There is a belief among historians that the era of modern nationalism also promoted more violent wars, as in the levée en masse of the French revolutionary armies and the World War I binge of national bloodletting. Nationalism generated patriotic sentiment and more equal and meritocratic military participation; hence the era of mass conscription (and sometimes enthusiastic volunteer) armies replaced the era of more limited battles carried out by aristocrats and mercenaries. The dark side of this nationalist fervor has been exposed repeatedly since the early twentieth century via ethnic cleansing and genocide.
The problem with this argument is that it fails to parcel out all the processes that affect fighting efficacy. Several major changes in military organization, technology, and tactics happened in the period overlapping with modern nationalism. I will argue that it was these changes that eventually made fighting more lethal, and that nationalism had at best an indirect effect, and more on the mobilization of soldiers to be killed than on their ability to kill others.
Michael Mann's ongoing work is as close to classic sociology for our own day as anything one can find. This is so in several senses. It has the scope of classic themes: the major conditions and processes which shape the relatively stable social structures of each historical period, and propel their changes. Mann's work is also classical in a sense that connects it with what we have come to see as the main stream of macro-sociology; he sets forth that which we have learned from Marx and Weber that is worth preserving, and displays the state of our knowledge on Marxian and Weberian themes. This is not to diminish the considerable originality which is found in Mann. A living classic contains a balance of what is old and what is new; it gives a sense of continuity from the great issues of the past and the concepts that frame them, and a sense of growing intellectual sophistication. Scholarship is a collective enterprise; much of what makes Mann's work a contemporary classic is his exemplary statement of lines of research that have been pursued by many scholars. But this is true of any great classic. Weber was selected out by his successors from a large and sophisticated scholarly community doing related work in what we would now call historical sociology; he too was a packager and crystallizer of the work of that larger community.
Émile Durkheim was not merely an individual, but the head, simultaneously symbolic and real, of a social movement. Of all the “great sociologists” who make up the canon of founders of the discipline, Durkheim's work was most thoroughly a collective production. This is so in every sense recognized by present-day sociologists. We are inclined to see any individual as a product of social conditions who responds to problems set by his or her historical milieu with the tools then at hand; yet we often set sharp limits to such sociologizing in the case of our particular intellectual heroes. Our feeling of respect raises them to the status of uniquely creative individuals, a sacred realm from which we, in turn, receive a sense of participation in something more important than ourselves. It is an unfinished task to explain why we feel more elevated in worshipping a heroized individual than in showing respect for the accomplishments of a social movement: why the collective symbol is generally an individual even where we have the ability to recognize the collectivity itself. In the case of some putative sociological founders, such as Karl Marx, the name of the emblem swallows up even known co-authors, like Friedrich Engels, who were often as much animator and originator as collaborator (Carver 1983; Rigby 1992). The intellectual world, as much as politics or religion, needs a sociology of the construction of emblems.
Of the great classic figures of sociology, at the present time Durkheim's reputation is the lowest. In recent decades, Marx has been riding at his highest wave of sociological popularity of the entire century since his death in 1883. Weber, too, is probably at his peak influence, especially in the U.S., but also for the first time in German sociology, where he has recently become the subject of massive reinterpretation and appropriation by various theoretical programs. As Marxism falters in its appeal in Germany, Weberianism looks in good position to overtake it. But Emile Durkheim, the most classic of the triumvirate – the only one to actually hold a chair of sociology, the author of sociology's most powerful manifestos, “Mr. Sociology” himself – is probably at his low point in popularity in the seventy years since his death in 1915.
The reason is not hard to find. Durkheim was introduced into sociology largely under the auspices of the functionalists of the English-speaking world: Radcliffe-Brown and his followers in Britain, Merton and Parsons in the U.S. Relatedly, Durkheim was picked up as a founder of multivariate statistics, and hence given a place in the positivist/quantitative camp of the 1950s and 60s. No wonder then that most of the intellectual factions today have nothing but disdain for Durkheim. He is regarded as a conservative defender of the status quo by the Left, as an arch-functionalist by the anti-functionalists, as a naive unilinear evolutionist by the historicists.
