. As long as this concept dominated humanistic political theory, the state was seen in the Greco-Roman manner as the totality structure embracing the whole of human society. As a result, a fundamental distinction between state and society could not emerge.
This began to change when in England the humanistic freedom motive assumed predominance over the nature motive in political theory. In an earlier context we noted how the classical liberal idea of the law state spread from England. John Locke brought about a fundamental change in the natural-law construction of the state at the transition from the seventeenth to the eighteenth century. Hugo Grotius and his followers interpreted the social contract, in which “free and equal individuals” left the state of nature in order to enter the body politic, as the transferal by these individuals of all their “natural freedoms” to the political sovereign. From the outset Locke gave the social contract a much more limited scope. In his view individuals did not thereby surrender their innate and absolute human rights to the state. On the contrary, they associated themselves in a body politic for the sole purpose of protecting their natural rights of freedom, life, and property. These natural human rights – the foundation of private civil law – defined the inalienable sphere of the individual’s freedom. The social contract thus did not transfer these natural rights to the state. The only right that was transferred consisted in the legal power to maintain and guarantee these civil-legal rights and liberties by means of the arms of the state. For this purpose the individuals had to relinquish their natural right to protect themselves and their property on their own. This was the limited scope in Locke’s conception of the social contract. This conception, which we have come to describe as the classical liberal idea of the state, for the first time opened up the possibility for the principial distinction between civil society and the state. Civil society would then comprise the sphere of the individual’s civil freedom, a sphere free from state intervention.
This conception of society became more clearly defined with the rise of the science of economics at the end of the eighteenth century. Both the Physiocrats and the Classical School within the fledgling science appealed to Locke’s doctrine of natural law and his liberal idea of the state. Both schools of thought taught that economic life is served best when individuals pursue their own economic interests within the legal framework of their inalienable rights to life, liberty, and property. They maintained that economic life is governed by eternal, unchangeable natural laws that harmonize beautifully with the “natural rights” of the individual. Every individual knows his economic self-interest best. If the state does not interfere with the free play of economic and social forces, then a “natural harmony” would reign among individual interests, resulting in the greatest level of societal good. “Civil society” was therefore seen as the free play of socioeconomic interests within the legal framework of the inalienable private civil rights of individuals.
In the following section we will see how modern sociology attached itself to this conception of civil society.
Classical liberal political theory, in close cooperation with the new science of economics, was the first to make a basic distinction between state and civil society. The new theories, dominated by the humanistic ground motive of nature and freedom, enjoyed exceptional success. This occurred first in England, where the so-called mercantilist policies, which had led to complete government control of trade and industry, were abolished; next in France, where the French Revolution had cleared away the last remnants of feudalism. As a result, the structure of the state began to distinguish itself from the private spheres of life. In accordance with the revolutionary program, which did not tolerate an intermediary between the state and the individual, not only old guilds but also new social organizations were forbidden, even when new structures were a proper response to the differentiation of society. Consequently, “civil society” acquired a thoroughly individualistic character that satisfied the requirements of the liberal economic ideas of the Physiocrats and the Classical School. Within a short time a new type of person appeared on the scene: the free entrepreneur who was no longer hampered in any of his undertakings. Economic life entered upon a period of immense expansion. But at the same time untold suffering awaited the working class.
The position of the worker was drastically altered at this time by the structural changes introduced into the process of production. The development of large-scale manufacturing firms brought with it an intense division of labour among a massive contingent of labourers working within a single factory. Later, when machinery was introduced into the factory, giant industries began to appear. In the first volume of his famous Das Kapital Karl Marx presented a sociological analysis of the influences of these structural changes on contemporary life as a whole. His analysis is still extremely important.
These structural changes could not have taken place in the earlier systems of production. The old guild system of production had effectively prevented the change of an individual guild master into a largescale capitalistic entrepreneur by rigorously limiting the number of journeymen he was permitted to employ. Moreover, he was allowed to hire journeymen only in the trade of which he himself was master. There were other impediments as well. The trade guilds systematically prevented the intervention of merchant capital – the only free form of capital available from the outside – into their own affairs. Merchants were allowed to buy any commodity-except labour as a “commodity.” They were tolerated only in the business of retailing finished products. If external circumstances made further division of labour necessary, then existing guilds either split up or formed new guilds. But none of these changes led to a concentration of different trades within one factory. As Marx correctly observed, the guild system excluded any division of labour that separated the worker from his means of production and that made these means the monopolistic property of the investor of capital.
This economic framework changed radically, first in the period of large-scale manufacturing and even more drastically in the subsequent period of mechanized industrialization. These structural changes in the process of production contributed greatly to the development of new class tensions. They appeared in “civil society” which had been left to its own devices and had been structured in an individualistic manner. The class conflicts occurred between the urban labour proletariat, which was the victim of limitless exploitation, and the entrepreneur, who owned the capital. The individualistic structure of civil society had indeed debased labour to a “commodity.” And the new forms of production had enormous repercussions within the liberal system of uninhibited competition against which the goodwill of a solitary businessman was entirely powerless.
It seemed as if an iron necessity controlled these repercussions. David Ricardo [1772-1823], the great systematician in Adam Smith’s Classical School of economics, concluded in The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation that machinery and labour move in a continual relation of rivalry. If labour is made into a free commodity, it will become unsalable and thus worthless as soon as the introduction of new machinery makes it superfluous. That segment of the labour class, which in this sense has become a “superfluous” part of the population, faces two possibilities. It can either be destroyed in the unequal battle between obsolete forms of production and new mechanized forms of industrialization, or it can spill over into more easily accessible branches of industry. In either case the price of labour will be pushed down. For the process of mechanization also requires an ever cheaper labour force and an extension of the hours of work. Adult labourers are therefore gradually replaced by women and children who must be exploited as long as possible. Family life is torn asunder and a general “pauperization” [Verelendung] of the proletariat sets in. Marx was again the first one to clearly state that “civil society” -the focus of modern sociology-was a true image of the picture Thomas Hobbes had drawn of man’s “state of nature” – Bellum omnium contra omnes, a war of all against all! Civil society displayed an economically qualified structure, and the civil-legal order with its basic principles of freedom and equality seemed to be but a legal cover for the deathly class struggle waged in “society.”
