This is the Table of Contents and the Preface of the web-publication, European Proponents of Sociology Prior To World War I. Copyright © 1993 Hans L Zetterberg. 
Swedish version available as  Sociologins följeslagare, (Ratio, Stockholm 1993)

Hans L. Zetterberg

European Proponents of Sociology Prior To World War I




I       The liberal, conservative, and socialist roots of sociology, including Saint-Simon and Marx

Liberalism; Saint-Simon: sociologist and ethical socialist; Conservatism; Marx and "scientific" socialism; Contemporary Marxism; Social democracy; Sociology and socialism

 II        Rationalism and capitalism: Max Weber

Max Weber's life; The inexorability of rationalisation; The triumph of reason; Life spheres; On capitalism; On religion 

 III      Oligarchy in organisations: Robert Michels

Socialist intellectual from the bourgeoisie; Career; Theory of oligarchy 

 IV     Elites: Vilfredo Pareto

Aristocrat of the intelligentsia; Circulation of the elites;  the Latin school

 V      Social differentiation and anomie: Émile Durkheim

Two predecessors: Maine and Tönnies; Durkheim's life; The overwhelming society; Division of labour; Theory of anomie


One cannot learn sociology solely by reading the latest textbook.  Conceptions of society do not (yet) lend themselves to being summarized in one tome.  Anyone seeking to acquire knowledge of sociology must (still) read the original versions of the major sociological works.  To understand the workings of human beings' exploitation of, and power over, their fellows, one should read Marx.  For an insight into how social activities acquire purpose and legitimacy, one should read Weber.  If one wonders how confidence and solidarity are forged in a society, one should read Durkheim.  There is hardly any point in consulting the latest textbook on such matters.

     In the 1950s and '60s, I helped my undergraduate and doctoral sociology students at Columbia and Ohio State Universities to read the classic ─ especially European ─ works of sociology.  We formed a seminar to read one book a week and meet to discuss it.  It was not a question of research into the history of ideas; it was simply a matter of the students' obtaining help in surmounting their sociological illiteracy and broadening their education a trifle.

     Over the years, the list of books and works referred to in our discussions became lengthy.  Some important titles recurred every academic year; some were always new. Even when the same book was read by a new group, I did not find it tedious and usually reread the book myself.  One of the best definitions of a classic is that it provides new insights every time it is reread.

     I have had the opportunity of introducing to American and Swedish audiences some of these works when they have been printed or otherwise debated.  My Swedish text Sociologins följeslagare, (Ratio, Stockholm 1993) was based on these introductions and on notes from the seminar readings of the 1950s and '60s.  The present text consists of material in English used in preparation of the latter book and material in Swedish from the same book translated into English by Claire James. In editing I have allowed my elder self to prevail over my younger. On the whole, however, the Swedish and English texts are quite faithful to one another.  

     Now I welcome my English-speaking readers, to an encounter with some great European sociologists writing in German, French and Italian who belong to a bygone era ─ the period before the first World War.  I have picked them out because they have helped me to understand the rest of the twentieth century ─ the era of my own lifetime.

Their Diagnoses

Within the bounds of political and economic liberalism, capitalism expanded in Europe and North America.  The consequences were an explosion of new affluence, new social problems and also new notions about society.  Saint-Simon's wealth of ideas around 1800 provides an illustration.  At that time, the study of modern society was no longer monopolized by the study of government and economics.  The subject areas of sociology were opened up for exploitation.  Simultaneously, Saint-Simon gave a boost to the ideas on human rights that were part of ethical socialism, and the long drawn-out confusion between sociology and socialism commenced.

     In Karl Marx's writings, production technology was accorded a crucial role: life in material overabundance accrued to its owners.  An opening for a new version of socialism different from the ethical socialism of Saint-Simon was predicted for the general populace.

     Analysis of capitalism was pursued further by Max Weber, who taught us what it requires in terms of structure and values.  A traditional religious code was transformed into our contemporary concern with profitability.  The breadth of Weber's writings make him the foremost proponent of sociology for all those wishing to find their way along the main streets of history, visit the institutions of the great civilizations and identify what is unique about our own modernization.  Now, sociology is definitely no longer socialism.

     Robert Michels saw society as a landscape of groups.  He himself preferred to study the mass party ─ the form of organization that preceded socialism in its German and Scandinavian versions.  Here people preached democracy but, in practice, came under the sway of organizations.  A gap between theory and practice was revealed and became the subject of a detailed study that was highly relevant to social-democratic Sweden as well.

     Vilfredo Pareto systematized the gap between human rhetoric and practice.  He made the vagaries of power predictable, not wishful dreams or threats.  In his works, sociology took on the contours of a systematic science.

     Émile Durkheim, the sociologist of sociologists, added depth to the study and found hidden contexts that no human being seems to discover unaided merely by living in society.  He uncovered the potential relationships between the individual and the collective, and explained how we stick together in spite of all our differences.

     And that is the gist of it.  Even before the first world war, a handful of men possessed such a wealth of sociological wisdom that it remains uncommon to the day of this writing, nearly at the end of the 20th century.

     I myself have benefited greatly from encountering these men's ideas.  I wish future generations of sociologists all pleasure from these proponents of their subject.

Stockholm, January 1993

Hans L. Zetterberg



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