title
macrohistory.com

(SPENGLER, DURKHEIM and WEBER – continued)

home | 1901-WW2 Index

SPENGLER, DURKHEIM and WEBER (2 of 2)

previous | next

The Sociologists Durkheim and Weber

Émile Durkheim (1858-1917)

Schopenhauer, Nietzsche Spengler and others made judgments about humanity that they considered knowledge. Émile Durkheim held to a different approach to knowledge about society. He was a French sociologist (1858-1917) and philosophically a positivist – as had been the founder of sociology, Auguste Comte. Durkheim was rigorous empirically in his social research. He pursued facts void of allusions to the spirit that Spengler held dear. He has been described as establishing sociology as a academic discipline. He refined the positivism of Auguste Comte.

As a sociologist, Durkheim was interested in what was happening with society at large rather than the specific actions of individuals. Or, one could say, he was interested in individuals as products of their society's culture and institutions. In his view, social science should be holistic.

Durkheim was a "structural functionalist." He examined the interconnectedness of various aspects of society such as cultural norms and institutions and built his ideas on observable specifics rather than poetic or intuitive hunches. He pursued science in the form of empirical data, hypothesis and mathematical deduction.

Durkheim gave many lectures, and published numerous sociological studies on subjects such as education, crime, religion, suicide, and many other aspects of society. He tried to be objective in his examination of society, despite his prejudices.

Durkheim was a supporter of France's Third Republic – as opposed to France's monarchist reaction. He is also described as having had "sympathy towards socialism," putting himself at odds with Nietzschean elitism. And he was Jewish, which also put him at odds with Rightists, especially those who saw modern intellectuality and socialism as a Jewish conspiracy. The Dreyfus affair of 1894 is said to have strengthened his activist stance.

Durkheim was concerned about French society holding together while diverse in values, ethnicity and religion. He saw some remedy through education and knowledge.

Marxists would see Durkheim's work as too atomistic and, of course, limited. They disliked Durkheim's lack of an overview of historical development and it lack of support for the labor movement.

Max Weber (1864-1924)

Maximilian Carl Emil Weber (pronounced Veyber) was six years younger than Durkheim. His father was a wealthy politician belonging to Germany's National Liberal Party – a centrist party that supported Bismarck's foreign policy and the interests of big business. By the age of fourteen, Max had written about the course of German history, history in general and what he knew of Homer, Virgil, Cicero, Livy, Goethe, Spinoza, Kant and Schopenhauer.

As a university student, Max Weber joined his father's dueling fraternity, studied law, economics, medieval history and theology. As a sociologist he rejected the positivism of those Frenchmen, Compte and Durkheim. He was following the German philosophical tradition of hostility toward positivism, and in its place, With a fellow German colleague, Georg Simmel, he established "methodological anti-positivism." They wanted to describe society drawing from history, reason and their own sensibilities. They recognized that their conclusions were organized within their own heads.

Weber wrote of sociology as "a science that attempts the interpretive understanding of social action in order thereby to arrive at a causal explanation of its course and effects." Webers anti-positivism was a proposal that research concentrate on cultural norms, values, symbols.

One of the fellow German anti-positivist sociology colleagues, Ferdinand Tönnies, invented the view of two types of human association – a view hostile to Marxism. Hunter-gatherer societies functioned communally because they were small and integrated, and such communal functioning did not work in a modern, complex society. Hunter-gatherer societies he labeled Gemeinschaft (community). Modern social organization he labeled Gesellschaft.

In his book Economy and Society, Weber had a chapter titled "Bureaucracy." He wrote:

Every bureaucracy seeks to increase the superiority of the professionally informed by keeping their knowledge and intentions secret. Bureaucratic administration... in so far as it can... hides its knowledge and action from criticism

Weber saw falsity in Adam Smith's view of economic attitudes of people as inherent, or of nature, rather than values as a product of the society and time in which they lived. Weber wrote in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, "A man does not by nature wish to earn more and more money, but simply live as his is accustomed to live and to earn as much as in necessary for that purpose."

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism was Weber's most famous work. He argued that religious differences affected the way that Western societies and Eastern societies developed. Also, he made a study of the functionality of bureaucracies. He is said to have been "the first to recognize several diverse aspects of social authority."

Weber was close to the Vienna School of Economics, and he complained that workers in a socialist society would still be working under a hierarchy, made worse by its fusion with state power. Weber claimed that collective ownership of the means of production would abolish any kind of efficient calculation and produce gross inefficiency. Weber and the Vienna economist Ludwig von Mises were acquainted and shared an admiration for each other’s work.

Marxists were unimpressed. At the time of Weber's death, in 1920, Lenin and his party were hoping to create an economy that would eventually function under an authority that was collective similar to the authority in hunter-gatherer societies.

A major contribution to the study of politics, according to Ayaan Hirsi Ali in her devotion to Western culture, was Weber saying that the state has the monopoly on violence in society. Ayaan was praising the Enlightenment and being critical of Muslim violence. (Nomad, p. 211)

Copyright © 2009-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.