Modern European Intellectual History

Week XII Study Questions

Part ONE:  From Science to Irrationalism

DocumentsI have assigned the documents slightly out of chronological order--my main concern was a thematic grouping of the readings.  But I want you to be aware of the chronology of these essays. 

Darwin's The Origin of Species was published in England in 1859.  Chronologically, the next of our readings to appear was Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy, written during the Franco-Prussian War and first published in Germany in 1871 (the preface that you are reading was added in 1886).  Huxley's "The Struggle for Existence" was published in England in 1888, and the mathematician Karl Pearson's "National Life from the Standpoint of Science" was published in England in 1900.  

Darwin, Origin of the Species, "Introduction" and any other chapter that you might find of interest, at

Huxley, "The Struggle for Existence" at


Pearson, selections from National Life From the Standpoint of Science at


Nietzsche, "An Attempt at Self-Criticism" from The Birth of Tragedy at

Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy examines ancient Greek arts as a means of discussing aesthetics and morality.  At the same time, it is very clear that he is writing about the problems he sees confronting Europe (and in particular, the newly united German Empire) in 1871.  What are his main questions about "modern" European life?

If you are interested in Nietzsche, you might want to take a look at this website-- "The Will to Power" at


1) Think about how each of these authors fit into the traditions of the Enlightenment and of Romanticism.  How would you "place" each of them in relation to these two earlier movements?

2) What common threads can you find linking the readings for this week to last week's readings by Karl Marx?

3) I gave this section of the readings the title "From Science to Irrationalism"--what do you think I had in mind by this title, and how do the readings relate to this idea?


Part Two:  Irrationalism and Social Theory

Simmel, "Conflict as Sociation" (3 pagesl) at

Simmel, born in Berlin in 1858, was a prolific German sociologist and philosopher who was one of a cohort of late 19th and early 20th century social thinkers that included, among other, Max Weber.  This essay is from a work first published in German in 1890.

Think about these questions:


Pareto, "The Circulation of Elites" at


Pareto, an Italian nobleman born in Paris in 1848 but who lived most of his adult life in Italy, is best known for his sociological study of the relations between "elites" and the "masses" in "modern" society (and for being a major intellectual influence on the Italian fascist movement).  His work on the circulation of elites was published in 1916.

Think about these questions: 


Le Bon, The Crowd:  A Study of the Popular Mind (read the Front Matter, in particular, the Introduction "The Era of Crowds") at

French sociologist and psychologist Gustave Le Bon (1841-1931) wrote this book in 1895.  It was translated into English two years later and, with many of Le Bon's other works, has remained in print for over a hundred years (suggesting that there are still a lot of people out there reading him!)


Max Weber:

German sociologist Max Weber (18641920) is often considered (together with Durkheim and Marx--the later of whose positions Weber argued directly against) one of the founders of modern sociology.  Weber's work considered a wide range of social and historical phenomenon, but his most important research  focused on the cultural and political factors that shape economic development and individual behavior.  The emphasis of his historical writing was both the "plurality" of historical causation--in opposition to the supposed reductionism of Marxist thought--and the subjectivity of historical significance.  Weber's analysis of capitalist society also stood in opposition to that of Marx.  Weber argued that advanced capitalism was characterized by extensive division of labor and a hierarchical administration (thus his focus on bureaucracy).  He argued that advanced capitalism created a new middle-class, defined by its relative "status," "life-style," and access to power, which gained its position through developing "human capital."  Although some of Weber's most famous arguments--for instance, on the relationship between Protestant culture and capitalism--have been completely undermined by subsequent historical research, his work on nature of modern bureaucracy, political legitimacy and charismatic leadership, social class structure continues to exercise a very powerful influence on contemporary sociological and political thought. 

Weber, on Max Weber on Bureaucracy  from

Weber, from The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism at

As you read the selection "The Spirit of Capitalism" from The Protestant Ethic..., think about this: 


Emile Durkheim.

The French sociologist Emile Durkheim (1858-1917), is generally considered one of the most important social theorists of the 19th century (most often grouped alongside Marx and Weber).

Read on "Anomie," "Suicide," and "Crime" in the on-line Durkheim Archive at , , and

As you read these three essays on Durkheim's thought (which include quotations from some of his major works), think about this: 



I want you to think about the following issues:

How do this week's readings relate to arguments that we encountered previously, and in particular, how do you connect them to the readings in Part ONE (above)?

How can we "fix" these "thinkers" into the historical context of the late 19th century and the years leading up to World War One?

It has probably struck you that some of these authors (in particular, le Bon and Pareto)--like some of those last week--might be seen as "proto-fascists"---How can we tie together the ideas of people like Durkheim and Weber with those of Le Bon, Pareto, or the various social darwinists and race theorists (as well as Nietzsche)?