It should therefore come as no surprise that modern sociology, established on a positivistic foundation and interested – in accordance with the model of the natural sciences – in discovering the laws determining the historical development of society, believed that it had found in “civil society,” with its frightening processes of dissolution, those hidden forces which are of decisive causal significance for the historical form of society as a whole. The state itself, as defined by liberalism and the French Revolution, seemed to be nothing but an instrument of the ruling class for the suppression of the working class. The state must therefore not be understood as an institution independent of civil society nor, as earlier political theories had taught, as the total community embracing the whole of society. To the contrary, “society” itself must be seen as the whole which gives birth to the state as a political instrument of domination.
This signified a fundamental break with both the classical liberal, natural-law distinction of state and society as well as the earlier identification of the two. The new science of sociology had indeed made a revolutionary discovery which fundamentally undermined both the idea of the state as res publica – the institution which embodies the public interest and the idea of civil law with its principles of freedom and equality. Both ideas had come to expression in eighteenth-century society. But the focus of the new sociology was not on these ideas. Rather, the class contrasts as the driving forces in the historical process of society-these seemed to be the positive social facts. The classical idea of the state and the idea of civil private law seemed to be but “ideologies” of a bygone era characterized by metaphysical speculation. These ideologies only served to conceal the truly valid laws governing society. Quite understandably, therefore, the conservative Restoration movement eyed the new ally in its battle against the ideas of the French Revolution with suspicion.
Yet, the French founders of modern sociology did not fully comprehend the frightening speed with which the class contrast between labour and capital was growing. In this respect they still lived in the past; using the example of youthful America, they believed that it was possible for an intelligent labourer to rise to the status of an entrepreneur. In their minds the class conflict in modern society existed only between those who drew “labourless income” and the actual working class in whose hands lay the future of society. Those with “labourless income” were the speculators who during the French Revolution purchased the estates of the nobility and the clergy for virtually nothing; those in the working class were the managers and the industrialists who were kept from government posts by the court elite of the Bourbons. Hence marxist sociology disparagingly condemned these French optimists.
Nevertheless, the concept of the classes-destined to play a fundamental part in the science of society-was discovered not by Marx but by Henri de Saint-Simon [1760-1825] and Auguste Comte. After we have explained their use of the new discovery in the following pages, we will have to determine in a fundamental way what our own standpoint is with respect to the concept of social classes.
As Saint-Simon remarked, France drafted no less than ten different constitutions in the short span from 1789 to 1815. Society, however, remained the same, for human beings do not change so rapidly. This discrepancy caused Saint-Simon, one of the founders of modern sociology, to observe that constitutional frameworks could not possibly form the heart of social life. He wrote:
We ascribe too much weight to the forms of government. The law determining both governmental authority and the form of government is not as important and has less influence on the happiness of the nations than the law determining the rights of property and the exercise of these rights. The form of parliamentary government is merely a form; property is the heart. It is therefore the regulation of property which in truth lies at the foundation of society.
Wealth is the true and only foundation of every political influence. For this reason politics must be based on the positive science of the production process, which in turn is based on economic science. SaintSimon apparently proceeded from the assumption that economic production and the regulation of property are mutually interdependent. Changes in both the form of production and the regulation of property give rise to the formation of social classes. This formation of classes governs the entire development of human society.
With reference especially to the history of France but in part also to the history of England, Saint-Simon attempted to explain the significance of class formation as the real causal force in the entire development of social institutions. With respect to France he argued that after the invasion of the Franks into Gaul two classes emerged: the Franks as lords and the native Gauls as slaves. The slaves cultivated the land for their owners and laboured in every branch of work. Like the ancient Roman slaves, according to Saint-Simon, they received a small amount of money (peculium), which they carefully hid. The crusades and resultant affluence created a great need for money on the part of the Frankish masters who were thus forced to sell “freedoms” (franchises) to their slaves. But the same luxury heightened the social significance of the artisans, tradesmen, and merchants, who had to satisfy new needs. Louis XI, who preferred the title “King of the Gauls” to “Head of the Franks,” formed an alliance with the communes, the labouring Gauls in the cities and in the country, in order to subject the Frankish princes to his authority. Since the monarchy deprived the princes, the ruling noble class, of political power, and since as a result the princes were enticed to settle in the cities, they lost all political significance. Under Louis XIV they became the servants of the king. And, during the reign of the “Sun King” the increasing exchange of products led to the rise of a new class, that of the bankers.
The French Revolution, Saint-Simon maintained, was launched by the bourgeoisie, the middle stratum of the population that had risen from the communes to the rank of the “privileged” but that had still felt discriminated against in comparison with the old nobility. The bourgeoisie consisted of the nonaristocratic jurists, military personnel of middleclass background, and property owners who were neither managers nor labourers in the production process (i.e., who were not industriels). For Saint-Simon the true purpose of the revolution of 1789 was the establishment of an “industrial system.” He believed that the final phase of the revolution had not yet arrived; the revolution would be complete when the industriels, the truly productive members of the population, including the entrepreneurs who give leadership in the process of production, gained political leadership. In Saint-Simon’s estimation, the first step toward this goal was the well-known loan made to the government of France in 1817. The loan was not negotiated in the “barbarian” manner of the eighteenth century but was closed after peaceful talks between two equal partners, the government and the important class of bankers. In this way Saint-Simon attempted to give a causal explanation of the entire development of society in terms of class formation and class conflict. His attempt testified to the natural-scientific approach in his sociology which was directly inspired by the classical humanistic science ideal: the control of reality by a discovery of the laws which explain its causal coherence.
