John Rundell. Handbook of Social Theory. Editor: George Ritzer & Barry Smart. 2001. Sage Publication.
Social theory is often thought of as the intellectual child of the major changes in society that occurred in the nineteenth century due to industrialization, the formation of the nation-state, realignments between the state and civil society, and the capitalist transformation of social relations. Up until the formation of the discipline of sociology late in the nineteenth century, analyses and critiques of these changes took place from the vantage point of political philosophy, philosophy, history and political economy, at least in the universities. Once the paradigm of society took shape, especially in the writings of Emile Durkheim in France and Max Weber in Germany, these disciplines gave way to social theory as the register through which social critique was voiced (Lévi-Strauss, 1945; Salomon, 1945).
While this general outline is correct for the development of social theory, once it is professionalized under the umbrella of sociology, many of these dimensions of social life mentioned above were already present during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The aim of this chapter is to explore some of the critiques of these changes, critiques that were often voiced in political and philosophical registers. These critiques helped to create, draw on and reinterpret three major intellectual currents of the eighteenth century. These currents were, following Seidman, the sociocentric current of the Enlightenment, the revolutionary tradition, and Romanticism (Seidman, 1983: 21-77; see also Saiedi, 1993; Zeitlin, 1997).
The Enlightenment can be divided into two broad currents—an objectivistic one, which combines rationalism and empiricism, and a sociocentric current, which begins with the assumption that humans are only formed in society. Seidman points out that the sociocentric current vehemently criticized the individualism inherent in social contract theories, as well as the presocial images of the individual inherent in many of them, especially Hobbes’ Leviathan and Rousseau’s The Social Contract (Seidman, 1983: 21-41; Taylor, 1975: 3-29).
The revolutionary tradition can be divided into four broad currents: one that radicalizes the value category of freedom, which encompasses Marxism and anarchism; the radical egalitarianism of Jacobinism, which is articulated in the works of Babeuf and Blanqui (see below); radicalized ideals of authentic community, which also draws from Romanticism (see below) and includes Nazism; and socialism, which ranges from the work of Saint-Simon and the social democracy of Bernstein. Each current thematized the idea that the world could be built anew—the central motif of the revolutionary tradition. Prior to the French Revolution, the meaning of revolution referred to astronomical cycles. Only with the French Revolution did the word begin to refer to sudden and fundamental changes to a society’s social and political conditions (Arendt, 1973; Scocpol and Kestnbaum, 1990: 13). Apart from the modern image of rapid and fundamental change, the revolutionary tradition also contributed to the social theoretical critiques of natural law and utilitarianism, and to sociology as a reformist discipline in its concern with social injustice, inequality and the analysis of forms of domination, whether they be articulated in class or gender terms. By the end of the eighteenth century class and gender domination were already being critiqued, and they found their critics in, for example, the French Utopian socialists, Fourrier, Proudhon and the English Jacobin-feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. Both Marxism and feminism inherited and critically worked with and against these various revolutionary currents (Hearnshaw, 1928; Seidman, 1983: 64-73; Vogel, 1986).
Romanticism emerged in Germany at the end of the eighteenth century and became the primary voice through which the excesses of rationalism and instrumentalism were voiced. Whilst it originated in Germany, it also took root in France, England and Russia during the nineteenth century, and is still a major cultural force today. Romanticism encompassed a wider cultural movement of not only literature, especially poetry, art and music, but also blurred the boundaries between these forms of expression and philosophy itself. In this context, Saiedi’s reading of the Romantic legacy to social theory, which emphasizes its subjectivism and relativism, can be extended to encompass three other concerns (Saiedi, 1993). These concerns are historiography and aesthetics, both of which are underpinned by a philosophical anthropology or a human self-image of ‘the creative-imaginative self (see Abrams, 1953; Kearney, 1988; Taylor, 1975).
In the midst of this complex and diverse intellectual and political ferment people hotly debated the shape of the societies in which they found themselves, and the nature of their lives. This intellectual ferment helped to shape modernity, and developed a conceptual vocabulary specific to this eighteenth-century context. During the eighteenth century three terms gained currency in order to make sense of, and have conceptual purchase on, the features of modernity, and became common points of reference across the Enlightenment, and the revolutionary and romantic traditions. These terms were civil society, civilization and culture.
Civil society came to refer to a part of society separate from the state in which people engaged in commercial and/or political life as citizens. Civilization and culture, in particular, emerge as two competing notions that stand apart, and because of national differences, give different weight, value and emphasis to different aspects of modern social life. During the eighteenth century, civilization was deployed as a term that was used, in part, in the same way that people use the term society today. In conventional sociological language it encompassed, in the Western tradition at least, civil society (given its etymology) as well as state forms from absolutism to the nation-state. However, it referred not only to social processes and institutions, but also to the conduct of manners, as well as the images (such as the savage) through which an elite portrayed its own society, or projected it onto another (Elias, 1996; Febvre, 1998; Rundell and Mennell, 1998: 6-11). Culture or Kultur, alternatively, referred to the activity and products ofreflexive thought, irrespective of whether or not they took the form of religion, art or science (in the broader German meaning of the word). Increasingly, it came to refer to the activities of artists, and to the worthiness of high art. In this context, especially, culture was viewed as separate and distanced from the institutional worlds of commerce, state power and bureaucratic rule, worlds viewed by those of culture as mundane, tedious and perverse (Berlin, 1999; Goethe, 1989; Rundell and Mennell, 1998: 12-14).
Eighteenth-century thinkers invoked the conceptual currencies of civil society, civilization and culture in order to present and carry forward ideas about modernity. Within the current of the Enlightenment, civilization and civil society were interpreted as idioms through which the progress of humankind could be posited. Within the revolutionary current civilization and civil society were critically reconstructed in order to bring forward and accomplish the political utopias of freedom and equality that were the hallmarks of the American and French Revolutions. In the current of Romanticism, civilization and civil society were viewed as often the alienated, counter-worlds to the authentic one of culture. It is here that Romanticism came into its own, with its emphasis on the creative, imaginative and poetic powers that would unite subjects alienated from one another and themselves.
The Enlightenment, the revolutionary tradition and Romanticism, and each of the thinkers who are discussed below, leave a legacy that becomes a point of reference, in either positive or negative terms, which finds its way into the social-theoretical imagination. In other words, each current and each of the thinkers discussed reaches forward with questions and issues that are addressed, often with a sense of urgency, by social theorists and sociologists alike.
The Enlightenment and Adam Ferguson’s Political Sociology: The Tempers of Civil Society and Civilization
The famous question, ‘What is Enlightenment?,’ debated so heatedly in the German press in the 1780s, and to which Kant’s equally famous essay by the same name was a contribution, had already preoccupied European thinkers for almost one hundred and fifty years. The intellectual curiosity and critique of the philosophers who participated in this intellectual movement cannot be tied to one specific European location. France, Italy, Germany and England, more specifically Scotland, developed specific Enlightenments, drawing on their own traditions, and their arguments against others, all in the light of the particular modernity which they confronted and in which they participated (Bierstedt, 1978; Fletcher, 1971).
