Fred L. Polak
A Science in the Making
Surveys and Creates the Future
Elsevier, London, 1971
HHC: Index added
If one considers in broad outline the history of economic and social doctrines, and also that of socio-scientific methodology, one becomes aware almost at a glace how the lines of development and turns of thought there run more or less parallel to those of the natural sciences. One is struck by a surprisingly similar use of corresponding terms and analogous ways of explanation and, mutatis mutandis, of practically identical thought and future models. In the first instance, therefore, it will practically suffice briefly to review these successful and now highly fashionable transplantations in the socio-economic field.
Here too we find again after centuries of stagnation the same turning-away from medieval thought, which as faithful handmaiden of Christian theology had been directed towards understanding the purpose of the world’s creation and the metaphysical significance of man’s existence contained therein. Once again we see at a given moment a break in this development, which then concentrates on understanding and governing actual events in cosmic nature, including human nature, individually and collectively reflected in the socio-economic pattern of the satisfaction of wants and the organization of society. Here too God’s transcendent rationality is put on a par at first with an in essence equally rational, now immanently active human nature, which in turn, as God’s image, is again envisaged as eternally unchanging and therefore capable of being grasped and reproduced in essential, universal and uniform, in brief natural and evident, basic principles.
Next there is again a gradual turning-away and liberation from such a given, established natural order, or one based on natural rights, towards a whole regulated in conformity with natural law and, on the strength of that, systematically controlled.
Sometimes the difference or the transition is subtle and almost imperceptible, through a mingling of old ideas about natural right (often originating from Scholasticism) with more modern scientific ideas. But gradually both elements of the latter mode of thought begin to stand out more clearly in the socio-scientific field: on the one hand an ever-greater autonomy accorded to this system governed by natural law, and on the other hand a much greater stress on the empirically observable fixed regularity in the whole of socio-economic events from which this prevailing conformity with natural law may and must be constituted.
Then, and following on the former, a turning-away from God’s incalculable will and from events which are inconstant, or at least unforeseeable, because they are subject to the change in His almighty dispensation which is unknowable in advance, towards events which are in causal conformity with natural law, constant and, for this very reason, determinable in advance.
Following in turn on this the idea unfolds that, though the divine-rational prescription has now been replaced by an independent natural course of events, the prescriptions connected with the latter are certainly no less imperative. For one thing the conformity with natural law placed in the economic and social order is of an unmistakably normative nature. These are absolute norms to which man is tied hand and foot, to which indeed God Himself is subjected for good. These norms are consequently also automatically conservative; through the sanctions imposed by their operation they confirm and protect the existing order.
If the norms are followed, this leads to happiness, progress and cosmic harmony. Transgression is punished by misfortune, misery and chaos.
Meanwhile, these prescriptions have also become normative for the scientist. Faithful and strict compliance with the nomothetic-physical ideal of knowledge reproduced above also elevates every non-natural science to the peak of Parnassus. Infringement of or departure from the corresponding thought and future models declared binding is heresy and leads irrevocably to expulsion from the consecrated scientific temple of Solomon.
At the end of this development, which occurred during the 17th and 18th centuries, the claimed revelation in the 19th century of kinematic and dynamic laws of development confronted socio-economic events. This largely repeated the preceding development from Copernicus to Newton, which is as systematically extended as that running from Condorcet to Laplace. Physical mechanics not only led, as was to be expected, to social mechanics. It likewise favored a mechanistic copying process of the stereotyped scientific model by every self-respecting social science, down to every phase, component and process. By means of an exact and minutely copied process of development of modern science, that of the social sciences could in fact have been exactly and accurately predicted. It could also have been foretold that none of the socio-economic laws “discovered” to satisfy the thought model accordingly prescribed would prove tenable in time. The perhaps sole development law of the social sciences themselves - -at least the only one that it has been possible to prove so far - is that of the literal imitation of the admired natural sciences, though without its having led to anything like a comparable result.
The development laws also drafted for socio-economic events by this slavish imitation on the part of the social sciences, if they were in fact to be of the same value as the classical laws of nature, had to testify to a similarly strict necessity and an absoluteness brooking of no exception. Consequently their strictly deterministic nature was unconditionally necessary. Only on that basis
could the possibility of predictability, which truly crowns the work, be inherent in this conformity with natural law. For it would be this reliable predictability that essentially perfected a theory into a strictly scientific, objective explanation, instead of a series of unrelated facts, accumulated figures, arbitrary hypotheses and subjective opinions. Only the stenographic formula, if a, then b, forms the secret of this in causal conformity with natural law which strings together events in time and finally projects them with indisputable certainty on to the future.
Now the development process briefly outlined above, in which all the successive links in the mechanical copying process are interconnected with logical and consistent necessity, can be clearly seen, with all its historical stages and transitional nuances, in the actual trend of the developing social sciences.
It acquires a clearly defined form notably in the birth of physiocracy in the first half of the 18th century. This was later to merge into the development of a social physics, which in its turn reached its climax in the first half of the 19th century. It is, of course, anything but a coincidence that the two names reflect the world picture of modern physics as it developed. Even if this terminological association is gradually eliminated (during the course of his publications Comte replaced the term social physics by sociology) this definitely does not mean a loosening of the ties between the natural and the social sciences. For Comte the sociology in accordance with his model meant nothing less than the crown on all preceding exact sciences. Comte’s development laws, just like those of Marx, bear the stamp of 100 percent Newtonian Laws of nature. They are equipped with an unescapable natural necessity and, for reality, a determinateness just as strict as that once accorded to divine predestination.
It is almost frightening to see that, though the religious and metaphysical starting-points or objectives are subject to historical change, also as spiritual bases of the practice of social science, despite all change one thing in fact hardly alters, if at all: the dominating influence exerted by the natural sciences and the coercive nature derived from this. It is particularly remarkable and even now it has still hardly penetrated - that, for all the change and difference in mentality in the triple process, spread over some two centuries, of switching from physiocracy to social physics and, finally, to a socio-mechanical system of development laws, in essence nothing has really changed.