Over against this tendency in Saint-Simon’s thought we detect a contradictory one. He also explained societal development in terms of the history of ideas and world views. Here we encounter the impact of the humanistic freedom motive on Saint-Simon’s interpretation of the social process. In an earlier context we noticed a similar impact on the social thought of the Romantics, the Historical School of jurisprudence and German idealism. And, quite in harmony with this second trend in his thought, he argued that the rise of the political system of the future -the “industrial” system-would be entirely dependent upon a prior breakthrough of positive sociology and its proclaimed ideas. Finally, this trend of thought also helps explain Saint-Simon’s universalistic conception of “society” as an organic whole whose parts are intimately united and kept together only by means of common ideas.
Saint-Simon’s concept of social classes on the other hand is individualistic in nature, and thus contradicts the notion of community inherent in the universalistic view of society. Saint-Simon interpreted “classes” as “components” of society which drive it apart in diverging directions. The concept of class is a concept of conflict. Wherever classes exist, unreconciled social contradictions dominate and lead to a struggle for power.
How should we respond to Saint-Simon’s emphasis on the significance of classes in the development of society? Classes can be formed only in what we describe as the societal interlinkages [maatschapsverhoudingen] which must be distinguished from communal relationships [gemeenschapsverhoudingen ]. In the latter, human beings are bound together into a solidary unity within which persons function as members. In the societal interlinkages, however, human beings function next to each other in a coordinated manner, either in a relation of neutrality, in mutual cooperation, or in a conflict situation.
Moreover, classes belong to the intrinsically economically qualified or characterized relationships of conflict. They are a growth in the tissues of society and must thus be sharply distinguished from the different estates or “stations” [standen; German: Stande] in society, which are qualified or characterized by the aspect of social intercourse and which represent a normal differentiation in social life.
The question we now face is this: is it possible to explain the structuration of society in terms of class divisions? Are they, for instance, indeed the causal forces of the development of the internal life of the state? In this connection it is of little consequence that Saint-Simon’s sketch of the history of class tensions in France, and of the political development determined by these tensions, simply does not meet the criteria of a rigorous scientific inquiry. For at a later time scholars attempted to prove the accuracy of class analysis with much more dependable scientific tools and thereby also presented a much more precise delineation of the class concept. Here we are exclusively concerned with the sociological problem raised in a fundamental manner by Saint-Simon: the significance of class conflict for the life of the state and the whole of society. This problem is still intensely relevant and demands a fundamental analysis. We cannot rid ourselves of this issue by way of blanket generalizations. It calls for further serious consideration on our part.
In our last sections we focused on the rise of modern sociology as a component in the general redirection of humanistic thought since the beginning of the last century. I attempted to explain how already SaintSimon, who, with Auguste Comte, is considered the founder of sociology as an independent science, viewed the entire historical development of western society as a history of class struggle. Class struggle was seen as the real motor of the whole process of social development, as indeed the cause of the rise of the state and of all political revolutions. The state, in fact, was regarded as nothing but the instrument wielded by the ruling class to keep the dominated class in a state of subjection.
When the class struggle would finally come to an end in the “new industrial era” as a result of the leading role of the new sociology, then also the state would automatically wither away. “Governance of persons” would then gradually yield to “administration of things.” This doctrine was formulated by Saint-Simon, well before Karl Marx and the famous Communist Manifesto of 1848 in which the marxist doctrine of class struggle found its classical, though popularized expression.
While the doctrine of class struggle as the real “cause” of social development may have been a “discovery” of Saint-Simon, he derived the class concept from the recently developed science of economics. In earlier discussions we saw in detail how the entire distinction between the state and “civil society” goes back to the combined influence exerted by Locke’s liberal humanistic doctrine of natural law and the so-called Physiocratic School in economic theory. The French Revolution and the early industrialization of economic life first gave concrete expression to these humanistic ideas.
The French physician Francois Quesnay [1694-17741 founder of the Physiocratic School, in his theory had divided the population into different classes. Next to the non-propertied class of wage earners he posited a class of independent entrepreneurs which, in turn, was subdivided into three classes; namely, the productive class of farmers, the nonproductive class of merchants and industrialists, and finally, the class of landowners. In other words, the class concept had its origin in economic theory. In turn, under the influence of this theory, the newly developing science of social life began to regard civil society as a constellation which in essence was controlled by economic forces. Here Quesnay’s theoretical class divisions were not adopted; however, that was not significant for the new conception of civil society itself.
The new science of economics, with its distinctly liberalistic orientation, was further developed in the so-called Classical School of Adam Smith, Ricardo, J.B. Say, and others, and had a pervasive influence on the sociological conception of “civil society” [burgerliche Gesellschaft]. Its influence can even be detected in Hegel, the greatest representative of humanistic freedom idealism after Kant. Hegel himself did not regard sociology as a separate science of human societal relations. And, quite independently of the. French sociologists, he presented a penetrating analysis of modern “civil society,” in which he clearly brought to light the role of the machine as a mechanization of labour. Like the Classical School, he too regarded economic self-interest as the primary impulse in this process; but, at the same time, he posited the increasing interdependence among individuals, resulting from the continually increasing division of labour, as a curbing factor. It is the cunning of Reason which forces the individual, in a seemingly limitless and arbitrary pursuit after satisfaction of his own needs, to accommodate himself to the interests of others. In his idealistic framework of thinking, Hegel continued to adhere to the concept of a state which is not the subservient instrument of economic class domination, but which is the true embodiment of the ethical idea in the new universalistic turn which humanism had given to its personality ideal.