Nor can the Enlightenment philosophers’ curiosity and critique be tied to one particular preoccupation. Rather, Bierstedt, for example, reconstructs their intellectual range in terms of four propositions around which they argued, and which captured the spirit of the times. In the first proposition, it was argued that reason, and science in particular, was superior to religion, in explaining the nature of reality, whether it be natural or social. Given this confidence in reason as a mode of explanation, it was also argued that all natural and social problems that confronted humankind could be solved through the application of scientific principles. Moreover, the Enlightenment philosophers’ confidence in reason’s ability to solve all problems sat neatly with a third proposition—that humankind was, in principle, perfectible, and that it (humankind) was progressively moving on a path towards perfection. Imperfection was identified not only with those forms of knowledge and societies that were viewed as backward, but also those that were viewed as corrupt. Corruption, itself, also entailed a fourth set of issues—those that addressed the problem of government and related to this, issues of negative freedoms and rights (Bierstedt, 1978: 5).
However, as Taylor and Seidman have suggested, these four propositions or sets of arguments, tend to boil down to two major intellectual lines of development. Taylor terms these the objectivistic and the subjectivistic currents of the Enlightenment (Taylor, 1975: 11-30).
In the objectivistic Enlightenment version, modernity became identified with the development of objectified knowledge, that is, with the development of modern rationalist, scientific thinking. Epistemologically, knowledge of the social and natural worlds is gleaned and explained through a methodology of empirical rationalism. Under its aegis the view of the natural world shifted from one in which human beings projected a cosmological, holistic meaning onto it, to one in which it was viewed as neutral and contingent. Nature, including internal nature or the soul, became viewed as simply constituted by properties and things, which themselves were viewed atomistically. Relations between these atomistically construed properties and things were viewed in mechanistic terms. Causal effects between things and properties were, thus, no longer viewed as necessary, but rather only related to their contingent aspects that became evident in the release or demonstration of either efficient or inefficient energies when one thing or property came in contact with another. The representatives of this tradition are Descartes, Bacon and Locke (Taylor, 1975: 7-10).
Through the philosophies of rationalism and empiricism, society is conceived as a conglomerate of separate, private individuals who construct private bonds prior to the advent of society itself. The search for a rational analysis of society begins with single, observable phenomena found in history and social life. General systems of conduct and governance are then formed inductively from these observations. In other words, the mechanistic and atomistic view affected the way in which political and social relations were perceived. Human beings were not only part of nature, and in this sense could be manipulated by a range of social techniques, but were also in a state of nature, that is, faced one another as atomistic, disconnected individuals. The background assumption, articulated, for example, by Hobbes’ Leviathan about the origins of civil society, is that individuals exist in a presocial state of nature, and that their association creates the problem. Here, self-identity and its formation refer to an image of contractualism between the state, which guarantees safety, and isolated individuals as they ‘enter’ society. Civil society was viewed as the social space in which private and egoistic individuals pursued their own private interests. Here, private property became both the symbol of, and medium through which these individualistic assumptions of social relations were pursued under the protective umbrella of the state, to forge the image of the ‘contractual self (Hobbes, 1968; Taylor, 1989: 159-76).
Seidman convincingly argues that the other subjectivist current is more important and relevant to the genealogy and development of social theory (Seidman, 1983: 28-34). The subjectivist current can be termed a critical or philosophical anthropology with a practical intent to both understand how human beings live together, and to change the conditions under which they do so. According to Taylor, who gives his account a philosophical and political focus, this current emphasized humankind’s ability to free itself from all types of external constraints, especially nature, the state and the church (Taylor, 1975: 9). However, what is significant about this current is that it combines this notion of self-activating freedom with views that were both sociocentric and historical. The breakthrough to the social sciences of humankind in the subjectivist current, of which Montesquieu, Voltaire, D’Alembert, Hume and Ferguson are representative figures, occurs once rationalism and historiography are interpreted from the subjectivist standpoint and united (Seidman, 1983: 25-8).
As we have seen, objectivistic rationalism makes the world accessible only through the principles of method, principles identified with reason itself. In the historiographical tradition prior to its subjectivistic reorientation, historiography ‘singled out the unique historical “;event” as a rudimentary unit of analysis and employed narration as the means to achieve conceptual order’ (Seidman, 1983: 26). However, under the umbrella of subjectivism, both sides were transformed. Rational principles became subject to the recognition of the diversity of historical and social conditions. Montesquieu, Condorcet and Voltaire, in their own ways, declared that the object of study was humankind in its diversity. Historiography came under the sway of subjectivistic principles. Writing universal history became possible as all epochs and regions of the world could be reconstructed in terms of developmental paths that gave a narrative unity to otherwise disconnected events. The result of this was the formation of philosophies of history that often deployed the language of civilization as its unifying idea (Seidman, 1983: 25-30).
Accompanying this historiographical reorientation was another that actually underpinned it. In contrast to the image of ‘the contractual self,’ a philosophical anthropology emerged that could be termed the ‘societal self,’ and was based on human association. Whilst Montesquieu, Voltaire and Hume all point to this crucial aspect of social life in their critiques of the philosophical fiction of the atomistic individual in the presocial state of nature (Hobbes and Rousseau), it is Ferguson who presents a proto-social theory that begins and builds systematically on the image of ‘the societal self.’ He posits that ‘[humankind is] to be taken in groups, as they have always subsisted’ (Ferguson, 1991: 4). Ferguson’s An Essay on the History of Civil Society sits at this particularly important point in the genealogy of social theory. Writing in 1767, Ferguson systematically develops a sociocentric and associative perspective, which also provides him with a vantage point to critically assess modern society. For him modern society was already being torn by the creation of wealth and moral disintegration, which resulted from increased commercial activity and specialization within the division of labour. His work prefigures that of Marx, Spencer and Durkheim, and because of this he is often referred to as ‘the father of sociology’ in a way that the above thinkers cannot be (MacRae, 1969: 17-26; Swingewood, 1991).
The correct study of humankind, for Ferguson is both the study of social individuals in groups and societies, and the types of associations and actions by these social individuals. Ferguson goes on to say that ‘the history of the individual is but a detail of the sentiments and thoughts he has entertained in the view of his species: and every experiment relative to this subject should be made with entire societies, not with single men’ (Ferguson, 1991: 4). Elsewhere he states, simply, that ‘Man is by nature, a member of a community,’ which entails that it is society that is the human being’s ‘state of nature’ (Ferguson, 1991: 59; Kettler, 1965: 188).
