HISTORY AND SOCIOLOGY
in: William Fielding Ogburn, Alexander Goldenweiser, The Social Sciences and their Interrelations, Cambridge 1927, pp. 221-234.
[p. 221] Between sociologists and historians there has existed since the first inception of sociological ideas, even since the time of Condorcet, a sharp difference, a state of battle, which grows out of two different sources - a psychological and a scientifico-logical.
The psychological difference is based on the fact that all the older writing of history viewed and evaluated events from the standpoint of the upper class. It was, as soon as it had grown out of the embryonic stage of writing mere annals or chronicles, of three kinds: first, court historiography, with the clearly set task of glorifying the deeds and creations of the ruler; or secondly, it was clerical philosophy of history, which explained events from the standpoint of the ruling church as the carrying out of a divine plan of salvation, and was for this reason necessarily quietistic, conservative, anti-revolutionary; or finally, it was history-writing of the third estate, which had either already gained control of its state or was at least preparing to do so, and if it had not already attained to complete victory politically, at least it already possessed sufficient economic means to want political control and to be able to force it in the not too distant future. On the other hand, the first representatives of sociological thought viewed things as socialists from below, and this attitude has never been entirely lost by their successors, as for example Comte, who had primarily bourgeois tendencies.
Closely connected with this psychological difference is the scientifico-logical. All older history-writing had thrust the strong individual, the hero, into the center of the story, had conceived him as the real motive power of the events: the court historiographic method did this as a matter of course; the clerico-ecclesiastical conception did it, with the difference, however, that it regarded rulers, lawgivers, and the like, as instruments of God; and the bourgeois writing of history, in line with its general individualism, did it by abandoning the idea of a "genius" come from God and conceiving [p. 222] instead "genius" as eminent personal endowment. In contrast with this, the sociological conception, for the very reason that it viewed things from below, represented the masses as the real bearers of historical events. This is collectivistic; the older history-writing was individualistic.
This is a difference, moreover, which does not stop at the surface of things: it leads to the deepest depths. A science of history aimed essentially at the individual cannot possibly conceive the notion of seeking the laws of history (unless it be to feel out instinctively the divine plan of salvation working itself out in it), for there can be no law of the individual. But sociology in its first representatives proceeded from the philosophy of western Europe, which was oriented in mathematics and natural science, and took its beginning in Descartes; it was therefore as a matter of course intent on conformity to law, and from its collectivistic standpoint could well hope to be able to find such lawfulness. To it, then, the science of history, such as it found in existence, naturally seemed positively unscientific. Not only did the socialist, Condorcet, think so, but also after him the real founder of sociology as a science, Auguste Comte, who immediately opened the attack. Historians were for him the thing which he scientifically most despised, "specialists" whose banal doings would have to be overcome by a new speciality, "the study of scientific generalities"; the writing of history, he said, had in aspect not lost its descriptive and narrative character to that day and was far from being a true science, since its childish overvaluation of genius would be impossible in a true science. The second progenitor of the young science, Herbert Spencer, was no more polite. He leaves to history-writing, at most, description, saying that history is to be compared to sociology as biography is to physiology. And similar expressions were used by the man who first synthetically united western European sociology with the middle European philosophy of history, Lorenz von Stein. This critical attitude extends down to the present day; only a short time ago a German sociologist, L. von Wiese, remarked caustically to the pure historian, von Below, that "since the days of Spencer there had existed among sociologists a lively distrust as to the reliability of the material which history supplies us."
No wonder that those who had been attacked so unexpectedly and so rudely, defended themselves. Even the demand to change [p. 223] their course, to see things from an entirely new angle, could not be expected to be received kindly; for always and everywhere "the capitalists of the mind defend themselves against expropriation." Now, however, to the antipathy for the socialists and the anger at the disturbers of the peace was added also resentment against the bold attackers, and the tone of the polemics betrayed the mental attitude.
