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Theory and History: An Interpretation of Social and Economic Evolution, ed. Bettina Bien Greaves (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005).
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Epistemological Problems of History
The Concept of Historical Individuality
The Ultimate Given of History
The human search for knowledge cannot go on endlessly. Inevitably, sooner or later, it will reach a point beyond which it cannot proceed. It will then be faced with an ultimate given, a datum that man’s reason cannot trace back to other data. In the course of the evolution of knowledge, science has succeeded in tracing back to other data some things and events which previously had been viewed as ultimate. We may expect that this will also occur in the future. But there will always remain something that is for the human mind an ultimate given, unanalyzable and irreducible. Human reason cannot even conceive a kind of knowledge that would not encounter such an insurmountable obstacle. There is for man no such thing as omniscience.
In dealing with such ultimate data, history refers to individuality. The characteristics of individual men, their ideas and judgments of value as well as the actions guided by those ideas and judgments, cannot be traced back to something of which they would be the derivatives. There is no answer to the question why Frederick II invaded Silesia except: because he was Frederick II. It is customary, although not very expedient, to call the mental process by means of which a datum is traced back to other data rational. Then an ultimate datum is called irrational. No historical research can be thought of that would not ultimately meet such irrational facts.
Philosophies of history claim to avoid referring to individuality and irrationality. They pretend to provide a thorough-going interpretation of all historical events. What they really do is relegate the ultimate given to two points of their scheme, to its supposed beginning and its supposed end. They assume that there is at the start of history an unanalyzable and irreducible agency, for example Geist [spirit] in the system of Hegel or the material productive forces in that of Marx. And they further assume that this prime mover of history aims at a definite end, also unanalyzable and irreducible, for instance the Prussian state of about 1825 or socialism. Whatever one may think about the various systems of philosophy of history, it is obvious that they do not eliminate reference to individuality and irrationality. They merely shift it to another point of their interpretation.
Materialism wants to throw history overboard entirely. All ideas and actions should be explained as the necessary outcome of definite physiological processes. But this would not make it possible to reject any reference to irrationality. Like history, the natural sciences are ultimately faced with some data defying any further reduction to other data, that is, with something ultimately given.
The Role of the Individual in History
In the context of a philosophy of history there is no room left for any reference to individuality other than that of the prime mover and his plan determining the way events must go. All individual men are merely tools in the hand of ineluctable destiny. Whatever they may do, the outcome of their actions must necessarily fit into the preordained plan of Providence.
What would have happened if Lieutenant Napoleon Bonaparte had been killed in action at Toulon? Friedrich Engels knew the answer: “Another would have filled the place.” For “the man has always been found as soon as he became necessary.”1 Necessary for whom and for what purpose? Obviously for the material productive forces to bring about, at a later date, socialism. It seems that the material productive forces always have a substitute at hand, just as a cautious opera manager has an understudy ready to sing the tenor’s part in case the star should catch a cold. If Shakespeare had died in infancy, another man would have written Hamlet and the Sonnets. But, some people ask, how did this surrogate while away his time since Shakespeare’s good health relieved him from this chore?
The issue has been purposely obfuscated by the champions of historical necessity, who confused it with other problems.
Looking backward upon the past, the historian must say that, all conditions having been as they were, everything that happened was inevitable. At any instant the state of affairs was the necessary consequence of the immediately preceding state. But among the elements determining any given state of historical affairs there are factors that cannot be traced back further than to the point at which the historian is faced with the ideas and actions of individuals.
When the historian says that the French Revolution of 1789 would not have happened if some things had been different, he is merely trying to establish the forces that brought about the event and the influence of each of these forces. Taine did not indulge in idle speculations as to what would have happened if the doctrines that he called l’esprit revolutionnaire and l’esprit classique had not been developed. He wanted to assign to each of them its relevance in the chain of events that resulted in the outbreak and the course of the Revolution.2
A second confusion concerns the limits drawn upon the influence of great men. Simplified accounts of history, adapted to the capacity of people slow of comprehension, have presented history as a product of the feats of great men. The older Hohenzollern made Prussia, Bismarck made the Second Reich, William II ruined it, Hitler made and ruined the Third Reich. No serious historian ever shared in such nonsense. It has never been contested that the part played even by the greatest figures of history was much more moderate. Every man, whether great or small, lives and acts within the frame of his age’s historical circumstances. These circumstances are determined by all the ideas and events of the preceding ages as well as by those of his own age. The Titan may outweigh each of his contemporaries; he is no match for the united forces of the dwarfs. A statesman can succeed only insofar as his plans are adjusted to the climate of opinion of his time, that is to the ideas that have got hold of his fellows’ minds. He can become a leader only if he is prepared to guide people along the paths they want to walk and toward the goal they want to attain. A statesman who antagonizes public opinion is doomed to failure. No matter whether he is an autocrat or an officer of a democracy, the politician must give the people what they wish to get, very much as a businessman must supply the customers with the things they wish to acquire.
It is different with the pioneers of new ways of thinking and new modes of art and literature. The pathbreaker who disdains the applause he may get from the crowd of his contemporaries does not depend on his own age’s ideas. He is free to say with Schiller’s Marquis Posa: “This century is not ripe for my ideas; I live as a citizen of centuries to come.” The genius’ work too is embedded in the sequence of historical events, is conditioned by the achievements of preceding generations, and is merely a chapter in the evolution of ideas. But it adds something new and unheard of to the treasure of thoughts and may in this sense be called creative. The genuine history of mankind is the history of ideas. It is ideas that distinguish man from all other beings. Ideas engender social institutions, political changes, technological methods of production, and all that is called economic conditions. And in searching for their origin we inevitably come to a point at which all that can be asserted is that a man had an idea. Whether the name of this man is known or not is of secondary importance.
This is the meaning that history attaches to the notion of individuality. Ideas are the ultimate given of historical inquiry. All that can be said about ideas is that they came to pass. The historian may point out how a new idea fitted into the ideas developed by earlier generations and how it may be considered a continuation of these ideas and their logical sequel. New ideas do not originate in an ideological vacuum. They are called forth by the previously existing ideological structure; they are the response offered by a man’s mind to the ideas developed by his predecessors. But it is an arbitrary surmise to assume that they were bound to come and that if A had not generated them a certain B or C would have performed the job.
In this sense what the limitations of our knowledge induce us to call chance plays a part in history. If Aristotle had died in childhood, intellectual history would have been affected. If Bismarck had died in 1860, world affairs would have taken a different course. To what extent and with what consequences nobody can know.
The Chimera of the Group Mind
In their eagerness to eliminate from history any reference to individuals and individual events, collectivist authors resorted to a chimerical construction, the group mind or social mind.
At the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries German philologists began to study German medieval poetry, which had long since fallen into oblivion. Most of the epics they edited from old manuscripts were imitations of French works. The names of their authors—most of them knightly warriors in the service of dukes or counts—were known. These epics were not much to boast of. But there were two epics of a quite different character, genuinely original works of high literary value, far surpassing the conventional products of the courtiers: the Nibelungenlied and the Gudrun. The former is one of the great books of world literature and undoubtedly the outstanding poem Germany produced before the days of Goethe and Schiller. The names of the authors of these masterpieces were not handed down to posterity. Perhaps the poets belonged to the class of professional entertainers (Spielleute), who not only were snubbed by the nobility but had to endure mortifying legal disabilities. Perhaps they were heretical or Jewish, and the clergy was eager to make people forget them. At any rate the philologists called these two works “people’s epics” (Volksepen). This term suggested to naïve minds the idea that they were written not by individual authors but by the “people.” The same mythical authorship was attributed to popular songs (Volkslieder) whose authors were unknown.
Again in Germany, in the years following the Napoleonic wars, the problem of comprehensive legislative codification was brought up for discussion. In this controversy the historical school of jurisprudence, led by Savigny, denied the competence of any age and any persons to write legislation. Like the Volksepen and the Volkslieder, a nation’s laws, they declared, are a spontaneous emanation of the Volksgeist, the nation’s spirit and peculiar character. Genuine laws are not arbitrarily written by legislators; they spring up and thrive organically from the Volksgeist.
This Volksgeist doctrine was devised in Germany as a conscious reaction against the ideas of natural law and the “un-German” spirit of the French Revolution. But it was further developed and elevated to the dignity of a comprehensive social doctrine by the French positivists, many of whom not only were committed to the principles of the most radical among the revolutionary leaders but aimed at completing the “unfinished revolution” by a violent overthrow of the capitalistic mode of production. Émile Durkheim and his school deal with the group mind as if it were a real phenomenon, a distinct agency, thinking and acting. As they see it, not individuals but the group is the subject of history.
As a corrective of these fancies the truism must be stressed that only individuals think and act. In dealing with the thoughts and actions of individuals the historian establishes the fact that some individuals influence one another in their thinking and acting more strongly than they influence and are influenced by other individuals. He observes that cooperation and division of labor exist among some, while existing to a lesser extent or not at all among others. He employs the term “group” to signify an aggregation of individuals who cooperate together more closely. However, the distinction of groups is optional. The group is not an ontological entity like the biological species. The various group concepts intersect one another. The historian chooses, according to the special plan of his studies, the features and attributes that determine the classification of individuals into various groups. The grouping may integrate people speaking the same language or professing the same religion or practicing the same vocation or occupation or descended from the same ancestry. The group concept of Gobineau was different from that of Marx. In short, the group concept is an ideal type and as such is derived from the historian’s understanding of the historical forces and events.
Only individuals think and act. Each individual’s thinking and acting are influenced by his fellows’ thinking and acting. These influences are variegated. The individual American’s thoughts and conduct cannot be interpreted if one assigns him to a single group. He is not only an American but a member of a definite religious group or an agnostic or an atheist; he has a job, he belongs to a political party, he is affected by traditions inherited from his ancestors and conveyed to him by his upbringing, by the family, the school, the neighborhood, by the ideas prevailing in his town, state, and country. It is an enormous simplification to speak of the American mind. Every American has his own mind. It is absurd to ascribe any achievements and virtues or any misdeeds and vices of individual Americans to America as such.
Most people are common men. They do not have thoughts of their own; they are only receptive. They do not create new ideas; they repeat what they have heard and imitate what they have seen. If the world were peopled only by such as these, there would not be any change and any history. What produces change is new ideas and actions guided by them. What distinguishes one group from another is the effect of such innovations. These innovations are not accomplished by a group mind; they are always the achievements of individuals. What makes the American people different from any other people is the joint effect produced by the thoughts and actions of innumerable uncommon Americans.
We know the names of the men who invented and step by step perfected the motorcar. A historian can write a detailed history of the evolution of the automobile. We do not know the names of the men who, in the beginnings of civilization, made the greatest inventions—for example lighting a fire. But this ignorance does not permit us to ascribe this fundamental invention to a group mind. It is always an individual who starts a new method of doing things, and then other people imitate his example. Customs and fashions have always been inaugurated by individuals and spread through imitation by other people.
While the group-mind school tried to eliminate the individual by ascribing activity to the mythical Volksgeist, the Marxians were intent on the one hand upon depreciating the individual’s contribution and on the other hand upon crediting innovations to common men. Thus Marx observed that a critical history of technology would demonstrate that none of the eighteenth century’s inventions was the achievement of a single individual.1 What does this prove? Nobody denies that technological progress is a gradual process, a chain of successive steps performed by long lines of men each of whom adds something to the accomplishments of his predecessors. The history of every technological contrivance, when completely told, leads back to the most primitive inventions made by cave dwellers in the earliest ages of mankind. To choose any later starting point is an arbitrary restriction of the whole tale. One may begin a history of wireless telegraphy with Maxwell and Hertz, but one may as well go back to the first experiments with electricity or to any previous technological feats that had necessarily to precede the construction of a radio network. All this does not in the least affect the truth that each step forward was made by an individual and not by some mythical impersonal agency. It does not detract from the contributions of Maxwell, Hertz, and Marconi to admit that they could be made only because others had previously made other contributions.
To illustrate the difference between the innovator and the dull crowd of routinists who cannot even imagine that any improvement is possible, we need only refer to a passage in Engels’ most famous book.2 Here, in 1878, Engels apodictically announced that military weapons are “now so perfected that no further progress of any revolutionizing influence is any longer possible.” Henceforth “all further [technological] progress is by and large indifferent for land warfare. The age of evolution is in this regard essentially closed.”3 This complacent conclusion shows in what the achievement of the innovator consists: he accomplishes what other people believe to be unthinkable and unfeasible.
Engels, who considered himself an expert in the art of warfare, liked to exemplify his doctrines by referring to strategy and tactics. Changes in military tactics, he declared, are not brought about by ingenious army leaders. They are achievements of privates who are usually cleverer than their officers. The privates invent them by dint of their instincts (instinktmässig) and put them into operation in spite of the reluctance of their commanders.4
Every doctrine denying to the “single paltry individual”5 any role in history must finally ascribe changes and improvements to the operation of instincts. As those upholding such doctrines see it, man is an animal that has the instinct to produce poems, cathedrals, and airplanes. Civilization is the result of an unconscious and unpremeditated reaction of man to external stimuli. Each achievement is the automatic creation of an instinct with which man has been endowed especially for this purpose. There are as many instincts as there are human achievements. It is needless to enter into a critical examination of this fable invented by impotent people for slighting the achievements of better men and appealing to the resentment of the dull. Even on the basis of this makeshift doctrine, one cannot negate the distinction between the man who had the instinct to write the book On the Origin of Species and those who lacked this instinct.
Individuals act in order to bring about definite results. Whether they succeed or not depends on the suitability of the means applied and the response their actions encounter on the part of fellow individuals. Very often the outcome of an action differs considerably from what the actor was eager to achieve. The margin within which a man, however great, can act successfully is narrow. No man can through his actions direct the course of affairs for more than a comparatively short period of the future, still less for all time to come.
Yet every action adds something to history, affects the course of future events, and is in this sense a historical fact. The most trivial performance of daily routine by dull people is no less a historical datum than is the most startling innovation of the genius. The aggregate of the unvarying repetition of traditional modes of acting determines, as habits, customs and mores, the course of events. The common man’s historical role consists in contributing a particle to the structure of the tremendous power of consuetude.
History is made by men. The conscious intentional actions of individuals, great and small, determine the course of events insofar as it is the result of the interaction of all men. But the historical process is not designed by individuals. It is the composite outcome of the intentional actions of all individuals. No man can plan history. All he can plan and try to put into effect is his own actions which, jointly with the actions of other men, constitute the historical process. The Pilgrim Fathers did not plan to found the United States.
Of course, there have always been men who planned for eternity. For the most part the failure of their designs appeared very soon. Sometimes their constructions lasted quite a while, but their effect was not what the builders had planned. The monumental tombs of the Egyptian kings still exist, but it was not the intention of their builders to make modern Egypt attractive for tourists and to supply present-day museums with mummies. Nothing demonstrates more emphatically the temporal limitations on human planning than the venerable ruins scattered about the surface of the earth.
Ideas live longer than walls and other material artifacts. We still enjoy the masterpieces of the poetry and philosophy of ancient India and Greece. But they do not mean for us what they meant to their authors. We may wonder whether Plato and Aristotle would have approved of the use later ages have made of their thoughts.
Planning for eternity, to substitute an everlasting state of stability, rigidity, and changelessness for historical evolution, is the theme of a special class of literature. The utopian author wants to arrange future conditions according to his own ideas and to deprive the rest of mankind once and for all of the faculty to choose and to act. One plan alone, viz., the author’s plan, should be executed and all other people be silenced. The author, and after his death his successor, will henceforth alone determine the course of events. There will no longer be any history, as history is the composite effect of the interaction of all men. The superhuman dictator will rule the universe and reduce all other people to pawns in his plans. He will deal with them as the engineer deals with the raw materials out of which he builds, a method pertinently called social engineering.
Such projects are very popular nowadays. They enrapture the intellectuals. A few skeptics observe that their execution is contrary to human nature. But their supporters are confident that by suppressing all dissenters they can alter human nature. Then people will be as happy as the ants are supposed to be in their hills.
The essential question is: Will all men be prepared to yield to the dictator? Will nobody have the ambition to contest his supremacy? Will nobody develop ideas at variance with those underlying the dictator’s plan? Will all men, after thousands of years of “anarchy” in thinking and acting, tacitly submit to the tyranny of one or a few despots?
It is possible that in a few years all nations will have adopted the system of all-round planning and totalitarian regimentation. The number of opponents is very small, and their direct political influence almost nil. But even a victory of planning will not mean the end of history. Atrocious wars among the candidates for the supreme office will break out. Totalitarianism may wipe out civilization, even the whole of the human race. Then, of course, history will have come to its end too.
The Meaning of Historicism
Historicism developed from the end of the eighteenth century on as a reaction against the social philosophy of rationalism. To the reforms and policies advocated by various authors of the Enlightenment it opposed a program of preservation of existing institutions and, sometimes, even of a return to extinct institutions. Against the postulates of reason it appealed to the authority of tradition and the wisdom of ages gone by. The main target of its critique was the ideas that had inspired the American and the French Revolutions and kindred movements in other countries. Its champions proudly called themselves antirevolutionary and emphasized their rigid conservatism. But in later years the political orientation of historicism changed. It began to regard capitalism and free trade—both domestic and international—as the foremost evil, and joined hands with the “radical” or “leftist” foes of the market economy, aggressive nationalism on the one hand and revolutionary socialism on the other. As far as historicism still has actual political importance, it is ancillary to socialism and to nationalism. Its conservatism has almost withered away. It survives only in the doctrines of some religious groups.
People have again and again stressed the congeniality of historicism and artistic and literary romanticism. The analogy is rather superficial. Both movements had in common a taste for the conditions of ages gone by and an extravagant overestimation of old customs and institutions. But this enthusiasm for the past is not the essential feature of historicism. Historicism is first of all an epistemological doctrine and must be viewed as such.