In this context, the methodologically and a priori notion of reason shifts to one that is essentially pragmatic—it is the result of interaction in the world of both natural and human affairs. Ferguson terms this type of reasoning ‘reflection’ and ‘insight,’ both of which are only articulated and formulated through specific patterns of human interaction (Ferguson, 1991: 11). Reflection and insight denote a capacity to achieve a critical distance from a particular situation. According to Ferguson, though, it is the patterns of human association that enable a critical distance to be achieved. In other words, social interaction provides the conditions for reasoned action, and not the other way round. He singles out and gives primacy to two patterns of social interaction—those that foster affection, and those that are based on aversion and hostility. Both patterns of interaction foster social solidarity (Ferguson, 1991: 18, 20, 24).
The interpénétration of society and the individual, association and reasoning means that Ferguson also develops a model of socialization that presages many of the versions that emerge in the social-theoretical tradition. Like the later sociologists, Emile Durkheim, especially in Suicide, and Norbert Elias in The Civilizing Process, Ferguson posits a model of socialization in which there is a close homology between the structure of society and the structure of the personality. Self-identity has a strong parallel with social identity. Ferguson, like Elias, deploys his version of socialization through his notion of civilization. All human beings, because they are social, must undergo a civilizing process that encompasses learning and practising virtues, reflection and insight. In a manner that also presages Elias’ work in his much later study The Civilizing Process, the more unmediated and undifferentiated the society, the more unmediated and undifferentiated the personality. In Ferguson’s view more intense patterns of mutual affection and aversion occur in societies where patterns of social conduct (which he terms virtues) are not greatly differentiated. The differentiation of society generates both a differentiation and specialization of virtues, and, thus, less intense patterns of interaction (Ferguson, 1991: 81-107).
Ferguson’s philosophical anthropology also grounds his historical survey and critique of the formation of civil society. In Ferguson’s view, civil society is a particularly complex form of civilization, which he terms polished society, as distinct from rude ones, which are those societies that are not yet differentiated in terms of their functions or manners and styles of life. In contrast, polished societies are those that have undergone a historical shift that amounts to a civilizational breakthrough in the history of humankind. This breakthrough, to put it in terms of social-theoretical language after Ferguson, occurs as a process of societal differentiation that takes place along three axes—the development of specialized realms of economy (what Ferguson terms ‘commerce’), culture (what Ferguson terms ‘arts’), and statecraft (which is analysed under the term ‘subordination’). Importantly, in an eighteenth-century context of both ideological and proto-biological philosophies of history, and later theories of social evolution, Ferguson argues that the history of humankind cannot be grounded in ontogenetic metaphors of childhood, maturity and old age. Civilizations are both contingent and reversible. They are a product of a combination of factors (which includes reflection and insight), and in ever-present danger of political and social corruption and disintegration (Ferguson, 1991: 232-72).
In Ferguson’s view, the corruption or reversibility of the civilization of modern societies is an indication of the tensions within the division of labour and factional conflicts in republicanism, tensions that may result in a form of corruption that combines both cultural and social decadence and political despotism. The greatest danger that the modern division of labour poses is a loss of public spirit. In an analysis to which Marx was drawn and which also presages much of Durkheim’s work, the divisions between public administration and private citizens, soldiers and citizens, entrepreneurs and workers erodes the bonds of civil society, and the sociability through which civil society is constituted. Civil society dissolves and is ‘made to consist of parts of which none is animated with the spirit of society itself (Ferguson, 1991: 218). Peaceful and temperate conduct simply become masks of politeness as men (and women) of commerce lapse into self-interest. Later, Marx in his 1844 Manuscripts, would portray this world as an alienated one, whilst Durkheim, in his 1897 The Division of Labour in Society, would portray it as one of pathological differentiation. Ferguson constructs a telling portrait of a new commercial class who, without the normative and cultural resources of traditional aristocratic classes with their codes of honour, conspicuously consumes and turns productive time into idle time, expressing itself through an emotional economy of jealousy, meanness and envy (Ferguson, 1991: 248-61). In this analysis, ‘the personality [is] impoverished even as it [is] enriched,’ and as Pocock further points out, ‘we are at the point [within the history of this argument] where the classical concept of corruption merges into the modern concept of alienation, and the humanist roots of early Marxism become visible’ (Pocock, 1975: 502).
In the political sphere corruption arises when monarchies or democracies become despotic. Ferguson sees despotism, ‘as a form of oligarchic state which pacifies its subjects and divests them of their traditional civil rights, if necessary by bureaucratic regulation, fraud and military force’ (Keane, 1988: 42). In an aside once again directed to Hobbes, Ferguson remarks that the state of nature is to be found only in a despotic state (Ferguson, 1991: 64, 73). In a context of a political proto-social theory, Ferguson’s remark foreshadows the difficulties that modern civilization and its civic cultures run into. His analysis of the corruption of civic virtues can be seen as a prelude to de Tocqueville’s analysis of American political culture in Democracy in America, where, in part, political virtues and public life are neglected and eroded once capitalism takes hold (Ferguson, 1991: 263; de Tocqueville, 1990: 316-30).
‘Crude Communism’: The Jacobin Current of the Revolutionary Tradition
Notwithstanding Ferguson’s political sensitivity to the problems of corruption and despotic government, he could not have foreseen the invention of a new political imagination, organization and ideal that grew out of the political crisis and turmoil of the French revolutionary period. There have been a variety of interpretations that see the French Revolution as a specific ‘event,’ or as part of a longer-term set of historical processes, interpretations that cannot be discussed here (Furet, 1981, 1990; Wallerstein, 1990). Moreover, the French Revolution is also hailed as a watershed of modernity, and as such has achieved the status of a modern myth in the minds of democrats, nationalists and revolutionaries alike. From a democratic perspective, it is viewed as a breakthrough to modern constitutional republican government, which from a nationalist perspective ties popular sovereignty to the soil of the people (Baker, 1989: 844-59).
However, from a revolutionary perspective, of both the left and the right, it is not the ability to institute principles of formal democracy through constitutions, or to invoke the image of the nation that is important. Rather, the myth of the French Revolution invoked the ability of a society to transform itself ideologically (Feher, 1987; Furet, 1981). The notion of ideology grew out of the French Revolutionary context and was introduced into the lexicon of politics by Destutt de Tracy. He viewed it as a ‘science of ideas’ that could be used for human improvement, and could be taught through a system of national education. In this context, ideology linked a system of ideas with a specific programme of social reform that was instituted by the state.
Feher argues in his The Frozen Revolution: An Essay on Jacobinism that the egalitarian or Jacobin revolutionary current had a lasting impact at this particular moment in the history of European modernity on both the revolutionary tradition as a whole, and social theory. In this context, the other three versions of the revolutionary tradition mentioned above, although they have antecedents in the eighteenth century, are more fully expressed in the nineteenth, especially the libertarian currents that are found in Marx’s own version of communism, anarchism and the complex history of social democracy. The exception is radical communitarianism, which as we will see below could be seen to belong equally to Romanticism.