It is, of course, by no means my intention to give here once again the history of economic and social doctrines. I merely wish to detach from it, as an all-prevailing methodological fact, the transplantation of the coercive scientific thought model and to outline this broadly.
Founded by the physician Quesnay, at the beginning one of the writers of the Encyclopédie, whose influence he underwent, the initially physical picture of this doctrine is still chiefly that of physiology. The famous “Tableau Economique” is an exact scientific model showing “circulation” (as of blood in the human body) in economic life.
His pupils Dupont de Nemours and Mercier de la Rivière further scientized the socio-economic picture. The socio-economic order is an “ordre providentiel”, i.e. a divine and supernatural order. For divine-human reason this order is evident, essential and invariable. A universal order, the same for all people of all times, since it is in accordance with, proceeds from, the essence of human nature. As an expression of God’s will the laws of this order are irrevocable and universally valid.
This order is therefore normative. Everything should proceed in accordance with the basic principles of this ideal order if the economy is to remain “normal” and “healthy”. Economic life should behave in accordance with the partly natural, partly scientific laws. This occurs automatically in an established order of protected property. A regime of enlightened despotism (Quesnay regarded himself as the Western Confucius), protecting property and freedom, ought to lead to the healthiest economy. Hence the maxims of “laissez aller, laissez passer”, and “le monde va de lui-même” resulting from the “recipes” of this doctrine, and at the same time providing the existing order with a scientific basis. In this way Quesnay, at first a member of the “philosophes”, founded a new school of “les économistes”. For this new sect, which is how it was originally regarded, this economics founded on conformity with the natural order was a “science exacte”. However, for the adherents these tenets formed a dogmatic catechism. Despite the sarcasm of Voltaire and the criticism of other contemporaries this Messianistic gospel aroused great enthusiasm in France, not only in Mirabeau but also in Turgot, who made the doctrine the basis of the economic policy to be followed. What rendered the new science particularly popular at the time was its unshakable, rosy optimism: God was not only an omnipotent but also an omnipresent, all-wise and pre-eminently benevolent God. Just as the moon had been created to light the sky at night, so human nature had been given the gift of achieving natural harmony and the summum of human happiness in an extremely simple manner, via the reason granted it and the natural order of things derived by physiocracy with the aid of this reason.
What was later to make this doctrine precisely so unpopular, indeed ridiculous and pre-eminently fatalistic, was the coercive fixed nature of this eternally invariable order. For the physiocrats strict obedience to the laws thus discovered could not but lead to recovery of paradise lost and to re-opening of the Garden of Eden. But, precisely because of this natural-scientific dogma of immutability, thanks to a fully guaranteed natural freedom and fixed order,
and therefore, as people gradually came to realize, unchangeable injustice, inequality, lack of freedom and exploitation, this dogma could not but ultimately become a thing of hatred, the abhorred exponent of conservatism, passivism and oppressive pessimism.
For the first time we see here too that the normative character of conformity with natural law in the natural sciences acquires exactly the opposite meaning when borrowed uncritically by the social sciences. For, according to Bacon’s motto, the acquisition of knowledge regarding the events of nature and obedience to the natural laws thus discovered mean a tremendous increase in the possibilities of human control of nature: “knowledge is power”. On the other hand, normative interpretation of the laws in socio-economic events means at most a ratification of the power of the established order, and in a more general sense in no way an increase in man’s power but, conversely, a scientific confirmation of human impotence.
The real laws of the natural sciences can never be infringed by man, but he can use them for his own benefit, notably via applied science and technology. This is not the case - with the normative legal prescriptions of the social sciences. It is true that the same strict determinism applies here, but in essence it is a negative determinism. These prescriptions can be infringed by man, but never with impunity. And in fact at all times they have been and still are being infringed by people acting unwisely, irrationally. But the disastrous consequences of violating these dogmas have never failed to make themselves felt, irrespective of whether they took the form of a punishing, avenging divine justice or the scientifically predictable reaction of a violated secular order. According to this doctrine, such an economy or human civilization in conflict with the naturally prescribed, only true order or organization would automatically be doomed to disease, misery, economic depression, disharmony, if not to all kinds of possible and potential catastrophical developments. On the other hand, however, it began to dawn on critical, progressive minds that unconditional obedience to these so-called laws in complete subjection would chain mankind forever to the existing order, which in reality could be regarded less and less as ideal for people as a whole.
The interpretation of society as a system of social mechanics also originated from natural rights, on gradually a scientific stamp- was likewise impressed. The stress is somewhat different, but the principle differs little. British empirical philosophy in particular elaborated this parallel. To cite an example, Hobbes already regarded people as being as it were identical with atoms and therefore, by virtue of their nature, just as subject to fixed laws as all existing nature. These strict Newtonian “laws of nature” had to be rigorously obeyed by man as “rational commands”. They are, once again, strictly normative legal prescriptions derived from the essence of human reason.
To the enlightened philosopher Locke, too, human society was still a part of a fixed, immutable plan existing for the whole world. The “laws of nature” governing human society were prescribed by God.
Almost a century after Hobbes one still finds Berkeley depicting man as a social atom. Society is the resultant in the social force field of these atoms attracting and repelling each other in accordance with natural law. Even the sceptical Hume, who on the one hand violently disputed natural rights could not in this respect escape science’s causal conformity with natural law. On the strength of uniform, invariable human nature, in his view too, the same consequences would repeatedly follow from the same causes of social action and events in accordance with certain fixed principles and constants. The social sciences ought therefore to discover and apply these general rules.
Right down to our century repeated efforts were made - in vain - to found a social mechanics of this kind, in which society is made to function like a machine operating systematically and in conformity with natural law. However, this trend has become particularly important through a branch leading from it to a more specific “social physics”, which ultimately produced in its turn sociology.
It is said that the term social physics was likewise originated by Hobbes. And indeed this term was current in Britain among various authors like Berkeley, Ferguson, Mandeville and Shaftesbury, who, however, also occasionally speak of a “natural history of society”. It will be recalled that Vico, as the predecessor of such a view, had already concluded in his “Scienza Nuova”, on the strength of an extensive collection of factual material, that historical and social events were governed by fixed laws that had to be ascribed to God as lawmaker and governor and which were supposed to be proof of the supreme command of His Providence.
