]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]      THE PLAGUE OF SOCIOLOGY         [[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[ 
                         by Roger Scruton                  (10/24/88)

[From Untimely Tracts (NY: St. Martin's Press, 1987), pp. 237-9]
[This originally appeared in the Times (London), 8 October 1985]

     [Kindly uploaded by Freeman 10602PANC, who comments:
       Although  Scruton writes about Britain, his remarks apply
to America as well.  Our country plays catch-up to the Left-wing
looniness  which  plagues  what  was once the greatest nation on

   Auguste  Comte [1798-1857],  the  father of  sociology,  was a
naive and shallow thinker.  But he  had a concern for truth and a
nose for problems.   Under his tutelage  sociology did not remain
an academic  dream, but established  itself as  a science.  Comte
was  followed  by  four great  men  --  Marx  [1818-83], Durkheim
[1858-1917], Pareto [1848-1923] and  Weber [1864-1920] -- each of
whom provided concepts  and observations indispensable  to a full
understanding  of  the  modern  condition.   Furthermore,  at the
fertile interface of sociology and philosophy arguments and ideas
have  flourished which  touch on  the  deepest and  most enduring
concerns of humanity.  Pope John  Paul II, for example, owes many
of his moral ideas  to such sociologically-minded philosophers as
Max Scheler [1874-1928].
   Why  then  does  sociology have  the  reputation  that  it has
acquired?    Why   is   it  so   often   regarded   as  ideology,
indoctrination and pseudoscience?   Why does the  mere mention of
academic sociology serve to conjure  images of an ignorant rabble
lost in jargon,  fired by doctrine and  profoundly hostile to all
forms of authority and power?
   It seems to me that the  image is not wholly unjust.  Recently
several   academic   sociologists,   speaking   at   the  British
Association for the Advancement  of Science, staged what amounted
to a show  trial of the 'New  Right', denouncing their colleagues
who had departed from the  fold of socialism as morally corrupted
and intellectually void.  Not one of those colleagues was invited
to reply, and  the authority of the  British Association was used
as a badge of  office with which to  consign to silence all those
whose opinions offended the bigots.
   Academics who in  this way silence discussion  and who adopt a
political  stance   as  both  unquestionable   and  the  foregone
conclusion of their subject are the enemies of scholarship.  When
the  resources  of  a  discipline are  diverted  to  the  task of
fortifying  a  political dogma  and  protecting  its intellectual
weaknesses  behind an  impenetrable  barrier of  abstraction, and
when those who question the dogma are dismissed as intellectually
worthless and morally corrupt, we might justly suspect that we no
longer have to do with an impartial science.
   Consider the charge 'racist', so  popular among members of the
sociological  establishment and  now used  to discredit  the 'New
Right'.   The charge  could be  applied,  on the  grounds usually
offered, equally to Marx, Pareto, Durkheim and Weber, and even to
Comte himself.  This is one small but significant instance of the
way  in which  sociology has  broken  free from  the intellectual
discipline that created it and  launched itself, a hysterical and
overburdened boatload, on the sea of pure opinion -- with nothing
to guide  it but  its conviction that  wherever it  drifts is the
right, or rather the left, direction.
   Perhaps the most lamentable effect of second-rate sociology is
its  undermining of  the natural  language of  moral intercourse.
For  bad  sociology   has  only  one   intellectual  device:  the
proliferation of  spurious equivalences.   Consider the favourite
trick  of  the 'peace  educators'  -- the  representation  of all
power, however  legitimate, however  much the  outcome of consent
and compromise, as  a form of  'structural violence'.  (The trick
was perfected  by Mussolini's  [1883-1945] mentor,  Georges Sorel
[1847-1922], who himself took it by a devious route from Marx.)
   Every social order  requires a structure  of authority and law
whereby people are permitted to do some things and prevented from
doing  others.  Hence  every order,  we are  told, is  founded on
violence.  Moreover,  since those  prevented and  those permitted
belong to  different classes,  every system  involves 'structural
violence'  whereby the  dominant  class 'polices'  the remainder.
Against violence, violence is  a legitimate response, and against
the  vast accumulation  of  'structural violence'  in  the modern
state any extreme becomes permissible -- even terrorist violence.
   Look at any course  of 'peace studies' and  you will find this
nonsense purveyed  as though  it were  a matter  of dispassionate
science.  By the same argument, the power of the beloved over the
lover, of the conductor over the  orchestra, of the man who gives
over the man who  depends on his charity  -- all these legitimate
relations become forms of  'structural violence'.  However absurd
the  conclusion,  we   should  not  ignore   the  effect  of  the
sociologist's language on the semi-educated.  If you consider the
change  in  modern  attitudes  to  terrorism,  in  particular the
changes displayed by  the language of  journalism, you will begin
to  see the  extent  of intellectual  corruption.   The terrorist
gains  legitimacy as  soon as  we are  encouraged to  condemn the
'system' against which he  is fighting in the  same terms that we
condemn his deed.
   'Peace education',  child of sociology's  most polluted slums,
depends entirely on such spurious equivalences for its persuasive
power.  Totalitarian  and democratic  systems are  represented as
equal and  opposite contenders  in the  game of  nuclear defence,
each reacting to  an equivalent 'threat'  presented by the other.
Single-party  government  acting by  conspiracy  to  suppress all
rival sources of power is 'equivalent to the class oppression' of
western democracy.  The rule of  law is 'equivalent' to a tyranny
of judges.  And so on.
   The  use of  these devices  by town  hall fanatics  and street
revolutionaries is to be expected.  But their repeated occurrence
in the  academic discipline  that dominates  the polytechnics and
universities of Britain is the  sign of an appalling intellectual
coarseness.  I do not suggest  that the founders of sociology are
entirely blameless for the  present corruption.  On the contrary,
impatient as  they were for  'deep' conclusions,  they too missed
the fine  distinctions and painted  in the same  grey colours the
machinations of the wicked and the actions of the good.  But even
in their most impetuous moments  they did not mutilate the common
language of morality  -- our best reminder  that in human affairs
it  is the  fine distinctions  which matter,  and upon  which our
happiness depends.
                                                   8 October 1985
   [The following notes are not part of the original article.]