The fundamental thesis of historicism is the proposition that, apart from the natural sciences, mathematics, and logic, there is no knowledge but that provided by history. There is no regularity in the concatenation and sequence of phenomena and events in the sphere of human action. Consequently the attempts to develop a science of economics and to discover economic laws are vain. The only sensible method of dealing with human action, exploits, and institutions is the historical method. The historian traces every phenomenon back to its origins. He depicts the changes going on in human affairs. He approaches his material, the records of the past, without any prepossessions and preconceived ideas. The historian utilizes sometimes, in preliminary merely technical and ancillary examination of these sources, the results of the natural sciences, as for instance in determining the age of the material on which a document of disputed authenticity is written. But in his proper field, the exposition of past events, he does not rely upon any other branch of knowledge. The standards and general rules to which he resorts in dealing with the historical material are to be abstracted from this very material. They must not be borrowed from any other source.
The extravagance of these claims was later reduced to a more modest measure when Dilthey stressed the role psychology plays in the work of the historian.1 The champions of historicism accepted this restriction and did not insist on their extreme description of the historical method. They were merely interested in the condemnation of economics and had no quarrel with psychology.
If the historicists had been consistent, they would have substituted economic history for the—in their opinion counterfeit—science of economics. (We may pass over the question how economic history could be treated without economic theory.) But this would not have served their political plans. What they wanted was to propagandize for their interventionist or socialist programs. The wholesale rejection of economics was only one item in their strategy. It relieved them from the embarrassment created by their inability to explode the economists’ devastating critique of socialism and interventionism. But it did not in itself demonstrate the soundness of a prosocialist or interventionist policy. In order to justify their “unorthodox” leanings, the historicists developed a rather self-contradictory discipline to which various names were given such as realistic or institutional or ethical economics, or the economic aspects of political science (wirtschaftliche Staatswissenschaften).2
Most champions of these schools of thought did not bother about an epistemological explanation of their procedures. Only a few tried to justify their method. We may call their doctrine periodalism and their supporters periodalists.
The main idea underlying all these attempts to construct a quasi-economic doctrine that could be employed to justify policies fighting the market economy was borrowed from positivism. As historicists, the periodalists talked indefatigably about something they called the historical method, and claimed to be historians. But they adopted the essential tenets of positivism, which rejected history as useless and meaningless chatter, and wanted to inaugurate in its place a new science to be modeled after the pattern of Newtonian mechanics. The periodalists accepted the thesis that it is possible to derive from historical experience a posteriori laws which, once they are discovered, will form a new—not yet existing—science of social physics or sociology or institutional economics.
Only in one regard did the periodalists’ version of this thesis differ from that of the positivists. The positivists had laws in mind that would be valid universally. The periodalists believed that every period of history has its own economic laws different from those of other periods of economic history.
The periodalists distinguish various periods in the course of historical events. Obviously the criterion according to which this distinction is made is the characteristics of the economic laws determining economic becoming in each period. Thus the periodalists’ argument moves in a circle. The periodization of economic history presupposes knowledge of the economic laws peculiar to each period, while these laws can only be discovered by examining each period without any reference to the events that happened in other periods.
The periodalists’ image of the course of history is this: There are various periods or stages of economic evolution succeeding one another according to a definite order; throughout each of these periods the economic laws remain unchanged. Nothing is said about the transition from one period to the next one. If we assume that it is not brought about at one blow, we must assume that between two periods there is an interval of transition, a transition period as it were. What happens in this interval? What kind of economic laws are operative in it? Is it a time of lawlessness or has it its own laws? Besides, if one assumes that the laws of economic becoming are historical facts and therefore changing in the flux of historical events, it is manifestly contradictory to assert that there are periods in which there is no change, i.e., periods in which there is no history, and that between two such periods of rest there is a period of transition.
The same fallacy is also implied in the concept of a “present” age as resorted to by contemporary pseudo economics. Studies dealing with the economic history of the recent past are mislabeled as dealing with “present” economic conditions. If we refer to a definite length of time as the “present,” we mean that in regard to a special issue conditions remain unchanged throughout this period. The concept of the “present” is therefore different for various fields of action.3 Besides, it is never certain how long this absence of change will last and consequently how much of the future has to be included. What a man can say about the future is always merely speculative anticipation. Dealing with some conditions of the recent past under the heading “present conditions” is a misnomer. The most that can be said is: Such were the conditions yesterday; we expect they will remain unchanged for some time to come.
Economics deals with a regularity in the concatenation and sequence of phenomena that is valid in the whole field of human action. It can therefore contribute to the elucidation of future events; it can predict within the limits drawn to praxeological prediction.4 If one rejects the idea of an economic law necessarily valid for all ages, one no longer has the possibility of discovering any regularity that remains unchanged in the flux of events. Then one can say no more than: If conditions remain unchanged for some time, they will remain unchanged. But whether or not they really remain unchanged can only be known afterward.
The honest historicist would have to say: Nothing can be asserted about the future. Nobody can know how a definite policy will work in the future. All we believe to know is how similar policies worked in the past. Provided all relevant conditions remain unchanged, we may expect that the future effects will not widely differ from those of the past. But we do not know whether or not these relevant conditions will remain unchanged. Hence we cannot make any prognostication about the—necessarily future—effects of any measure considered. We are dealing with the history of the past, not with the history of the future.
A dogma supported by many historicists asserts that tendencies of social and economic evolution as manifested in the past, and especially in the recent past, will prevail in the future too. Study of the past, they conclude, discloses therefore the shape of things to come.
Leaving aside all the metaphysical ideas with which this trend-philosophy has been loaded, we have only to realize that trends can change, have changed in the past, and will change in the future too.5 The historicist does not know when the next change will occur. What he can announce about trends refers only to the past, never to the future.
Some of the German historicists liked to compare their periodization of economic history with the periodization of the history of art. As the history of art deals with the succession of various styles of artistic activities, economic history deals with the succession of various styles of economic activities (Wirtschaftsstile). This metaphor is neither better nor worse than other metaphors. But what the historicists who resorted to it failed to say was that the historians of art talk only about the styles of the past and do not develop doctrines about the art styles of the future. However, the historicists are writing and lecturing about the economic conditions of the past only in order to derive from them conclusions about economic policies that necessarily are directed toward the economic conditions of the future.
The Rejection of Economics
As historicism sees it, the essential error of economics consists in its assumption that man is invariably egoistic and aims exclusively at material well-being.
According to Gunnar Myrdal economics asserts that human actions are “solely motivated by economic interests” and considers as economic interests “the desire for higher incomes and lower prices and, in addition, perhaps stability of earnings and employment, reasonable time for leisure and an environment conducive to its satisfactory use, good working conditions, etc.” This, he says, is an error. One does not completely account for human motivations by simply registering economic interests. What really determines human conduct is not interests alone but attitudes. “Attitude means the emotive disposition of an individual or a group to respond in certain ways to actual or potential situations.” There are “fortunately many people whose attitudes are not identical with their interests.”1
Now, the assertion that economics ever maintained that men are solely motivated by the striving after higher incomes and lower prices is false. Because of their failure to disentangle the apparent paradox of the use-value concept, the Classical economists and their epigones were prevented from providing a satisfactory interpretation of the conduct of the consumers. They virtually dealt only with the conduct of the businessmen who serve the consumers and for whom the valuations of their customers are the ultimate standard. When they referred to the principle of buying on the cheapest market and selling on the dearest market, they were trying to interpret the actions of the businessman in his capacity as a purveyor of the buyers, not in his capacity as a consumer and spender of his own income. They did not enter into an analysis of the motives prompting the individual consumers to buy and to consume. So they did not investigate whether individuals try only to fill their bellies or whether they also spend for other purposes, e.g., to perform what they consider to be their ethical and religious duties. When they distinguished between purely economic motives and other motives, the Classical economists referred only to the acquisitive side of human behavior. They never thought of denying that men are also driven by other motives.
The approach of Classical economics appears highly unsatisfactory from the point of view of modern subjective economics. Modern economics rejects as entirely fallacious also the argument advanced for the epistemological justification of the Classical methods by their last followers, especially John Stuart Mill. According to this lame apology, pure economics deals only with the “economic” aspect of the operations of mankind, only with the phenomena of the production of wealth “as far as those phenomena are not modified by the pursuit of any other object.” But, says Mill, in order to deal adequately with reality “the didactic writer on the subject will naturally combine in his exposition, with the truth of pure science, as many of the practical modifications as will, in his estimation, be most conducive to the usefulness of his work.”2 This certainly explodes Mr. Myrdal’s assertion, so far as Classical economics is concerned.
Modern economics traces all human actions back to the value judgments of individuals. It never was so foolish, as Myrdal charges, as to believe that all that people are after is higher incomes and lower prices. Against this unjustified criticism which has been repeated a hundred times, Böhm-Bawerk already in his first contribution to the theory of value, and then later again and again, explicitly emphasized that the term “well-being” (Wohlfahrtszwecke) as he uses it in the exposition of the theory of value does not refer only to concerns commonly called egoistic but comprehends everything that appears to an individual as desirable and worthy of being aimed at (erstrebenswert).3
In acting man prefers some things to other things, and chooses between various modes of conduct. The result of the mental process that makes a man prefer one thing to another thing is called a judgment of value. In speaking of value and valuations economics refers to such judgments of value, whatever their content may be. It is irrelevant for economics, up to now the best developed part of praxeology, whether an individual aims like a member of a labor union at higher wages or like a saint at the best performance of religious duties. The “institutional” fact that most people are eager to get more tangible goods is a datum of economic history, not a theorem of economics.
All brands of historicism—the German and the British historical schools of the social sciences, American institutionalism, the adepts of Sismondi, Le Play, and Veblen, and many kindred “unorthodox” sects—emphatically reject economics. But their writings are full of inferences drawn from general propositions about the effects of various modes of acting. It is, of course, impossible to deal with any “institutional” or historical problem without referring to such general propositions. Every historical report, no matter whether its theme is the conditions and events of a remote past or those of yesterday, is inevitably based on a definite kind of economic theory. The historicists do not eliminate economic reasoning from their treatises. While rejecting an economic doctrine they do not like, they resort in dealing with events to fallacious doctrines long since refuted by the economists.
The theorems of economics, say the historicists, are void because they are the product of a priori reasoning. Only historical experience can lead to realistic economics. They fail to see that historical experience is always the experience of complex phenomena, of the joint effects brought about by the operation of a multiplicity of elements. Such historical experience does not give the observer facts in the sense in which the natural sciences apply this term to the results obtained in laboratory experiments. (People who call their offices, studies, and libraries “laboratories” for research in economics, statistics, or the social sciences are hopelessly muddle-headed.) Historical facts need to be interpreted on the ground of previously available theorems. They do not comment upon themselves.
The antagonism between economics and historicism does not concern the historical facts. It concerns the interpretation of the facts. In investigating and narrating facts a scholar may provide a valuable contribution to history, but he does not contribute to the increase and perfection of economic knowledge.
Let us once more refer to the often repeated proposition that what the economists call economic laws are merely principles governing conditions under capitalism and of no avail for a differently organized society, especially not for the coming socialist management of affairs. As these critics see it, it is only the capitalists with their acquisitiveness who bother about costs and about profit. Once production for use has been substituted for production for profit, the categories of cost and profit will become meaningless. The primary error of economics consists in considering these and other categories as eternal principles determining action under any kind of institutional conditions.
However, cost is an element in any kind of human action, whatever the particular features of the individual case may be. Cost is the value of those things the actor renounces in order to attain what he wants to attain; it is the value he attaches to the most urgently desired satisfaction among those satisfactions which he cannot have because he preferred another to it. It is the price paid for a thing. If a young man says: “This examination cost me a week end with friends in the country,” he means: “If I had not chosen to prepare for my examination, I would have spent this week end with friends in the country.” Things it costs no sacrifice to attain are not economic goods but free goods and as such no objects of any action. Economics does not deal with them. Man does not have to choose between them and other satisfactions.
Profit is the difference between the higher value of the good obtained and the lower value of the good sacrificed for its obtainment. If the action, due to bungling, error, an unanticipated change in conditions, or to other circumstances, results in obtaining something to which the actor attaches a lower value than to the price paid, the action generates a loss. Since action invariably aims to substitute a state of affairs which the actor considers as more satisfactory for a state which he considers less satisfactory, action always aims at profit and never at loss. This is valid not only for the actions of individuals in a market economy but no less for the actions of the economic director of a socialist society.
The Quest for Laws of Historical Change
A widespread error confuses historicism and history. Yet the two have nothing in common. History is the presentation of the course of past events and conditions, a statement of facts and of their effects. Historicism is an epistemological doctrine.
Some schools of historicism have declared that history is the only way to deal with human action and have denied the adequacy, possibility, and meaningfulness of a general theoretical science of human action. Other schools have condemned history as unscientific and, paradoxically enough, have developed a sympathetic attitude toward the negative part of the doctrines of the positivists, who asked for a new science which, modeled on the pattern of Newtonian physics, should derive from historical experience laws of historical evolution and of “dynamic” change.
The natural sciences have developed, on the basis of Carnot’s second law of thermodynamics, a doctrine about the course of the history of the universe. Free energy capable of work depends on thermodynamic instability. The process producing such energy is irreversible. Once all free energy produced by unstable systems is exhausted, life and civilization will cease. In the light of this cognition the universe as we know it appears as an evanescent episode in the flux of eternity. It moves toward its own extinction.
But the law from which this inference is drawn, Carnot’s second law, is in itself not a historical or dynamic law. Like all other laws of the natural sciences, it is derived from the observation of phenomena and verified by experiments. We call it a law because it describes a process that repeats itself whenever the conditions for its operation are present. The process is irreversible, and from this fact scientists infer that the conditions for its operation will no longer be given once all thermodynamic instability has disappeared.
The notion of a law of historical change is self-contradictory. History is a sequence of phenomena that are characterized by their singularity. Those features which an event has in common with other events are not historical. What murder cases have in common refers to penal law, to psychology, to the technique of killing. As historical events the assassination of Julius Caesar and that of Henri IV of France are entirely different. The importance of an event for the production of further events is what counts for history. This effect of an event is unique and unrepeatable. Seen from the point of view of American constitutional law, the presidential elections of 1860 and of 1956 belong to the same class. For history they are two distinct events in the flux of affairs. If a historian compares them, he does so in order to elucidate the differences between them, not in order to discover laws that govern any instance of an American presidential election. Sometimes people formulate certain rules of thumb concerning such elections, as for instance: the party in power wins if business is booming. These rules are an attempt to understand the conduct of the voters. Nobody ascribes to them the necessity and apodictic validity which is the essential logical feature of a law of the natural sciences. Everybody is fully aware that the voters might proceed in a different way.
Carnot’s second law is not the result of a study of the history of the universe. It is a proposition about phenomena that are repeated daily and hourly in precisely the way the law describes. From this law science deduces certain consequences concerning the future of the universe. This deduced knowledge is in itself not a law. It is the application of a law. It is a prognostication of future events made on the basis of a law that describes what is believed to be an inexorable necessity in the sequence of repeatable and repeated events.
Neither is Darwin’s principle of natural selection a law of historical evolution. It tries to explain biological change as the outcome of the operation of a biological law. It interprets the past, it does not prognosticate things to come. Although the operation of the principle of natural selection may be considered as perennial, it is not permissible to infer that man must inevitably develop into a sort of superman. A line of evolutionary change may lead into a dead end beyond which there is no further change at all or a retrogression to previous states.
As it is impossible to deduce any general laws from the observation of historical change, the program of “dynamic” historicism could only be realized by discovering that the operation of one or several praxeological laws must inevitably result in the emergence of definite conditions of the future. Praxeology and its until now best-developed branch, economics, never claimed to know anything about such matters. Historicism, on account of its rejection of praxeology, was from the outset prevented from embarking upon such a study.
Everything that has been said about future historical events, inevitably bound to come, stems from prophecies elaborated by the metaphysical methods of the philosophy of history. By dint of intuition the author guesses the plans of the prime mover, and all uncertainty about the future disappears. The author of the Apocalypse, Hegel, and, above all, Marx held themselves to be perfectly familiar with the laws of historical evolution. But the source of their knowledge was not science; it was the revelation of an inner voice.
The ideas of historicism can be understood only if one takes into account that they sought exclusively one end: to negate everything that rationalist social philosophy and economics had established. In this pursuit many historicists did not shrink from any absurdity. Thus to the statement of the economists, that there is an inevitable scarcity of nature-given factors upon which human well-being depends, they opposed the fantastic assertion that there is abundance and plenty. What brings about poverty and want, they say, is the inadequacy of social institutions.
When the economists referred to progress, they looked upon conditions from the point of view of the ends sought by acting men. There was nothing metaphysical in their concept of progress. Most men want to live and to prolong their lives; they want to be healthy and to avoid sickness; they want to live comfortably and not to exist on the verge of starvation. In the eyes of acting men advance toward these goals means improvement, the reverse means impairment. This is the meaning of the terms “progress” and “retrogression” as applied by economists. In this sense they call a drop in infant mortality or success in fighting contagious diseases progress.
The question is not whether such progress makes people happy. It makes them happier than they would otherwise have been. Most mothers feel happier if their children survive, and most people feel happier without tuberculosis than with it. Looking upon conditions from his personal point of view, Nietzsche expressed misgivings about the “much too many.” But the objects of his contempt thought differently.