There were four aspects that combined to make the Jacobin version have a lasting impact on modernity and the ways it was organized and thought about. First, according to Feher, and in agreement with Durkheim in Saint-Simon and Socialism, the modernity of this version of the revolutionary tradition was not only its anti-capitalism, but also that it introduced the ‘social question’ or the redistribution of social wealth (property) into political discourse (Feher, 1987: 134). Secondly, and related to this, is the development of the ideal of ideology as a driving force for social transformation. Thirdly, and as importantly, it invented a technology of power in the form of the dictatorship of the Committee of Public Safety and the Terror that inverted the relation between civil society and the state, making the state predominant—under the modern umbrella of ‘directed democracy.’ Later Marx would term this version ‘crude communism’—a communism grounded in the politics of envy, in ‘Private Property and Communism’ (Marx, 1981: 301-14). Moreover, his notion of ‘crude communism’ can also be extended to include his critique, in The Holy Family, of Robespierre’s ‘guillotine polities,’ where freedoms were annihilated with the ease of signing a death warrant (Marx and Engels, 1980: 148-54).
Fourthly, the invention of the vocational and professional revolutionary is related to the ideal of ideologically driven social transformation. This aspect was to find its fullest expression in the Russian revolutionary tradition. Cherna-shevsky, for example, portrays the vocational revolutionary in his original What is to be Done?, which is subsequently critiqued by Dostoevsky in The Possessed. Russian Jacobinism, though, combines ideological motivation with the monopolization and transformation of the state as a vehicle for social transformation, which becomes the forerunner of Leninism (Bescançon, 1981; Rundell, 1990; Venturi, 1960; Walicki, 1979). The combination of these dimensions established the groundwork for, and development of totalitarianism, which has remained an undertheorized aspect of modernity despite its historical significance (Feher, 1987: 68-96).
Equality, rather than freedom, was singled out as the principal value in the Jacobin vocabulary, becoming the basis for a generalized social critique. The development of a world increasingly ruled by money disrupted the homogeneity of what was viewed as the natural, taken-for-granted order. Based on a negative anthropology, Jacobinism had a vehement anti-capitalism and distrust of private property, which was based on the conviction that bourgeois man, as economic man, once granted freedom of economic action, would inevitably act from motives of gain. Capitalism invoked a crisis of the basis of ‘the good’ and a crisis of the community. French society was seen, by such critics as Rousseau, and in the civilizational terms described above, as artificial (Driver, 1930; Martin, 1956; Rousseau, 1974).
Jacobinism also gave birth to a political-ideological attitude to rulership based on the conflation of representation and truth, the result of which was the idea of directed democracy. It stemmed from Rousseau’s doubt concerning the feasibility of direct democracy, which he viewed as fragmentary and insufficient (Feher, 1987: 80). The Jacobin ideology established the exclusive rule of true opinion, an exclusive rule that was based on a prefabricated consensus. The prefabricated consensus resulted from not only invoking the formal rules by which decisions were made, but also, on this basis, claiming that the decision arrived at represented society as a whole. In other words, revolutionary democracy came to mean the extension of the prefabricated consensus from a politicized group to society as a whole, which includes the state, and the control of the state by a militant minority group who ascribe for themselves a new legitimacy based on the conflation between truth and democracy (Feher, 1987: 68-96).
Moreover, Jacobin revolutionary democracy also nurtured and sustained an anthropological dualism: the faith in the perfectibility of Man in the tradition of the French Enlighteners, and a moral pessimism. These come together in a secular version of the ‘second coming.’ Jacobin Enlightened revolutionaries would lead the economically fallen and dispossessed out of the corrupted, atomistic and artificial civilization of capitalism, and create a new collective morality. This new collective morality would be achieved by inventing a new public sphere, not of public political argument and opinion and decision-making, but of political festival. This new public sphere would destroy not only the atomism of the ‘artificial’ civilization of capitalism, but also create a politicized morality in which new collective ties would be forged. However, in the wake of the capitalization of social life, and in the absence of traditional communal ties, the transposition of the democratically oriented public sphere to one of festivals entails that the political function of the public disappears. This function is given over to the state—it now provides the moral foundation for collective action as well as leadership and decision-making for the community.
Both Martin (1956), in his The Rise of French Liberal Thought, and Driver in ‘Morelly and Mably’ point to the anticapitalist and anti-civilizational views of eighteenth-century French revolutionary thinkers, and especially the now forgotten figures of Mably, Morelly and Linguet, who articulated communisms that were egalitarian in nature (Driver, 1930: 217-53; Martin, 1956: 220-58). As Durkheim points out in his Socialism and Saint-Simon, these figures, especially, sit at a watershed that separates premodern revolutionary utopias from their modern variants in that ‘they assert categorically that things must be as they expound them’ (Durkheim, 1958: 51). In other words, social change was possible and based on an ideology that would transform society. In this context, one can disagree with Martin when he says that ‘socialism in the eighteenth century was primarily moral, and only incidentally economic [and] found its inspiration in the conception of a natural state of communism’ (Martin, 1956: 237). Durkheim points out that this moral critique shifted from one grounded in the description of inequalities to a critique of property itself (Durkheim, 1958: 50). Whilst Morelly and Mably articulate this modern position, Robespierre, Babeuf, Buonarotti and Blanqui stand in their wake as the political actors who bequeathed this legacy of Jacobin egalitarianism to the revolutionary tradition.
Grachus Babeuf—whom Marx refers to directly as ‘the crude communist’ in his 1844 Manuscripts—left a legacy as the first conspiratorial and egalitarian revolutionary. By positing an image of revolution based on the idea of the ‘empirical’ inequality of the people, and linking this internally to the universally driven ideal and criteria of equality, Babeuf obliterated the distinction between concrete, empirical actions and demands, and abstract universalizable principles. Revolutionary and dictatorial political action was viewed as being above reproach in that the abstract claim of humanity was tied and reduced to an empirical defence, in this instance, of equality. Moreover, the distinction between the political claim and the social group to whom the claim is addressed was also obliterated—revolutionary political action was always on behalf of a beleaguered society that could not, unguided, perceive or pursue its ultimate interests—equality (Marcuse, 1972: 98; Scott, 1972: 40, 46, 52-3).