Sources: Concise  Columbia Encyclopedia  (NY: Columbia University
Press,  1983);  Encyclopedia  Britannica  (1963);  Julian Marias,
History  of  Philosophy  (NY:  Dover  Publications,  1967); Roger
Scruton, A  Dictionary of Political  Thought (NY:  Hill and Wang,

   Comte, Durkheim,  Weber and  Marx are  widely regarded  as the
founders of modern sociology.

   Comte, Auguste (1798-1857).   "French philosopher and exponent
of positivism ... and inventor  of the term `sociology', together
with many  parts of  the study  that now  goes by  that name. ...
While he admired many of the  ideals of the French Revolution, he
sought  to reconcile  them with  a respect  for social  order and
progress.  His search  for a `middle  way' between Jacobinism and
conservatism led to his development of positivism, which aimed to
derive  political  doctrine  from   a  science  of  society.  ...
`Positive' is a  term used to  denote knowledge and understanding
which confines itself to the  actual empirical world, and refuses
to transcend it in  search of hidden causes  and final ends.  All
genuine  human knowledge  is  scientific and  methodical,  and no
question that cannot  be answered by science  has an answer.  The
nineteenth-century man possesses an ever-growing understanding of
his  position,  and  on  the  basis  of  this  can  plan  a total
reordering  of   society  to   meet  actual   and  scientifically
determinable needs."  (Scruton 1982)
   Durkheim, Emile (1858-1917).   "French sociologist, considered
a founder of  modern sociology.  Influenced  by the positivism of
Comte,  Durkheim  applied  the methods  of  the  natural sciences
(particularly empirical evidence and  statistics) to the study of
society.   He held  that  the collective  mind  is the  source of
religion and morality, that common values are the bonds of social
order,  and that  the loss  of  such values  leads to  social and
individual instability and suicide."  (Columbia 1983)
   Pareto, Vilfredo (1848-1923).   Italian economist, sociologist
and philosopher.  Pareto  was born in Paris  where his father had
emigrated  because  of  his  political  activities.   The  family
returned to  Italy in  1858 under  the political  amnesty of that
year.   Pareto  became an  engineer  but  had time  to  study the
classics, philosophy and politics.  He  succeeded to the chair of
political  economy at  Lausanne in  1893.   At the  university he
expanded  upon the  mathematical  approach to  political economy.
Pareto considered himself a  hard-headed realist and thus favored
free trade and  authoritarian politics and  opposed socialism and
(classical) liberalism.  He recognized  that people do not behave
according to his  ideas of rationality  and developed theories of
irrational conduct.  Pareto is considered  one of the founders of
modern welfare economics.  Mussolini's Fascist government praised
Pareto,  but Pareto  died before  expressing  any opinion  of it.
(Pareto  is not  as bad  as  this condensed  account may  seem to
imply.   For a  fuller account  see Scruton.)   (Britannica 1963,
Scruton 1982)
   Scheler, Max (1874-1928).  German philosopher.  "[Scheler] was
a professor at the University of  Cologne, and is one of the most
important thinkers of  our age. ...  Scheler entered the Catholic
Church and  in one  phase of  his life  was a  true apologist for
Catholicism;  nevertheless, in  his  last years  he  strayed from
orthodoxy  in   the  direction   of  pantheism.    ...  Scheler's
systematic  thought  cannot  easily be  reduced  to  an essential
nucleus  from  which  his  many  varied  ideas  can  be  shown to
emanate."  (Marias 1967, p. 422)
   Weber,  Max  (1864-1920).  "German  sociologist  and political
economist  who  greatly   influenced  sociological  theory.   His
concept  of  ``ideal  types,''  or  generalized  models  of  real
situations, provided  a basis for  comparing societies.  Opposing
the Marxian  view of the  pre-eminence of  economic causation, he
emphasized  the   role  of   religious  values,   ideologies  and
charismatic leaders in shaping societies." (Columbia 1983)

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