Now the young branch of knowledge, in its first systems, made blunders enough, which enabled those already ensconced in science to decline to recognize it at all. They said it was "monistic in method," that it tried to handle social philosophy with the tools of natural science, that it often confused pure sociology, which explains causes, with social philosophy, which refers to values, that it undertook, for example, to derive what ought to be from what is, and that it evinced here and there often enough a lack of the necessary critical attitude toward its sources and of caution in its synthesis. Comte's attempt at a scientific universal history contained, side by side with some downright brilliant portions, a large number of easily refutable peculiarities and undeniable mistakes, and thus people held sociology - such is human nature - responsible for the sins of the sociologists, threw them both overboard, and declared the, whole undertaking a priori unscientific and unviable. The sentence of condemnation on the part of the Rector of the University of Brussels, Van der Reft, is well known; even recently von Below, a good historian of the old school, has taken the same stand and has characterized sociology as an "omnium-gatherum science" and, with Alfred Dove, as a "loan shop of word-masks."
The quarrel must be fought to a conclusion. For sociology, as the theoretical science of the social process as such and as a whole, cannot think of renouncing its right to treat the chief and most interesting part of this process, social progress. It cannot content itself with investigating its subject only in the cross-section, so to say, in the axis of space; in order to get closer to its goal it must be allowed to investigate it in the longitudinal section, in the axis of time, in order to be able to find from the synthesis of these two considerations the law of the whole. That was Comte's great object; [p. 224] he consigned it to all his successors, and most of them took over the inheritance with this charge. Spann is almost the only one who has shunted history out of his system, and that apparently is only for the present. (We are not speaking here of the representatives of that tendency which already seems outworn, which came from Simmel, but was finally given up by him as well, which conceives sociology as a purely formal science, analogous to logic and grammar.)
What is History?
Let us ask, then, first, what the writing of history is. Its battle with the sociological conception of history, particularly in the form of the so-called materialistic philosophy of history, has forced its representatives to a consideration of their position, task, and method, so that the problems are now stated with some accuracy and probably admit of a decision.
Wilhelm Dilthey distinguishes first of all between the natural sciences and the mental sciences. The former treat that which is forever foreign to us, which comes to us from without and is recognizable through our senses, just to what extent we do not know; the later, however, have as their material that which is immediately accessible and familiar to us from our own observation - life and consciousness. In the case of the former, we can only connect cause and result from without; in the case of the latter, we, as a part of feeling, willing, recognizing life, see from within into the true connection of things, and can understand it by empathy.
The general field of the mental sciences is historical, social, reality. They can make concerning the mental sciences three different kinds of statement: historical, by expressing the real that is got by perception; theoretical, that is, constituent contents of this reality derived by abstraction; and practical, which express judgements of value and prescribe rules. We are interested here in the first class. Dilthey says that the conception of the singular, the individual, is as much a subject of science as the development of abstract uniformities.
In this discussion we have first of all to state what is most important for us, namely, that the social historical reality admits besides the historical consideration also a theoretical one that is deductive and aiming at conformity to law. But we will not content ourselves with that; we will ask whether the assuredly possible [p. 225] empathetic consideration of the singular and individual can be recognized as science? Suffice it for us here that Dilthey has been most decisively contradicted from his own camp, that of the defenders of the hitherto prevailing method of history-writing: that is, what he portrayed was not science but art. Writing history, then, is an art, a conception which not long since a historian of the rank of Beloch expressed in no uncertain terms.
Heinrich Rickert, the most famous logician and methodologist of Germany, will not admit that writing history is an art, and rightly; for as a matter of fact, that about a work of art which is the reproduction of individual reality is esthetically unessential. In order to save the writing of history as a science, he distinguishes, contrary to his predecessor, materially, between natural science and cultural science, and formally, between the method of natural science and the historical method. Within the scope of cultural science comes everything and every occurrence which we lift out of the sum of reality because they have for us a particular importance or significance, so that we see in them more than mere nature. And whenever we investigate such things or occurrences with regard to their separateness and individuality rather than their existence, in so far as it is determined by general laws, then we are making use of the historical method (which incidentally is just as applicable to subjects of natural science as the method of natural science is to the subjects of cultural science).