Civil society, in which the individual with his private civil rights still regards his economic self-interest as being in opposition to the universal norms of morality and justice to which this society subjects itself of necessity, is to be taken up [aufgehoben] in the all-encompassing state which Hegel deified as the Greeks had done. In this state the individual and the group are ordered as parts of a higher ethical whole and acknowledge the general interest as their true self-interest.
In his picture of civil society we see that Hegel did not use the “class concept” of the French sociologists but employed the concept of “estates” [Stande]. His pupil Lorenz von Stein, who sought to establish a connection between Hegel’s conception of the state and society and the theories of the French sociologists, was the first to again make Saint-Simon’s class concept the focal point of his analysis of civil society without, however, sacrificing the Hegelian concept of estate.
In this way both the concept of class and the concept of estate have become part and parcel of the conceptual framework of modern sociology, and they have been the subject of extensive studies, in particular by the German sociologist Ferdinand Tonnies. However, the way in which these undoubtedly important concepts were shaped and used in sociology clearly betrays their humanist origin. An uncritical adoption of them in their current sociological meaning within a christian view of society is therefore quite irresponsible. Particularly in the political arena these concepts have been manipulated in an extremely dangerous fashion.
Humanist theory and ideology continually attempted to present their view of social reality as an unbiased account of the social facts themselves. In reality, however, this approach was strictly determined by the religious ground motive of humanism -the ground motive of nature and freedom -with its irreconcilable tension between the classical science ideal, which seeks to control all of reality after the model of naturalscientific thought, and the personality ideal which upholds the values of human freedom, autonomy, and dignity.
The class concept used in early French sociology was in harmony with the natural-scientific pattern of thought of the Enlightenment. It only fitted an individualistic conception of society which regards the economic self-interest of the individual as the real cause and driving force of societal development. If the entire history of society is nothing but the history of class struggle, then no room exists in such a society for a true community. In that case, the state too can be considered only as an instrument of class domination.
The Physiocratic and the Classical Schools in economics simply had not arrived at a theory of class struggle because they dreamt of a “natural harmony” among individual interests and because they had allied themselves with the humanistic natural-law theory of inalienable rights in which the humanist personality ideal, in its individualistic shape, had found expression. In distinction from this, the early French sociologists had broken with these “idealistic speculations.” They rejected the doctrine of natural rights as “idle metaphysics” in order to concentrate exclusively on a natural-scientific explanation of the social facts. These facts did not point to a “natural harmony” in economic life but to a harsh and pitiless struggle between the propertied and non-propertied classes.
Hegel’s concept of estate, on the other hand, originated a universalistic view of civil society which had arisen out of the new conception of the humanistic motive of freedom. His limited recognition of the individualistic tendencies at work in modern civil society was only a point of transition toward his universalistic conception of society. This universalistic conception regarded individuals again as members of “occupational estates” [beroepsstanden] to which they had to belong if they were to unfold their individuality. For only in a community can the individual realize himself and experience authentic existence. An “occupational estate” upholds its own honour without which an individual cannot possibly attain dignified economic existence. These “occupational estates,” as the highest expression of communal consciousness in “civil society,” must thus in turn be embodied again as autonomous corporations in the state, which is the “ethical totality.”
In this manner the concepts estate and class must be seen as expressions of the polar tendencies within the humanistic understanding of society. Both were oriented to a notion of “civil society” which in a general sense elevated the economic aspect to the starting point of the entire conception of society in total disregard of the real structural principles of society.
Universalistic sociology would later attach itself to the concept of estates so that it could construct society again as an “organic whole” in which the newly proclaimed revolutionary tendencies might be rendered harmless. Over against that, individualistic sociology would further elaborate the class concept which later, in marxism, became the instrument of “social revolution.” The concept of estates belonged to the conservative realm of thought. The class concept was permeated with the combative ardour of the spirit of social revolution, which, after first smouldering quite gently, would flare up with fearful intensity in the Communist Manifesto
The christian theory of the state and society, especially in Germany, in its opposition to the revolutionary marxist doctrine of class struggle, sought support from the universalistic conception of “occupational estates,” just as in an earlier phase it had sought support from the Historical School in its battle against the ideas of the French Revolution. In both cases a fundamental mistake was made. A christian conception of the social order should not look for a home in the conservative camp, nor in the revolutionary, the universalistic, or the individualistic thought patterns of humanistic sociology. However, the spirit of accommodation again prevented the ripening of a truly scriptural, reformational outlook on human society.
When sociology began to present itself at the beginning of the nineteenth century as an independent science, it was immediately confronted with a series of fundamental problems. Unfortunately, from the very outset the new science failed even to formulate these problems properly; and, although twentieth-century sociologists tend to look down upon the French founders of their science with a certain air of condescension, they have not thus far made any progress even in the correct formulation of these basic questions.
On the contrary, many contemporary sociologists evince a definite antipathy to this task. Their argument is that sociology is still a young science which has had to endure numerous fundamental assaults from outsiders who have reproached it for its failure to stake out an independent field of research. However, so their argument continues, sociology has gone quietly ahead and, through the results of its researches, has in fact proved its right to exist. In this respect it has taken the road which has also been followed by the other empirical sciences (that is, the sciences which are concerned with the study of phenomena encountered in experience). All these sciences gradually detached themselves from the illusion that they must first delimit their respective fields of research in an a priori fashion. This was an impossible demand, imposed by philosophy. Sociology, like the other empirical sciences, has also dissociated itself from this philosophical, a priori approach. Empirical research itself must first show the way, and only then will it be possible to distinguish the contours of the field of sociological inquiry in progressively clearer outline. After reasonable progress has been made in such research, philosophical reflection is certainly bound to follow.
