jump to navigation

Modernity, the Cold War, and New Whig Histories of Ideas, Pt. 2 October 21, 2012

Posted by Will Thomas in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

This post is an interlude in my look at Cold War Social Science. It paves the way for further discussion of that book, but contains no reference to its contents.

A new whig historiography of the social sciences, which I began to describe in part 1, posits a crucial role for intellectual figures’ ideas in history. These ideas need not be the source of the broader (non-intellectualized) ideas that drive social and political trends. Intellectuals’ ideas do, however, at least have the power to reinforce such trends by helping to prevent alternative ideas from instigating change. Thus, in this historiography, past intellectuals’ ideas tend to be illiberal ideas.

The historiography is whiggish rather than anti-intellectual in that it is constructed from the narratives of intellectuals who purport to represent the advent of a genuinely liberating intellectual movement. To understand the narrative features of this historiography, it is important to understand how it retains elements of narratives generated by a long line of purportedly liberating intellectual movements, and how it claims to diverge from them.



Paul Vinogradoff, Historical Jurisprudence, and the Critique of Sociology August 19, 2012

Posted by Christopher Donohue in History of Economic Thought, History of the Human Sciences.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sir Paul Vinogradoff (18 (30) November 1854, Kostroma, Russia – 19 December 1925, Paris, France) is remembered primarily as an early practitioner of historical jurisprudence in Russia and Britain (as distinguished from the earlier comparative, perhaps unsystematic, studies of Henry Maine), and as a historian of medieval England, particularly of the medieval village.  He was also a keen critic of late nineteenth and early twentieth century social sciences.  Vinogradoff’s understanding of the scope and method of historical jurisprudence was intimately connected with his critical gaze of the intellectual projects of Karl Marx and Emile Durkheim, among others.  Essential to his view of the role of law in the evolution of human culture was his organicist view of society, the distinction, which he shared with J.S. Mill and Alfred Marshall, between statics and dynamics, and his adoption of Weberian ideal types.

Vinogradoff was in many ways extending enlightenment thinking about the nature of society, if we consider the enlightenment to begin with Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws and end with Hegel’s Lectures on the Philosophy of History, and as well as the nineteenth century obsession with the empirical verification  of causal historical laws,  which reached its early perfection in Henry Buckle’s History of Civilization in England.  The second tendency was crystallized in the flood of studies describing in fine-grained detail all aspects of primeval, ancient, and medieval customs and communities. Such a level of discussion was possible not only through a revolutionary increase in the variety and quality of ethnographic, archaeological, and primitive legal accounts,  but also through the adoption of an evolutionary perspective, borrowed in equal parts from Comte, Spencer, and Karl Bucher.


Book Club: Renwick on British Sociology’s Lost Biological Roots July 2, 2012

Posted by Will Thomas in EWP Book Club, History of the Human Sciences.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This blog has previously spotlighted one of Chris Renwick’s articles, and he has written a couple of guest posts* for us.  With those interests declared, I’m happy to say that EWP has received a review copy of his new book, British Sociology’s Lost Biological Roots: A History of Futures Past (Macmillan: 2012).

A good way of thinking about this book is in terms of what Chris Donohue has referred to as the “nineteenth-century problem” in intellectual-scientific history.  The nineteenth-century problem is partly interpretive, in that it deals with the practical problem of sorting out the undisciplinary tangle of intellectual projects and issues and notions to be found in works of that era.

However, the problem is also historiographical, in that it is a struggle against a tide of scholarship fixated on a few select questions (the reception of natural selection, the intellectual validation of racial hierarchies and imperialism, the ascendancy of liberalism and social reformism, etc…), and a few seemingly key thinkers.  The scholarship also tends to divvy up the intellectual history arbitrarily, with historians of political philosophy studying certain thinkers, historians of economic thought others, and historians of science still others, even though a thorough and sensitive reading of texts — not to mention widely accepted historiographical wisdom — would indicate the folly in doing so.

By highlighting important historical relations between the projects of political economy, eugenics-biometrics, botany and zoology, Herbert Spencer’s social philosophy, social reformism and journalism, and the longstanding search for a science of sociology, Renwick’s book makes an important contribution to the interpretive aspect of the nineteenth-century problem.  It does, perhaps, get somewhat hung up in the historiographical aspect of the nineteenth-century problem.


Henry Buckle and the Wealth and Poverty of Nations May 30, 2012

Posted by Christopher Donohue in History of Economic Thought, History of the Human Sciences.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Henry Buckle (24 November 1821 – 29 May 1862), much like the semi-acknowledged French sociologist Alfred Espinas, was among the ‘universal citations’ of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  The economist Alfred Marshall makes great use of him.  Much like Ellen Semple and Ellsworth Huntington, Buckle had the unfortunate fate of being labeled a “geographical determinist” by historians of geography, sociology, and anthropology.