Babeuf invoked the new, modern idea of a self-appointed enlightened vanguard and married this to the principle of popular sovereignty. The people, although sovereign citizens of their nation, were seen only as a passive and resigned mass. According to Babeuf, only an enlightened leadership could mediate sovereignty and equality, and take over all decision-making functions and imperatives in which authority, wisdom and sovereignty are united and consummated. The ideological justification for the dissolution of formal democracy was that it protected the French Revolution and the welfare of the people in the form of a dictatorship that exercised power on behalf of a deluded and dispossessed majority (Buonarotti, 1965: 388). In this way, and within the logic of Babeuf’s position, the dictatorial politics of the general will did not constitute an offence against the state—democratic or otherwise—but a defensive response on behalf of a concrete validation of the radicalized Enlightenment claim for equality (Babeuf, 1972: 34; Marcuse, 1972: 102-3).
The Jacobin current within the revolutionary tradition can be viewed as a counter-current or movement that preoccupied classical social theory with the issues and problems it bequeathed—the value of absolute equality, revolutionary dictatorship and the re-institution of collective bonds. In this sense, and unlike Ferguson’s (and the subjectivistic Enlightenment’s) sociocentric contribution to the heritage of social theory, the Jacobin legacy is indirect. It does not concern a particular writer (or writers) whose work gives expression to a body of ideas that are explicitly socio-theoretical. Rather, Jacobinism bequeaths a particular image of modernity as radically transformative. Through this image Jacobinsm, as well as the myths associated with the French Revolution generally, opened the modern landscape to a series of long-lasting debates concerning the nature of social transformation and the relative importance given to particular aspects of the modern constellation. The Jacobin image of revolution simultaneously collapsed together issues regarding the structure of modern state power, the relation between popular sovereignty and the form of state rule, and the social question of distributive justice. As such, it introduced the phenomenon of viewing society as a totality-and hence of viewing social change in a totalizing manner. It also introduced the negative anthropology that underlaid the idea of dictatorship—the theorist imputes to his/her addressee (class, group, gender etc.) either passivity or a blindness—a false consciousness. He/she must, then, lead and re-educate them in their own best interests.
It is at this precise point that this aspect of the French Revolution becomes theoretically significant for classical social theory. Marx, Durkheim, Mauss and Weber all understood that under the sway of the Jacobin dictatorship, formal democracy, which can be viewed as an institutional form that mediates the diversity and complexity of social powers that are internal to modernity, dissolved. As already mentioned, for Marx, Jacobinism represented the annihilation of democracy and the victory of the state over society. As his own principle value is that of freedom, and not equality, his critique of ‘crude communism’ is one that belonged to the modernity of the subjectivist current of the Enlightenment. He is at the same time one of modernity’s greatest champions, as well as one of its great critics: a champion, because of modernity’s freedoms that destroy all institutions and ways of life that were once solid, and a critic, because under capitalism, these freedoms remain only partially realized (Marx and Engels, 1967).
Durkheim’s constant political point of reference throughout his work was the unfinished, problematic nature of the French Revolution, especially represented by its Jacobin dimension. For him, in ‘Individualism and the Intellectuals,’ a negative individualism simply mirrors the atomistic individualism of utilitarianism, the result of which is a political anomie (Durkheim, 1969; see also Mauss, 1992). According to Durkheim in Professional Ethics and Civic Morals, political anomie can only be overcome by a democratic, although corporatist mediation within civil society, and between it and the state (Durkheim, 1992). The French Revolution, for him, also points to the necessity of creating and sustaining festive and sacred dimensions of modern political life, a theme which is central to The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (Durkheim, 1976).
Weber, also, implicitly recognized the political consequences of Jacobinism and its denial of the mundane work of politics, including the work that is entailed once democratic opposition is accepted. As importantly, though, for Weber, Lenin’s own version, in which he replaced the value of equality with the value of industrialization, represented an attempt to artificially reunify, under the auspices of the party/state, the spheres of life that had become differentiated from one another. This differentiation had become a hallmark of the modern condition. Leninism, so Weber also argued, introduced the personalization of political force, once again, into modern political life. Rule of law became arbitrary rather than existed as an abstract formal-legal principle. As he suggested in ‘Socialism’ and especially in ‘Politics as a Vocation,’ this form of politics, whether expressed from the left or the right, represented the denial of the complexity of modern life. It was also an expression of the danger to modern society when one value, as an absolute one, was invoked in the face of modernity’s value pluralization (Weber, 1970: 77-128; 1975: 251-62).
Romanticism’s Critique of Modernity: ‘Strangers to the World of Sense’
Romanticism, in part, emerged as a critical response to the crises of the French Revolution and its programme of political reform. This was especially the case as European intellectuals, who had initially heralded it, became increasingly alarmed in the wake of its political disasters. For example, Schiller’s On the Aesthetic Education of Man was written in 1794 and published in 1795 as a direct response to this crisis, as well as the despair and loss of confidence brought about by it. He argued that two contrasting, yet ultimately complementary, self-inflicted wounds occurred—one from above and one from below—that indicated that modernity was still an unfulfilled promise. The wound to the Revolution from above was inflicted by the self-appointed revolutionary elite who, in their commitment to the principle of the Revolution, turned these principles into absolute goals. The French Revolution had also failed because le peuple or les misérables had expressed their economic and cultural poverty as resentment when they had entered the political arena. Le peuple were driven by unconstrained resentful passions and emotions, which, for Schiller, indicated a state of barbarism rather than freedom. Barbarism, in Schiller’s deployment of the term, indicated a modern condition in which egalitarian maxims took root and were expressed through the unconstrained, resentful voice of the crowd (Schiller, 1967: 25-9).
However, it is not Romanticism’s response to the French Revolution that is our central concern here, but two further concerns it placed on the intellectual map, which were to have lasting significance. The first concern was its critique of reason. The second concern was the development of its counter-position based in a naturalistic holism, which moved towards a pantheistic oneness with Nature. This naturalistic holism moved in two directions. One was inward and emphasized the creative imagination, affects and emotions. This inner movement also entailed the disjunction between the individual and society. Unlike Ferguson’s sociocentric idea of the individual, which some versions of social theory have also taken as paradigmatic, the Romantic one did not view him/her as infinitely malleable, but rather subject to irrational forces. Moreover, this self-conception of the Romantic individual was related to the other direction—an outward one that emphasized an intense oneness achieved through the sensual and embodied union of like-minded souls. This idea of like-minded union moved in two directions. One direction privileged the emotional economy of love as the paradigm of like-minded union. The other direction took as its point of reference historical, ethnic or regional myths and narratives for not only their critiques of modernity, but also as the basis to posit their own versions of modernity that referred to national identity and forms of community.