This reasoning seems very attractive and convincing, but it disregards a number of basic realities. In the first place, it ignores the problem of empirical research in sociology itself. From the outset it has been wrongly supposed that “social facts” present themselves to our perception in an objective manner similar to that which supposedly applies to the objective phenomena of the natural sciences. In order that these social facts may be grasped as objective data, it is necessary to suspend all norms and standards of evaluation. Science, after all, is not concerned with the state of affairs that ought to prevail in society, but with the reality that is. This position has remained the great dogma of modern sociology, even after the hegemony of the methodology of the natural sciences had been shattered in this century and, in the footsteps of Max Weber [1864-19201 the historical or “cultural-scientific” method began to be applied to social phenomena.
After my earlier discussions, the reader will immediately observe that this substitution of the hisforical ideal for the classical ideal of science, which had aimed at control over nature, remained rooted in the same humanistic ground motive of nature and freedom. In neither case, therefore, could one speak of a presuppositionless, unbiased scientific methodology. Both under the supremacy of the methodology of the natural sciences and under the supremacy of the historical attitude, sociology began to eliminate, as a matter of principle, all those constant structures of society, grounded in the order of creation, which in fact make possible our experience of the variable social phenomena. The religious ground- motive of humanism demanded such a conception of “true science.”
In order to understand this clearly, one must realize that societal relations always presuppose nonns (rules of how it ought to be) without which such relations simply do not exist. For example, if a sociologist wishes to launch a study of marital relations in different societies, he is immediately confronted with the question of what has to be understood as “marriage.” Marriage is in principle different from concubinage or any other extramarital sexual relation. However, without the application of social norms this fundamental difference cannot be determined. Let us take another example. If someone seeks to study the nature of the state from a sociological point of view, the question of what a state is cannot be eluded. Can one already call the primitive communities of sib, clan, or family “states”? Were the feudal realms and demesnes in fact states? Can one consider an organized band of robbers a “state”? Anyone who discusses monarchy, parliament, ministers, etc. is concerned with social realities which cannot be experienced as such unless one takes into account their authority or legal competence. However, authority and competence are normative states of affairs, which presuppose the validity of social norms. Authority and legal competence cannot be perceived objectively by our senses, like the claws of a predatory animal or the muscular strength of an athlete.
Social classes and estates (which I discussed earlier) are also as such not sensorily perceptible entities. Anyone who speaks of “propertied” and “non-propertied” classes presupposes the notion of ownership, which rests upon the validity of legal norms. Moreover, the division of the entire population of a country into “propertied” and “nonpropertied” is a construction which makes sense only if we accept ownership of the means of production as our criterion; and we can determine what a means of production is only if we employ economic norms. When one speaks of “estates” as categories of persons bound together by a consciousness of “social honour,” then one is concerned with social realities which cannot exist without the validity of norms of social intercourse.
What “social facts,” then, would be left if one took seriously the dogma that sociology, being an empirical science, must suspend all norms and standards of evaluation? The answer will surely be: “None!” Without norms human society cannot really exist. Reality that is accessible to our experience displays a large number of normative aspects in which it is subjected to laws or rules of what ought to be. It is exactly these normative aspects which first characterize human societal relationships, even though these relationships also function within aspects in which reality is not subjected to norms but to the so-called laws of nature.
It has been said, of course, that as an empirical science sociology ought to direct its theoretical focus to a gang of robbers no less than to legitimate organizations, and that therefore the question as to whether a specific social group formation acts in harmony with a valid legal order is irrelevant as far as sociology is concerned. But if a sociologist really wishes to study a gang of robbers in its organization and operation, then he certainly will have to take into account the distinction between a criminal and a noncriminal organization. Otherwise I truly would not know how one could manage to investigate sociologically a gang of robbers and not perhaps mistakenly honour a charitable organization, a church, or a state with one’s attention as a scientist. However, if one takes seriously the dogma that, in making such distinctions, sociology has to suspend all norms and standards of evaluation, from what source will one then derive a criterion for detecting an actual gang of robbers?
One might reply that social norms themselves, too, can be treated scientifically as pure social facts, observing that these are recognized as valid within a particular society without, however, investigating the question as to whether these norms really ought to have any validity. The task of sociology is then limited to scientific inquiry into the factual circumstances through which these particular norms have achieved such recognition. In other words, the social norms themselves have to be causally explained by the sociologist as factual states of affairs arising out of social circumstances of a nonnormative character. In this manner sociological science supposedly is able to suspend all normative standards of evaluation in order to study social facts without prejudice or bias.
What are we to think of this? Here we have obviously touched upon the heart of the question with which we are concerned. Since we are dealing with a problem of cardinal importance for our whole scientific understanding of sociology, we will have to devote especially close attention to this turn which has been given to the dogma of scientific neutrality or lack of bias.
Sociologists who think they can really suspend all normative points of view speak of social norms only in the sense of rules of behaviour according to which, on the average, persons factually conduct themselves. Here it would be irrelevant whether such a factual regularity in human behaviour is also in accordance with the official legal order and morality. It is, of course, assumed that over a period of time this factual regularity creates a feeling of ought in the members of a social group. This is then referred to as the “normative power of facts.” Thus this factual behavioural regularity itself is not explained on the basis of a feeling of social ought but on the basis of other “social facts,” such as the increasing division of labour and the accompanying increase in solidarity and mutual dependence among the members of society.
It is certain that one may observe in a social group (to adopt this empty-sounding sociological term) patterns of behaviour which by themselves never imply a feeling of “social ought.” One might think, for example, of the lamentable increase since the period of German occupation in petty theft committed by employees, as well as of other “bad habits.” Such “bad habits” can only operate negatively, by undermining, within certain limits, the general consciousness of norms and standards. In other words, they may contribute toward the feeling in the wrongdoer that what he is doing “is not all that bad”; but no such person would ever maintain that “this is how it ought to be.” Why not? The answer is that “bad habits,” such as those just mentioned, can never generate “social order” but bear the stigma of being “antisocial” and antinormative. Only authentic social norms, which order societal relationships in a truly lasting manner, can, when they are followed, bring about a feeling of social ought. In other words, a feeling of ought presupposes a norm and therefore can never exist as the “cause” or “origin” of the latter, just as the factual regularity in behaviour can never by itself be a “cause” of a feeling of ought.