In dealing with the means to which men resorted in their actions, history as well as economics distinguishes between means which were fit to attain the ends sought and those which were not. In this sense progress is the substitution of more suitable methods of action for less suitable. Historicism takes offense at this terminology. All things are relative and must be viewed from the point of view of their age. Yet no champion of historicism has the boldness to contend that exorcism ever was a suitable means to cure sick cows. But the historicists are less cautious in dealing with economics. For instance, they declare that what economics teaches about the effects of price control is inapplicable to the conditions of the Middle Ages. The historical works of authors imbued with the ideas of historicism are muddled precisely on account of their rejection of economics.
While emphasizing that they do not want to judge the past by any preconceived standard, the historicists in fact try to justify the policies of the “good old days.” Instead of approaching the theme of their studies with the best mental equipment available, they rely upon the fables of pseudo economics. They cling to the superstition that decreeing and enforcing maximum prices below the height of the potential prices which the unhampered market would fix is a suitable means to improve the conditions of the buyers. They omit to mention the documentary evidence of the failure of the just price policy and of its effects which, from the point of view of the rulers who resorted to it, were more undesirable than the previous state of affairs which they were designed to alter.
One of the vain reproaches heaped by historicists on the economists is their alleged lack of historical sense. Economists, they say, believe that it would have been possible to improve the material conditions of earlier ages if only people had been familiar with the theories of modern economics. Now, there can be no doubt that the conditions of the Roman Empire would have been considerably affected if the emperors had not resorted to currency debasement and had not adopted a policy of price ceilings. It is no less obvious that the mass penury in Asia was caused by the fact that the despotic governments nipped in the bud all endeavors to accumulate capital. The Asiatics, unlike the Western Europeans, did not develop a legal and constitutional system which would have provided the opportunity for large-scale capital accumulation. And the public, actuated by the old fallacy that a businessman’s wealth is the cause of other people’s poverty, applauded whenever rulers confiscated the holdings of successful merchants.
The economists have always been aware that the evolution of ideas is a slow, time-consuming process. The history of knowledge is the account of a series of successive steps made by men each of whom adds something to the thoughts of his predecessors. It is not surprising that Democritus of Abdera did not develop the quantum theory or that the geometry of Pythagoras and Euclid is different from that of Hilbert. Nobody ever thought that a contemporary of Pericles could have created the free-trade philosophy of Hume, Adam Smith, and Ricardo and converted Athens into an emporium of capitalism.
There is no need to analyze the opinion of many historicists that to the soul of some nations the practices of capitalism appear so repulsive that they will never adopt them. If there are such peoples, they will forever remain poor. There is but one road that leads toward prosperity and freedom. Can any historicist on the ground of historical experience contest this truth?
No general rules about the effects of various modes of action and of definite social institutions can be derived from historical experience. In this sense the famous dictum is true that the study of history can teach only one thing: viz., that nothing can be learned from history. We could therefore agree with the historicists in not paying much attention to the indisputable fact that no people ever raised itself to a somewhat satisfactory state of welfare and civilization without the institution of private ownership of the means of production. It is not history but economics that clarifies our thoughts about the effects of property rights. But we must entirely reject the reasoning, very popular with many nineteenth-century writers, that the alleged fact that the institution of private property was unknown to peoples in primitive stages of civilization is a valid argument in favor of socialism. Having started as the harbingers of a future society which will wipe out all that is unsatisfactory and will transform the earth into a paradise, many socialists, for instance Engels, virtually became advocates of a return to the supposedly blissful conditions of a fabulous golden age of the remote past.
It never occurred to the historicists that man must pay a price for every achievement. People pay the price if they believe that the benefits derived from the thing to be acquired outweigh the disadvantages resulting from the sacrifice of something else. In dealing with this issue historicism adopts the illusions of romantic poetry. It sheds tears about the defacement of nature by civilization. How beautiful were the untouched virgin forests, the waterfalls, the solitary shores before the greed of acquisitive people spoiled their beauty! The romantic historicists pass over in silence the fact that the forests were cut down in order to win arable land and the falls were utilized to produce power and light. There is no doubt that Coney Island was more idyllic in the days of the Indians than it is today. But in its present state it gives millions of New Yorkers an opportunity to refresh themselves which they cannot get elsewhere. Talk about the magnificence of untouched nature is idle if it does not take into account what man has got by “desecrating” nature. The earth’s marvels were certainly splendid when visitors seldom set foot upon them. Commercially organized tourist traffic made them accessible to the many. The man who thinks “What a pity not to be alone on this peak! Intruders spoil my pleasure,” fails to remember that he himself probably would not be on the spot if business had not provided all the facilities required.
The technique of the historicists’ indictment of capitalism is simple indeed. They take all its achievements for granted, but blame it for the disappearance of some enjoyments that are incompatible with it and for some imperfections which still may disfigure its products. They forget that mankind has had to pay a price for its achievements—a price paid willingly because people believe that the gain derived, e.g., the prolongation of the average length of life, is more to be desired.
History is a sequence of changes. Every historical situation has its individuality, its own characteristics that distinguish it from any other situation. The stream of history never returns to a previously occupied point. History is not repetitious.
Stating this fact is not to express any opinion about the biological and anthropological problem of whether mankind is descended from a common human ancestry. There is no need to raise the question here whether the transformation of subhuman primates into the species Homo sapiens occurred only once at a definite time and in a definite part of the earth’s surface or came to pass several times and resulted in the emergence of various original races. Neither does the establishment of this fact mean that there is such a thing as unity of civilization. Even if we assume that all men are scions of a common human ancestry, there remains the fact that the scarcity of the means of sustenance brought about a dispersal of people over the globe. This dispersal resulted in the segregation of various groups. Each of these groups had to solve for itself man’s specific problem of life: how to pursue the conscious striving after improvement of conditions warranting survival. Thus various civilizations emerged. It will probably never be known to what extent definite civilizations were isolated and independent of one another. But it is certain that for thousands of years instances of such cultural isolation existed. It was only the explorations of European navigators and travelers that finally put an end to it.
Many civilizations came to an impasse. They either were destroyed by foreign conquerors or disintegrated from within. Next to the ruins of marvelous structures the progeny of their builders live in poverty and ignorance. The cultural achievements of their forefathers, their philosophy, technology, and often even their language have fallen into oblivion, and the people have relapsed into barbarism. In some cases the literature of the extinct civilization has been preserved and, rediscovered by scholars, has influenced later generations and civilizations.
Other civilizations developed to a certain point and then came to a standstill. They were arrested, as Bagehot said.1 The people tried to preserve the achievements of the past but they no longer planned to add anything new to them.
A firm tenet of eighteenth-century social philosophy was meliorism. Once the superstitions, prejudices, and errors that caused the downfall of older civilizations have given way to the supremacy of reason, there will be a steady improvement of human conditions. The world will become better every day. Mankind will never return to the dark ages. Progress toward higher stages of well-being and knowledge is irresistible. All reactionary movements are doomed to failure. Present-day philosophy no longer indulges in such optimistic views. We realize that our civilization too is vulnerable. True, it is safe against external attacks on the part of foreign barbarians. But it could be destroyed from within by domestic barbarians.
Civilization is the product of human effort, the achievement of men eager to fight the forces adverse to their well-being. This achievement is dependent on men’s using suitable means. If the means chosen are not fit to produce the ends sought, disaster results. Bad policies can disintegrate our civilization as they have destroyed many other civilizations. But neither reason nor experience warrants the assumption that we cannot avoid choosing bad policies and thereby wrecking our civilization.
There are doctrines hypostatizing the notion of civilization. In their view a civilization is a sort of living being. It comes into existence, thrives for some time, and finally dies. All civilizations, however different they may appear to the superficial observer, have the same structure. They must necessarily pass through the same sequence of successive stages. There is no history: what is mistakenly called history is in fact the repetition of events belonging to the same class; as Nietzsche put it, eternal recurrence.
The idea is very old and can be traced back to ancient philosophy. It was adumbrated by Giovanni Battista Vico. It played some role in the attempts of several economists to develop schemes of parallelisms of the economic history of various nations. It owes its present popularity to Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West. Softened to some extent and thereby rendered inconsistent, it is the main idea of the voluminous Study of History on which Arnold J. Toynbee is still working. There is no doubt that both Spengler and Toynbee were prompted by the widespread disparagement of capitalism. Spengler’s motive clearly was to prognosticate the inevitable breakdown of our civilization. Although unaffected by the chiliastic prophecies of the Marxians, he was himself a socialist and entirely under the sway of the socialists’ vilification of the market economy. He was judicious enough to see the disastrous implications of the policies of the German Marxians. But, lacking any economic knowledge and even full of contempt for economics, he came to the conclusion that our civilization has to choose between two evils, each of which is bound to destroy it. The doctrines of both Spengler and Toynbee show clearly the poor results engendered by neglect of economics in any treatment of human concerns. True, Western civilization is decadent. But its decadence consists precisely in the endorsement of the anticapitalistic creed.
What we may call the Spengler doctrine dissolves history into the record of the life span of individual entities, the various civilizations. We are not told in precise terms what marks characterize an individual civilization as such and distinguish it from another civilization. All that we learn about this essential matter is metaphorical. A civilization is like a biological being; it is born, grows, matures, decays, and dies. Such analogies are no substitute for unambiguous clarification and definition.
Historical research cannot deal with all things together; it must divide and subdivide the totality of events. Out of the whole body of history it carves separate chapters. The principles applied in so doing are determined by the way the historian understands things and events, value judgments and the actions prompted by them and the relation of actions to the further course of affairs. Almost all historians agree in dealing separately with the history of various more or less isolated peoples and civilizations. Differences of opinion about the application of this procedure to definite problems must be decided by careful examination of each individual case. No epistemological objection can be raised to the idea of distinguishing various civilizations within the totality of history.
But what the Spengler doctrine means is something entirely different. In its context a civilization is a Gestalt, a whole, an individuality of a distinct nature. What determines its origin, changes, and extinction stems from its own nature. It is not the ideas and actions of the individuals that constitute the historical process. There is in fact no historical process. On the earth civilizations come into being, live for some time, and then die just as various specimens of every plant species are born, live, and wither away. Whatever men may do is irrelevant to the final outcome. Every civilization must decay and die.
There is no harm in comparing different historical events and different events that occurred in the history of various civilizations. But there is no justification whatever for the assertion that every civilization must pass through a sequence of inevitable stages.
Mr. Toynbee is inconsistent enough not to deprive us entirely of any hope for the survival of our civilization. While the whole and only content of his study is to point out that the process of civilization consists of periodic repetitive movements, he adds that this “does not imply that the process itself is of the same cyclical order as they are.” Having taken pains to show that sixteen civilizations have perished already and nine others are at the point of death, he expresses a vague optimism concerning the future of the twenty-sixth civilization.2
History is the record of human action. Human action is the conscious effort of man to substitute more satisfactory conditions for less satisfactory ones. Ideas determine what are to be considered more and less satisfactory conditions and what means are to be resorted to to alter them. Thus ideas are the main theme of the study of history. Ideas are not an invariable stock that existed from the very beginning of things and that does not change. Every idea originated at a definite point of time and space in the head of an individual. (Of course, it has happened again and again that the same idea originated independently in the heads of various individuals at various points of time and space.) The genesis of every new idea is an innovation; it adds something new and unheard of before to the course of world affairs. The reason history does not repeat itself is that every historical state is the consummation of the operation of ideas different from those that operated in other historical states.
Civilization differs from the mere biological and physiological aspects of life in being an offshoot of ideas. The essence of civilization is ideas. If we try to distinguish different civilizations, the differentia specifica [“specific differences”] can be found only in the different meanings of the ideas that determined them. Civilizations differ from one another precisely in the quality of the substance that characterizes them as civilizations. In their essential structure they are unique individuals, not members of a class. This forbids us to compare their vicissitudes with the physiological process going on in an individual man’s or animal’s life. In every animal body the same physiological changes come to pass. A child ripens in the mother’s womb, it is delivered, grows, matures, decays, and dies in the consummation of the same cycle of life. It is quite another thing with civilizations. In being civilizations they are disparate and incommensurable because they are actuated by different ideas and therefore develop in different ways.
Ideas must not be classified without regard to the soundness of their content. Men have had different ideas concerning the cure of cancer. Up to now none of these ideas has produced fully satisfactory results. But this would not justify the inference that therefore future attempts to cure cancer will also be futile. The historian of past civilizations may declare: There was something wrong with the ideas upon which those civilizations that decayed from within were built. But he must not derive from this fact the conclusion that other civilizations, built on different ideas, are also doomed. Within the body of animals and plants forces are operating that are bound to disintegrate it eventually. No such forces could be discovered in the “body” of a civilization which would not be the outcome of its particular ideologies.
No less vain are efforts to search in the history of various civilizations for parallelisms or identical stages in their life span. We may compare the history of various peoples and civilizations. But such comparisons must deal not only with similarities but also with differences. The eagerness to discover similarities induces authors to neglect or even to conjure away discrepancies. The first task of the historian is to deal with historical events. Comparisons made afterward on the basis of a knowledge of events as perfect as possible may be harmless or sometimes even instructive. Comparisons that accompany or even precede study of the sources create confusion if not outright fables.
There have always been people who exalted the good old days and advocated a return to the happy past. The resistance offered to legal and constitutional innovations by those whom they hurt has frequently crystallized in programs that requested a reconstruction of old institutions or presumably old institutions. In some cases reforms that aimed at something essentially new have been recommended as a restoration of ancient law. An eminent example was provided by the role Magna Charta played in the ideologies of England’s seventeenth-century anti-Stuart parties.
But it was historicism which for the first time frankly suggested unmaking historical changes and returning to extinct conditions of a remote past. We need not deal with the lunatic fringe of this movement, such as German attempts to revive the cult of Wodan. Neither do the sartorial aspects of these tendencies deserve more than ironical comments. (A magazine picture showing members of the Hanover-Coburg family parading in the garb of the Scottish clansmen who fought at Culloden would have startled the “Butcher” Cumberland.) Only the linguistic and economic issues involved require attention.
In the course of history many languages have been submerged. Some disappeared completely without leaving any trace. Others are preserved in old documents, books, and inscriptions and can be studied by scholars. Several of these “dead” languages—Sanskrit, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin—influence contemporary thought through the philosophical and poetical value of the ideas expressed in their literature. Others are merely objects of philological research.
The process that resulted in the extinction of a language was in many cases merely linguistic growth and transformation of the spoken word. A long succession of slight changes altered the phonetic forms, the vocabulary, and the syntax so thoroughly that later generations could no longer read the documents bequeathed by their ancestors. The vernacular developed into a new distinct language. The old tongue could be understood only by those with special training. The death of the old language and the birth of the new one were the outcome of a slow, peaceful evolution.
But in many cases linguistic change was the outcome of political and military events. People speaking a foreign language acquired political and economic hegemony either by military conquest or by the superiority of their civilization. Those speaking the native tongue were relegated to a subordinate position. On account of their social and political disabilities it did not matter very much what they had to say and how they said it. Important business was transacted exclusively in the language of their masters. Rulers, courts, church, and schools employed only this language; it was the language of the laws and the literature. The old native tongue was used only by the uneducated populace. Whenever one of these underlings wanted to rise to a better position, he had first to learn the language of the masters. The vernacular was reserved to the dullest and the least ambitious; it fell into contempt and finally into oblivion. A foreign language superseded the native idiom.
The political and military events that actuated this linguistic process were in many cases characterized by tyrannical cruelty and pitiless persecution of all opponents. Such methods met with the approval of some philosophers and moralists of precapitalistic ages, as they have sometimes won the praise of contemporary “idealists” when the socialists resort to them. But to the “spurious rationalistic dogmatism of the orthodox liberal doctrinaires” they appear shocking. The historical writings of the latter lacked that lofty relativism which induced self-styled “realistic” historians to explain and to justify all that had happened in the past and to vindicate surviving oppressive institutions. (As one critic reproachfully observed, in the utilitarians “old institutions awake no thrill; they are simply embodiments of prejudice.”)1 It does not need any further explanation why the descendants of the victims of those persecutions and oppressions judged in a different way the experience of their ancestors, still less why they were intent upon abolishing those effects of past despotism which still hurt them. In some cases, not content with eliminating still existing oppression, they planned to undo also such changes as did not harm them any longer, however detrimental and malignant the process that had brought them about had been in a distant past. It is precisely this that the attempts to undo linguistic changes aim at.
The best example is provided by Ireland. Aliens had invaded and conquered the country, expropriated the landowners, destroyed its civilization, organized a despotic regime, and tried to convert the people by force of arms to a religious creed which they despised. The establishment of an alien church did not succeed in making the Irish abandon Roman Catholicism. But the English language superseded the native Gaelic idiom. When later the Irish succeeded step by step in curbing their foreign oppressors and finally acquiring political independence, most of them were no longer linguistically different from the English. They spoke English and their eminent writers wrote English books, some of which are among the outstanding works of modern world literature.
This state of affairs hurts the feelings of many Irish. They want to induce their fellow citizens to return to the idiom their ancestors spoke in ages gone by. There is little open opposition to these pursuits. Few people have the courage to fight a popular movement openly, and radical nationalism is today, next to socialism, the most popular ideology. Nobody wants to risk being branded an enemy of his nation. But powerful forces are silently resisting the linguistic reform. People cling to the tongue they speak no matter whether those who want to suppress it are foreign despots or domestic zealots. The modern Irish are fully aware of the advantages they derive from the fact that English is the foremost language of contemporary civilization, which everyone has to learn in order to read many important books or to play a role in international trade, in world affairs, and in great ideological movements. Precisely because the Irish are a civilized nation whose authors write not for a limited audience but for all educated people, the chances of a substitution of Gaelic for English are slim. No nostalgic sentimentality can alter these circumstances.