Here, again, we wish to assert that that deduction clears even more decidedly the way of sociology as a generalizing branch, that is, one proceeding according to the method of natural science, from the social, historical reality, than does Dilthey's conception. But we will not content ourselves with that either; we will inquire further whether Rickert succeeded in rescuing the writing of history as a science of the individual.
This seems doubtful. Rickert, as the eminent logician that he was, knew of course that, as Kant says, there can be no particular without the general. We can understand only what we can classify under general conceptions. And so, also, the writer of history can by no means do without such general conceptions. Even Spencer pointed out in the case of a number of historians, among them the famous Froude and Kingsley, that they, who ex professo deny all conformity to law in history, not only recognize it de facto, but also make it the basis of their discussions. Bouglé ironically and [p. 226] strikingly calls that involuntary sociology. And just as the historian cannot even start his work if he does not believe in a certain conformity to law in human mass activity, he likewise cannot proceed a step further if he does not have a system of general conceptions. What could the historian possibly do if he did not possess the concepts "state," "economics," "rule," "politics," "literature," "revolution," "people," "city," and so on?
In order to evade this difficulty, Rickert constructs for historical work special so-called complex concepts, which are not to be deduced by abstraction, but in some way or other probably to be made by empathy, and which are supposed to embrace the whole range of presentation. He names as an example the idea of the Renaissance. It seems doubtful whether there can be such concepts at all; whether it is not a question rather of outgrown images, approximately what Spinoza characterized as "notiones universales," unclarified, obscure masses of ideas, or really only words which come in where there is a lack of ideas. It seems to us that here, just as in the case of Dilthey, the vivid, artistic appreciation of a personality, an individual group, or a Zeitgeist is being confused with scientific activity.
It cannot possibly escape a mind of the caliber of Rickert's that, to say the least, questionable things are here being asserted; and we shall get at the core of the problems if we trace the way by which he reached these constructions. He says that the historians wish to portray the ever individual reality in its individuality; they see this as their task, and to it logic must do justice. Otherwise the work of Ranke and all the other famous historians would not be scientific!
The syllogistic petitio principii is obvious. That which is to be proved is used as a premise of the proof. The real question is whether the great historians were not mistaken when they considered their work scientific work.
The solution must really be that the great historians were, to be sure, great scholars, but that it is nevertheless doubtful whether what they produced may be, or indeed has to be, called science. In order to write history, one must possess scientific qualities of a high order: one must at least be a great philologist and have all the capabilities of a diplomat, numismatist, and so forth. Eduard Meyer, who has a masterly command not only of Latin and Greek, but also of all the Near Eastern languages, is certainly a great scholar, as is also Mommsen, who besides his most thorough philological training [p. 227] was also an eminent jurist. Furthermore, the critical handling of the assembled material calls for decided scientific ability, above all, for acumen. But that does not prove that the product of these scientific labors is scientific history.
Here we can still see that the writing of history had its origin in Humanism, which was quite essentially philology, that is, the science of language. To the rapt devotion of that generation to antiquity, every single fact that was handed down from the history of the Greeks and Romans seemed immensely valuable, and it was axiomatic that the most painstaking establishment of all those facts was a worthy goal of effort. And that may still be uncontested from the standpoint of philology; but for us philology is no longer history! To us it is, from the standpoint of history-writing, nothing but one of its auxiliary sciences, as from the standpoint of philology the writing of history is one of its auxiliary sciences.
