Front Page Titles (by Subject) From Political Philosophy to Sociology - Literature of Liberty, Spring 1982, vol. 5, No. 1
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From Political Philosophy to Sociology - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Spring 1982, vol. 5, No. 1 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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From Political Philosophy to Sociology
“From Political Philosophy to Social Theory.” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 17 (April 1981): 153–173.
Attempts to analyze continuities in the rise of modern social theory confront a significant irony of modern thought. The inability to understand the relevance of, say, Thomas Hobbes or Auguste Comte for contemporary theory reflects the positivist mainstream of sociology, which regards early theories as outdated ventures, devoid of scientific interest. Prof. Zaret attempts to uncover the historical and philosophical roots of modern theory. His paper discusses substantive continuities in the early development of modern theory, stressing the transition from political philosophy in early modern Europe to classical sociology in the nineteenth century.
These continuities may be found in what Zaret calls a conceptual “deep-structure” of “bourgeois” theory—a sharp distinction between public and private life and the assumption that universal structures of domination originating in the public sector are the precondition for individual freedom.
Hobbes' attempt to create a science of politics signals the beginning of modern theory. Contrary to traditional political doctrine, Hobbesian thought rigorously separates political and ethical issues. Hobbes conceived absolute sovereignty as a means, not of spreading virtue among its subjects, but of maintaining order among an anarchy of private selfish interests. Incipient political philosophy went even farther. It attributed to the state the institution of private property, the distinction of ranks, and prevailing manners. Thus, according to Diderot and Rousseau: “Les moeurs sont partout des conséquences de la législation et du gouvernement.” The exercise of individual freedom was thus based on the consensual submission of a populus liber (free people) to a universal authority. Sovereignty also preserved the essential equality of humanity (albeit with inequalities of wealth, power, and status), since all men were under the sway of the same authority.
The late eighteenth century witnessed bourgeois political philosophy dissolve under the impact of economic materialism. In physiocratic and utilitarian thought, civil society is still understood to emerge from a fortuitous exchange of right and obligation, but this exchange is given a material substratum. The division of labor and competition combine to integrate self-interest with the common good. Moreover, this reconciliation occurs spontaneously without any conscious deliberation. Wherever sovereign authority seeks to secure private property, the mutual welfare of the individual and society is assured.
Nineteenth-century classical sociology as it arose in France broke with political philosophy by explicitly rejecting political explanations of order and stability. Turning from political authority, classical sociology relied on European culture, conceived as a unitary mentalité, to discover immanent sources of order in society. Morality embedded in custom and religion constitutes society. Morality in society is indispensable because of the inner subjection to public authority it commands from adherents. Calls for moral reform in the writings of such classical sociologists as Saint Simon and Comte reflect the belief that a common morality shared by both the working classes and the leaders of society would provide the only basis for ending class conflict rooted in egoism and self-interest. Spencer and Durkheim, later exponents of this tradition, expressed a similarly depoliticized, morally based view of society.
Marxian theory, asserts Professor Zaret, cannot be conflated with classical sociology. Marx rejected the bourgeois public/private distinction as misleading, because it masked the domination of life in capitalist society by purely private, material interests following the dissolution of feudalism. Capitalist social relations appear as contractual relations. Their content seems to be free and voluntary agreement, while their form assumes equality of the contractors. However, beneath the surface appearance of equality lies a system based on the appropriation of alien labor without real exchange. This exploitative situation led to Marx's insistence that private interests are legitimate public issues and to his call for a revival of the atrophied political sense of capitalist society. Thus, in its theoretical justification of politics as a practical endeavor concerned with the ultimate purposes of social life, Marxism signals a return to the classical conception of politics' centrality—a conception abandoned during the formative period of modern social theory.