return to syllabus

Modern European Intellectual History

Week Nine Study Questions

Simmel, "Conflict as Sociation" (3 pages) 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--How does Simmel's brief essay relate to the work we discussed in week 8?  What is he suggesting as the proper focus of sociological studies and why?


Pareto, "The Circulation of Elites" at and the discussion of The Theory of Elites and 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:  Does Pareto see man as rational?  What does he consider the basis of human behavior?  Is he supportive of "democracy?"  "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

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," and is crown 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.


Weber, on "Bureaucracy" at

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

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 legitamation and charismatic leadership, social class structure continues to exercise a very powerful influence on contemporary sociological and political thought. 

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 it 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!).

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?


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

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).  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?



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 from last week? (Remember my opening comments last week about the multiple layers of "contradiction" in late 19th century society, and pay special attention to the background readings in Perry!!!!

Given the background chapters in Perry, 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 that we discussed last week (as well as Mr. N!!!!)?

 return to syllabus