History-Writing as Descreptive Doctrine
What, then, has the writing of history been heretofore if it is neither art nor science? We consider it an esthetic activity. Leonard Nelson in his Kritik der praktischen Vernunft (Critique of Practical Reason) has shown that ethics is composed of two parts, the doctrine of duty, which grows out of the moral interest, and the doctrine of the ideal, which comes from the aesthetic interest. The former gives categorical imperatives, the latter, categorical optatives. For its prescriptions are not hypothetical, nor yet imperative, and still they have a relation to the will. And he shows further that every higher, that is, non-sensual, positive value can only have its root here: for every moral value is only negative, produces only - for undutiful action - negative, incompensative lack of value. All the cultural values come, then, from the aesthetic interest, which alone is capable of giving stress to value.
In pursuance of these thoughts, we consider history-writing a descriptive doctrine of the ideal. That fits in beautifully with the very common idea that history should and can be the schoolmaster of mankind - a conception which would be quite senseless if one tried, like the representatives of history-writing, to treat it as a science and yet denied all conformity of events to law, but which on the other hand has good grounds if one conceives the writing of history as a doctrine of the ideal which sets up models to be lived up to and wishes to offer to the will categorical optatives of heroic action. [p. 228] And this corresponds even better with the utterances of important historians and philosophers of history. Mehlis writes, for example, that history has the best of intentions with regard to its heroes. Dilthey says, "The biographer ought to view man sub specie aeternitatis, as he himself feels at moments when there is only a vestment and veil between himself and the divinity, and he feels himself as near to the starry heavens as to any part of earth." Even Goethe assigned to history the task of "awakening enthusiasm"; Troeltsch says of Machiavelli that he contented himself with a psychologically viewed typification of history as a guide in present action; Schleiermacher thinks "that history is the picture book of moral philosophy, and moral philosophy is the formulary of history"; and Eduard Meyer says "that all presentation of history is not only science but art, and moreover not only in the matter of outward form, as in the case of every work of literature, but also as to content in shaping the object."
And what is more - and this is where the true sociological viewpoint is expressed - history is always the doctrine of the ideal from the standpoint of a definite group. Every group, particularly every class (in the wider sense of the word where it means rank and caste), reads its group idea1s into history and brings them forward in the form of idealized personalities, institutions, and conditions as everlasting models and guides for present action. Or in other words, the historian writes history "sub specie" of what he orthodoxly considers "aeternitatis," which in reality, however, is nothing but his "personal equation" (Spencer): and that is his group's stock of norms which have been instilled into him by education, imitation, and tradition. To illustrate by a single example, a historian, Treitschke, famous not only for his scientific achievements, in his Politik (I, p.86) boasts of the Germans, that is, of himself, that they are "free from political traditions and prejudices." There is no question of his orthodoxy, and neither can one doubt his inseverable connection with his social group, that of Prussian conservatism with a strong big-agrarian coloring.
In so far as they are all the expression of the personal equation of their teachers and writers, that is, the expression of the chance disposition of the group to which those personalities belong, all mental and cultural sciences are not the subjects of sociological investigation, as is assumed - they are its objects. It is the most priceless gift which the young discipline of sociology has yet brought [p. 229] to science and mankind, that it has caused us to recognize this hitherto almost completely neglected viewpoint of criticism. It demands to know the personal equation of every investigator in one of its fields in the same way as that is expected of the astronomer making observations; and it demands of every critic that in the case of all older works and the recent ones as well, he first of all determine what ideal of class or group the author (orthodoxly) served or serves, and what, for this reason his "thema probandum" was or is. This psychological test opens the way in many cases for the logical test and leads to the proton pseudos of deduction.
This new method is already being used to-day as a matter of course, consciously or unconsciously, by all the important representatives of the history of the mind: a pleasing result particularly of the materialistic criticism of history, and a new proof of the fact that even an incorrect theory, if it is only brilliant enough, can accomplish a great deal for the advancement of science.