However, it was neither the philosophical physics in the British style (which incidentally is difficult to separate entirely from social mechanics), nor the historical “new science” along Italian lines that was to give social physics its own scientific doctrinal authority. In my opinion social physics really first acquired a fixed universally accepted basis thanks to a separately developing science or, at first, auxiliary science, viz, statistics.
The celebrated “Political Arithmetic” of Sir William Petty, published in 1690, sought a kind of socio-mathematical conformity with natural law (by which even in those days anything could be proved). Two German theologians, Neumann and Süssmilch, from the first half of the 18th century, both considered the statistically observable, immutable conformity with natural law in society a decisive proof of the workings of divine, merciful Providence in the running of the world. People were subject willy-nilly, inescapably and invariably, to these laws established in accordance with God’s will.
However, the greatest impression was made by the Belgian astronomer Quételet in his “Essai de Physique Sociale” of nearly a full century later (1835). It proved the strictly determined conformity of social action with nature, not only through the fixed tables of birth and mortality, but above all through criminological activity, which proves unchangeable in every field. Each number of crimes was constantly determined beforehand. Destiny (or fate) predetermined one as a criminal. Consequently, the most that could depend on human liberty was “whether one stole on foot or on horseback”.
Later, in his two-volume “Physique Sociale”, Quételet expanded this inevitable criminal conformity with natural law systematically to cover the whole of man’s life and social behavior, including his moral and intellectual activity. The long-sought proof of the exclusion of human free will seemed to have been given in definitive form. For in this view all human actions belong to the same field as the phenomena of physics subject to natural laws. This scientific legal concept, sparing nobody and nothing in its strictness, was to exert great influence on later economics and sociology through the response it met with among the public. And also of course a destructive influence on human, individual and social responsibility and on the power of man to determine his own free personal and collective destiny.
In matter-of-fact Britain the romantic-idealistic doctrine of physiocracy had never made much of an impression, although there too philosophical reasoning was initially strongly influenced by natural right, and also by the related system of social physics.
However, Adam Smith, himself a moral philosopher and a friend of Hume, succeeded with his “Wealth of Nations” (1776) in converting the natural order of the physiocrats into a new system conforming to natural law. Although it was just as naively optimistic, it managed to conquer the world from Britain - together with the first industrial revolution that had begun there, i.e. thanks to a combination of theoretical natural science and practical technology.
The organism of Quesnay et al., governed by finalistic entelechies, was transformed by Smith mainly into a mechanism (influence of the earlier social mechanics) that chiefly displayed a causal connection with natural law. Of the weighty “ordre providentiel” only a slight and rather vague suggestion remained metaphysically and religiously. This was the “hidden hand”, which automatically merged the free self-interest arising from human nature with the public interest, thus ensuring the economic optimum of its own accord, completely in conformity with nature. This system was equally normative: true, it no longer said what had to happen, but it explained what had in fact occurred. But man was not permitted to tamper with this: negative determinism
again. If one followed this rule, abstained from artificial intervention, the mechanism worked automatically and well. In that case God was literally only a “deus ex machina”.
In France it was Smith’s follower, J. B. Say, who drew the inevitable consequences. Once again economics, as with Quesnay, became an exact science of strict natural laws. Repeated reference was made to Newton and the laws of gravity to clarify the nature of these economic laws. Their universal validity was sharply put: they applied also to lawmakers and rules, “et jamais on ne les viole impunément”. It was Say who reforged these economic laws of nature based on a “homo economicus” (in this sense little had changed since Quesnay) into a normative legal prescription for the economist. The latter had to behave as a “spectateur impassible”, on pain of accusations of scientific misconduct. In this way Say became the pioneer, but equally the first rock of offence, of that neutral economics without values that was later to be branded “the dismal science” by Carlyle.
Say represented with Adam Smith a branch of optimistic quietism. The best that can be done is do nothing more than what one is usually automatically and naturally inclined, and therefore also obliged, to do - what’s good for me is good - indeed is optimum - for everybody. Later this “optimum optimism” established a link with for the rest entirely opposed views of conservative, or revolutionary, progress-optimism. On the one hand that of classical liberalism, on the other hand that of classical Marxism, both views equally appealing to a course of development completely in conformity with natural law, both equally guaranteeing a predictable socio-economic optimum as mechanical automatism.
However, another ramification came into being, this time one of pessimistic quietism, which in no sense held out hopes of the Promised Land. On the contrary, in the socio-economic field it was just as dogmatic and stressed human impotence vis-à-vis the course of events determined by the course of nature.
As the reader will be aware, this development began in Britain, after Adam Smith, with Malthus (a contemporary of Say), who constructed a socio-mathematical model that collided head-on with earlier notions of for instance a Condorcet and, in Britain, a Godwin. This model contrasted the geometric series of human reproduction with the arithmetic series of the food available. Apparently Malthus left his “homo biologicus” a free choice, viz. moral restraint. In actual fact this is again a form of negative determinism: if you transgress the law of sexual abstinence imposed upon you, you will either starve or suffer moral ruin through the use of other forms of contraception. There is only one commandment as against two prohibitions.
Ricardo built up a complete scientific system, with immutable natural laws regarding the distribution of income. Wages ought to display a steadily decreasing tendency. Later Lassalle derived his “iron law of wages” from this. Even Von Böhm Bawerk arrived in his famous essay “Macht oder ökonomi-
sches Gesetz” at the conclusion that human power always had to give way to economic law.