It must be mentioned that the linguistic pursuits of Irish nationalism were prompted by one of the most widely adopted political doctrines of the nineteenth century. The principle of nationality as accepted by all the peoples of Europe postulates that every linguistic group must form an independent state and that this state must embrace all people speaking the same language.2 From the point of view of this principle an English-speaking Ireland should belong to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and the mere existence of an independent Irish Free State appears irregular. The prestige which the principle of nationality enjoyed in Europe was so enormous that various peoples who desired to form a state of their own the independence of which was at variance with it tried to change their language in order to justify their aspirations in its light. This explains the attitude of the Irish nationalists, but it does not affect what has been said about the implications of their linguistic plans.
A language is not simply a collection of phonetic signs. It is an instrument of thinking and acting. Its vocabulary and grammar are adjusted to the mentality of the individuals whom it serves. A living language—spoken, written, and read by living men—changes continually in conformity with changes occurring in the minds of those who use it. A language fallen into desuetude is dead because it no longer changes. It mirrors the mentality of people long since passed away. It is useless to the people of another age no matter whether these people are biologically the scions of those who once used it or merely believe themselves to be their descendants. The trouble is not with the terms signifying tangible things. Such terms could be supplemented by neologisms. It is the abstract terms that provide insoluble problems. The precipitate of a people’s ideological controversies, of their ideas concerning issues of pure knowledge and religion, legal institutions, political organization, and economic activities, these terms reflect all the vicissitudes of their history. In learning their meaning the rising generation are initiated into the mental environment in which they have to live and to work. This meaning of the various words is in continual flux in response to changes in ideas and conditions.
Those who want to revive a dead language must in fact create out of its phonetic elements a new language whose vocabulary and syntax are adjusted to the conditions of the present age, entirely different from those of the old age. The tongue of their ancestors is of no use to the modern Irish. The laws of present-day Ireland could not be written in the old vocabulary; Shaw, Joyce, and Yeats could not have employed it in their plays, novels, and poems. One cannot wipe out history and return to the past.
Different from the attempts to revive dead idioms are the plans to elevate local dialects to the position of a language of literature and other manifestations of thinking and acting. When communication between the various parts of a nation’s territory was infrequent on account of the paucity of the interlocal division of labor and the primitiveness of transportation facilities, there was a tendency toward a disintegration of linguistic unity. Different dialects developed out of the tongue spoken by the people who had settled in an area. Sometimes these dialects evolved into a distinct literary language, as was the case with the Dutch language. In other cases only one of the dialects became a literary language, while the others remained idioms employed in daily life but not used in the schools, the courts, in books, and in the conversation of educated people. Such was the outcome in Germany, for instance, where the writings of Luther and the Protestant theologians gave the idiom of the “Saxon Chancellery” a preponderant position and reduced all other dialects to subordinate rank.
Under the impact of historicism movements sprang up which aim at undoing this process by elevating dialects into literary languages. The most remarkable of these tendencies is Félibrige, the design to restore to the Provençal tongue the eminence it once enjoyed as Langue d’Oc. The Félibrists, led by the distinguished poet Mistral, were judicious enough not to plan a complete substitution of their idiom for French. But even the prospects of their more moderate ambition, to create a new Provençal poesy, seem to be inauspicious. One cannot imagine any of the modern French masterpieces composed in Provençal.
Local dialects of various languages have been employed in novels and plays depicting the life of the uneducated. There is often an inherent insincerity in such writings. The author condescendingly puts himself on a level with people whose mentality he never shared or has since outgrown. He behaves like an adult who condescends to write books for children. No present-day work of literature can withdraw itself from the impact of the ideologies of our age. Once having gone through the schools of these ideologies, an author cannot successfully masquerade as a simple common man and adopt his speech and his world view.
History is an irreversible process.
Undoing Economic History
The history of mankind is the record of a progressive intensification of the division of labor. Animals live in perfect autarky of each individual or of each quasi family. What made cooperation between men possible is the fact that work performed under the division of tasks is more productive than the isolated efforts of autarkic individuals and that man’s reason is capable of conceiving this truth. But for these two facts men would have remained forever solitary food-seekers, forced by an inevitable law of nature to fight one another without pity and pardon. No social bonds, no feelings of sympathy, benevolence, and friendship, no civilization would have developed in a world in which everybody had to see in all other men rivals in the biological competition for a strictly limited supply of food.
One of the greatest achievements of eighteenth-century social philosophy is the disclosure of the role which the principle of higher productivity resulting from division of labor has played in history. It was against these teachings of Smith and Ricardo that the most passionate attacks of historicism were directed.
The operation of the principle of division of labor and its corollary, cooperation, tends ultimately toward a world-embracing system of production. Insofar as the geographical distribution of natural resources does not limit the tendencies toward specialization and integration in the processing trades, the unhampered market aims at the evolution of plants operating in a comparatively narrow field of specialized production but serving the whole population of the earth. From the point of view of people who prefer more and better merchandise to a smaller and poorer supply the ideal system would consist in the highest possible concentration of the production of each speciality. The same principle that brought about the emergence of such specialists as blacksmiths, carpenters, tailors, bakers, and also physicians, teachers, artists, and writers would finally result in the emergence of one factory supplying the whole oecumene with some particular article. Although the geographical factor mentioned above counteracts the full operation of this tendency, international division of labor came into existence and will move forward until it reaches the limits drawn by geography, geology, and climate.
Every step on the road toward intensification of the division of labor hurts in the short run the personal interests of some people. The expansion of the more efficient plant hurts the interests of less efficient competitors whom it forces to go out of business. Technological innovation hurts the interests of workers who can no longer make a living by clinging to the discarded inferior methods. The vested short-run interests of small business and of inefficient workers are adversely affected by any improvement. This is not a new phenomenon. Neither is it a new phenomenon that those prejudiced by economic improvement ask for privileges that will protect them against the competition of the more efficient. The history of mankind is a long record of obstacles placed in the way of the more efficient for the benefit of the less efficient.
It is customary to explain the obstinate efforts to stop economic improvement by referring to the “interests.” The explanation is very unsatisfactory. Leaving aside the fact that an innovation hurts merely the short-run interests of some people, we must emphasize that it hurts only the interests of a small minority while favoring those of the immense majority. The bread factory certainly hurts the small bakers. But it hurts them solely because it improves the conditions of all people consuming bread. The importation of foreign sugar and watches hurts the interests of a small minority of Americans. But it is a boon for all those who want to eat sugar and to buy watches. The problem is precisely this: Why is an innovation unpopular although it favors the interests of the great majority of the people?
A privilege accorded to a special branch of business is in the short run advantageous to those who at the instant happen to be in this branch. But it hurts all other people to the same extent. If everybody is privileged to the same degree, he loses as much in his capacity as a consumer as he wins in his capacity as a producer. Moreover, everybody is hurt by the fact that productivity in all branches of domestic production drops on account of these privileges.1 To the extent that American legislation is successful in its endeavors to curb big business, all are hurt because the products are produced at higher costs in plants which would have been wiped out in the absence of this policy. If the United States had gone as far as Austria did in its fight against big business, the average American would not be much better off than the average Austrian.
It is not the interests that motivate the struggle against the further intensification of the division of labor, but spurious ideas about alleged interests. As in any other regard, historicism in dealing with these problems too sees only the short-run disadvantages that result for some people and ignores the long-run advantages for all of the people. It recommends measures without mentioning the price that must be paid for them. What fun shoemaking was in the days of Hans Sachs and the Meistersinger! No need to analyze critically such romantic dreams. But how many people went barefoot in those days? What a disgrace the big chemical concerns are! But would it have been possible for pharmacists in their primitive laboratories to turn out the drugs that kill the bacilli?
Those who want to set the clock of history back ought to tell people what their policy would cost. Splitting up big business is all right if you are prepared to put up with the consequences. If the present American methods of taxing incomes and estates had been adopted fifty years ago, most of those new things which no American would like to do without today would not have been developed at all or, if they had, would have been inaccessible to the greater part of the nation. What such authors as Professors Sombart and Tawney say about the blissful conditions of the Middle Ages is mere fantasy. The effort “to achieve a continuous and unlimited increase in material wealth,” says Professor Tawney, brings “ruin to the soul and confusion to society.”2 No need to stress the fact that some people may feel that a soul, so sensitive it is ruined by the awareness that more infants survive the first year of their lives and fewer people die from starvation today than in the Middle Ages, is worth being ruined. What brings confusion to society is not wealth but the efforts of historicists such as Professor Tawney to discredit “economic appetites.” After all, it was nature, not the capitalists, that implanted appetites in man and impels him to satisfy them. In the collectivist institutions of the Middle Ages, such as church, township, village community, clan, family, and guild, says Sombart, the individual “was kept warm and sheltered like the fruit in its rind.”3 Is this a faithful description of a time when the population was harassed again and again by famines, plagues, wars, the persecution of heretics, and other disasters?
It is certainly possible to stop the further progress of capitalism or even to return to conditions in which small business and more primitive methods of production prevail. A police apparatus organized after the pattern of the Soviet constabulary can achieve many things. The question is only whether the nations that have built modern civilization will be ready to pay the price.
The Challenge of Scientism
Positivism and Behaviorism
What differentiates the realm of the natural sciences from that of the sciences of human action is the categorial system resorted to in each in interpreting phenomena and constructing theories. The natural sciences do not know anything about final causes; inquiry and theorizing are entirely guided by the category of causality. The field of the sciences of human action is the orbit of purpose and of conscious aiming at ends; it is teleological.
Both categories were resorted to by primitive man and are resorted to today by everybody in daily thinking and acting. The most simple skills and techniques imply knowledge gathered by rudimentary research into causality. Where people did not know how to seek the relation of cause and effect, they looked for a teleological interpretation. They invented deities and devils to whose purposeful action certain phenomena were ascribed. A god emitted lightning and thunder. Another god, angry about some acts of men, killed the offenders by shooting arrows. A witch’s evil eye made women barren and cows dry. Such beliefs generated definite methods of action. Conduct pleasing to the deity, offering of sacrifices, and prayer were considered suitable means to appease the deity’s anger and to avert its revenge; magic rites were employed to neutralize witchcraft. Slowly people came to learn that meteorological events, disease, and the spread of plagues are natural phenomena and that lightning rods and antiseptic agents provide effective protection while magic rites are useless. It was only in the modern era that the natural sciences in all their fields substituted causal research for finalism.
The marvelous achievements of the experimental natural sciences prompted the emergence of a materialistic metaphysical doctrine, positivism. Positivism flatly denies that any field of inquiry is open for teleological research. The experimental methods of the natural sciences are the only appropriate methods for any kind of investigation. They alone are scientific, while the traditional methods of the sciences of human action are metaphysical, that is, in the terminology of positivism, superstitious and spurious. Positivism teaches that the task of science is exclusively the description and interpretation of sensory experience. It rejects the introspection of psychology as well as all historical disciplines. It is especially fanatical in its condemnation of economics. Auguste Comte, by no means the founder of positivism but merely the inventor of its name, suggested as a substitute for the traditional methods of dealing with human action a new branch of science, sociology. Sociology should be social physics, shaped according to the epistemological pattern of Newtonian mechanics. The plan was so shallow and impractical that no serious attempt was ever made to realize it. The first generation of Comte’s followers turned instead toward what they believed to be biological and organic interpretation of social phenomena. They indulged freely in metaphorical language and quite seriously discussed such problems as what in the social “body” should be classed as “intercellular substance.” When the absurdity of this biologism and organicism became obvious, the sociologists completely abandoned the ambitious pretensions of Comte. There was no longer any question of discovering a posteriori laws of social change. Various historical, ethnographical, and psychological studies were put out under the label sociology. Many of these publications were dilettantish and confused; some are acceptable contributions to various fields of historical research. Without any value, on the other hand, were the writings of those who termed sociology their arbitrary metaphysical effusions about the recondite meaning and end of the historical process which had been previously styled philosophy of history. Thus, Émile Durkheim and his school revived under the appellation group mind the old specter of romanticism and the German school of historical jurisprudence, the Volksgeist.
In spite of this manifest failure of the positivist program, a neopositivist movement has arisen. It stubbornly repeats all the fallacies of Comte. The same motive inspires these writers that inspired Comte. They are driven by an idiosyncratic abhorrence of the market economy and its political corollary: representative government, freedom of thought, speech, and the press. They long for totalitarianism, dictatorship, and the ruthless oppression of all dissenters, taking, of course, for granted that they themselves or their intimate friends will be vested with the supreme office and the power to silence all opponents. Comte without shame advocated suppression of all doctrines he disliked. The most obtrusive champion of the neopositivist program concerning the sciences of human action was Otto Neurath who, in 1919, was one of the outstanding leaders of the short-lived Soviet regime of Munich and later cooperated briefly in Moscow with the bureaucracy of the Bolsheviks.1 Knowing they cannot advance any tenable argument against the economists’ critique of their plans, these passionate communists try to discredit economics wholesale on epistemological grounds.
The two main varieties of the neopositivistic assault on economics are panphysicalism and behaviorism. Both claim to substitute a purely causal treatment of human action for the—as they declare unscientific—teleological treatment.
Panphysicalism teaches that the procedures of physics are the only scientific method of all branches of science. It denies that any essential differences exist between the natural sciences and the sciences of human action. This denial lies behind the panphysicalists’ slogan “unified science.” Sense experience, which conveys to man his information about physical events, provides him also with all information about the behavior of his fellow men. Study of the way his fellows react to various stimuli does not differ essentially from study of the way other objects react. The language of physics is the universal language of all branches of knowledge, without exception. What cannot be rendered in the language of physics is metaphysical nonsense. It is arrogant pretension in man to believe that his role in the universe is different from that of other objects. In the eyes of the scientist all things are equal. All talk about consciousness, volition, and aiming at ends is empty. Man is just one of the elements in the universe. The applied science of social physics, social engineering, can deal with man in the same way technology deals with copper and hydrogen.
The panphysicalist might admit at least one essential difference between man and the objects of physics. The stones and the atoms reflect neither upon their own nature, properties, and behavior nor upon those of man. They do not engineer either themselves or man. Man is at least different from them insofar as he is a physicist and an engineer. It is difficult to conceive how one could deal with the activities of an engineer without realizing that he chooses between various possible lines of conduct and is intent upon attaining definite ends. Why does he build a bridge rather than a ferry? Why does he build one bridge with a capacity of ten tons and another with a capacity of twenty tons? Why is he intent upon constructing bridges that do not collapse? Or is it only an accident that most bridges do not collapse? If one eliminates from the treatment of human action the notion of conscious aiming at definite ends, one must replace it by the—really metaphysical—idea that some superhuman agency leads men, independently of their will, toward a predestined goal: that what put the bridge-builder into motion was the preordained plan of Geist, or the material productive forces which mortal men are forced to execute.
To say that man reacts to stimuli and adjusts himself to the conditions of his environment does not provide a satisfactory answer. To the stimulus offered by the English Channel some people have reacted by staying at home; others have crossed it in rowboats, sailing ships, steamers, or, in modern times simply by swimming. Some fly over it in planes; others design schemes for tunneling under it. It is vain to ascribe the differences in reaction to differences in attendant circumstances such as the state of technological knowledge and the supply of labor and capital goods. These other conditions too are of human origin and can only be explained by resorting to teleological methods.
The approach of behaviorism is in some respects different from that of panphysicalism, but it resembles the latter in its hopeless attempt to deal with human action without reference to consciousness and aiming at ends. It bases its reasoning on the slogan “adjustment.” Like any other being, man adjusts himself to the conditions of his environment. But behaviorism fails to explain why different people adjust themselves to the same conditions in different ways. Why do some people flee violent aggression while others resist it? Why did the peoples of Western Europe adjust themselves to the scarcity of all things on which human well-being depends in a way entirely different from that of the Orientals?
Behaviorism proposes to study human behavior according to the methods developed by animal and infant psychology. It seeks to investigate reflexes and instincts, automatisms and unconscious reactions. But it has told us nothing about the reflexes that have built cathedrals, railroads, and fortresses, the instincts that have produced philosophies, poems, and legal systems, the automatisms that have resulted in the growth and decline of empires, the unconscious reactions that are splitting atoms. Behaviorism wants to observe human behavior from without and to deal with it merely as reaction to a definite situation. It punctiliously avoids any reference to meaning and purpose. However, a situation cannot be described without analyzing the meaning which the man concerned finds in it. If one avoids dealing with this meaning, one neglects the essential factor that decisively determines the mode of reaction. This reaction is not automatic but depends entirely upon the interpretation and value judgments of the individual, who aims to bring about, if feasible, a situation which he prefers to the state of affairs that would prevail if he were not to interfere. Consider a behaviorist describing the situation which an offer to sell brings about without reference to the meaning each party attaches to it!
In fact, behaviorism would outlaw the study of human action and substitute physiology for it. The behaviorists never succeeded in making clear the difference between physiology and behaviorism. Watson declared that physiology is “particularly interested in the functioning of parts of the animal . . . , behaviorism, on the other hand, while it is intensely interested in all of the functioning of these parts, is intrinsically interested in what the whole animal will do.”2 However, such physiological phenomena as the resistance of the body to infection or the growth and aging of an individual can certainly not be called behavior of parts. On the other hand, if one wants to call such a gesture as the movement of an arm (either to strike or to caress) behavior of the whole human animal, the idea can only be that such a gesture cannot be imputed to any separate part of the being. But what else can this something to which it must be imputed be if not the meaning and the intention of the actor or that unnamed thing from which meaning and intention originate? Behaviorism asserts that it wants to predict human behavior. But it is impossible to predict the reaction of a man accosted by another with the words “you rat” without referring to the meaning that the man spoken to attaches to the epithet.