The Romantic background has not been addressed in much of the literature on social theory and as such remains a suppressed tradition, although it may misleadingly be discussed under the heading of ‘Conservatism,’ which emphasizes its communitarian and anti-modern agrarian dimension (Nisbet, 1976: 80-117). Gouldner, Seidman and Saiedi all argue that Romanticism’s fuller heritage to social theory be acknowledged as much as the Enlightenment and revolutionary ones (Gouldner, 1973; Saiedi, 1991; Seidman, 1983). The following remarks on Romanticism, which emphasize the significance of the first generation German Romantics, will concentrate on the legacies that are bequeathed to social theory, but are often drawn on as unstated assumptions and points of reference. These legacies are, first, the image of the ‘creative imaginary self,’ and in relation to this, the disjunction between the individual and society through its specific ideal of the genius, which provides the backdrop to the development of psychoanalysis. The second legacy, which will be highlighted here, is Romanticism’s historicization of cultures and societies, which places an emphasis on community and national identity. This historicization, and especially the communitarianism that accompanies it, finds its way into social theory’s anxiety about the fate of collective ties in the modern world. All of this stands in the midst of Romanticism’s redefinition of Nature as an organic source of vital energy and identity, rather than as a passive object.
Unlike Kant, the first generation of German Romantic thinkers, among them Schiller, Friedrich and August Schlegel, Schelling, did not share his confidence that the powers of reason would both ground and guarantee that humans would progress. In Schiller’s view, for example, the Kantian construction of transcendental reason wrenched apart feeling and good judgement, reason and imagination and left humankind a cold, technical animal. Under the regime of reason, the human being had become a dissecting animal, left only with the cold heart of objectivity, which sees reality as a passive object about to be portioned into pieces under the knife of methodical principles. As such, the modern subject becomes soulless and fragmented; not only a stranger and at war with nature, but also a stranger and at war with him or herself (Schiller, 1967: 21, 39; Taylor, 1975: 35).
The beautiful and the sublime became the motifs through which the Romantics addressed the fractured and crisis-ridden nature of social and political life, as well as the vivisectionist attitude of the objectivistic Enlighteners towards Nature. The Romantics searched for an internal source apart from Reason that answered the call of human freedom, but was not grounded in principles of rational method. Berlin, in The Roots of Romanticism, argues that Kant’s idea of radical freedom or autonomy, which was central to his moral philosophy, became, in turn, the beacon for Romanticism. For Kant, radical freedom fell under the principles of Reason and was opposed to nature, which must be moulded by it (Berlin, 1999: 76).
Yet, it is not Kant’s notion of reason that the Romantics became interested in, but the idea of nature as internal force. In Kant’s work, especially in his Critique of Judgement, this internal force was identified as the creative imagination, which for him was a human faculty and not part of nature per se. In the hands of the Romantics, though, the notion of the creative imagination tied together an idea of natural force with radical freedom, because such a force was viewed as unbounded, pure creativity, as well as natural because it was viewed as an inner force, which was part of nature. Nature was no longer viewed as a passive object, but rather viewed as an activated energy and force. The artist, in the form of the genius, was viewed as both the repository of this force and power, and its activator. The artist combined in him or herself the elements of both nature and art. He or she relied on blind spontaneity outside his or her control, and produced art by both relying on this spontaneity and freely choosing means that would produce it. The creative imagination became identified as this internal force. It ‘became the way to unify [humankind’s] psyche and by extension [humankind] with Nature, to return by the paths of self-consciousness, to a state of higher nature, a state of the sublime where senses, mind and spirit elevate the world around them even as they elevate themselves’ (Engell, 1981: 8; see also Abrams, 1953; Kearney, 1988).
Schelling, for example, answered the need for beauty, harmony and integration with the idea of marrying the notion of creative subjectivity with a poetic vision of Nature. In his System of Transcendental Idealism, written in 1800, Schelling argued that Nature was the unconscious product of subjectivity. In his view, subjectivity gave birth to two worlds—one of Nature, and one of moral action and history. Since they have the same foundation they strive to join one another, but from different starting points. The subject in Nature is life, which becomes more complex as it realizes itself. However, it cannot do this in a conscious manner. This is done from the other side, on the side of human beings. Conscious subjectivity reaches out to incorporate nature and this is obtained in art where nature and freedom meet. The ideal of the beautiful is the apex because it is evidence of the unfolding subjectivity. For Schelling, beauty is the completion of an organic circle in which the creative life of thought and the creative life of nature are united. As such, he articulates the Romantic sensibility to Nature. Nature is known not by dissecting it, but by communing with it, and once having achieved this, human beings come in contact with their own spiritual force, which is internal Nature, or Nature as an internal source (Schelling, 1978).
Whilst Schiller’s On the Aesthetic Education of Man is multifaceted, his psychological theory, or in his terms, anthropological revolution, attempted to reconcile both the external and internal dimensions of the human being. Schiller points to the pathological conditions that occur when there is an imbalance between social and inner life. When the imbalance occurs on the side of the social, the self becomes dominated by society (or civilization), resulting in a loss of creativity and the reduction of the self to merely a social role. When the imbalance occurs on the side of inner life, the result is an equally powerful, yet different pathology, one of a self-enclosure in one’s own psychic life at the expense of sociability with others. Schiller’s importance, then, is that he investigates the way in which the drama of modernity is played out in the relation between the social and internal lives of the self. As he says:
man can be at odds with himself in two ways: either as a savage, when feeling predominates over principle; or as a barbarian, when principle destroys feeling. The savage despises civilization, and acknowledges Nature as his sovereign mistress. The barbarian derides and dishonours nature, but, more contemptible than the savage, as often as not continues to be the slave of his slave. (Schiller, 1967: 21)
In Schiller’s view, the harmonization of Nature and Freedom occurs through play. Play takes us beyond the strain and tyranny of our oppositions and corresponds to an ideal of integrated, undivided and non-conflictual self-expression. Chytry notes that in formulating a basic play drive in human beings, Schiller makes the most important advance in the theory of play since Plato (Chytry, 1989: 82). In fact, Schiller’s theory of play represents an equally important attempt to posit a theory of the self-formation of human beings which accounts for the inner life, and links this account to its expression in the best possible social conditions—creative associations with others. In this sense, Schiller’s aim is to posit ‘a harmonious blending of the sensuous and the rational’—the result of which is beauty. Accordingly, for him, it is only through beauty that our experiences and our need to order these are brought into harmony. His idea of an anthropological revolution is the basis for his culturally oriented response in which ‘the man of Culture makes a friend of Nature, and honours her freedom whilst curbing her caprice’ (Schiller, 1967: 21). The conceptual currency of culture is the medium through which Schiller’s critique of modernity and his social psychology are articulated. For him, the Romantic creative-imaginative self finds his or her home in high culture where inner and social life should meet in harmony.
Schelling’s theory of unconscious nature and Schiller’s notion of play provide one of the foundation stones for later psychoanalytic theories of the unconscious, which explicitly critiques the image of socialization that posits a homology between individual and society. Schiller’s work is of interest here also because it already points to the dangers of what later social theory has termed ‘the over-socialized conception of man’ (Wrong, 1976: 21-30; 55-70). This conception, formulated predominantly in functionalist social theory refers to the social actor’s learned ability to participate in his or her social environment by taking on roles. As mentioned above, Schiller had already pointed to the one-dimensionality of the role-playing self—for him, the self of barbarous civilization. In positing his notion of the three drives—the form drive, the sense drive and the play drive—human beings exist multidimensionally in a tense relation between the drives, and each other, a relation that can only be resolved aesthetically.