It was inevitable - I might almost say in conformity with natural law - that opposition would grow to this basic tenet of human impotence. Strangely enough, at first people were entirely unaware that the thesis had acquired its strongest fundamental confirmation through the diligent emulation and uncritical worship of the goddess of natural science. For through the same knowledge in conformity with natural law it was being endeavored in the social field too to acquire the same human power as acquired over nature so as to be able to control society. People had no idea of the paradoxical effect that, according as scientific methods were applied more zealously and strictly, the remaining human power itself had, on the rebound, to be reduced to all the smaller proportions. This led to tensions and logical contradictions of which, remarkably, even the greatest and most philosophically trained thinkers seemed hardly aware on occasion. It seems difficult for human minds to grasp why scientific laws constantly increase human power (over natural events), while on the contrary socio-economic laws of nature fetter human power (with regard to social events) in unbreakable chains.
This attempt to sit on two stools at the same time might be described as the adoption of intermediate position which are barely possible in themselves. Barely possible, because one wants to combine the strictest conceivable action determined in conformity with natural law with a certain degree of indeterminism, i.e. of human freedom of will and of choice. To put it another way, because one thinks that a fixed maximum of human impotence can be combined with an indispensable minimum of human power.
When a thinker like Goethe takes this liberty, and so speaks on the one hand of the “ewigen, ehernen grossen Gesetzen” and on the other hand of the “wer immer strebend sich bemüht, den können wir erlösen” applicable to man, nobody will quibble at this possible contradiction.
But when thinkers like Marx (in emulation of Hegel) and Comte insist on and persist in this iron necessity of natural law and the inescapable conformity with natural law of their thought models, one begins to wonder how they themselves, when they above all fervently plead the exercise of human power, can ever free themselves from the self-forged iron clamps of this dogmatics.
Machiavelli could have taught them something about seeking an intermediate position. De Valk rightly places him in the forefront as one of the pioneers in the early 16th century of scientific thought (avant la lettre) in social sciences and as one of the spiritual fathers of sociology. According to Machiavelli, social phenomena should be regarded as natural phenomena. For instance, the cycle of forms of government is based on an iron law of nature. One can only try one’s best to extend the good phases of these somewhat and to shorten the bad ones to some extent. Just as one can prepare in advance for an inevitable flood to some extent, or afterwards can try to limit
the damage done by it where possible. Since human nature does not change, these laws have a coercive character according to Machiavelli. Man can do something in social life, but only within fairly close limits, on secondary points, and only with any chance of success insofar as this is in accordance with the fundamental, immutable laws of society. Thus, according to this view, which is consistent in itself, one can never hold back the cycle, let alone change it at will.
As is known, Marx bothered little with the epistemological incompatibility of his development laws, which he furnished with an inescapable necessity, and of his requirement of philosophers that it was their task to change the world by their own efforts. Class struggle and revolution were, in his reasoning, required in any case as the fuse to explode the powder-barrel of his natural development process and to actuate the then following scientific explosion and dynamics. One can continue to rack one’s brains on the subject of whether in Marx’ view this development ought to have happened in any case at a later date without these weapons, or whether the use of these weapons was also already determined by nature, and thus included in the development mechanism itself. His brief comment that a midwife should assist in the confinement and that the inevitable birth pangs must be shortened and can be alleviated to some extent has a rather vague and cryptic ring to it.
Not until Comte did the scientific thought model take complete possession of sociology. He too uses concepts like inevitable necessity, complete social determinateness, constant and invariable laws of nature. And yet in Comte, as in Marx, the fiery will to reform society had long burnt, although towards the end of his life he became just as strongly dogmatic and conservative. “Nature is stronger than theory” says De Valk, rather laconically, and endeavors to show that Comte incorporates the dualism referred to above in his theory. However, the result is a rather poor one. For in essence Comte does not get much further than Machiavelli did nearly four centuries before. He too must admit that the phenomena determined by nature can only be influenced to a limited extent, at most smoothed a little. Both the inner ambivalence and the philosophical and methodological conflict between strict law and human power remain unsolved in their deepest essence.
That is why, when after Newton a Darwin arose and natural science was enriched by biology, so pre-eminently active in conformity with natural law in its theory of evolution (in Comte only sociology takes pride of place to biology), the balance could not but swing again to the most extreme position of human impotence. According to a view that then appeared on the scene again with renewed vigor, the same inexorable, merciless conformity with natural law prevails in social life that is found in physical and biological events. The social Darwinism of Spencer et al. is the extreme logical consequence of this negative determinism radically transplanted to the field of social science. On pain of defeat in the struggle for life, which leads only to continued evolution,
any kind of interference with the automatism of social mechanics is strictly forbidden. No social legislation, no philanthropy. Only by the natural selection of the socially stronger and the total abandonment of all the socially weaker to the natural process of development could human society flourish as a totality. The “homo homini lupus” (the one man is like a wolf to the other) of Hobbes is here elevated to an omnipotent, all-wise and all-good law. The evil, pain and suffering of the theodicy, as a justified divine necessity, have returned here as the natural law of the social jungle. An evil to be accepted and loved as an unavoidable necessity, an evil which only in that way can lead to the “summum bonum”, the highest good of human society, as the first aim.
What Marx and Comte had really wanted could be achieved by later sociology only by opposing- the scientific coercive thought model, or rather by drawing attention to society itself and its needs through, before and still more after Spencer. A period came about of socio-critical and explicitly reformatory practice of sociology. But what could it do without the force and the supporting foundation, the encouraging methods of the dominating scientific ideal of knowledge? For the time being, nothing!
It is therefore not surprising that once again there had to be a reaction to this reaction. But now it had deeper roots. For some time previously an epistemological theory of science had been devised, which of course itself also bore clear traces of the scientific revolution. For that we must first look back, though not in anger.
As already outlined, social science too had turned away, at first halfheartedly, then resolutely, from a cosmic, natural order for the social phenomena, a fixed order supposed to be founded on God’s will and wisdom, proving His omnipotence and benevolence at one and the same time, an established natural order which, if there were unconditional submission to its existence, would contribute to the greater glory of God and the greater happiness of man.
True, social science had ultimately relieved God honorably of His lofty post in social life and, with due respect, furnished a walled-off corner of heaven for Him as a safe and sacred home for the aged. Nevertheless, after this sinful rebellion demanding autonomy, it adhered just as firmly to an identical, pitilessly dominating strictness. An iron necessity, an exceptionless conformity with natural law, had to apply to social phenomena, as if they were physical phenomena. God disappeared, but Nature, with a capital N, remained as before. This Nature assumed the place and the task of God as lawmaker almost unamended: its lawmaker now became Natural Science.