Both varieties of positivism decline to recognize the fact that men aim purposefully at definite ends. As they see it, all events must be interpreted in the relationship of stimulus and response, and there is no room left for a search for final causes. Against this rigid dogmatism it is necessary to stress the point that the rejection of finalism in dealing with events outside the sphere of human action is enjoined upon science only by the insufficiency of human reason. The natural sciences must refrain from dealing with final causes because they are unable to discover any final causes, not because they can prove that no final causes are operative. The cognizance of the interconnectedness of all phenomena and of the regularity in their concatenation and sequence, and the fact that causality research works and has enlarged human knowledge, do not peremptorily preclude the assumption that final causes are operative in the universe. The reason for the natural sciences’ neglect of final causes and their exclusive preoccupation with causality research is that this method works. The contrivances designed according to the scientific theories run the way the theories predicted and thus provide a pragmatic verification for their correctness. On the other hand the magic devices did not come up to expectations and do not bear witness to the magic world view.
It is obvious that it is also impossible to demonstrate satisfactorily by ratiocination that the alter ego is a being that aims purposively at ends. But the same pragmatic proof that can be advanced in favor of the exclusive use of causal research in the field of nature can be advanced in favor of the exclusive use of teleological methods in the field of human action. It works, while the idea of dealing with men as if they were stones or mice does not work. It works not only in the search for knowledge and theories but no less in daily practice.
The positivist arrives at his point of view surreptitiously. He denies to his fellow men the faculty of choosing ends and the means to attain these ends, but at the same time he claims for himself the ability to choose consciously between various methods of scientific procedure. He shifts his ground as soon as it comes to problems of engineering, whether technological or “social.” He designs plans and policies which cannot be interpreted as merely being automatic reactions to stimuli. He wants to deprive all his fellows of the right to act in order to reserve this privilege for himself alone. He is a virtual dictator.
As the behaviorist tells us, man can be thought of as “an assembled organic machine ready to run.”3 He disregards the fact that while machines run the way the engineer and the operator make them run, men run spontaneously here and there. Starting, as noted above, with the idea that “At birth human infants, regardless of their heredity, are as equal as Fords,”4 the behaviorist proposes to operate the “human Ford” the way the operator drives his car. He acts as if he owned humanity and were called upon to control and to shape it according to his own designs. For he himself is above the law, the godsent ruler of mankind.5
As long as positivism does not explain philosophies and theories, and the plans and policies derived from them, in terms of its stimulus-response scheme, it defeats itself.
The Collectivist Dogma
Modern collectivist philosophy is a coarse offshoot of the old doctrine of conceptual realism. It has severed itself from the general philosophical antagonism between realism and nominalism and hardly pays any attention to the continued conflict of the two schools. It is a political doctrine and as such employs a terminology that is seemingly different from that used in the scholastic debates concerning universals as well from that of contemporary neorealism. But the nucleus of its teachings does not differ from that of the medieval realists. It ascribes to the universals objective real existence, even an existence superior to that of individuals, sometimes, even, flatly denying the autonomous existence of individuals, the only real existence.
What distinguishes collectivism from conceptual realism as taught by philosophers is not the method of approach but the political tendencies implied. Collectivism transforms the epistemological doctrine into an ethical claim. It tells people what they ought to do. It distinguishes between the true collective entity to which people owe loyalty and spurious pseudo entities about which they ought not to bother at all. There is no uniform collectivist ideology, but many collectivist doctrines. Each of them extols a different collectivist entity and requests all decent people to submit to it. Each sect worships its own idol and is intolerant of all rival idols. Each ordains total subjection of the individual; each is totalitarian.
The particularist character of the various collectivist doctrines could easily be ignored because they regularly start with the opposition between society in general and individuals. In this antithesis there appears only one collective comprehending all individuals. There cannot therefore arise any rivalry among a multitude of collective entities. But in the further course of the analysis a special collective is imperceptibly substituted for the comprehensive image of the unique great society.
Let us first examine the concept of society in general.
Men cooperate with one another. The totality of interhuman relations engendered by such cooperation is called society. Society is not an entity in itself. It is an aspect of human action. It does not exist or live outside of the conduct of people. It is an orientation of human action. Society neither thinks nor acts. Individuals in thinking and acting constitute a complex of relations and facts that are called social relations and facts.
The issue has been confused by an arithmetical metaphor. Is society, people asked, merely a sum of individuals or is it more than this and thereby an entity endowed with independent reality? The question is nonsensical. Society is neither the sum of individuals nor more nor less. Arithmetical concepts cannot be applied to the matter.
Another confusion arises from the no less empty question whether society is—in logic and in time—anterior to individuals or not. The evolution of society and that of civilization were not two distinct processes but one and the same process. The biological passing of a species of primates beyond the level of a mere animal existence and their transformation into primitive men implied already the development of the first rudiments of social cooperation. Homo sapiens appeared on the stage of earthly events neither as a solitary food-seeker nor as a member of a gregarious flock, but as a being consciously cooperating with other beings of his own kind. Only in cooperation with his fellows could he develop language, the indispensable tool of thinking. We cannot even imagine a reasonable being living in perfect isolation and not cooperating at least with members of his family, clan, or tribe. Man as man is necessarily a social animal. Some sort of cooperation is an essential characteristic of his nature. But awareness of this fact does not justify dealing with social relations as if they were something else than relations or with society as if it were an independent entity outside or above the actions of individual men.
Finally there are the misconstructions caused by the organismic metaphor. We may compare society to a biological organism. The tertium comparationis [“a basis for comparison”] is the fact that division of labor and cooperation exist among the various parts of a biological body as among the various members of society. But the biological evolution that resulted in the emergence of the structure-function systems of plant and animal bodies was a purely physiological process in which no trace of a conscious activity on the part of the cells can be discovered. On the other hand, human society is an intellectual and spiritual phenomenon. In cooperating with their fellows, individuals do not divest themselves of their individuality. They retain the power to act antisocially, and often make use of it. Its place in the structure of the body is invariably assigned to each cell. But individuals spontaneously choose the way in which they integrate themselves into social cooperation. Men have ideas and seek chosen ends, while the cells and organs of the body lack such autonomy.
Gestalt psychology passionately rejects the psychological doctrine of associationism. It ridicules the conception of “a sensory mosaic which nobody has ever observed” and teaches that “analysis, if it wants to reveal the universe in its completeness, has to stop at the wholes, whatever their size, which possess functional reality.”1 Whatever one may think about Gestalt psychology, it is obvious that it has no reference at all to the problems of society. It is manifest that nobody has ever observed society as a whole. What can be observed is always actions of individuals. In interpreting the various aspects of the individual’s actions, the theorists develop the concept of society. There cannot be any question of understanding “the properties of parts from the properties of wholes.”2 There are no properties of society that cannot be discovered in the conduct of its members.
In contrasting society and the individual and in denying to the latter any “true” reality, the collectivist doctrines look upon the individual merely as a refractory rebel. This sinful wretch has the impudence to give preference to his petty selfish interests as against the sublime interests of the great god society. Of course, the collectivist ascribes this eminence only to the rightful social idol, not to one of the pretenders.
When the collectivist extols the state, what he means is not every state but only that regime of which he approves, no matter whether this legitimate state exists already or has to be created. For the Czech irredentists in the old Austria and the Irish irredentists in the United Kingdom the states whose governments resided in Vienna and in London were usurpers; their rightful state did not yet exist. Especially remarkable is the terminology of the Marxians. Marx was bitterly hostile to the Prussian state of the Hohenzollern. To make it clear that the state which he wanted to see omnipotent and totalitarian was not that state whose rulers resided in Berlin, he called the future state of his program not state but society. The innovation was merely verbal. For what Marx aimed at was to abolish any sphere of the individual’s initiative action by transferring the control of all economic activities to the social apparatus of compulsion and repression which is commonly called state or government. The hoax did not fail to beguile lots of people. Even today there are still dupes who think that there is a difference between state socialism and other types of socialism.
The confusion of the concepts of society and of state originated with Hegel and Schelling. It is customary to distinguish two schools of Hegelians: the left wing and the right wing. The distinction refers only to the attitude of these authors toward the Kingdom of Prussia and the doctrines of the Prussian Union Church. The political creed of both wings was essentially the same. Both advocated government omnipotence. It was a left-wing Hegelian, Ferdinand Lassalle, who most clearly expressed the fundamental thesis of Hegelianism: “The State is God.”3 Hegel himself had been a little more cautious. He declared only that it is “the course of God through the world that constitutes the State” and that in dealing with the State one must contemplate “the Idea, God as actual on earth.”4
The collectivist philosophers fail to realize that what constitutes the state is the actions of individuals. The legislators, those enforcing the laws by force of arms, and those yielding to the dictates of the laws and the police constitute the state by their behavior. In this sense alone is the state real. There is no state apart from such actions of individual men.
The Concept of the Social Sciences
The collectivist philosophy denies that there are such things as individuals and actions of individuals. The individual is merely a phantom without reality, an illusory image invented by the pseudo philosophy of the apologists of capitalism. Consequently collectivism rejects the concept of a science of human action. As it sees it, the only legitimate treatment of those problems that are not dealt with by the traditional natural sciences is provided by what they call the social sciences.
The social sciences are supposed to deal with group activities. In their context the individual counts only as a member of a group.1 But this definition implies that there are actions in which the individual does not act as a member of a group and which therefore do not interest the social sciences. If this is so, it is obvious that the social sciences deal only with an arbitrarily selected fraction of the whole field of human action.
In acting, man must necessarily choose between various possible modes of acting. Limiting their analysis to one class of actions only, the social sciences renounce in advance any attempt to investigate the ideas that determine the individual’s choice of a definite mode of conduct. They cannot deal with judgments of value which in any actual situation make a man prefer acting as a group member to acting in a different manner. Neither can they deal with the judgments of value that prompt a man to act as a member of group A rather than as a member of any of the non-A groups.
Man is not the member of one group only and does not appear on the scene of human affairs solely in the role of a member of one definite group. In speaking of social groups it must be remembered that the members of one group are at the same time members of other groups. The conflict of groups is not a conflict between neatly integrated herds of men. It is a conflict between various concerns in the minds of individuals.
What constitutes group membership is the way a man acts in a concrete situation. Hence group membership is not something rigid and unchangeable. It may change from case to case. The same man may in the course of a single day perform actions each of which qualifies him as a member of a different group. He may contribute to the funds of his denomination and cast his ballot for a candidate who antagonizes that denomination in essential problems. He may act at one instant as a member of a labor union, at another as a member of a religious community, at another as a member of a political party, at another as a member of a linguistic or racial group, and so on. Or he may act as an individual working to earn more income, to get his son into college, to purchase a home, a car, or a refrigerator. In fact he always acts as an individual, always seeks ends of his own. In joining a group and acting as a member of it, he aims no less at the fulfillment of his own wishes than in acting without any reference to a group. He may join a religious community in order to seek the salvation of his soul or to attain peace of mind. He may join a labor union because he believes that this is the best means to get higher pay or to avoid being bodily injured by the members of the union. He may join a political party because he expects that the realization of its program will render conditions more satisfactory for himself and his family.
It is vain to deal with “the activities of the individual as a member of a group”2 while omitting other activities of the individual. Group activities are essentially and necessarily activities of individuals who form groups in order to attain their ends. There are no social phenomena which would not originate from the activities of various individuals. What creates a group activity is a definite end sought by individuals and the belief of these individuals that cooperating in this group is a suitable means to attain the end sought. A group is a product of human wishes and the ideas about the means to realize these wishes. Its roots are in the value judgments of individuals and in the opinions held by individuals about the effects to be expected from definite means.
To deal with social groups adequately and completely, one must start from the actions of the individuals. No group activity can be understood without analyzing the ideology that forms the group and makes it live and work. The idea of dealing with group activities without dealing with all aspects of human action is preposterous. There is no field distinct from the field of the sciences of human action that could be investigated by something called the social sciences.
What prompted those who suggested the substitution of the social sciences for the sciences of human action was, of course, a definite political program. In their eyes the social sciences were designed to obliterate the social philosophy of individualism. The champions of the social sciences invented and popularized the terminology that characterizes the market economy, in which every individual is intent upon the realization of his own plan, as a planless and therefore chaotic system and reserves the term “plan” for the designs of an agency which, supported by or identical with the government’s police power, prevents all citizens from realizing their own plans and designs. One can hardly overrate the role which the association of ideas generated by this terminology plays in shaping the political tenets of our contemporaries.
The Nature of Mass Phenomena
Some people believe that the object of the social sciences is the study of mass phenomena. While the study of individual traits is of no special interest to them, they hope study of the behavior of social aggregates will reveal information of a really scientific character. For these people the chief defect of the traditional methods of historical research is that they deal with individuals. They esteem statistics precisely because, as they think, it observes and records the behavior of social groups.
In fact statistics records individual traits of the members of arbitrarily selected groups. Whatever the principle may be that determined the scientist to set up a group, the traits recorded refer primarily to the individuals that form the group and only indirectly to the group. The individual members of the group are the units of observation. What statistics provides is information about the behavior of individuals forming a group.
Modern statistics aims at discovering invariable connections between statistically established magnitudes by measuring their correlation. In the field of the sciences of human action this method is absurd. This has been clearly demonstrated by the fact that many coefficients of correlation of a high numerical value have been calculated which undoubtedly do not indicate any connection between the two groups of facts.1
Social phenomena and mass phenomena are not things outside and above individual phenomena. They are not the cause of individual phenomena. They are produced either by the cooperation of individuals or by parallel action. The latter may be either independent or imitative. This is valid also with regard to antisocial actions. The intentional killing of a man by another man is as such merely a human action and would have no other significance in a hypothetical (and irrealizable) state in which there was no cooperation between men. It becomes a crime, murder, in a state where social cooperation precludes homicide except in cases strictly determined by the laws of this society.
What is commonly called a mass phenomenon is the frequent repetition and recurrence of a definite individual phenomenon. The proposition: In the West bread is an article of mass consumption, means: In the West the immense majority of men eat bread daily. They do not eat bread because it is an article of mass consumption. Bread is an article of mass consumption because practically everybody eats a piece of bread each day. From this point of view one may appreciate the endeavors of Gabriel Tarde to describe imitation and repetition as fundamental factors of social evolution.2
The champions of the social sciences criticize the historians for concentrating their attention upon the actions of individuals and neglecting the conduct of the many, the immense majority, the masses. The critique is spurious. A historian who deals with the spread of the Christian creed and of the various churches and denominations, with the events that resulted in the emergence of integrated linguistic groups, with the European colonization of the Western hemisphere, with the rise of modern capitalism certainly does not overlook the behavior of the many. However, the main task of history is to indicate the relation of the individuals’ actions to the course of affairs. Different individuals influence historical change in different ways. There are pioneers who conceive new ideas and design new modes of thinking and acting; there are leaders who guide people along the way these people want to walk, and there are the anonymous masses who follow the leaders. There can be no question of writing history without the names of the pioneers and the leaders. The history of Christianity cannot pass over in silence such men as Saint Paul, Luther, and Calvin, nor can the history of seventeenth-century England fail to analyze the roles of Cromwell, Milton, and William III. To ascribe the ideas producing historical change to the mass psyche is a manifestation of arbitrary metaphysical prepossession. The intellectual innovations which August Comte and Buckle rightly considered the main theme of the study of history are not achievements of the masses. Mass movements are not inaugurated by anonymous nobodys but by individuals. We do not know the names of the men who in the early days of civilization accomplished the greatest exploits. But we are certain that also the technological and institutional innovations of those early ages were not the result of a sudden flash of inspiration that struck the masses but the work of some individuals who by far surpassed their fellow men.
There is no mass psyche and no mass mind but only ideas held and actions performed by the many in endorsing the opinions of the pioneers and leaders and imitating their conduct. Mobs and crowds too act only under the direction of ringleaders. The common men who constitute the masses are characterized by lack of initiative. They are not passive, they also act, but they act only at the instigation of abetters.
The emphasis laid by sociologists upon mass phenomena and their idolization of the common man are an offshoot of the myth that all men are biologically equal. Whatever differences exist between individuals are caused, it is maintained, by postnatal circumstances. If all people equally enjoyed the benefits of a good education, such differences would never appear. The supporters of this doctrine are at a loss to explain the differences among graduates of the same school and the fact that many who are self-taught far excel the doctors, masters, and bachelors of the most renowned universities. They fail to see that education cannot convey to pupils more than the knowledge of their teachers. Education rears disciples, imitators, and routinists, not pioneers of new ideas and creative geniuses. The schools are not nurseries of progress and improvement but conservatories of tradition and unvarying modes of thought. The mark of the creative mind is that it defies a part of what it has learned or, at least, adds something new to it. One utterly misconstrues the feats of the pioneer in reducing them to the instruction he got from his teachers. No matter how efficient school training may be, it would only produce stagnation, orthodoxy, and rigid pedantry if there were no uncommon men pushing forward beyond the wisdom of their tutors.
It is hardly possible to mistake more thoroughly the meaning of history and the evolution of civilization than by concentrating one’s attention upon mass phenomena and neglecting individual men and their exploits. No mass phenomenon can be adequately treated without analyzing the ideas implied. And no new ideas spring from the mythical mind of the masses.
Psychology and Thymology
Naturalistic Psychology and Thymology
Many authors believe that psychology is basic to the social sciences, even that it comprehends them all.
Insofar as psychology proceeds with the experimental methods of physiology, these claims are manifestly unwarranted. The problems investigated in the laboratories of the various schools of experimental psychology have no more reference to the problems of the sciences of human action than those of any other scientific discipline. Most of them are even of no use to praxeology, economics, and all the branches of history. In fact, nobody ever tried to show how the findings of naturalistic psychology could be utilized for any of these sciences.