We will mention as one of the most important representatives of this critical tendency Wilhelm Hasbach, who has already handled the method with complete mastery in his classical investigations concerning the General Philosophical Principles of the Political Economics Founded by François Quesnay and Adam Smith. We ourselves have consciously and on principle applied it in all our research on the history of the dogmas of economics, both in the case of preceding sociologists in our Allgemeine Soziologie, and to history-writing in an extensive excursus on the history of the Great-Men-Theory (p.911 et seq.). A work on the state soon to appear (the second part of Das System der Soziologie, of which hitherto the first volume, Allgemeine Soziologie, and the third, Oekonomik, have been available, each in two half-volumes) also treats from the same critical viewpoint the doctrines of the state from canonical times to the present. That this method, applied to the writing of history, produces extremely valuable results is proved by a piece of research, as yet only in the form of a sketch, by my pupil Gottfried Salomon, Privatdozent at the University of Frankfort on the Main, on "History as Ideology" (in Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, Festgabe für Franz Oppenheimer, 1924). He proves here conclusively that all history-writing is the weapon of the various clearly recognizable parties of political life; for instance, in the Middle [p. 230] Ages, of the papal party or that of the local rulers, or perhaps of the imperial party; or in modern times, of the states, or of absolutism, or of the third or fourth estates; and that the position taken each time corresponds exactly to the interests of the orthodoxly-represented social group.
According to that, the writing of history ceases to be the opponent of sociology and becomes its subject of study. It serves as an important index of the class situation, out of which grew the individual work by virtue of the social-psychological determinism which was an insurmountable obstacle for the sociologically naive man.
The Sociological Method
The first task of sociological history-writing is, accordingly, one of criticism. It has to put the generally accepted axioms of the historians under the microscope and test them to see if they hold good in fact, if they in fact are true. Where the axioms of the different classes, especially of the bourgeoisie and the prevailing Socialism, contradict one another mutually, the task is already solved in part - the axioms are already confuted or at least shaken. But where the two schools solely devoted to science start from the same fundamental axiom, there the whole work is yet to be done. One of the firmly seated propositions of this sort is the "law of previous accumulation," from which the whole bourgeois as well as the whole Marxian doctrine proceeds as from an incontestably true principle - that doctrine by virtue of which the social classes everywhere without any interference of extra-economical force, from merely inner, merely economic forces, have developed from a state of original equality, and after the restoration of equality would have to develop again from absolutely the same forces. In other words: history has existed, to be sure, but has effected nothing; conquest, enslavement, subjection, dominance, state, and foreign policies have remained without effect on the present state of humanity. On this theory alone communism sensibly rests: if it is true, rational equality can be restored and maintained only by the elimination of those forces of economic competition between those unequally endowed.
I have time and again attacked this pseudo-law, and with, I think, successful arguments have refuted it as completely false (most recently in System der Soziologie, I, p. 987 et seq., and III, p. 206 et seq.) without, however, thus far being able to get a fair debate [p. 231] from those attacked. In the second volume of Das System I have laid bare in a detailed analysis from the standpoint of intellectual history, the ramifications of the theorem and have shown that it is one tangle of dogmatic metaphysical postulates in connection with crude, even ridiculous, misunderstandings. (A short extract has appeared in the Festschrift für Lujo Brentano.)
After the completion of this task of criticism, which will perhaps uncover still other principles of present-day writing of history, just as widespread and just as false, the second and positive task is to portray history by taking the correct conception of the origin of the state and the classes as a basis. An attempt of this sort is to be found in our Grossgrundeigentum und soziale Frage (second edition), where we have portrayed German history, especially of the Middle Ages, purposely ignoring the law of previous accumulation in all its forms, even in that of the Malthusian law of population, and have reached new views. The book has never till this day (it appeared first in 1898) been criticized by an expert; there is only a private, very appreciative statement by Karl Lamprecht (printed in the preface to the second edition). If strength and life hold out, my co-worker, Fedor Schneider, and I will complete in the fourth volume of Das System der Soziologie, which we have undertaken, a delineation of the social and economic history of Europe from the tribal migrations to the present, handling this great theme without the use of the false explanations of the law of previous accumulation, that is, proceeding from the principle of the "sociological idea of the state."