Weber wrote a great deal about politics, but the general outline of his theory is surprisingly obscure. Apart from Weber's style of exposition, the reason appears to be that the causal dynamics of politics he indicates are not at all what one would expect. Weber's well-known political typologies are all conventionally internal to the state: the three forms of legitimacy, with their accompanying organizational forms of domination, plus the lineup of class, status, and party factions that contend for power. But the one place where Weber (1922/1968:901–40) offers a systematic introduction to politics, his chapter in Economy and Society entitled “Political Communities,” has not been recognized as such. Instead of dealing with the internal affairs of a politically organized society, it devotes most of its attention to apparently subsidiary matters: imperialism and nationalism. But this chapter introduces the longest section of the book (Weber, 1922/1968:901–1372), which considers the state in all its historical forms; the fact that Weber found room here for a discussion of imperialism shows that he considered the topic to have a central importance for the whole of politics.
This sense of incongruity disappears once we get over the received notion that politics is essentially internal to a state. The thrust of Weber's thought is exactly the opposite: that politics works from the outside in, and that the external, military relations of states are crucial determinants of their internal politics.
Most theories of geopolitics have been drawn from the histories of agrarian and early industrial states. In recent years, however, it has been argued that modern technologies have completely changed the principles of warfare and hence the geopolitical relations of states. The internal combustion engine, the airplane, the rocket – all have greatly increased the range and speed of movement and attack; and electronics makes global communications virtually instantaneous. Does it follow, then, that we are living in an era of entirely new geopolitical rules, in which all older principles of geopolitical explanation are outdated?
One prominent line of thought answers this strongly in the affirmative. Andreski (1968) states emphatically that the revolution in transportation and communication has already doomed the nation-state as an anachronism. The geopolitics of a plurality of states, such as has characterized the world up until now, no longer applies. The most powerful states now can make military strikes in a minimal time anywhere on the globe. Under these circumstances a world empire is not only possible but (barring total destruction) inevitable. Not only has the new military technology made it likely that such an empire can be won, but the rapid pace of modern transportation and communication make it feasible to administer a state of this size. Other analysts, too, have assumed that a unified world empire is not only possible but likely in the future; this has been argued by Wallerstein and his collaborators as a culmination of long-term trends in the capitalist world economy (Research Working Group, 1979).
Max Weber had many intellectual interests, and there has been considerable debate over the question of what constitutes the central theme of his life work. Besides treating the origins of capitalism, Weber dealt extensively with the nature of modernity and of rationality (Tenbruck, 1975; Kalberg, 1979; 1980; Seidman, 1980), and with politics, methodology, and various substantive areas of sociology. Amid all the attention which has been paid to these concerns, one of Weber's most significant contributions has been largely ignored. This is his mature theory of the development of capitalism, found in his last work (1961), General Economic History.
This is ironic because Weber's (1930) first major work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, has long been the most famous of all. The argument that the Calvinist doctrine of predestination gave the psychological impetus for rationalized, entrepreneurial capitalism is only a fragment of Weber's full theory. But many scholars have treated it as Weber's distinctive contribution, or Weber's distinctive fallacy, on the origins of capitalism (e.g., Tawney, 1938; McClelland, 1961; Samuelsson, 1961; Cohen, 1980). Debate about the validity of this part of Weber's theory has tended to obscure the more fundamental historical and institutional theory which he presented in his later works.
The so-called “Weber thesis,” as thus isolated, has been taken to be essentially idealist. Weber (1930:90) defines his purpose in The Protestant Ethic as “a contribution to the manner in which ideas become effective forces in history.”
Technology is one of the unexplored dark spots in the social sciences. It is true that there is a branch of economics that models the profitability and costs of technology in the abstract, in relation to growth, interindustry productivity, and rates of diffusion. The evolution of particular technologies and the behavior of particular firms have also been studied. But this research lacks explanatory leverage, since it assumes the prior existence of the entire social and economic complex that makes up an ongoing market economy. We lack, in short, the kind of historical comparisons that can do for technology what Weber provides for the other institutional features of modern capitalism. Technology plays a crucial role throughout history, but we cannot be sure that its dynamics are similar in different historical epochs. Only a comparative historical analysis can provide this.
Weber provides some useful leads, although he does not pay a great deal of systematic attention to technology. The very omission is indicative of his attitude. Regarding the organization of the modern factory, for example, Weber (1923/1961) comments that its major prerequisite is a mass demand for its products – else mass-production machinery is of little use – and moreover a relatively constant demand. It requires a “certain organization of the market” (1923/1961:129). A further prerequisite is relatively inexpensive techniques of production.