Both Schiller and Schelling, though, naturalize the idea of imaginative creative force. Schiller interprets imaginative freedom or play as a drive, and Schelling interprets creativity as a natural inwardly derivedforce. In this way, both lay the ground for those psychoanalytic interpretations of the self that posit freedom of unconscious drives in a naturalistic manner. Ellenberger, in The Discovery of the Unconscious, points to the way in which the philosophy of Nature takes root, through Schelling’s work in particular, in the early psychoanalytic theories of the nineteenth century, especially von Schubert, Schopenhauer and von Hartman. According to von Schubert, humankind lived in a primordial state of harmony with Nature before separating itself from it through a self-love. Yet a longing remains to return to this primordial state. Schopenhauer’s philosophy of the will privileged the force of Nature as the constitutive internal, yet unknown territory of the human animal. For him, the irrational forces consist of two drives or instincts, one for preservation, the other for sex. It is, though, von Hartman who, in his 1869 Philosophy of the Unconscious, gives this swelling, primordial naturalized state a respectable home—the unconscious (Ellenberger, 1970: 202-10). Whilst Nietzsche’s notion of the eternal return finds its way into Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, this naturalization of internal life is a central aspect of his metapsychology. His notion of the id harks back to these earlier formulations. Even in his later Outline of Psychoanalysis, it represents the pre-linguistic and irrational energetic force of nature by which, according to him, we are all driven, and which remains in permanent conflict with our social self (Freud, 1969).
The distinction that Irving Singer makes between benign and pessimistic romanticism in his The Nature of Love can be usefully introduced in order to more fully outline Romanticism’s second set of legacies to social theory. This second set of legacies are more outwardly directed than the first set, and emphasize particular styles of life and forms of identity, again, as responses to the Enlightenment’s version of modernity.
Benign Romanticism, which could also be called remedial Romanticism, emphasized the possibility of eliminating what was destructive in society or oneself, and achieving, either through beauty or love, reconciliation with oneself and with others, as we have seen with Schiller’s work (Singer, 1984: 376-431). Moreover, Romanticism became the basis for a proto-feminist critique of the objectivistic current of the Enlightenment and the structures of the patriarchal way of life through the development of the specifically new Romantic ideal of love. Notwithstanding feminism’s critique of Romantic love as a bastion of patriarchal ways of life, Vogel, in her ‘Rationalism and Romanticism: two strategies for women’s liberation’ points to Romanticism’s notion of affective autonomy as a forming background notion for feminist social theory (Johnson, 1995; Vogel, 1986).
In Friedrich Schlegel’s Lucinde, women’s oppression is not a violation of moral or cognitive principles in the first instance but an assault on the aesthetic ideal of femininity in which reason and feeling, desire for knowledge, and the free expression of sensuality are all brought into harmony. Schlegel’s ideal of independent femininity lies in the quest for individuality, diversity and organic wholeness. In Lucinde he posited a counter-model to the prevailing stereotype of ‘pure femininity’ in which a woman’s individuality is reduced to domesticity, false modesty and dependence on men. ‘Pure femininity’ would not allow for the extensive and unconstrained development of the individual potential of each woman. In reconstructing a history of independent womanhood in Sparta, Schlegel’s account of Spartan femininity challenged the belief in an immutable sexual nature, and posited an alternative model based in a woman’s capacity to harmonize experience and knowledge from an inner centre of intuitive understanding and reflective feeling (Schlegel, 1971). This was the specificity of female reason-as against ‘the Man of Reason’ (Lloyd, 1984).
Female identity could be associated with emotive qualities because the Romantic ideal of self-realization demanded the cultivation and exercise of all human faculties—feeling, desire and passion, no less than understanding. The paradigm of Romantic love became important because it was
credited with the power to encourage the discovery of the self. To love is to inspire another person’s development; each releases in the other energies that will bring them closer towards what they might achieve as human beings. Since freedom is understood as a process of self-creation in which all individual faculties and endeavors are activated, and since the polarity of female and male nature can act as stimulus upon such development, love constitutes the proper sphere of emancipation. (Vogel, 1986: 41)
Romantic love articulated the free expression and development of what can be termed the autonomous, impassioned self—a self that was impassioned both sensually and culturally.
In other words, those Romantic thinkers who viewed Romanticism as a remedy to the fragmented emptiness and barbarism of modern civilization invoked ideals of either beauty or love through which sentiment and reason, desire and freedom could be re-united. As Kain has pointed out, this remedial image also found its way into Marx’s utopianism of a world beyond work and necessity through Schiller’s notion of beauty based on aesthetic play in On the Aesthetic Education of Man (Kain, 1982). Notwithstanding this particular Romantic utopianism, the languages of alienation and fragmentation long held sway as idioms through which the ills of modernity could be presented, from Simmel to the neo-Marxism of Lukács, in his History and Class Consciousness (1968), and the Frankfurt School, especially Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment (1972).
Pessimistic romanticism, as with pessimistic romantic love, defines the quest for human wholeness as also ennobling, but as leading ultimately to death—to nothingness. Love redeems the evils of the world (fragmented selves, functional relations, alienation), but only in the act of death, and after a descent into madness (Singer, 1984: 432-81). Whilst this is the fate, for example, of Goethe’s Werther in his The Sorrows of Young Werther (1989), this image of an individual’s fate at the hands of Romantic love is also transposed from a pessimistic individualistic motif to an equally pessimistic communal one. It is not love that is the culprit here—but modernity itself, for in its wake communal bonds are eroded. Pessimistic Romanticism points towards not only the historicization and relativization of cultures and societies, but also, and unlike the sociocentric Enlightenment’s versions, to a historicization and relativization that contained a commitment to the ideal of the collective identity of the group or nation as a principal value.