This rather simple situation (one might call it simple since anyone can checl< it) leads us to further reflection on the core of the problem we have raised; that is, the question regarding the meaning of causal explanation in sociology and the relation between an “explanatory” and a “normative” view of societal relationships.
The current opposition between causal explanation and normative evaluation is deeply rooted in the religious ground motive of the humanistic view of reality, the motive of nature and freedom. The concept of causality with which nineteenth-century sociology operated was that of the classical humanistic ideal of science which, in turn, had derived it from classical physics. This concept bore a strongly deterministic character and thus left no room for the autonomous freedom of human personality.
Saint-Simon and Comte, the two founders of modern sociology as an independent science, had attempted to link this natural-scientific way of thinking with the universalistic perspective of Romanticism and the Historical School. Thus they regarded society as an organic whole and even taught that ultimately society was held together only by communal ideas. But the link that was established between the rationalistic way of thinking of the natural sciences and the irrationalistic perspective of historicism was subject to an inner contradiction. The first way of thinking attempted to analyze all complex social phenomena into their simplest “elements” and to establish, on the basis of general laws of cause and effect, a connection between these elements. This method inevitably led to an individualistic view of human society. The second way of thinking, on the other hand, attempted to understand all social relations as individual parts of an individual whole, and thus led inevitably to a rejection of the natural-scientific concept of causality as well as of any acceptance of universal laws for the development of human society.
However, in the second half of the nineteenth century the influence of German freedom idealism, with its universalistic and irrationalistic view of reality, began to decline. The discovery of the cell as the supposed basic “element” of organic life inaugurated a new era of supremacy for the rationalistic natural-scientific way of thinking. Commencing in England, the theory of evolution began its triumphant procession. Under the initiative of the English thinker Herbert Spencer [1820-1903), the biological school gained a foothold in sociology. This school had completely divorced itself from the universalistic and idealistic strains in the system of Saint-Simon and Comte. Human society was entirely seen from a biological point of view and, in accordance with the new evolutionistic way of thinking, was once again explained on the basis of its “simplest elementary components.” Thus for the time being the mechanical concept of causality of classical natural science gained sole hegemony in sociological thought.
Only toward the end of the nineteenth century do we find a new and decisive reaction, inspired by the humanistic motive of freedom, to this mechanical way of thinking. The psychology of human behaviour began to attract the centre of attention, and the insight developed that the psychological motives of human action cannot be grasped in terms of the mechanical concept of causality characteristic of evolutionistic biology. At the same time, a resurgence of Kant’s critical philosophy along so-called neokantian lines led to a renewed reflection on the limits inherent in the natural-scientific method of thought. A line of demarcation was drawn between the natural sciences and the “spiritual” sciences [Geisteswissenschaften], with the latter founded in a spiritualscientific psychology [geisteswissenschaftliche Psychologie]. This contrast was further complicated by a distinction between the natural and the cultural sciences; in the latter the method of historical science was elevated as the model of thought. Starting from the irrationalistic way of thinking of Romanticism and the Historical School, the Neo-Kantian thinker Heinrich Rickert [1863-1936] formulated this distinction as follows: the natural-scientific method is concerned with the discovery of general laws and views all phenomena completely apart from any values and evaluations; the cultural sciences, on the contrary, are especially interested in the individuality of phenomena and seek to relate this to values (e.g., beauty, justice, and power) acknowledged in society.
All of this was followed in the twentieth century by a great revolution in physics itself when it appeared that microphenomena in physical processes are basically not subject to the mechanical concept of causality and that the so-called natural laws of classical physics can only be maintained as statistical regularities for phenomena appearing on a large scale. With this the era of supremacy for the classical humanistic ideal of science in man’s view of reality had come to an end. However, this did not mean a return to the speculative, a priori philosophical systems of German freedom idealism (Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel). It was no longer possible to find a firm basis for the humanistic freedom motive in the old faith in the eternal ideas of human dignity and autonomy. To the extent that one wished to safeguard the freedom of human personality over against the claims of the classical, deterministic concept of causality, one looked for an “empirical” basis in the more recent research of psychology.
The unshakable faith of idealism had been uprooted. And after the revolution in twentieth-century physics which we just described, the entire problem of freedom receded into the background. Irrationalist historicism, which had detached itself from its spiritual roots in freedom idealism, gained the upper hand everywhere. In this way the process of the religious uprooting of humanism was set in motion.
Sociological science was swept along in this process before it had formulated properly the really fundamental questions as to what its field of research in fact was. Under these circumstances we cannot expect sociologists to have arrived at any clear view concerning the meaning of the concept of causality as employed by them. We will therefore attempt to clarify this issue and demonstrate at the same time that the current distinction made in sociology between the explanatory and the normative point of view-a distinction which rests upon the humanistic ground motive of nature and freedom – is in sharp conflict with the order of reality.
The concept of causality, if it is to be applied so as to offer a scientific explanation of observable phenomena, requires above all a possibility for comparison between cause and effect. It must be possible to subsume “cause and effect” under a single denominator which lies within the reach of scientific determination. The concept of causality of classical physics fulfilled this requirement completely since it established causal relations only between phenomena which occurred within the same aspect of reality-the aspect of physical energy motion [energie-beweging]. Thus heat and mechanical motion, for example, were indeed comparable entities when viewed under this abstract aspect. However, an entirely different situation arises when an attempt is made to establish a causal nexus between the physicochemical aspect of phenomena and the aspect of organic life. Such an application of the concept of causality can be meaningful only for someone who thinks that the phenomena of organic life can ultimately be reduced to processes of a purely physical and chemical character. However, such thinking rests upon a “materialistic” presupposition or bias which does not have the least basis in reality as we experience it, but which is wholly inspired by the classical humanistic ideal of science and remains rooted in the religious ground motive of humanism.