Max Weber is not usually thought of as a theorist of the family. Nevertheless, the topic is mentioned a good deal both in his comparative studies of the world religions and in his systematic treatments of capitalism. His main interest is in the family as an important obstacle to the development of rationalized capitalism. But he also deals with the topic in debating with Marxian theory, and in this connection he makes many penetrating observations on the subject of sex. From all of this together it is possible to extract a theory of the social determinants of family structure. It is a theory, I would contend, as yet unmatched in its historical breadth, as well as in its hardboiled realism and its emphasis on political – and even geopolitical – determining conditions.
Family obstacles to capitalism
“The great achievement of the ethical religions,” Weber declares (1916/1951:237), “above all of the ethical and asceticist sects of Protestantism, was to shatter the fetters of the sib. These religions established the superior community of faith and a common ethical way of life in opposition to the community of blood, even to a large extent in opposition to the family.” In his comparative studies of China and of India, he emphasizes that the family structure, especially the corporate kin group (“sib”), throttled capitalist development.
The theory of alienation is often put forward as the Marxist contribution to micro-sociology. The Marxist tradition is, of course, largely macro, especially in its classical concerns with economy, the state, imperialism, revolution, and long-term social change. Where it touches base with the micro/phenomenological world of everyday life is at the concept of alienation. My argument, however, will be that this is not true. By the standards of current micro-sociology, the concept of alienation is not a micro one. It rests, rather, on a confusion of levels, a failure to understand the relationship between micro and macro levels of analysis. Behind the concept of alienation, I will suggest, is a long-standing tradition of intellectuals' elitism about working-class culture. It also has become involved in a distinctively modern romanticization of traditional societies, and with a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of capitalism. The concept of alienation, I will conclude, is not necessary or desirable as the basis for a radical theory of conflict and domination, although it remains important as a phenomenon of political symbolism that can be central to the dynamics of political mobilization and political ritual.
The Hegelian background
The Marxist concept of alienation, as is well known, derives from Hegel's philosophy. Marx transformed Hegel's idealistic analysis into the materialism of economics, while retaining some of Hegel's specific formulations about consciousness an sich and für sich, consciousness in itself and for itself.
What is a heresy? It is an idea, a doctrine, or a symbolic action that provokes righteous anger and often violent repression. A heresy is not simply a position in intellectual discussion. The sides are already firmly chosen. Debate consists rather in showing deviation from canonical principles, and in name-calling. Pronouncing the name of a heresy in an angry tone is the last word in debating tactics: You are but an Albigensian! … a Manichee! … a Communist! … a Trotskyite!
The procedure is ritualistic in the Durkheimian sense. The conflict concerns group membership. The doctrine or gesture symbolizes the group and its standards of loyalty; it is a traditional formulation used on ritual occasions, and to depart from the accepted formula is to challenge the group structure: to split it, change its organization, or put forward a new leadership. Hence heresy debate is more than intellectual. The symbols are not necessarily matters of concern in themselves but are vehicles for organizational power and politics. Hence also the prevailing tone of righteous anger. Anger is the automatic response to a moral violation, the shattering of expected social solidarity. That this shades over into repressive violence is not surprising. For if morality extends only up to the boundary of the group, to break from the group puts one beyond the moral pale; those within can feel completely righteous in any degree of cruelty perpetrated against those who reject its community.
Weber's economic sociology is essentially historical and institutional. It attempts to establish the conditions within which the market economy of modern capitalism can exist, but it does not deal with the principles by which such an economy actually operates. The latter is, of course, the task of economics in the conventional sense: to show the determinants of prices, the quantities of goods produced and services offered, as well as their dynamics and distributions. In this respect Weber represents the split between the German historical economics of his day and the classical and neoclassical economics found outside Germany.
Even today, conventional economics needs the aid of a sociological approach. For current economics, despite its relevance to practical matters and the technical sophistication of its apparatus, is nevertheless far from being able to provide satisfactory answers to its own problems (Leontieff, 1982). It is particularly weak on the dynamic issues of modern capitalism: on the causes of economic growth and downturn, on the fundamental reasons for the business cycle, and especially on the issues of economic inequality that are at the focus of much policy discussion. The failure of conventional economics is one reason for the renewed popularity of Marxist economics, even though Marxism itself has a less than impressive track record of real-world prediction. The parallel is not surprising, in that Marxist and conventional neoclassical economics are intellectual cousins.
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