Leading thinkers immediately swore allegiance to this new but equally
rigorous and absolute despot, viz, the new scientific pattern of thought, compulsorily imposed upon all. This implied that the laws to be discovered for social life had unconditionally and fully to comply with the requirement of the inexact predictive capacity proceeding with inexorable logic from this new intellectual approach. But moreover, on the strength of this assumption of power, strict obedience had likewise to be paid henceforth to a second explicit requirement, viz, that of a verification in due course.
In other words, socio-economic laws could only be and remain of value if they predicted a certain movement with sufficient precision, and if they did so with undeniable correctness in comparison with the development that then followed. Thus every possible future social development had been and was assiduously predicted: revolution, progress, retrogression, downfall, three-stage development, circular course, etc., etc.
Unfortunately, these predictions afterwards proved in part to have been of the type of self-fulfilling prophecy (e.g. class struggle and revolution) deliberately set into motion and disturbing precisely the natural course of events, and to a larger extent of the type of prognoses that proved entirely untrue. Malthus and Marx who, for quite different reasons, had formulated a prognosis of misery and pauperization, were first of all proved wrong by the actual development. In the opinion of many, long-term events could prove Malthus right, while the collapse of capitalism, admittedly in another way than dialectically foreseen by Marx, might yet take place some time as the result of a lengthy continuous or also discontinuous process, chiefly by gradual erosion from the inside. The iron law wages of Lassalle, drawn in the tracks of Ricardo and confirmed by Von Böhm Bawerk, met its end against the economic power wielded by the unions, public opinion and parliaments.
Not a single law of social or economic movement or development previously postulated has so far withstood the ravages of time. Unless it is the tripartite development prescribed by Comte for the practice of science itself: from a theological to a metaphysical and finally to an equally coercive positivistic stage.
For in fact, of the normative and coercively prognostic legal prescriptions for social events, only one remained: the sacrosanct dogma, cultivated by the theory of social science on its own behalf, for the small esoteric sect of select, consecrated practitioners of science. While on the one hand society increasingly liberated itself - as it had to - from the cruel iron chains of inescapable conformity with natural law, nevertheless - in accordance with the historical irony of fate - on the other hand a number of the most gifted social thinkers, with a masochism as incomprehensible as it was merciless, were voluntarily to cast themselves into chains strangulating their own flesh and to confine themselves in this dungeon with its unbreachable walls of most stringent legal lawlike prescriptions.
It is quite understandable that a number of leading thinkers, also in the
epistemological field, in a line running from for instance Locke to Kant, were strongly inspired by and therefore particularly oriented towards the scientific revolution starting with Copernicus, and provisionally completed by Newton. Kant, the truly wise philosopher, was very well aware of the fact that in his time, the 18th century, no social science had as yet found the philosophers’ stone. Conversely, he was optimistic enough to expect that social science had still to find its own Kepler and Newton, and thus would definitely do so.
Since then a not inconsiderable number have considered themselves called upon to become the Newton of social science. On the other hand, not a single conformity with natural law in social life has been discovered yet that is comparable to the Newtonian system of physics and thus demonstrably functioning. As stated, not one social or economic law of the same strict validity has so far proved tenable as such. The freer and stronger the individual movement of social dynamics is, the less chance there of course is of grasping it in a natural system.
This has often placed social scientists before a dilemma, and sometimes caused perplex consternation, but nevertheless it has not in general caused them to stray from the prescribed path of doctrinaire and dogmatic orthodoxy.
To concretize this argument further, let us return - rather arbitrarily - to that point where over a century ago the already established sciences of economics and logic clearly merged for the first time, supporting and scientifically elevating each other. That is without a doubt the case with the polymath John Stuart Mill. With his “System of Logic” (1843) he exerted a far-reaching influence long after his day, indeed far into our present time, likewise in sociology.
Relatively soon afterwards, in 1858, the American sociologist Carey attempted to build up a sociology along the lines of exact natural science, in which people were moved like molecules in accordance with a sociological law of gravity. He acquired mechanistic, energetic, biologistic, organicistic, climatological and once again psychologistic imitators in America and in Europe. With the possible exception of the unproven psychic-social “laws” of Tarde, later already rather watered down in the partial structure laws of Durkheim, their systems are practically forgotten. But certainly not the method that they pursued as an ideal, even though another notable English economist and logician, Stanley Jevons, had already protested against this in 1874 and prophesied an unavoidably lasting disillusion.
And yet, as recently as 1951, to mention only one example, the German-American methodologist Hans Reichenbach argued just as dauntlessly that the difficult search for sociological laws must be continued untiringly. In his opinion there is not the slightest reason to doubt the ultimate success of such socio-scientific endeavor by emulating and matching the triumph already achieved by the scientific procedure, which in essence is no different. “If the possibility of prediction is regarded as the criterion of scientific method” says
Reichenbach, again explicitly postulating this predictive capacity, “the social sciences can be made as scientific as the physical sciences, without requiring any logical principle other than those which have brought to the physical sciences overwhelming success”.
American scientific sociologists, such as Lundberg, Dodd and Lazarsfeld, and also a number of congenial sociometricians, have tried - completely in vain - to write this success story. None of them will enter history as the sociological Kepler or Newton.
At present we certainly cannot sign the death certificate of the dogmatically coercive thought model of the classical natural sciences in its claim to apply to the social sciences. Even though the newer natural sciences already seem to have abjured for good this antiquated thought model for their own use in the last twenty-five years. For all that, the old idol is holding its ground, also as a socio-natural future model. A future model giving power over the human behavior to be predicted, and for this very reason condemning this behavior to lasting impotence, and at the same time confirming the established order - deliberately or willy-nilly - for the future predicted, extended and therefore, in that respect, unchangeable in accordance with natural law. In this way the future, as a different and better future, is once again deadlocked.