For the truth is this, that the different aspects of reality, such as physical motion, organic life, feeling, historical development, law, morality, etc., cannot be subsumed under the same scientific denominator. They are mutually irreducible aspects of being, in which reality manifests itself to us. It is therefore impossible that they should stand in mutual relations of cause and effect to one another. Thus in sociology it is scientifically meaningless to state that the legal order has its cause in a feeling for justice or that economic valuations are “caused” by feelings of pleasure and pain, for the aspect of feeling of society is fundamentally different from the jural or the economic aspect. When viewed under the aspect of feeling, phenomena evince a character entirely different from that which appears when investigated under the jural or the economic aspect. Therefore, no scientific explanation is offered at all when one tries to establish a causal connection between the various aspects distinguishable in reality, for we are concerned here with aspects of reality which do not- in a scientific sense-admit of any comparison.
Superficially, of course, one might object to this position that everyone in fact assumes such causal relations. For instance, if someone is struck and killed by a lightning bolt, or if someone commits suicide by taking poison, is it not assumed without question that a causal connection exists between purely physical and chemical processes and the phenomena of organic life? Or, if someone is driven by hunger to steal bread, is it not assumed, again without question, that a causal connection exists between emotional drives and illegal conduct? However, the objection would hold only if also in our everyday thinking-the basis for such opinions -we viewed phenomena under various isolated aspects. But, of course, this is not at all true. In the nonscientific experience of our daily life, we perceive and grasp things and events in their concrete reality, and there they function in all aspects without exception. To put it differently, purely physicochemical processes do not exist. Similarly, there are no phenomena in reality which are contained entirely within the aspect of organic life or the aspect of feeling. The substances studied by physics and chemistry under their physical aspect function no less in the aspects of organic life, conscious feeling, historical culture, and economic or juridical life. Thus we cannot speak of “poisons” within the aspect of being isolated by physics and chemistry. Only within the aspect of organic life certain substances can be poisonous; that is, in relation to the vital functioning of plants, animals, and human beings. Similarly, within the subjective life of feeling these substances can operate as causes only to the extent that they themselves function within the aspect of feeling of reality. But what then are the functions which these substances can fulfil in the aspects of organic life, feeling, etc.? After all, we assume that substances – like poisons – by themselves do not possess organic life, or a faculty of feeling or logical thinking. Are these substances then not really of an exclusively physical and chemical character, so that only physics and chemistry can teach us what they really are? If this is indeed your opinion, then I invite you to put it to the test.
In our everyday manner of experiencing reality, a bird’s nest is, without a doubt, a truly existing thing, and you know, of course, that this nest is built from materials which by themselves have no organic life. But, if chemistry provided you with the exact chemical formulas of the building materials, the complete reality of the bird’s nest would not be fully grasped. We are dealing with an animal product which fulfils a typical function in a bird’s existence, a function which in this product has manifested itself in an objective fashion. This is the function of an object, an objective function, as we would term it. This objective function characterizes the nest only in its relation to the subjective function of organic life which characterizes the bird and its nestlings. Thus in the bird’s nest we are confronted with a typical relation between subject and object, which is an essential component of the reality of this product. It is a relation which is already expressed in the very term bird’s nest. If we disregard this relation, in order to study the nest exclusively according to the physical and chemical aspects of its materials, then the bird’s nest as such vanishes from our view and we are left with nothing but a scientific abstraction.
This will become even clearer when we observe the role played in society by things which are composed of inorganic materials. Houses, offices, factories, museums, streets, highways, automobiles, trains, airplanes, etc. only have real existence in a subject-object relation within society. Without exception they function in all aspects of reality: in the physical aspect, in the aspect of organic life, in the psychical aspect of feeling (in their sensorily perceptible properties), in the logical aspect (by virtue of their objective logical characteristics), in the historical aspect of cultural development (they are all products of human culture), in the aspect of language (they possess an objective symbolical meaning), in the aspect of social intercourse, in the aspect of economic valuation (they are all economic goods), in the aesthetic aspect (they are all objects of aesthetic appreciation), in the jural aspect (they are all objects of human rights and legal transactions), etc.
But, no one ever experiences the reality of these things as the simple sum total of the functions they possess within the different aspects of reality. Rather, we experience them exclusively as typical totality structures, in which their various distinct aspects are arranged in typical fashion to form an individual whole. Therefore, these typical totality structures of concrete things are to be clearly distinguished from the constant structures displayed by the specific aspects of reality which we call modal structures because they pertain to a particular mode or way of being within a specific aspect of reality. Without a proper insight into these modal structures, it becomes impossible to achieve scientific insight into the typical totality structures of reality. And without insight into this dual structure of reality, it is impossible in sociology to use the concept of causality in a scientifically sound manner.
Modern sociology, however, has actually attempted to “explain” the phenomena of human society after it had as a matter of principle -discarded these structures which make possible these very phenomena as well as our experience of them. Therefore, the first basic requirement for a christian sociology is to detach itself from the humanistic understandings of reality to which the various schools tacitly adhere. In view of this we will attempt to uncover the underlying structures of reality to which we have already pointed and which, under the influence of the humanistic ground motive, have been banished from the perspective of science. The difficulty of this undertaking should not deter any reader who is equally convinced with us of the urgent necessity of a christian sociology. Such a sociology can be developed only in a gradual fashion, but never without a radical conversion of our entire scientific understanding of reality, a conversion which must be brought about by the spiritual dynamic of the ground motive of God’s Word-revelation -creation, fall into sin, and redemption through Jesus Christ.
