Modern European Intellectual History
Week XII Study Questions
Part ONE: From Science to Irrationalism
Documents: I 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 http://www.literature.org/authors/darwin-charles/the-origin-of-species/.
What major questions was Darwin posing in this study--what was he trying to figure out?
What is his main point about the following issues: hereditary "modifications"; the "struggle for survival"; and "natural selection"?
What did he consider the most difficult aspects of his theory?
Did he consider his own research to be complete, and did he think that he had answered all questions regarding evolution?
What is the main thesis of this abstract, and why was that of such great historical importance?
Huxley, "The Struggle for Existence" at http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1888thhuxley-struggle.html.
How does Huxley distinguish between "savage" and "citizen"?
How does he descried life for the "savages," how does he define "society," and how does he define the "ethical man"?
Does he think that ethics and civilization have ended the "struggle for existence"? How does he explain war and poverty?
What does he see as necessary for England's "salvation"? What was the main threat to English trade and to social stability?
What is his view of the European working class? How and why does he propose an end to the "miserable" poor?
In what sense are Huxley's views "social Darwinistic"?
Pearson, selections from National Life From the Standpoint of Science at http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1900pearsonl.html.
In what sense are Pearson's views "social Darwinistic"?
How does he explain the world dominance of the "white man"? Why does he consider it important for the "white races" to understand "the struggle of race against race and nation against nation"?
In what sense does Pearson's argument represent the idea of "eugenics" (an idea taken very seriously at the turn of the century and in the early 1900s)?
What is his "scientific view of a nation"? Does he see war as an evil? Is he likely to win any awards for his support of cultural diversity? Explain.
Some historians see in Pearson (and in some of our other authors for this week) elements of "proto-fascism"--what would be the basis of such an argument?
Nietzsche, "An Attempt at Self-Criticism" from The Birth of Tragedy at http://www.mala.bc.ca/~johnstoi/Nietzsche/tragedy_all.htm
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?
Why, in 1870-71, was Nietzsche so concerned with what he describes as "the Dionysian," and what does this tell us about a very important "stream" that was beginning to flow in European intellectual life?
How might his questions about the Greek desire for beauty, their madness, their dissolution, their rationality, etc., reflect a view (his view) of life in late 19th century Europe?
What are his conclusions regarding "morality," Christianity, and the future of "European morality"?
Nietzsche is famous for the enigmatic nature of his writings--What seems to be his main point in this "introduction"?
If you are interested in Nietzsche, you might want to take a look at this website-- "The Will to Power" at http://www.inquiria.com/nz/.
BIG QUESTIONS on PART ONE:
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 http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/etcbin/toccer-new2?id=SimSoci.xml&images=images/modeng&data=/texts/english/modeng/parsed&tag=public&part=1&division=div1
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 http://media.pfeiffer.edu/lridener/courses/CIRCELIT.HTML
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:
Does Pareto see man as rational?
What does he consider the basis of human behavior?
Is he supportive of "democracy" or of the concept of social equality?
What does he see as the function of "elites" in relation to the "masses"?
Le Bon, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind (read the Front Matter, in particular, the Introduction "The Era of Crowds") at http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/BonCrow.html
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!)
According to Le Bon:
What happens to individualism in crowd situations?
What is the "collective mind"?
Is crowd behavior rational or conscious?
What sort of religious analogies does he use to describe the psychology of the crowd, and what does this infer for mass politics?
German sociologist Max Weber (1864–1920) 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 http://www.faculty.rsu.edu/~felwell/Theorists/Weber/Whome.htm
As you read Weber's essay on the "Characteristics of Bureaucracy" (first published after WWI, but representative of his earlier thought as well), think about this:
How does he define (or categorize) the functions and purpose of modern bureaucracy?
How and why is modern bureaucracy historically distinct?
Why is it necessary, and how does it "work"?
Is he only concerned with government bureaucracy, or is he discussing business bureaucracy as well (explain!).
Weber, from The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism at http://xroads.virginia.edu/~HYPER/WEBER/WeberCH2.html
As you read the selection "The Spirit of Capitalism" from The Protestant Ethic..., think about this:
what does Weber mean by the "spirit" of capitalism, and what is his main argument about this "spirit"?
How does Weber's argument compare to that of Marx?
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 http://durkheim.itgo.com/anomie.html , http://durkheim.itgo.com/suicide.html , and http://durkheim.itgo.com/crime.html.
As you read these three essays on Durkheim's thought (which include quotations from some of his major works), think about this:
Many of the authors whose works we have read these past two weeks argued that Western society had become decadent and was in danger of decay and breakdown... How do Durkheim's arguments relate to this fear of social decay?
BIG QUESTIONS for Part Two:
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)?