After the evidently completely unsuccessful series of attempts at a slavish imitation of the natural sciences for the social events propelled onward by the human spirit - attempts which, despite severe admonition, were apparently predestined to endless failure - a vacuum occurred at a given moment. Some, supporters of the historical school, turned their backs on these natural sciences that evidently led in the wrong direction and sought refuge chiefly in a study of the past. Others, though they stressed the essential difference between natural sciences and the humanities, did not wish the present brainchild to be thrown out with the historical bathwater. Under the influence of a German group of philosophical, partly neo-Kantian thinkers, such as Dilthey, Windelband and, above all, Rickert, they did their best on the one hand to make the limits of the scientific thought model visible and on the other to work out an at least partially independent methodology for the social, cultural or human sciences.-
One of the greatest renovators of sociological thought, the many-sided genius Max Weber, went to considerable effort, in the footsteps of Rickert, to extend these attempts at mediating and bridging into an integral, systematic synthesis. In this system the former strict laws of nature were replaced by purely rationally constructed but fictitious ideal types. In addition he conceived of a steadily progressing “homo sociorationalis”, through whose medium
the development of social reality would gradually conform to these postulated, in part still unreal schemata and structural tendencies. They would do so with a consequently increasing probability (designated by him as “Chance”) of conformity and identity. Ultimately they would in this way acquire the nature of abstract “vérités de raison” (to use Leibnitz’ expression). The strict causal-logical conformity with natural law thus lies as it were first in purely rational thought and only later - it is hoped - in the concrete social reality conforming to this thought.
But now the socio-scientific investigator following this method had to be prepared to make a large but unavoidable sacrifice. The classical scientific thought model originating from Newton himself had relentlessly to be stripped of all old finalistic elements of a divine or natural order And not only Newton’s personal theistic or deistic notions about a universal system that was God’s will and that was moved or guided as a pacemaker for certain ends. No, all conceivable objectives, norms and values, whether religious or humanistic, transcendental or immanent, eschatological or utopian, ethical-idealistic or socio-reformatory. The absolute standard to be set for every socio-scientific investigator, i.e. a seeker of causal connections, was that of a complete and unconditionally anti-normative attitude. The mental disposition of freedom from values, of a strict limitation to the actual “Sein”, free from any kind of “Sollen”, of a pure “Wissen” entirely liberated from whatsoever “Werten”. All that matters is the reality constructed in an empirical basis, as it is in actual fact or at least could be rationally thought out, and not how it ought to be ideally. For that was exactly how the modern research scientist set about things.
This sociology, which attained great but completely lonely heights with Max Weber, slumped in the hand of his epigones. One of the cleverest and most original followers, Karl Mannheim, attempted another coordination, in which he no longer sought universal laws applicable always and everywhere, but “principia media”. A new kind of limited laws, applicable to certain historical situations and periods of limited duration, to social structures of a type prevailing in time and space but subject to fluctuation. In this way the absolutism of natural law was somewhat relativized and historicized.
But, just as not a single natural law has ever been discovered for social life, or rather confirmed after the event by future-history, so the work with ideal types after Weber and that with principia media after Mannheim did not bring much joy or prove very fruitful. Except perhaps for the interested but dying-out historian of science or unproductive methodologist.
The result of this was at first considerable confusion, irresolute discouragement and, worst of all, tottering uncertainty. Thereafter - I am passing over a few links - the ranks reformed to the best of their ability. A rather paradoxical situation had arisen: strict conformity with natural law (including its rather attenuated replacements) had practically ceased to exist for social
science, since in the course of time it had of its own accord fallen into decay as fallacious.
What was left? Gone was the fixed providential or natural order, gone were the cycles, the constants, the schemata, the systems, the models. Gone was the uniformity, the immutability, the universality. Gone was the basis, the mainstay, the closely fitting doctrinal structure, in short certainty.
Conversely, the reality of social dynamics stood in sharp contrast to the once beloved geometric figures and constructions, now either of a regular circular motion or of a stepwise, linear or parabolic evolution. Not only did change now prove as such an essential feature of all social events, but moreover a still more strongly accelerating change of a completely irregular and discontinuous nature.
Instead of the familiar future-image of a restabilized harmony, a kaleidoscopic picture forms of unstable, sometimes chaotic, not infrequently disharmonious configurations and radical transformations.
As if to give the last, toppling push to the once cherished picture of the world and of society, in this almost endless chain of pronounced and accelerated change, another phenomenon, largely responsible for this but highly inconvenient, developed throughout history. For this history had been forcibly penetrated by human power, now of age but acting as a permanent mischief-maker. As Schiller had already written, “Die Welt is volkommen überall wo der Mensch nicht hinkommt mit seiner Qual”.
Since the Reformation and the Renaissance, Rationalism, Enlightenment and Progress, and above all thanks to applied scientific thought as well, human power has developed increasingly further, more strongly and more rapidly. It is the irony of fate that the natural sciences worshipped by the social sciences made the most direct contribution to that development, and that as a result it had indirectly to be these very natural sciences which had to knock out of the hands of their faithful socio-scientific worshippers and foot-soldiers practically all the weapons for similar or to some extent comparable scientific achievements.
What was a modern sociology, and what could it ultimately be, confronted with this overwhelming flood of social events tempestuously stirred and swept along by human power? Had not Parmenides now in fact finally been defeated by Heraclitus? Was it in fact still possible at all to find one’s socio-scientific bearings in this tangle or maze of an eternally intrinsically changeable Becoming which, moreover, to make matters even worse, is also subject to arbitrary and deliberate outside change (revolution, battle, conflict, reform, planning)?
The opposition of the historical school to the dominating scientific thought model, and its complete surrender to the past, which was at least still intuitively and psychologically graspable, had meanwhile been resolutely rejected. This empathic and understanding method was considered to be denuded of objective
criteria offering real certainty. Finally, its scientific result was rejected fairly universally as unscientific, since it was unreliable, uncertain and therefore invalid. Thus all that remained was the way back to Parmenides, a renewed refuge in natural science, even though it was only halfway or half-heartedly, as the sole “ruhende Pol in der Erscheinungen Flucht”. One could choose a certain half of natural science: either its logical system or its empirical validation.