Ultimately, all the fundamental problems of sociology seem to converge in the question of how it is possible to bring together in a comprehensive theoretical perspective the great diversity of modal aspects revealed by society. The various special sciences concerned with social relationships, such as social biology, social psychology, history, linguistics, economics, legal theory, etc., may restrict themselves to study these relationships under a specific modal aspect, such as the aspect of organic life, the aspect of feeling, the historical aspect, the aspect of language, the economic, or the jural aspect. However, sociology cannot adopt this restricted perspective of a special science. Rather, it is the essential task of sociology to bring together all these aspects in a typical comprehensive theoretical perspective. This presupposes that one has an idea of the mutual interrelation and coherence of the aspects, the respective place which each of them occupies in the entire order of the aspects, and, finally, the manner in which the aspects are arranged within the typical totality structures of reality to form individual wholes.
In other words, our whole theoretical understanding of the underlying structures of reality is at stake here. The fundamental problems we have raised are indubitably of an intrinsically philosophical nature. But sociology gains nothing if it tries to brush these questions aside with a sweeping gesture, proclaiming that it is content to conduct research into empirical phenomena, while the philosophical root problems can be left to a social philosophy. After all, is it not exactly the question of the empirical character of the reality of social relationships which is at issue here? The typical structures within which empirical social relationships are ordered – such as the structure of marriage, nuclear family, lineal family, state, church, business, school, labour organization, social intercourse, relations of war, etc. – are not sensorily perceptible entities presented to us in an objective space of sense perception. In principle, these typical structures embrace all modal aspects of reality without exception; they arrange or group these aspects in a typical manner to form individual totalities; and they make possible our experience of the concrete and temporally variable social phenomena. The question regarding the inner nature of these societal structures simply cannot be evaded if one wishes to investigate empirical phenomena in a truly scientific manner.
Let us take an example from a sociohistorical inquiry into the factual development of the life of the state. Is it not imperative first to reflect on what one understands by a “state”? Were the primitive kinship communities, clans, sibs, and tribal communities really “states”? Is it correct to apply the term state to the medieval fiefdom of the bishopric of Utrecht? Did the state have its origins in the family or in conquest? Is the state merely the instrument of power wielded by the ruling class in order to keep the oppressed class in subjection? How are the physical, biotic, psychical, historical, economic, jural, ethical, and other aspects interrelated within the structure of the state? Does law play the same role in the state as in other social structures; or, in its empirical reality, is the state nothing but an organization of historical power, while the enforcement of the legal order represents only one of the numerous purposes of the state and as such is extraneous to a sociological understanding of the state? Can all these questions be answered objectively on the basis of sense perception? Surely, anyone who has retained a measure of critical awareness will not assert that this is the case!
Is there an alternative solution? Are we to operate in sociology with so-called “ideal-type” concepts which we have extracted in arbitrary fashion from the variable social phenomena as these are presented to us under the historical aspect of reality? Such “ideal types” ultimately are nothing but subjective constructions which cannot contribute anything to our insight into the typical totality structures of reality. Max Weber, the well-known German scholar who introduced these so-called “ideal types” into the conceptual framework of sociology, expressly acknowledged their relatively arbitrary and derivative character and only wished to utilize them as aids toward a better understanding of the historical individuality of phenomena, especially of the subjective sociohistorical meaning of human action. He explained that “ideal types” are achieved by consciously exaggerating certain traits within “historical reality” and abstracting these from all other traits. He readily admitted that one will never simply come across such an ideal type within reality itself. As example one can point to the ideal type of homo economicus, the fantasy image of a person who is driven only and exclusively by his own economic self-interest and who chooses, in a strictly rational fashion, the means whereby he will be able to realize his goals. In a similar manner, one might construct an ideal type of the modern bureaucratic state, of church and sect, of the medieval city, of medieval crafts, etc.
However, the real structural problem we have brought to light has not even been raised here; that is, the question of how the various aspects which manifest themselves in society are arranged within the distinctly typical totality structures to form wholly unique individual entities. Yet this is the basic question of all sociology. One reads a great deal in various writings and daily newspapers about the “structures” of society and about structural changes. But it is far from clear what exactly is understood by this. Quite often these terms conceal a scientifically defended notion that economic factors are really decisive and determine the entire coherence of a “society.” It is also quite common that the expression “social structure” conceals a pseudoscientific conception of society as an “equilibrium of forces” whose disruption will necessarily effect structural changes.
Anyone who has seen the urgent necessity for the development of a sociology based on a scriptural-christian foundation must inevitably assume a skeptical attitude toward this pseudoscientific methodology which eliminates the real structures of reality, for he understands that these structures are grounded in the creation order. We have seen, of course, that modern sociology did not receive its spiritual dynamic from the ground motive of Christianity-creation, fall into sin, and salvation through Jesus Christ-but from the humanistic ideal of science, either in its classical natural-scientific form, or in its modern historicistic form. And this ideal of science depended throughout upon man’s faith in his own autonomy as understood in characteristic humanistic fashion. This faith could not tolerate the acceptance of a creation order to which man, quite independently of his own subjective thinking and volition, is subject. Thus sociology, inspired by this ideal of science, began immediately with eliminating the modal structures of the aspects and thought it could grasp the empirical reality of society apart from its underlying structural matrix.
The elimination of a normative perspective from social reality led, of necessity, to the elimination of all those aspects of reality which, in accordance with their modal structure, bear a normative character. As we have emphasized, after such elimination one is not left with an empirical social reality, but with an arbitrary, abstract, and scientifically unsound construction of that reality. The elimination of the modal structures of the aspects directly implied the elimination of the typical totality structures or individuality structures of social reality, since the latter depend on the former. Therefore, since our first objective must be to acquire insight into the typical totality structures of society and into the different ways these structures are mutually intertwined, we must begin our own inquiry with an analysis of the modal structures of the various distinct aspects of society. We will see how such analysis will, in a surprising manner, provide us with insight into the entire sequence of these aspects and thus into the place each aspect occupies in this sequence.