The Limitations of Method
This first attempt on a large scale will have to show what sociological history-writing, which has already proved itself in the field of mental history, can do in that of political history. But here it must be said that it is not in a position to accomplish, and is neither willing nor obligated to accomplish, what some of its opponents demand of it - the setting up of mathematically exact "laws of nature" for history. That is a ridiculous demand of us which proves nothing more than that the originators of it have little notion of the conception of a law, that they confuse a limited class with the main concept. Only in mathematical physics, for example, in astronomy, are there laws of this precision; the other natural sciences have to get along with laws of much lesser range, and often [p. 232] enough even with mere empirical rules. One cannot demand of sociology, which has to do with even more complicated aggregates, any greater precision than, for instance, of meteorology. We have expatiated on this subject in our Allgemeine Soziologie to a considerable extent, namely, in connection with Cournot and Eulenburg, and will only refer to that discussion now.
In the second place, it is to be noted at the outset that sociology, conceived in its modern significance as the purely causal science of the social process, is not in a position by itself to illuminate history-writing completely. It needs on every hand the co-operation of social philosophy, that is to say, ethics, which is oriented in values and itself assigns values.
And thirdly, it must be said that sociological history-writing, as an inductive theoretical science, is for this very reason not in a position to do justice to the purely individual, for the reason that no single theoretical science can do this, since it reasons away from the individual. It must therefore decline to reveal the secret of the so-called supersocial personality - the great leader, scholar, saint, and so forth. Here there still remains for the real, individualizing writing of history a wide field of activity in which it will likewise have to work in common with social philosophy.
But even here, too, sociological history-writing has indispensable preparatory work to do. For it is scarcely ever disputed and nowadays is regarded as proved, that even the strongest, the most ingenious, individual is and remains deeply entangled in the standards of his group. He towers, at times very high, above his fellows, but he never stands outside their intellectual circle. Only comparative inductive generalization can ascertain, even in the case of the greatest personalities, how large the individual scope is within which they are able to emancipate themselves from their group imperatives. Until this general conformity to law is determined, every evaluation of the historical personality is purely arbitrary and not in the least binding. Only the lack of such general, sociological preparatory researches has made possible the absolutely ridiculous overvaluation of the "great men" which reached its highest point in Treitschke and degenerated in Carlyle (hero-worship) into a Messianic cult, which annuls the usual great-men theory since it recognizes in the whole course of the world's history only a very small number of geniuses.
That is about all that is to be said about the relation of history-writing [p. 233] and sociology to-day. The practical application is that the sociologist, in whatever part of this great field he may choose to work, should take the most sincere pains to become acquainted with his own personal equation and properly to take it into account. Only then will the so-called mental sciences begin to be sciences in the real, strict sense of the word. Only when this is done, will sociology be able to attain its highest goal of becoming the schoolmaster of man, who will never rise from the pitiful barbarism in which he is living until he has learned by unprejudiced science to master the most powerful of all elementary processes, the social process, with as much surety as he controls steam and electricity to-day. Nothing is so practical as theory. And never did a time need a correct social theory more than does our day - this world of the white man which threatens to go under in the collision of Western Capitalism and Eastern Bolshevism.
- The literary citations in our Allgemeine Soziologie, pp. 125-26.
- By "progress" we understand, leaving aside every other connotation connected with the word, solely the changes of the social process - or what amounts to the same thing, human society - taking place in the dimensions of time. For example, a clear retrogression, such as "a cultural loss," may according to our definition be a part of progress.
- Concerning the materialistic conception of history compare Allgemeine Soziologie, p.911 et seq.
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