Accordingly, social scientists wanted to try one of two things: either a purely abstract, timeless theory, still rooted in classical natural science, as a purely formal statics of rational deduction, derived from a number of axiomatic basic theses (or hypotheses);
or an equally undynamic, but now purely empirical theory, based as in natural science on inductive, usually statistical observation, limited to the present reality of the here and now, and trying to find a rational explanation for this, as a rule still subdivided into small segments or microanalyses.
Both types of theory had of course evident and not inconsiderable attractions for their users. The first is, at least provisionally, in its rational-discursive set-up, immune from disturbance by confused and confusing reality. After all, this theory stands completely aloof from time and space. For the time being the changeable material events hardly affect its system of formalized relations, if indeed they do so at all. The pure abstraction protects it, safely ensconced in an ivory tower, against the impure hurly-burly of the world and the fluctuating violence of the flow of reality.
The second kind of theory is at least fairly well protected by its firm, empirical, descriptive foundation against a possible charge of lack of resemblance to the reality which it describes and reproduces as accurately as possible. Anyone who wants to may check and verify its result. In broad outline this must tally, if the data were sufficient and the processing of them statistically sound. Crouching in the trench of the excavated part of the concrete environment, a sense of reality protects it against the unworldliness and meaningless vagueness of all invalidated or unverifiable, i.e. verbal, theorizing.
However, both types of theory (and one can continue to seek sensible combinations like Diogenes with a lantern) equally have their less evident but much more regrettable disadvantages. Unlike Buridan’s ass, both do in fact choose between two bundles of hay, but they “make no hay”. They are both ultimately gored by the horns of the dilemma for which they are themselves responsible, and which is in essense insoluble. They have manoeuvred themselves into the impossible position of detachment either from variable social reality or from future-oriented social dynamics.
The first type of sociological theory mentioned is a retreat to the rather faint-hearted, fruitless position of Archimedes, who despairingly implored the advancing enemy forces not to disturb his beautiful mathematical-cosmic circular models drawn in the sand (“noli turbare circulos meos”). But the enemy armies of disrupting human power and accelerated change advance relentlessly with overwhelming force. The timeless theory has no chance at all against the jerky movement and drastic intellectual changes of this present (and still more of the future) time. In this ultra-dynamic period of time any form of statics is pointless right from the start. Maintaining this aspect of classical natural science in modern social sciences is not only unreal but nothing short of asocial.
The second type of socio-scientific, purely empirical and microsociological research is exposed to dangers which, though quite different, may ultimately lead to an equally unacceptable result. In essence the same process of absolutization is applied; a piece of complete fictitious permanence is imprinted on a purely momentary event in an artificially demarcated part of a comprehensive whole. The fleeting moment is preserved, the part of matter dealt with is regarded as a representative “pars pro toto”, as illuminating for the totality. But while the investigator is painstakingly examining his part of the whole, it runs away through his hands, so to speak. It does so because the relation between and interaction of all coherent parts of the whole are subject to lasting, intensified change. And because, moreover, the totality itself of contemporary society is uninterruptedly subject, within ever-decreasing periods of time, to a violently fluctuating, radicalizing and revolutionizing process of development. By the time that the partial study, undertaken with years of persevering industry and fully documented on an empirical basis, has been published or only shortly afterwards, it is already in danger of being wholly or partially outmoded. Insofar as it is still of value, this study will be ephemeral, will evaporate beyond recall.
Both types of modern socio-scientific theory suffer from one and the same fault. They have removed the time dimension. For the one, time does not exist at all, or only as a stationary eternity. For the other, time lies completely enclosed in a cross-section of a part of the fading today. Both of them have tried in their own way to master time, but both are being irrevocably subjugated by the very time.
Both have unanimously excised the future as an unclean and infected thing. As already stated, both types of theory are semi-scientific. The other half has been docked with the tail. For from the scientific point of view it was necessary, indeed the criterion of the scientific value of every theory, to be able correctly to predict the future.
However, so far, despite all historical attempts, social scientists have proved
absolutely incapable of doing so. It is more than paradoxical, it is even more than significant, indeed it is no less than tragic, that the social sciences chose the wrong half of the natural sciences as their half.
But they have proceeded to oppose the other half, that of study and forecast of the future, with intensified dogmatism, indeed almost rabidly. Attracted as they had been to the future, they had repeatedly been rejected with their various methods and laws, causal and constant relations, fixed schemes, etc. The psychological reaction to this series of failures and frustrations was an extremely dissenting attitude towards any contact with the future. Now, conversely, future-research became strictly forbidden territory for the social scientist. Any attempt to anticipate the dynamic movement of social events was now regarded as evil or as proceeding directly from the Evil One. Any approach to the future prospects or the future forms of society was suspect and, from the outset, unfounded. Every forecast of the future of society could testify only to a scientific aberration. A future-vision was by definition woolly, wild, muddle-headed and arrogant.
In emulation of the British physicist and novelist Sir C. P. Snow, the term “the two cultures” is often used today, by which is mainly meant the gulf that has grown between the natural sciences on the one hand and the cultural sciences (the social, mental or behavioral sciences) on the other. In fact this is not just a simple antithesis, as is often assumed, also by Snow himself; the actual relationship is much more complicated.
The present social sciences are not in a state of complete antithesis to the natural sciences; instead they draw a marked caesura which now runs right across the scientific model of the classical natural sciences. Their present methodology is still almost feverishly based on a part of this model, clinging to it without rhyme or reason. As such they behave “plus scientifiques que les sciences exactes”.
The empirical-factual or formal-logical research aspect of the natural sciences was placed in the limelight, but its predictive character with regard to probable futures was, conversely, completely blacked out, pushed out of sight. On the contrary, the future is now as it were phenomenologically “placed outside brackets” (Husserl). But had the social sciences chosen the right half of the natural sciences as the sole monogamous other half for an indissoluble marriage?