Henry Thomas Buckle (1821-1862)

Ted Porter and Ian Hacking have accused him of “historical determinism.”  He was neither. He also tragically died far too early for his ideas to be sufficiently clarified.  While Buckle in his History of Civilization in England ascribed great power to climate or “physical causes,” he nonetheless did so only with respect to “savage” or “rude” nations.

While leaving a role for climate in civilized nations, Buckle nonetheless argued that progress was indeed possible in Europe as well as in England due largely to the advancement of scepticism.  By ‘scepticism,’ Buckle meant the, “spirit of inquiry, which during the last two centuries, has gradually encroached on every possible subject; has reformed every department of practical and speculative knowledge; has weakened the authority of the privileged classes, and thus placed liberty on a surer foundation….”  What Buckle says here is actually quite significant when placed in the context of the history of ideas.  Buckle was both last in a long line of those who conjoined civilizational progress with the spread of rationalism and the decline of superstition and barbarism in England, beginning with the philosophy of David Hume and Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; and also within the rising tide of authorial monuments to the progress of philosophy and manners, as exhibited in the early works of Lucien Levy-Bruhl and W.E.H. Lecky’s History of the Rise and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism in Europe. (more…)

Edward A. Ross on Urbanization and the “Country Soul” January 19, 2012

Posted by Christopher Donohue in History of Economic Thought, Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment
Edward A. Ross

Edward A. Ross

Edward Alsworth Ross (December 12, 1866–July 22, 1951) was a professor at Stanford and University of Wisconsin, founder of the sociology of “social control,” and a forefather of the sociology of deviance and criminality systematized by Robert K. Merton. Ross was also an important author of sociological introductions and textbooks, of which Robert E. Park and Ernest W. Burgess’ Introduction to the Science of Sociology (1921) and W. I. Thomas’ Source-book for Social Origins (1909) were two important examples.

Although the function of the textbook in the standardization of social scientific knowledge and methodology is an important topic and has, in my opinion, not attracted significant scholarly attention, what I am most concerned with here is what I call the persistence of gemeinschaft in the American social sciences. What I mean by this is the construction of a dichotomous relationship between city and country. Ferdinand Tonnies in the nineteenth century believed peasants and the countryside to be dominated by tradition, kinship, and custom. The cities, on the other hand, were determined by the workings of capitalism and the market. It was in the cities, as Georg Simmel observed later, that individuals achieved an immense individual freedom, but consequently, remained strangers to one another.

This was one of the latent ideas in my post on Robert Redfield and has since become a more important element of my research. The persistence of gemeinschaft also serves to shed a light on the relatively unknown historical presence of rural sociology. As importantly, the the persistence of gemeinschaft concept also dovetails nicely with discussions of “urban selection” among social theorists.


Viscount James Bryce on the Marketplace and the American Intellect August 25, 2011

Posted by Christopher Donohue in History of Economic Thought, History of the Human Sciences.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

The British social theorist James Bryce is chiefly known as a writer on the American party system (The American Commonwealth, 1888)  and may perhaps be one of the most tolerable early sociologists of modern democracy (Modern Democracies, 1921).  This will be the subject of a later post.

Bryce was quite indebted to European thinkers, even those from whom he tried to distance himself.   Perhaps nowhere is the influence of Tocqueville more apparent than in Bryce’s discussion of the effect of commerce and the marketplace upon the American intellect.  Here Bryce elaborates upon the conclusion of Tocqueville, that the materialism of American culture explained its lack of genius and refinement.

James Bryce, 1st Viscount Bryce (1838 1922)

In the nineteenth century, capitalism and art never mixed well in the minds of social theorists.  Consider for a moment the distaste of business and money expressed by John Ruskin or Matthew Arnold.  If not commerce, then the natural sciences or industry were the source of the ills of the present.

The market was another sign of modernity and its triumph over history. This caused many theorists — French, German, and English, from Rousseau and Gibbon and back again — to bemoan the discontents of progress and capitalist modernity.  Whether progress was worth the costs and what progress consisted of were the chief concerns of sociology at this time.  It was this sentiment which welded to together the works of Weber, Simmel, Marx, and Durkheim.  Bryce was no different.


Richard Ely on Industrial Civilization and Socialism August 22, 2011

Posted by Christopher Donohue in History of Economic Thought, History of the Human Sciences.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Almost every economist who wrote from the French Revolution to the interwar period (and perhaps even to today)  defined the principles of their economics or political economy along with a narrative of the development of civilization.  Richard Ely was no exception.

Richard Theodore Ely (1854–1943)

As with Smith and Malthus, in Ely’s economics the reader is treated to several prolonged discussions of why savages made tools, what herdsmen were really like, and how medieval towns came into being. Not only did economists from Adam Smith forward have to address the increasingly complexities of land, labor, and capital, as well as banking and finance, but also the emergence of a new kind of civilization, industrial civilization. Ricardo and Marx’s discussions of technology and machinery alone argue for their continuing relevance.