But the term “psychology” is applied in another sense too. It signifies the cognition of human emotions, motivations, ideas, judgments of value and volitions, a faculty indispensable to everybody in the conduct of daily affairs and no less indispensable to the authors of poems, novels, and plays as well as to historians. Modern epistemology calls this mental process of the historians the specific understanding of the historical sciences of human action. Its function is twofold: it establishes, on the one hand, the fact that, motivated by definite value judgments, people have engaged in definite actions and applied definite means to attain the ends they seek. It tries, on the other hand, to evaluate the effects and the intensity of the effects of an action, its bearing upon the further course of events.
The specific understanding of the historical disciplines is not a mental process exclusively resorted to by historians. It is applied by everybody in daily intercourse with all his fellows. It is a technique employed in all interhuman relations. It is practiced by children in the nursery and kindergarten, by businessmen in trade, by politicians and statesmen in affairs of state. All are eager to get information about other people’s valuations and plans and to appraise them correctly. People as a rule call this insight into the minds of other men psychology. Thus, they say a salesman ought to be a good psychologist, and a political leader should be an expert in mass psychology. This popular use of the term “psychology” must not be confused with the psychology of any of the naturalistic schools. When Dilthey and other epistemologists declared that history must be based on psychology, what they had in mind was this mundane or common-sense meaning of the term.
To prevent mistakes resulting from the confusion of these two entirely different branches of knowledge it is expedient to reserve the term “psychology” for naturalistic psychology and to call the knowledge of human valuations and volitions “thymology.”1
Thymology is on the one hand an offshoot of introspection and on the other a precipitate of historical experience. It is what everybody learns from intercourse with his fellows. It is what a man knows about the way in which people value different conditions, about their wishes and desires and their plans to realize these wishes and desires. It is the knowledge of the social environment in which a man lives and acts or, with historians, of a foreign milieu about which he has learned by studying special sources. If an epistemologist states that history has to be based on such knowledge as thymology, he simply expresses a truism.
While naturalistic psychology does not deal at all with the content of human thoughts, judgments, desires, and actions, the field of thymology is precisely the study of these phenomena.
The distinction between naturalistic psychology and physiology on the one hand and thymology on the other hand can best be illustrated by referring to the methods of psychiatry. Traditional psychopathology and neuropathology deal with the physiological aspects of the diseases of the nerves and the brain. Psychoanalysis deals with their thymological aspects. The object of its investigations is ideas and the conscious aiming at ends that come into conflict with physiological impulses. Ideas urge individuals to suppress certain natural drives, especially such as the sex impulse. But the attempts to repress them do not always succeed fully. The impulses are not eradicated, merely relegated to a hiding place, and take their vengeance. From the depth they exert a disturbing influence on the conscious life and conduct of the individual. Psychoanalytic therapy tries to remove these neurotic troubles by bringing the conflict into the full consciousness of the patient. It heals with ideas, not with drugs or surgical operations.
It is customary to assert that psychoanalysis deals with irrational factors influencing human conduct. This statement needs interpretation in order to prevent confusion. All ultimate ends aimed at by men are beyond the criticism of reason. Judgments of value can be neither justified nor refuted by reasoning. The terms “reasoning” and “rationality” always refer only to the suitability of means chosen for attaining ultimate ends. The choice of ultimate ends is in this sense always irrational.
The sex impulse and the urge to preserve one’s own vital forces are inherent in the animal nature of man. If man were only an animal and not also a valuing person, he would always yield to the impulse that at the instant is most powerful. The eminence of man consists in the fact that he has ideas and, guided by them, chooses between incompatible ends. He chooses also between life and death, between eating and hunger, between coition and sexual abstinence.
In earlier days people were prepared to assume that there was no sense at all in the exceptional behavior of neurotics. Freud demonstrated that the seemingly senseless acts of the neurotic are designed to attain definite ends. The ends the neurotic wants to attain may differ from those for which normal people strive, and—very often—the means the neurotic resorts to are not suitable for their realization. But the fact that means chosen are not fit to attain the ends sought does not qualify an action as irrational.
To make mistakes in pursuing one’s ends is a widespread human weakness. Some err less often than others, but no mortal man is omniscient and infallible. Error, inefficiency, and failure must not be confused with irrationality. He who shoots wants, as a rule, to hit the mark. If he misses it, he is not “irrational”; he is a poor marksman. The doctor who chooses the wrong method to treat a patient is not irrational; he may be an incompetent physician. The farmer who in earlier ages tried to increase his crop by resorting to magic rites acted no less rationally than the modern farmer who applies more fertilizer. He did what according to his—erroneous—opinion was appropriate to his purpose.
What characterizes the neurotic as such is not the fact that he resorts to unsuitable means but that he fails to come to grips with the conflicts that confront civilized man. Life in society requires that the individual suppress instinctive urges present in every animal. We may leave it undecided whether the impulse of aggression is one of these innate urges. There is no doubt that life in society is incompatible with indulgence in the animal habits of satisfying sexual appetites. Perhaps there are better methods of regulating sexual intercourse than those resorted to in actual society. However that may be, it is a fact that the adopted methods put too much strain upon the minds of some individuals. These men and women are at a loss to solve problems which luckier people get over. Their dilemma and embarrassment make them neurotic.
Many spurious objections have been raised to the philosophy of rationalism. Various nineteenth-century schools of thought completely misinterpreted the essence of the rationalist doctrine. As against these misinterpretations it is important to realize that eighteenth-century classical rationalism was defective only in the treatment of some subordinate and merely incidental issues and that these minor deficiencies could easily lead undiscerning critics astray.
The fundamental thesis of rationalism is unassailable. Man is a rational being; that is, his actions are guided by reason. The proposition: Man acts, is tantamount to the proposition: Man is eager to substitute a state of affairs that suits him better for a state of affairs that suits him less. In order to achieve this, he must employ suitable means. It is his reason that enables him to find out what is a suitable means for attaining his chosen end and what is not.
Rationalism was right furthermore in stressing that there is a far-reaching unanimity among people with regard to the choice of ultimate ends. With almost negligible exceptions, all people want to preserve their lives and health and improve the material conditions of their existence. It is this fact that determines both cooperation and competition among men. But in dealing with this point rationalist philosophers committed serious blunders.
In the first place they assumed that all men are endowed with the same power of reasoning. They ignored the difference between clever people and dullards, even that between the pioneering genius and the vast crowds of simple routinists who at best can espouse the doctrines developed by the great thinkers but more often are incapable of comprehending them. As the rationalists saw it, every sane adult was intelligent enough to grasp the meaning of the most complicated theory. If he failed to achieve it, the fault lay not in his intellect but in his education. Once all people have enjoyed a perfect education, all will be as wise and judicious as the most eminent sage.
The second shortcoming of rationalism was its neglect of the problem of erroneous thinking. Most of the rationalist philosophers failed to see that even honest men, sincerely devoted to the search for truth, could err. This prepossession prevented them from doing justice to the ideologies and the metaphysical doctrines of the past. A doctrine of which they disapproved could in their opinion have been prompted only by purposeful deceit. Many of them dismissed all religions as the product of the intentional fraud of wicked impostors.
Yet these shortcomings of classical rationalism do not excuse any of the passionate attacks of modern irrationalism.
Thymology and Praxeology
Thymology has no special relation to praxeology and economics. The popular belief that modern subjective economics, the marginal utility school, is founded on or closely connected with “psychology” is mistaken.
The very act of valuing is a thymological phenomenon. But praxeology and economics do not deal with the thymological aspects of valuation. Their theme is acting in accordance with the choices made by the actor. The concrete choice is an offshoot of valuing. But praxeology is not concerned with the events which within a man’s soul or mind or brain produce a definite decision between an A and a B. It takes it for granted that the nature of the universe enjoins upon man choosing between incompatible ends. Its subject is not the content of these acts of choosing but what results from them: action. It does not care about what a man chooses but about the fact that he chooses and acts in compliance with a choice made. It is neutral with regard to the factors that determine the choice and does not arrogate to itself the competence to examine, to revise, or to correct judgments of value. It is wertfrei [value free].
Why one man chooses water and another man wine is a thymological (or, in the traditional terminology, psychological) problem. But it is of no concern to praxeology and economics.
The subject matter of praxeology and of that part of it which is so far the best developed—economics—is action as such and not the motives that impel a man to aim at definite ends.
Thymology as a Historical Discipline
Psychology in the sense in which the term is employed today by the discipline called psychology is a natural science. It is not the task of an epistemological treatise dealing with the sciences of human action to raise the question as to what distinguishes this branch of the natural sciences from general physiology.
Psychology in the sense of thymology is a branch of history. It derives its knowledge from historical experience. We shall deal in a later section with introspection. At this point it suffices to stress the fact that the thymological observation both of other people’s choices and of the observer’s own choosing necessarily always refers to the past, in the way that historical experience does. There is no method available which would produce in this field something analogous to what the natural sciences consider an experimentally established fact. All that thymology can tell us is that in the past definite men or groups of men were valuing and acting in a definite way. Whether they will in the future value and act in the same way remains uncertain. All that can be asserted about their future conduct is speculative anticipation of the future based on the specific understanding of the historical branches of the sciences of human action.
There is no difference in this regard between the thymology of individuals and that of groups. What is called Völkerpsychologie and mass psychology too are historical disciplines. What is called a nation’s “character” is at best the traits displayed by members of that nation in the past. It remains uncertain whether or not the same traits will manifest themselves in the future too.
All animals are endowed with the impulse of self-preservation. They resist forces detrimental to their survival. If attacked, they defend themselves or counter-attack or seek safety in flight. Biology is in a position to predict, on the basis of observation of the behavior of various species of animals, how a healthy individual of each species will respond to attack. No such apodictic forecast concerning the conduct of men is possible. True, the immense majority of men are driven by the animal impulse of self-preservation. But there are exceptions. There are men who are led by definite ideas to choose nonresistance. There are others whom hopelessness induces to abstain from any attempt to resist or to flee. Before the event it is impossible to know with certainty how an individual will react.
In retrospect historical analysis tries to show us that the outcome could not have been different from what it really was. Of course, the effect is always the necessary resultant of the factors operating. But it is impossible to deduce with certainty from thymological experience the future conduct of men, whether individuals or groups of individuals. All prognostications based on thymological knowledge are specific understanding of the future as practiced daily by everyone in their actions and especially also by statesmen, politicians, and businessmen.
What thymology achieves is the elaboration of a catalogue of human traits. It can moreover establish the fact that certain traits appeared in the past as a rule in connection with certain other traits. But it can never predict in the way the natural sciences can. It can never know in advance with what weight the various factors will be operative in a definite future event.
History and Fiction
History tries to describe past events as they really happened. It aims at faithful representation. Its concept of truth is correspondence with what was once reality.
Epic and dramatic fiction depict what is to be considered true from the point of view of thymological insight, no matter whether the story told really happened or not. It is not our task to deal with the effects the author wants to bring about by his work and with its metaphysical, aesthetic, and moral content. Many writers seek merely to entertain the public. Others are more ambitious. In telling a story, they try to suggest a general view of man’s fate, of life and death, of human effort and suffering, of success and frustration. Their message differs radically from that of science as well as from that of philosophy. Science, in describing and interpreting the universe, relies entirely upon reason and experience. It shuns propositions which are not open to demonstration by means of logic (in the broadest sense of the term that includes mathematics and praxeology) and experience. It analyzes parts of the universe without making any statements about the totality of things. Philosophy tries to build, upon the foundations laid by science, a comprehensive world view. In striving after this end, it feels itself bound not to contradict any of the well-founded theses of contemporary science. Thus its path too is confined by reason and experience.
Poets and artists approach things and problems in another mood. In dealing with a single aspect of the universe they are always dealing with the whole. Narration and description, the portrayal of individual things and of particular events, is for them only a means. The essential feature of their work is beyond words, designs, and colors. It is in the ineffable feelings and ideas that activated the creator and move the reader and spectator. When Konrad Ferdinand Meyer described a Roman fountain and Rainer Maria Rilke a caged panther, they did not simply portray reality. They caught a glimpse of the universe. In Flaubert’s novel it is not Madame Bovary’s sad story that is of primary concern; it is something that reaches far beyond the fate of this poor woman. There is a fundamental difference between the most faithful photograph and a portrait painted by an artist. What characterizes a work of literature and art as such is not its reporting of facts but the way it reveals an aspect of the universe and man’s attitude toward it. What makes an artist is not experience and knowledge as such. It is his particular reaction to the problems of human existence and fate. It is Erlebnis [“experience”], a purely personal response to the reality of his environment and his experience.
Poets and artists have a message to tell. But this message refers to ineffable feelings and ideas. It is not open to utterance in an unambiguous way precisely because it is ineffable. We can never know whether what we experience—erleben [“to experience”]—in enjoying their work is what they experienced in creating it. For their work is not simply a communication. Apart from what it communicates, it stirs up in the reader and spectator feelings and ideas which may differ from those of its author. It is a hopeless task to interpret a symphony, a painting, or a novel. The interpreter at best tries to tell us something about his reaction to the work. He cannot tell us with certainty what the creator’s meaning was or what other people may see in it. Even if the creator himself provides a commentary on his work, as in the case of program-music, this uncertainty remains. There are no words to describe the ineffable.
What history and fiction have in common is the fact that both are based on knowledge concerning the human mind. They operate with thymological experience. Their method of approach is the specific understanding of human valuations, of the way people react to the challenge of their natural and social environment. But then their ways part. What the historian has to tell is completely expressed in his report. He communicates to the reader all he has established. His message is exoteric. There is nothing that would go beyond the content of his book as intelligible to competent readers.
It may happen that the study of history, or for that matter also the study of the natural sciences, rouses in the mind of a man those ineffable thoughts and views of the universe as a whole which are the mark of the empathic grasp of totality. But this does not alter the nature and character of the historian’s work. History is unconditionally the search after facts and events that really happened.
Fiction is free to depict events that never occurred. The writer creates, as people say, an imaginary story. He is free to deviate from reality. The tests of truth that apply to the work of the historian do not apply to his work. Yet his freedom is limited. He is not free to defy the teachings of thymological experience. It is not a requirement of novels and plays that the things related should really have happened. It is not even necessary that they could happen at all; they may introduce heathen idols, fairies, animals acting in human manner, ghosts and other phantoms. But all the characters of a novel or a play must act in a thymologically intelligible way. The concepts of truth and falsehood as applied to epic and dramatic works refer to thymological plausibility. The author is free to create fictitious persons and plots but he must not try to invent a thymology—psychology—different from that derived from the observation of human conduct.
Fiction, like history, does not deal with average man or man in the abstract or general man—homme général1 —but with individual men and individual events. Yet even here there is a conspicuous difference between history and fiction.
The individuals with whom history deals may be and often are groups of individuals, and the individual events with which it deals are events that affected such groups of individuals. The single individual is a subject of the historian’s interest primarily from the point of view of the influence his actions exercised upon a multitude of people or as a typical specimen representative of whole groups of individuals. The historian does not bother about other people. But for the writer of fiction it is always only the individual as such that counts, no matter what his influence upon other people or whether or not he is to be considered typical.
This has been entirely misunderstood in some doctrines about literature developed in the second part of the nineteenth century. The authors of these doctrines were misled by contemporary changes in the treatment of history. While older historians wrote chiefly about great men and affairs of state, modern historians shifted to the history of ideas, institutions, and social conditions. At a time when the prestige of science far surpassed that of literature, and positivist zealots sneered at fiction as a useless pastime, writers tried to justify their profession by representing it as a branch of scientific research. In the opinion of Émile Zola the novel was a sort of descriptive economics and social psychology, to be based upon punctilious exploration of particular conditions and institutions. Other authors went even further and asserted that only the fate of classes, nations, and races, not that of individuals, is to be treated in novels and plays. They obliterated the distinction between a statistical report and a “social” novel or play.
The books and plays written in compliance with the precepts of this naturalistic aesthetics were clumsy pieces of work. No outstanding writer paid more than lip service to these principles. Zola himself was very restrained in the application of his doctrine.
The theme of novels and plays is individual man as he lives, feels, and acts, and not anonymous collective wholes. The milieu is the background of the portraits the author paints; it is the state of external affairs to which the characters respond by moves and acts. There is no such thing as a novel or play whose hero is an abstract concept such as a race, a nation, a caste, or a political party. Man alone is the perennial subject of literature, individual real man as he lives and acts.
The theories of the aprioristic sciences—logic, mathematics, and praxeology—and the experimental facts established by the natural sciences can be viewed without reference to the personality of their authors. In dealing with the problems of Euclidian geometry we are not concerned with the man Euclid and may forget that he ever lived. The work of the historian is necessarily colored by the historian’s specific understanding of the problems involved, but it is still possible to discuss the various issues implied without referring to the historical fact that they originated from a definite author. No such objectivity is permitted in dealing with works of fiction. A novel or a play always has one hero more than the plot indicates. It is also a confession of the author and tells no less about him than about the persons in the story. It reveals his innermost soul.
It has sometimes been asserted that there is more truth in fiction than in history. Insofar as the novel or play is looked upon as a disclosure of the author’s mind, this is certainly correct. The poet always writes about himself, always analyzes his own soul.
The thymological analysis of man is essential in the study of history. It conveys all we can know about ultimate ends and judgments of value. But as has been pointed out above, it is of no avail for praxeology and of little use in dealing with the means applied to attain ends sought.
With regard to the choice of means all that matters is their suitability to attain the ends sought. There is no other standard for appraising means. There are suitable means and unsuitable means. From the point of view of the actor the choice of unsuitable means is always erroneous, an inexcusable failure.
History is called upon to explain the origin of such errors by resorting to thymology and the specific understanding. As man is fallible and the search after appropriate means is very difficult, the course of human history is by and large a series of errors and frustration. Looking backward from the present state of our knowledge we are sometimes tempted to belittle past ages and boast of the efficiency of our time. However, even the pundits of the “atomic age” are not safe against error.