Against the unilinear and evolutionary views of progress, historical periods and other societies were viewed as unique. The past was brought into the present as a benchmark against which the modern world was judged. Ancient Greece, especially the period of classical Athens, was a favourite point of comparison for Schiller, Friedrich and August Schlegel and Hölderlin (Shalin, 1986: 73-123; Webb, 1982: 1-32). For Schiller, the Athenian Greeks represented the image of unity whose life threw the vicissitudes of the modern period into relief. They represented natural humanity, ‘for they were wedded to all the delights of art and all the dignity of wisdom, without … falling prey to their seduction … In fullness of form no less than of content, at once philosophic and creative, sensitive and energetic, the Greeks combined the first youth of imagination with the manhood of reason in a glorious manifestation of humanity’ (Schiller, 1967: 31). Antiquity, though, was not the only point of reference; the Christian Middle Ages as well as pre-Christian mythology and folklore became ones also. There was a glorification of peasant mentality, the nameless builders of the Gothic cathedrals, the nameless authors of plays and epics. These nameless people were viewed as truer and deeper creators than the writers and artists of modern civilization, in touch with their communities, neither disconnected from them nor reliant on the market for their livelihood and recognition. According to Friedrich Schlegel, for example, there were two types of languages and cultures. One was dynamic and identified with cultures that were viewed as original and self-constructing such as Sanskrit, German and Celtic, whilst the others were non-dynamic, and identified with languages that were viewed as linguistic hybrids, and thus were either dead or mechanical (Latin and English) (Blom Hansen, 1997: 26).
The Romantic interest in the authenticity of other cultures and epochs was also motivated by the particularly German experience of its own modernity. Politically, Romanticism emerged ‘as a movement of national renovation in line with the principles of nationalities’ (Ellenberger, 1970: 198). Early German Romanticism gave vent to a frustration of a ‘Germany’ without a state—a culture threatened by (especially French) foreign influence, and divided into a multiplicity of small sovereign states. The articulation of this frustration was voiced through a defensive image of community or Gemeinschaft that was based, philosophically, on the outward image of a naturalistic human holism. This defensive conceptual strategy makes this particular Romanticism pessimistic because without the bulwark of nationalism to sustain it, there was a sense that ‘Germany’ would perish at the hands of the French invaders. In this way, the ideal of community became the basis for a critique of not only what the Romantics saw as modernity’s capitalism, and its image of the solitary and egoistic ‘contractual self, but also of a civilization built on artiface. By contrast, the ideal of community was constructed as ‘a fusion of feeling and thought, of tradition and commitment, of membership and volition. It may be found in a given symbolic expression, by loyalty, religion, nation, race, occupation or crusade. Its archetype both historically and symbolically, is the family’ (Nisbet, 1966: 48).
Freidrich Schlegel, and Fichte, are the principal German contributors to this current, which finds its way into social theory. Each contributes to an image of a mythologized dividing line that separates premodernity from modernity. This dividing line is articulated as one between community, which is transposed by each into the idea of the nation, and society, or in the older language, civilization. In this way, nationalist aspirations are tied to a critique of modernity, the outcome of which, in the German case at least, is a preoccupation with images of organic, holistic primordiality (Berlin, 1999: 93-117; Minogue, 1967: 53-80; Saiedi, 1991: 126-30; Schmitt, 1986: 109-44). This is particularly the case with Fichte, who in his Addresses to the German Nation, written in the wake of Napoleon’s defeat of the Prussian army at Jena in 1806 and delivered in Berlin in 1807-08, argued that the ideal of the nation was based on a cultural-linguistic originality and integrity. The ideas of freedom and creativity were transposed and tied to an ideal of a primary ethnie, which is defined as the culturally authentic group. This image of cultural authenticity, as he sees it, becomes the basis of identity and, hence, the dividing line between inclusion and exclusion and of a self-enclosed state that both structures and guarantees it (Fichte, 1889).
The other side of Friedrich Schlegel’s affective Romanticism, which as we have seen in his benignly Romantic Lucinde, is found in his idealization of the Christian Middle Ages. For him there was no paradox here; love, faith and feeling are the basis for a loyalty to authority. As he says, ‘[the] Christian state must rest on the basis of the religious feelings … the government founded on religion, is one in which sentiment, personal spirit and personal character are the primary and ruling elements, and not the dead letter, and the written formula of a mere artificial constitution [read civilization]’ (F. Schlegel, quoted in Saiedi, 1993: 130). In his view, the Christian state is the truly natural one in which the different parts of society are organically integrated, and each has a necessary and vital function. In this context, for him, the political structure of modernity should replicate the organic forms of the medieval corporations and estates that linked individual members together, and enabled the state to reproduce itself and live as a nation, and not as a dismembered polity. The result of Friedrich Schlegel’s perspective is an affective political Romanticism that rejected the principles of popular sovereignty and formal abstract law.
This dividing line is given a fuller voice in a social-theoretical register by Tönnies in Gemeinschaft und Gesettschaft (Community and Society). Tönnies is emphatic that with the development of capitalism, industrialization and city cultures with their cosmopolitanism, the community-based forms of association would collapse. Once, established, once the historical watershed to ‘society’ is crossed, human associations would no longer be based on a prior existing and continuous unity. Actions performed by individuals would no longer capture the will and spirit of collective life, nor could these actions be viewed as taking place on its behalf (Tönnies, 1963). What for Marx in his 1844 Manuscripts is an alienation that can only be overcome by a move to a world beyond capitalism—the realm of freedom, what for Durkheim, in his The Social Division of Labour in Society, is a condition of anomie that can only be overcome by reinventing collective ties and organizations, is for Tönnies a fixed historical condition that can only be responded to nostalgically.
This inbuilt nostalgia informs the very basis of the construction of the typologies of, and attitudes towards modernity developed by classical social theory, in particular, the current that ends with Parsons’ own idiosyncratic synthesis of Durkheim, Weber and Pareto, first in The Structure of Social Action, and later in The Social System. The legacy of community and national identity, as idealizations, and irrespective of their empirical content, are symptoms of a myth that has been so deeply absorbed into modern consciousness that it appears as a truism. The myth contains two aspects—that there is a stark dividing line between the premodern and the modern, which is drawn sometime in the eighteenth century. The other myth is that premodern societies are harmonious and integrated, and without cultural change and conflict. It is only modern societies that are ridden with power, are diverse and transformative. As Nisbet states in his The Sociological Tradition, which can be taken as a representative text that articulated many of the social-theoretical prejudices that were absorbed by classical social theory and synthesized in the Parsonian tradition, the eighteenth century alone was the dividing line between premodern and the modern. According to him, ‘old Europe,’ that is the European world based on kinship, land, religion, local communities and monarchical power, and which stretches from the Middle Ages to the eighteenth century, gave way under the weight of the blows struck by democratization and industrialization (Nisbet, 1976: 21).
As this chapter has tried to show, though, the creation of social theory was part of a broader eflection than one that concerned the processes of only industrialization and democratization. This creation also included reflections and debates concerning the capitalization of social life which had been part of European modernity since the Middle Ages, nation-state formation, which had also been present since at least the absolutist states of the seventeenth century, and aesthetic modernization. These reflections both originated and were produced by, an intellectual ferment of diverse creative inventions and challenges, which included hidden evaluations, perspectives and interpretations. This chapter has highlighted three such perspectives and interpretations with their own hidden evaluations that became the basis for social theory-the Enlightenment, the revolutionary tradition and Romanticism. Each spoke not only about the past and the present, but also reached into the future—to us.