Ely’s Elementary Principles of Economics (1915), intended for students, began the discussion of the emergence of industrial civilization with the all-too-familiar conceit, the “hunting and fishing stage.”  In this initial stage of development, economic activity is “isolated.”  Ely considered the earliest stages to be “independent economy” with little exchange of goods or coordination among individuals.  Ely also distinguished between two fundamentally differing views towards the natural world in human beings’ march towards civility, namely, “between uncivilized man, who uses what he finds, and civilized man, who makes what he wants.” (more…)

The Nineteenth Century Problem August 15, 2011

Posted by Christopher Donohue in History of Economic Thought, History of the Human Sciences.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

The universal historian Henry T. Buckle (1821-1862) was last subject of a serious scholarly monograph in 1958.  This is the fate of any number of nineteenth-century intellectuals.   The first reason for the disappearance of these writers has been the inability to connect them to the catastrophic events of the twentieth century: the World Wars, National Socialism, the deradicalization of the European right after Nuremberg, the flight of the Marxist intellectuals, and so on.   Second, the nineteenth century has been the province of sociologists and literary scholars.  Such attention continues to be selective, judging from the ceaseless publications on the canonical sociologists: springtime for Weber, and winter for Gobineau and Bagehot.

Third, ignoring the nineteenth century allows anthropologists to get on with their own work.  Fourth, and finally, while some nineteenth century economists get attention — Alfred Marshall (1842-1924) has been accumulating more slim volumes as the months go by — the impression I get from some not so cursory reading of the literature is that the with the exception of the proponents of “evolutionary” and “heterodox” economics, philosophers of economics, and Philip Mirowski, it’s Smith, Marx, Keynes, Hayek, Mises, or monograph wilderness.  (more…)

Schabas on Economics and the Engineering Mentality June 15, 2011

Posted by Will Thomas in EWP Book Club.
Tags: , , , , , , ,

The central argument of Margaret Schabas’s The Natural Origins of Economics (2005) is that, over the course of the 19th century, economic thought abandoned links to natural science and began to concentrate on the object of “the economy” which was perceived as being purely social in character.  In a previous post, I observed that Schabas makes the argument well, but that it remained unclear that nature was ever central to economic thought, and thus it was unclear why a shift away from nature should be a key concern in assembling a history of economics.

I think the best case to be made is that Enlightenment-era political economy attempted to establish explanations for a diverse set of perceived phenomena, which would attribute them to the interplay of basic processes.  As Chris’s posts on this blog illustrate so nicely, this project continued through the 19th century in literatures spanning political economy, history, ethnography, and biology.  However, the analysis of constrained but precisely defined economic phenomena as products of patterns of human thought and choice branched off from this project in a process playing out from David Ricardo (1772-1823), to the analyses of Léon Walras (1834-1910) and William Stanley Jevons* (1842-1924), to the revolt of the social science of Max Weber and others (1864-1920) against the German “Historical School”.  What Schabas calls the “denaturalization of the economic order” is certainly a part of that process, but it is far from its defining characteristic.

Schabas does not go into great depth about her reasons for placing the question of nature at the center of her story, but she does offer some brief hints.  (more…)

The Post-Marxist Social History of Science of Morris Berman, Pt. 1 April 12, 2011

Posted by Will Thomas in EWP Book Club, Ideology of Science.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

The main source for my last post, Morris Berman’s Social Change and Scientific Organization: The Royal Institution, 1799-1844 (1978), is a very good example of a post-Marxist social history of science.  The historiographical tradition of the social history of science will benefit from some reflection, because it has been eclipsed for a quarter century, though some of its basic strategies remain phenomenally influential.  The key component, now largely missing, is the sustained analysis of how the direction of scientific research programs align with their social and economic milieu (though, of course, sources of patronage remain a subject of interest).

Unsurprisingly, Marxism is a key methodological source for the social history of science.  Traditionally, Marxist history of science maintained a narrow conceptual gap between general scientific inquiry and research related to technological development and industrial production.  Marxist analysts — the crystallographer and intellectual J. D. Bernal (1901-1971) being a prime example — usually emphasized the historical connection between scientific research and capitalist and militaristic interests.  Generally, they would not deny the importance of research pursued for intellectual interest, but they would view a self-imposed isolation of this research to be a bourgeois conceit.  Eager to point out that fundamental advances and practical problems often feed off each other, Marxists urged that scientists should take an active, conscious interest in social and political problems.

In his analysis of the history of the RI, Berman retains the Marxist emphasis in class interest, using a prosopographical analysis of the RI’s proprietors to convincingly chart a shift from an early dominance by the agenda of landed interests to a post-1815 dominance by a reform-minded class of business, legal, and medical professionals.  (more…)