Shortcomings in the choice of means and in acting are not always caused by erroneous thinking and inefficiency. Frequently frustration is the result of irresoluteness with regard to the choice of ends. Wavering between various incompatible goals, the actor vacillates in his conduct of affairs. Indecision prevents him from marching straight toward one goal. He moves to and fro. He goes now toward the left, then toward the right. Thus he does not accomplish anything. Political, diplomatic, and military history has dealt amply with this type of irresolute action in the conduct of affairs of state. Freud has shown what role in the daily life of the individual subconscious repressed urges play in forgetting, mistakes, slips of the tongue or the pen, and accidents.
A man who is obliged to justify his handling of a matter in the eyes of other people often resorts to a pretext. As the motive of his deviation from the most suitable way of procedure he ascribes another reason than that which actually prompted him. He does not dare to admit his real motive because he knows that his critics would not accept it as a sufficient justification.
Rationalization is the name psychoanalysis gives to the construction of a pretext to justify conduct in the actor’s own mind. Either the actor is loath to admit the real motive to himself or he is not aware of the repressed urge directing him. He disguises the subconscious impulse by attaching to his actions reasons acceptable to his superego. He is not consciously cheating and lying. He is himself a victim of his illusions and wishful thinking. He lacks the courage to look squarely at reality. As he dimly surmises that the cognition of the true state of affairs would be unpleasant, undermine his self-esteem, and weaken his resolution, he shrinks from analyzing the problems beyond a certain point. This is of course a rather dangerous attitude, a retreat from an unwelcome reality into an imaginary world of fancy that pleases better. A few steps further in the same direction may lead to insanity.
However, in the lives of individuals there are checks that prevent such rationalizations from becoming rampant and wreaking havoc. Precisely because rationalization is a type of behavior common to many, people are watchful and even often suspect it where it is absent. Some are always ready to unmask their neighbors’ sly attempts to bolster their own self-respect. The most cleverly constructed legends of rationalization cannot in the long run withstand the repeated attacks of debunkers.
It is quite another thing with rationalization developed for the benefit of social groups. That can thrive luxuriantly because it encounters no criticism from the members of the group and because the criticism of outsiders is dismissed as obviously biased. One of the main tasks of historical analysis is to study the various manifestations of rationalization in all fields of political ideologies.
The passionate quarrel of the introspectionists and anti-introspectionists refers to the problems of naturalistic psychology and does not affect thymology. None of the methods and procedures recommended by the anti-introspectionist schools could convey any information and knowledge about the phenomena which thymology explores.
Being himself a valuing and acting ego, every man knows the meaning of valuing and acting. He is aware that he is not neutral with regard to the various states of his environment, that he prefers certain states to others, and that he consciously tries, provided the conditions for such interference on his part are given, to substitute a state that he likes better for one he likes less. It is impossible to imagine a sane human being who lacks this insight. It is no less impossible to conceive how a being lacking this insight could acquire it by means of any experience or instruction. The categories of value and of action are primary and aprioristic elements present to every human mind. No science should or could attack the problems involved without prior knowledge of these categories.
Only because we are aware of these categories do we know what meaning means and have a key to interpret other people’s activities. This awareness makes us distinguish in the external world two separate realms, that of human affairs and that of nonhuman things, or that of final causes and that of causality. It is not our task here to deal with causality. But we must emphasize that the concept of final causes does not stem from experience and observation of something external; it is present in the mind of every human being.
It is necessary to emphasize again and again that no statement or proposition concerning human action can be made that does not imply reference to ends aimed at. The very concept of action is finalistic and is devoid of any sense and meaning if there is no referring to conscious aiming at chosen ends. There is no experience in the field of human action that can be had without resorting to the category of means and ends. If the observer is not familiar with the ideology, the technology, and the therapeutics of the men whose behavior he observes, he cannot make head or tail of it. He sees people running here and there and moving their hands, but he begins to understand what it is all about only when he begins to discover what they want to achieve.
If in employing the term “introspection” the positivist refers to such statements as those expressed in the last four words of the sentence “Paul runs to catch the train,” then we must say that no sane human being could do without resorting to introspection in every thought.
Meaning and Use of the Study of History
The Why of History
In the eyes of the positivist philosopher the study of mathematics and of the natural sciences is a preparation for action. Technology vindicates the labors of the experimenter. No such justification can be advanced in favor of the traditional methods resorted to by the historians. They should abandon their unscientific antiquarianism, says the positivist, and turn to the study of social physics or sociology. This discipline will abstract from historical experience laws which could render to social “engineering” the same services the laws of physics render to technological engineering.
In the opinion of the historicist philosopher the study of history provides man with signposts showing him the ways he has to walk along. Man can succeed only if his actions fit into the trend of evolution. To discover these trend lines is the main task of history.
The bankruptcy of both positivism and historicism raises anew the question about the meaning, the value, and the use of historical studies.
Some self-styled idealists think that reference to a thirst for knowledge, inborn in all men or at least in the higher types of men, answers these questions satisfactorily. Yet the problem is to draw a boundary line between the thirst for knowledge that impels the philologist to investigate the language of an African tribe and the curiosity that stimulates people to peer into the private lives of movie stars. Many historical events interest the average man because hearing or reading about them or seeing them enacted on the stage or screen gives him pleasant, if sometimes shuddering, sensations. The masses who greedily absorb newspaper reports about crimes and trials are not driven by Ranke’s eagerness to know events as they really happened. The passions that agitate them are to be dealt with by psychoanalysis, not by epistemology.
The idealist philosopher’s justification of history as knowledge for the mere sake of knowing fails to take into account the fact that there are certainly things which are not worth knowing. History’s task is not to record all past things and events but only those that are historically meaningful. It is therefore necessary to find a criterion that makes it possible to sift what is historically meaningful from what is not. This cannot be done from the point of view of a doctrine which deems meritorious the mere fact of knowing something.
The Historical Situation
Acting man is faced with a definite situation. His action is a response to the challenge offered by this situation; it is his re-action. He appraises the effects the situation may have upon himself, i.e., he tries to establish what it means to him. Then he chooses and acts in order to attain the end chosen.
As far as the situation can be completely described by the methods of the natural sciences, as a rule the natural sciences also provide an interpretation that enables the individual to make his decision. If a leak in the pipe line is diagnosed, the course of action to be resorted to is in most cases plain. Where a full description of a situation requires more than reference to the teachings of the applied natural sciences, recourse to history is inevitable.
People have often failed to realize this because they were deceived by the illusion that there is, between the past and the future, an extended space of time that can be called the “present.” As I have pointed out before,1 the concept of such a “present” is not an astronomical or chronometrical notion but a praxeological one. It refers to the continuation of the conditions making a definite kind of action possible. It is therefore different for various fields of action. It is, moreover, never possible to know in advance how much of the future, of the time not yet past, will have to be included in what we call today the “present.” This can only be decided in retrospect. If a man says “At present the relations between Ruritania and Lapputania are peaceful,” it is uncertain whether a later retrospective recording will include what today is called tomorrow in this period of present time. This question can only be answered the day after tomorrow.
There is no such thing as a nonhistorical analysis of the present state of affairs. The examination and description of the present are necessarily a historical account of the past ending with the instant just passed. The description of the present state of politics or of business is inevitably the narration of the events that have brought about the present state. If, in business or in government, a new man takes the helm, his first task is to find out what has been done up to the last minute. The statesman as well as the businessman learns about the present situation from studying the records of the past.
Historicism was right in stressing the fact that in order to know something in the field of human affairs one has to familiarize oneself with the way in which it developed. The historicists’ fateful error consisted in the belief that this analysis of the past in itself conveys information about the course future action has to take. What the historical account provides is the description of the situation; the reaction depends on the meaning the actor gives it, on the ends he wants to attain, and on the means he chooses for their attainment. In 1860 there was slavery in many states of the Union. The most careful and faithful record of the history of this institution in general and in the United States in particular did not map out the future policies of the nation with regard to slavery. The situation in the manufacturing and marketing of motorcars that Ford found on the eve of his embarking upon mass production did not indicate what had to be done in this field of business. The historical analysis gives a diagnosis. The reaction is determined, so far as the choice of ends is concerned, by judgments of value and, so far as the choice of means is concerned, by the whole body of teachings placed at man’s disposal by praxeology and technology.
Let those who want to reject the preceding statements undertake to describe any present situation—in philosophy, in politics, on a battlefield, on the stock exchange, in an individual business enterprise—without reference to the past.
History of the Remote Past
A skeptic may object: Granted that some historical studies are descriptions of the present state of affairs, but this is not true of all historical investigations. One may concede that the history of Nazism contributes to a better understanding of various phenomena in the present political and ideological situation. But what reference to our present worries have books on the Mithras cult, on ancient Chaldea, or on the early dynasties of the kings of Egypt? Such studies are merely antiquarian, a display of curiosity. They are useless, a waste of time, money, and manpower.
Criticisms such as these are self-contradictory. On the one hand they admit that the present state can only be described by a full account of the events that have brought it about. On the other hand, they declare beforehand that certain events cannot possibly have influenced the course of affairs that has led to the present state. Yet this negative statement can only be made after careful examination of all the material available, not in advance on the ground of some hasty conclusions.
The mere fact that an event happened in a distant country and a remote age does not in itself prove that it has no bearing on the present. Jewish affairs of three thousand years ago influence the lives of millions of present-day Christian Americans more than what happened to the American Indians as late as in the second part of the nineteenth century. In the present-day conflict of the Roman Church and the Soviets there are elements that trace back to the great schism of the Eastern and Western churches that originated more than a thousand years ago. This schism cannot be examined thoroughly without reference to the whole history of Christianity from its early beginnings; the study of Christianity presupposes analysis of Judaism and the various influences—Chaldean, Egyptian, and so on—that shaped it. There is no point in history at which we can stop our investigation fully satisfied that we have not overlooked any important factor. Whether civilization must be considered a coherent process or whether we should rather distinguish a multitude of civilizations does not affect our problem. For there were mutual exchanges of ideas between these autonomous civilizations, the extent and weight of which must be established by historical research.
A superficial observer might think that the historians are merely repeating what their predecessors have already said, at best occasionally retouching minor details of the picture. Actually the understanding of the past is in perpetual flux. A historian’s achievement consists in presenting the past in a new perspective of understanding. The process of historical change is actuated by, or rather consists in, the ceaseless transformation of the ideas determining human action. Among these ideological changes those concerning the specific historical understanding of the past play a conspicuous role. What distinguishes a later from an earlier age is, among other ideological changes, also the change in the understanding of the preceding ages. Continuously examining and reshaping our historical understanding, the historians contribute their share to what is called the spirit of the age.1
Because history is not a useless pastime but a study of the utmost practical importance, people have been eager to falsify historical evidence and to misrepresent the course of events. The endeavors to mislead posterity about what really happened and to substitute a fabrication for a faithful recording are often inaugurated by the men who themselves played an active role in the events, and begin with the instant of their happening, or sometimes even precede their occurrence. To lie about historical facts and to destroy evidence has been in the opinion of hosts of statesmen, diplomats, politicians, and writers a legitimate part of the conduct of public affairs and of writing history. One of the main problems of historical research is to unmask such falsehoods.
The falsifiers were often prompted by the desire to justify their own or their party’s actions from the point of view of the moral code of those whose support or at least neutrality they were eager to win. Such whitewashing is rather paradoxical if the actions concerned appeared unobjectionable from the point of view of the moral ideas of the time when they occurred, and are condemned only by the moral standards of the fabricator’s contemporaries.
No serious obstacles to the efforts of the historians are created by the machinations of the forgers and falsifiers. What is much more difficult for the historian is to avoid being misled by spurious social and economic doctrines.
The historian approaches the records equipped with the knowledge he has acquired in the fields of logic, praxeology, and the natural sciences. If this knowledge is defective, the result of his examination and analysis of the material will be vitiated. A good part of the last eighty years’ contributions to economic and social history is almost useless on account of the writers’ insufficient grasp of economics. The historicist thesis that the historian needs no acquaintance with economics and should even spurn it has vitiated the work of several generations of historians. Still more devastating was the effect of historicism upon those who called their publications describing various social and business conditions of the recent past economic research.
History and Humanism
Pragmatic philosophy appreciates knowledge because it gives power and makes people fit to accomplish things. From this point of view the positivists reject history as useless. We have tried to demonstrate the service that history renders to acting man in making him understand the situation in which he has to act. We have tried to provide a practical justification of history.
But there is more than this in the study of history. It not only provides knowledge indispensable to preparing political decisions. It opens the mind toward an understanding of human nature and destiny. It increases wisdom. It is the very essence of that much misinterpreted concept, a liberal education. It is the foremost approach to humanism, the lore of the specifically human concerns that distinguish man from other living beings.
The newborn child has inherited from his ancestors the physiological features of the species. He does not inherit the ideological characteristics of human existence, the desire for learning and knowing. What distinguishes civilized man from a barbarian must be acquired by every individual anew. Protracted strenuous exertion is needed to take possession of man’s spiritual legacy.
Personal culture is more than mere familiarity with the present state of science, technology, and civic affairs. It is more than acquaintance with books and paintings and the experience of travel and of visits to museums. It is the assimilation of the ideas that roused mankind from the inert routine of a merely animal existence to a life of reasoning and speculating. It is the individual’s effort to humanize himself by partaking in the tradition of all the best that earlier generations have bequeathed.
The positivist detractors of history contend that preoccupation with things past diverts people’s attention from the main task of mankind, the improvement of future conditions. No blame could be more undeserved. History looks backward into the past, but the lesson it teaches concerns things to come. It does not teach indolent quietism; it rouses man to emulate the deeds of earlier generations. It addresses men as Dante’s Ulysses addressed his companions:
The dark ages were not dark because people were committed to study of the intellectual treasures left by ancient Hellenic civilization; they were dark so long as these treasures were hidden and dormant. Once they came to light again and began to stimulate the minds of the most advanced thinkers, they contributed substantially to the inauguration of what is called today Western civilization. The much criticized term “Renaissance” is pertinent in that it stresses the part the legacy of antiquity played in the evolution of all the spiritual features of the West. (The question whether the beginning of the Renaissance should not be dated some centuries farther back than Burckhardt set it need not concern us here.)
The scions of the barbarian conquerors who first began to study the ancients seriously were struck with awe. They realized that they and their contemporaries were faced with ideas they themselves could not have developed. They could not help thinking of the philosophy, the literature, and the arts of the classical age of Greece and Rome as unsurpassable. They saw no road to knowledge and wisdom but that paved by the ancients. To qualify a spiritual achievement as modern had for them a pejorative connotation. But slowly, from the seventeenth century on, people became aware that the West was coming of age and creating a culture of its own. They no longer bemoaned the disappearance of a golden age of the arts and of learning, irretrievably lost, and no longer thought of the ancient masterpieces as models to be imitated but never equaled, still less surpassed. They came to substitute the idea of progressive improvement for the previously held idea of progressive degeneration.
In this intellectual development that taught modern Europe to know its own worth and produced the self-reliance of modern Western civilization, the study of history was paramount. The course of human affairs was no longer viewed as a mere struggle of ambitious princes and army leaders for power, wealth, and glory. The historians discovered in the flux of events the operation of other forces than those commonly styled political and military. They began to regard the historical process as actuated by man’s urge toward betterment. They disagreed widely in their judgments of value and in their appraisal of the various ends aimed at by governments and reformers. But they were nearly unanimous in holding that the main concern of every generation is to render conditions more satisfactory than their ancestors left them. They announced progress toward a better state of civic affairs as the main theme of human endeavor.
Faithfulness to tradition means to the historian observance of the fundamental rule of human action, namely, ceaseless striving to improve conditions. It does not mean preservation of unsuitable old institutions and clinging to doctrines long since discredited by more tenable theories. It does not imply any concession to the point of view of historicism.
History and the Rise of Aggressive Nationalism
The historian should utilize in his studies all the knowledge that the other disciplines place at his disposal. Inadequacy in this knowledge affects the results of his work.
If we were to consider the Homeric epics merely as historical narratives, we would have to judge them unsatisfactory on account of the theology or mythology used to interpret and explain facts. Personal and political conflicts between princes and heroes, the spread of a plague, meteorological conditions, and other happenings were attributed to the interference of gods. Modern historians refrain from tracing back earthly events to supernatural causes. They avoid propositions that would manifestly contradict the teachings of the natural sciences. But they are often ignorant of economics and committed to untenable doctrines concerning the problems of economic policies. Many cling to neomercantilism, the social philosophy adopted almost without exception by contemporary political parties and governments and taught at all universities. They approve the fundamental thesis of mercantilism that the gain of one nation is the damage of other nations; that no nation can win but by the loss of others. They think an irreconcilable conflict of interests prevails among nations. From this point of view many or even most historians interpret all events. The violent clash of nations is in their eyes a necessary consequence of a nature-given and inevitable antagonism. This antagonism cannot be removed by any arrangement of international relations. The advocates of integral free trade, the Manchester or laissez-faire Liberals, are, they think, unrealistic and do not see that free trade hurts the vital interests of any nation resorting to it.
It is not surprising that the average historian shares the fallacies and misconceptions prevailing among his contemporaries. It was, however, not the historians but the anti-economists who developed the modern ideology of international conflict and aggressive nationalism. The historians merely adopted and applied it. It is not especially remarkable that in their writings they took the side of their own nation and tried to justify its claims and pretensions.
Books on history, especially those on the history of one’s own country, appeal more to the general reader than do tracts on economic policy. The audience of the historians is broader than that of the authors of books on the balance of payments, foreign exchange control, and similar matters. This explains why historians are often considered the leading fomenters of the revival of the warlike spirit and of the resulting wars of our age. Actually they have merely popularized the teachings of pseudo economists.