The new, normative code of social science now ran more or less as follows:
First commandment: wedded for ever to classical natural science, thou shalt not commit adultery nor even behold another woman, in whatsoever scientific garb she may be clad. Second commandment: honor thy father and thy mother, i.e. thine own past-present reality. Third commandment: thou shalt not worship strange changes or dynamic phenomena as other gods. Fourth commandment: thou shalt not covet or enter thy neighbour’s scientific field. Fifth commandment: thou shalt not kill time once it has been born. Sixth to tenth command-
ment: thou shalt not make graven images of the Future nor presume to create or re-create these in thy image, as if thou wert thyself a natural science.
Only now can we fully see that the gradual widening of the gap between “the two cultures” goes much deeper as a controversy, differs from and means more than was apparently intended. The simultaneous return to and renunciation of the natural scientific thought model by social science contains a contrast between the two main categories of natural science or of science as such which is as diametrical as it is paradoxical, and which goes to the heart of the matter.
For natural science, precisely owing to its scientifically gathered and applied knowledge, gives and creates human power.
Social science, on the other hand, conforms with an explicit testimonium pauperitatis its own powerlessness and bears the clear stamp of human impotence. 1
Natural science remains constantly predictive, or at least prognostic. The whole of technological development, the ever-progressive unfolding of scientific theory and techniques, or practical application, are based above all on that predictive power, are oriented towards that permanent and completely reliable, or at least highly probable prospect.
Social science examines and confirms existing reality, whether it wants to or not. Its tendency, its essence and operation, are mainly conservative by nature. It freezes the explanation of what, in its view, to the best of its knowledge and ability, has been previously introduced into present reality. In an almost automatic fashion this alienates it from and even places it on inimical terms with any change that may rudely upset this explanatory interpretation, and a fortiori against a deliberate changeability and reform aimed at programmatically or politically, and highly manipulable. For, if not, remaining uniform and up to date even to some extent is a practically endless task. The “spectateur impassible” once treated with scorn in economics gains new understanding, even luster, in sociology.
Starting from this attitude, social science cannot but adopt a sceptical and ascetic attitude towards the boiling motion and change that nowadays do their undermining work in social events. Social dynamics, which really ought to be its key subject, lies abandoned almost motionless. Who dare reasonably interfere with it? Whatever Marx may say about philosophers, it is certainly not the task and the responsibility of -sociologists or of any kind of practitioners of the social sciences - so they argue - to change the world. On the contrary, they only bother to explain it and make it understandable. But, while the ground is constantly sinking away under their feet and social events have entered a state of turbulence, can they still grasp something lasting? Apparently they can only try to detain time, as it hurries by, in framework so far regarded as effective by clamping it in outmoded thought models. Thought models that truncate and mutilate social dynamics, in particular by systematic-
cally snipping away the movement of the future. Thought models whose parallel we saw in the philosophy of history, which are ultimately non-future-models.
The matured and gradually ossified conviction about the infallibility of the inseparable mating or crossing of the socio-scientific thought model with the wrong half of physics not intended for that purpose has of course again found or produced its own inspirer, apologete and prophet: the prophet of non-prophetism, Karl R. Popper. 2 His methodological work, while invoking modern physics contains a systematic and fiercely critical attack on any predictive capacity of social science. Coupled to this is a consistent, fiery plea for “piecemeal social engineering”, as an improvising control of society as it is today, cautiously progressing step by step. In his opinion all socio-cultural prediction has, from of old up to the present day, been an expression of the most fatal dogmatism. So great is the influence of this ultra-liberal contemporary thinker that, absurdly enough, even a modern socio-progressive future-thinker like Dennis Gabor cannot begin his work 3 without expressing his gratitude towards the anti-future-seer Popper.
A social science as proclaimed by Popper is auto-destructive and counter-selective. Its passive attitude towards and abstention from the future ends in a nihilistic desertion of the future rushing towards us. This compulsorily prescribed mating of half a physical horse and a whole sociological ass must lead to the biological variant of an extremely stubborn but nevertheless inevitable sterile mule. Literally and figuratively futureless.
In my turn I regard the prejudiced today-thinkers, such as the neo-positivistic Popperites, as the true dogmatic arch-enemies of our free, future possible and most desirable civilization. For our enormous social future-problems can no longer be solved by an improvising muddling-through from the one moment of the present to the immediately following one, but solely by means of a socio-scientifically founded future-prospect and endeavor. Oriented, with periodical revision, towards the long term of several decades, perhaps even with the attempted anticipation of half a century or even longer.
The above might possibly be misunderstood - through a mistake of the author - to mean that all kinds of decidedly evil intentions and wicked plans were imputed to the social scientist. The actual situation is perhaps much worse, namely that all this is done with the very best intentions. And so definitely not just out of pure stupidity, ridiculous self-conceit or wanton conservatism. An invocation of Schiller’s “mit der Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens” would be completely off target. True, the unbroken thread of a religio-dogmatic foundation, with unassailable taboos based on it,
is also present here in optima forma, though usually in a sometimes unconsciously secularized version. However, very important and thorough thought has preceded the attitude of mind adopted. It can also be motivated entirely rationally. In doing so one reverts - though often as an implicit presumption - to the dualism of Descartes, himself a great proponent of thinking that was “dare et distincte”, between body and spirit, in this case between matter as the subject of the natural sciences and spiritual consciousness as the determinant force of the behavioral sciences.
There is then a well-stocked arsenal of arguments for deepening and adequately explaining such an inherent contrast between the natural and cultural sciences as regards the code of social science connected with this and criticized above. Without in any way endeavoring to be exhaustive, but on the contrary with a preference for reduction to a few primitive but primary motives, one could classify these arguments according to their nature in two main types. The first argues “we cannot” - the second emphasizes “we may not”. This irresistibly poses the psychological question whether (and, if so, to what extent), when digging deeper down to the heart of the matter, the most weighty but also most disputable reason ought not to be briefly rendered by “we don’t want to”. However, if the answer should be in the affirmative, this would again compel us to pose a last question, penetrating and illuminating still further, regarding the “why not”, and also concerning the possible implications.