History and Judgments of Value
The subject of history is action and the judgments of value directing action toward definite ends. History deals with values, but it itself does not value. It looks upon events with the eyes of an unaffected observer. This is, of course, the characteristic mark of objective thought and of the scientific search for truth. Truth refers to what is or was, not to a state of affairs that is not or was not but that would suit the wishes of the truth-seeker better.
There is no need to add anything to what has been said in the first part of this essay about the futility of the search for absolute and eternal values. History is no better able than any other science to provide standards of value that would be more than personal judgments pronounced then and there by mortal men and rejected then and there by other mortal men.
There are authors who assert that it is logically impossible to deal with historical facts without expressing judgments of value. As they see it, one cannot say anything relevant about these things without making one value judgment after another. If, for example, one deals with such phenomena as pressure groups or prostitution, one has to realize that these phenomena themselves “are, as it were, constituted by value judgments.”1 Now, it is true that many people employ such terms as “pressure group” and almost everyone uses the term “prostitution” in a way that implies a judgment of value. But this does not mean that the phenomena to which these terms refer are constituted by value judgments. Prostitution is defined by Geoffrey May as “the practice of habitual or intermittent sexual union, more or less promiscuous, for mercenary inducement.”2 A pressure group is a group aiming to attain legislation thought favorable to the interests of the group members. There is no valuation whatever implied in the mere use of such terms or in the reference to such phenomena. It is not true that history, if it has to avoid value judgments, would not be permitted to speak of cruelty.3 The first meaning of the word “cruel” in the Concise Oxford Dictionary is “indifferent to, delighting in, another’s pain.”4 This definition is no less objective and free from any valuation than that given by the same dictionary for sadism: “sexual perversion marked by love of cruelty.”5 As a psychiatrist employs the term “sadism” to describe the condition of a patient, a historian may refer to “cruelty” in describing certain actions. A dispute that may arise as to what causes pain and what not, or as to whether in a concrete case pain was inflicted because it gave pleasure to the actor or for other reasons, is concerned with establishing facts, not making judgments of value.
The problem of history’s neutrality as to judgments of value must not be confused with that of the attempts to falsify the historical account. There have been historians who were eager to represent battles lost by their own nation’s armed forces as victories and who claimed for their own people, race, party, or faith everything they regarded as meritorious and exculpated them from everything they regarded as objectionable. The textbooks of history prepared for the public schools are marked by a rather naïve parochialism and chauvinism. There is no need to dwell on such futilities. But it must be admitted that even for the most conscientious historian abstention from judgments of value may offer certain difficulties.
As a man and as a citizen the historian takes sides in many feuds and controversies of his age. It is not easy to combine scientific aloofness in historical studies with partisanship in mundane interests. But that can be and has been achieved by outstanding historians. The historian’s world view may color his work. His representation of events may be interlarded with remarks that betray his feelings and wishes and divulge his party affiliation. However, the postulate of scientific history’s abstention from value judgments is not infringed by occasional remarks expressing the preferences of the historian if the general purport of the study is not affected. If the writer, speaking of an inept commander of the forces of his own nation or party, says “unfortunately” the general was not equal to his task, he has not failed in his duty as a historian. The historian is free to lament the destruction of the masterpieces of Greek art provided his regret does not influence his report of the events that brought about this destruction.
The problem of Wertfreiheit [“freedom from value judgments”] must also be clearly distinguished from that of the choice of theories resorted to for the interpretation of facts. In dealing with the data available, the historian needs all the knowledge provided by the other disciplines, by logic, mathematics, praxeology, and the natural sciences. If what these disciplines teach is insufficient or if the historian chooses an erroneous theory out of several conflicting theories held by the specialists, his effort is misled and his performance is abortive. It may be that he chose an untenable theory because he was biased and this theory best suited his party spirit. But the acceptance of a faulty doctrine may often be merely the outcome of ignorance or of the fact that it enjoys greater popularity than more correct doctrines.
The main source of dissent among historians is divergence in regard to the teachings of all the other branches of knowledge upon which they base their presentation. To a historian of earlier days who believed in witchcraft, magic, and the devil’s interference with human affairs, things had a different aspect than they have for an agnostic historian. The neomercantilist doctrines of the balance of payments and of the dollar shortage give an image of present-day world conditions very different from that provided by an examination of the situation from the point of view of modern subjectivist economics.
The Epistemological Features of History
Prediction in the Natural Sciences
The natural sciences have two modes of predicting future events: the sweeping prediction and the statistical prediction. The former says: b follows a. The latter says: In x% of all cases b follows a; in (100 − x)% of all cases non-b follows a.
Neither of these predictions can be called apodictic. Both are based upon experience. Experience is necessarily of past events. It can be resorted to for the prediction of future events only with the aid of the assumption that an invariable uniformity prevails in the concatenation and succession of natural phenomena. Referring to this aprioristic assumption, the natural sciences proceed to ampliative induction, inferring from regularity observed in the past to the same regularity in future events.
Ampliative induction is the epistemological basis of the natural sciences. The fact that the various machines and gadgets designed in accordance with the theorems of the natural sciences run and work in the expected way provides practical confirmation both of the theorems concerned and of the inductive method. However, this corroboration too refers only to the past. It does not preclude the possibility that one day factors up to now unknown to us may produce effects that will make a shambles of our knowledge and technological skill. The philosopher has to admit that there is no way mortal man can acquire certain knowledge about the future. But acting man has no reason to attach any importance to the logical and epistemological precariousness of the natural sciences. They provide the only mental tool that can be used in the ceaseless struggle for life. They have proved their practical worth. As no other way to knowledge is open to man, no alternative is left to him. If he wants to survive and to render his life more agreeable, he must accept the natural sciences as guides toward technological and therapeutical success. He must behave as if the predictions of the natural sciences were truth, perhaps not eternal, unshakable truth, but at least truth for that period of time for which human action can plan to provide.
The assurance with which the natural sciences announce their findings is not founded solely upon this as if. It is also derived from the intersubjectivity and objectivity of the experience that is the raw material of the natural sciences and the starting point of their reasoning. The apprehension of external objects is such that among all those in a position to become aware of them agreement about the nature of that apprehension can easily be reached. There is no disagreement about pointer readings that cannot be brought to a final decision. Scientists may disagree about theories. They never lastingly disagree about the establishment of what is called pure facts. There can be no dispute as to whether a definite piece of stuff is copper or iron or its weight is two pounds or five.
It would be preposterous to fail to recognize the significance of the epistemological discussions concerning induction, truth, and the mathematical calculus of probability. Yet these philosophical disquisitions do not further our endeavors to analyze the epistemological problems of the sciences of human action. What the epistemology of the sciences of human action has to remember about the natural sciences is that their theorems, although abstracted from experience, i.e., from what happened in the past, have been used successfully for designing future action.
History and Prediction
In their logical aspect the procedures applied in the most elaborate investigations in the field of natural events do not differ from the mundane logic of everybody’s daily business. The logic of science is not different from the logic resorted to by any individual in the meditations that precede his actions or weigh their effects afterward. There is only one a priori and only one logic conceivable to the human mind. There is consequently only one body of natural science that can stand critical examination by the logical analysis of available experience.
As there is only one mode of logical thinking, there is only one praxeology (and, for that matter, only one mathematics) valid for all. As there is no human thinking that would fail to distinguish between A and non-A, so there is no human action that would not distinguish between means and ends. This distinction implies that man values, i.e., that he prefers an A to a B.
For the natural sciences the limit of knowledge is the establishment of an ultimate given, that is, of a fact that cannot be traced back to another fact of which it would appear as the necessary consequence. For the sciences of human action the ultimate given is the judgments of value of the actors and the ideas that engender these judgments of value.
It is precisely this fact that precludes employing the methods of the natural sciences to solve problems of human action. Observing nature, man discovers an inexorable regularity in the reaction of objects to stimuli. He classifies things according to the pattern of their reaction. A concrete thing, for example copper, is something that reacts in the same way in which other specimens of the same class react. As the patterns of this reaction are known, the engineer knows what future reaction on the part of copper he has to expect. This foreknowledge, notwithstanding the epistemological reservations referred to in the preceding section, is considered apodictic. All our science and philosophy, all our civilization would at once be called into question if, in but one instance and for but one moment, the patterns of these reactions varied.
What distinguishes the sciences of human action is the fact that there is no such foreknowledge of the individuals’ value judgments, of the ends they will aim at under the impact of these value judgments, of the means they will resort to in order to attain the ends sought, and of the effects of their actions insofar as these are not entirely determined by factors the knowledge of which is conveyed by the natural sciences. We know something about these things, but our knowledge of them and about them is categorially different from the kind of knowledge the experimental natural sciences provide about natural events. We could call it historical knowledge if this term were not liable to misinterpretation in suggesting that this knowledge serves only or predominantly to elucidate past events. Yet its most important use is to be seen in the service it renders to the anticipation of future conditions and to the designing of action that necessarily always aims at affecting future conditions.
Something happens in the field of the nation’s domestic politics. How will Senator X, the outstanding man of the green party, react? Many informed men may have an opinion about the senator’s expected reaction. Perhaps one of these opinions will prove to be correct. But it may also happen that none of them was right and that the senator reacts in a way not prognosticated by anybody. And then a similar dilemma arises in weighing the effects brought about by the way the senator has reacted. This second dilemma cannot be resolved as the first one was, as soon as the senator’s action becomes known. For centuries to come historians may disagree about the effects produced by certain actions.
Traditional epistemology, exclusively preoccupied with the logical problems of the natural sciences and wholly ignorant even of the existence of the field of praxeology, tried to deal with these problems from the point of view of its narrow-minded, dogmatic orthodoxy. It condemned all the sciences that were not experimental natural sciences as backward and committed to an outdated philosophical and metaphysical, i.e., in their usage, stupid, method. It confused probability as the term is used in colloquial expressions referring to history and practical everyday action with the concept of probability as employed in the mathematical calculus of probability. Finally sociology made its appearance. It promised to substitute true science for the rubbish and empty gossiping of the historians in developing an a posteriori science of “social laws” to be derived from historical experience.
This disparagement of the methods of history moved first Dilthey, then Windelband, Rickert, Max Weber, Croce, and Collingwood to opposition. Their interpretations were in many regards unsatisfactory. They were deluded by many of the fundamental errors of historicism. All but Collingwood failed entirely to recognize the unique epistemological character of economics. They were vague in their references to psychology. The first four moreover were not free from the chauvinistic bias which in the age of pan-Germanism induced even the most eminent German thinkers to belittle the teachings of what they called Western philosophy. But the fact remains that they succeeded brilliantly in elucidating the epistemological features of the study of history. They destroyed forever the prestige of those epistemological doctrines that blamed history for being history and for not being “social physics.” They exposed the futility of the search after aposteriori laws of historical change or historical becoming that would make possible the prediction of future history in the way the physicists predict the future behavior of copper. They made history self-conscious.
The Specific Understanding of History
Praxeology, the a priori science of human action, and, more specifically, its up to now best-developed part, economics, provides in its field a consummate interpretation of past events recorded and a consummate anticipation of the effects to be expected from future actions of a definite kind. Neither this interpretation nor this anticipation tells anything about the actual content and quality of the acting individuals’ judgments of value. Both presuppose that the individuals are valuing and acting, but their theorems are independent of and unaffected by the particular characteristics of this valuing and acting. These characteristics are for the sciences of human action ultimate data, they are what is called historical individuality.
However, there is a momentous difference between the ultimate given in the natural sciences and that in the field of human action. An ultimate given of nature is—for the time being, that is, until someone succeeds in exposing it as the necessary consequence of some other ultimate given—a stopping point for human reflection. It is as it is, that is all that man can say about it.
But it is different with the ultimate given of human action, with the value judgments of individuals and the actions induced by them. They are ultimately given as they cannot be traced back to something of which they would appear to be the necessary consequence. If this were not the case, it would not be permissible to call them an ultimate given. But they are not, like the ultimate given in the natural sciences, a stopping point for human reflection. They are the starting point of a specific mode of reflection, of the specific understanding of the historical sciences of human action.
If the experimenter in the laboratory has established a fact which, at least for the time being, cannot be traced back to another fact of which it would appear as a derivative, there is nothing more to be said about the issue. But if we are faced with a value judgment and the resulting action, we may try to understand how they originated in the mind of the actor.
This specific understanding of human action as it is practiced by everybody in all his interhuman relations and actions is a mental procedure that must not be confused with any of the logical schemes resorted to by the natural sciences and by everybody in purely technological or therapeutical activities.
The specific understanding aims at the cognition of other people’s actions. It asks in retrospect: What was he doing, what was he aiming at? What did he mean in choosing this definite end? What was the outcome of his action? Or it asks analogous questions for the future: What ends will he choose? What will he do in order to attain them? What will the outcome of his action be?
In actual life all these questions are seldom asked in isolation. They are mostly connected with other questions referring to praxeology or to the natural sciences. The categorial distinctions that epistemology is bound to make are tools of our mental operations. The real events are complex phenomena and can be grasped by the mind only if each of the various tools available is employed for its proper purpose.
The main epistemological problem of the specific understanding is: How can a man have any knowledge of the future value judgments and actions of other people? The traditional method of dealing with this problem, commonly called the problem of the alter ego or Fremdverstehen [“to understand what is strange or foreign”], is unsatisfactory. It focused attention upon grasping the meaning of other people’s behavior in the “present” or, more correctly, in the past. But the task with which acting man, that is, everybody, is faced in all relations with his fellows does not refer to the past; it refers to the future. To know the future reactions of other people is the first task of acting man. Knowledge of their past value judgments and actions, although indispensable, is only a means to this end.
It is obvious that this knowledge which provides a man with the ability to anticipate to some degree other people’s future attitudes is not a priori knowledge. The a priori discipline of human action, praxeology, does not deal with the actual content of value judgments; it deals only with the fact that men value and then act according to their valuations. What we know about the actual content of judgments of value can be derived only from experience. We have experience of other people’s past value judgments and actions; and we have experience of our own value judgments and actions. The latter is commonly called introspection. To distinguish it from experimental psychology, the term thymology was suggested in an earlier chapter1 for that branch of knowledge which deals with human judgments of values and ideas.
Wilhelm Dilthey stressed the role that thymology—of course he said psychology—plays in the Geisteswissenschaften, the mental or moral sciences, the sciences dealing with human thoughts, ideas, and value judgments, and their operation in the external world.2 It is not our task to trace back Dilthey’s ideas to earlier authors. There is little doubt that he owed much to predecessors, especially to David Hume. But the examination of these influences must be left to treatises dealing with the history of philosophy. Dilthey’s chief contribution was his pointing out in what respect the kind of psychology he was referring to was epistemologically and methodologically different from the natural sciences and therefore also from experimental psychology.
Thymological experience is what we know about human value judgments, the actions determined by them, and the responses these actions arouse in other people. As has been said, this experience stems either from introspection or from intercourse with other men, from our acting in various interhuman relations.
Like all experience, thymological experience too is necessarily knowledge of things that happened in the past. For reasons made sufficiently clear in the earlier sections of this essay, it is not permitted to assign to it the meaning the natural sciences assign to the results of experimentation. What we learn from thymological experience never has the significance of what is called in the natural sciences an experimentally established fact. It always remains a historical fact. Thymology is a historical discipline.
For lack of any better tool, we must take recourse to thymology if we want to anticipate other people’s future attitudes and actions. Out of our general thymological experience, acquired either directly from observing our fellow men and transacting business with them or indirectly from reading and from hearsay, as well as out of our special experience acquired in previous contacts with the individuals or groups concerned, we try to form an opinion about their future conduct. It is easy to see in what the fundamental difference consists between this kind of anticipation and that of an engineer designing the plan for the construction of a bridge.
Thymology tells no more than that man is driven by various innate instincts, various passions, and various ideas. The anticipating individual tries to set aside those factors that manifestly do not play any role in the concrete case under consideration. Then he chooses among the remaining ones.
It is usual to qualify such prognoses as more or less probable and to contrast them with the forecasts of the natural sciences which once were called certain and are still considered certain and exact by people not familiar with the problems of logic and epistemology. Setting aside these latter problems, we must emphasize that the probability of the prognoses concerning future human action has little in common with that category of probability which is dealt with in the mathematical calculus of probability. The former is case probability and not class probability.1 In order to prevent confusion, it is advisable to refer to case probability as likelihood.
In the specific understanding of future events there are as a rule two orders of likelihood to be ascertained. The first refers to the enumeration of the factors that could possibly take or have taken effect in producing the outcome in question. The second refers to the influence of each of these factors in the production of the outcome. It can easily be seen that the likelihood that the enumeration of the operating factors will be correct and complete is much higher than the likelihood that the proper extent of participation will be attributed to each. Yet the correctness or incorrectness of a prognosis depends on the correctness or incorrectness of this latter evaluation. The precariousness of forecasting is mainly due to the intricacy of this second problem. It is not only a rather puzzling question in forecasting future events. It is no less puzzling in retrospect for the historian.
It is not enough for the statesman, the politician, the general, or the entrepreneur to know all the factors that can possibly contribute to the determination of a future event. In order to anticipate correctly they must also anticipate correctly the quantity as it were of each factor’s contribution and the instant at which its contribution will become effective. And later the historians will have to face the same difficulty in analyzing and understanding the case in retrospect.
Real Types and Ideal Types
The natural sciences classify the things of the external world according to their reaction to stimuli. Since copper is something that reacts in a definite way, the name copper is denied to a thing that reacts in a different way. In establishing the fact that a thing is copper, we make a forecast about its future behavior. What is copper cannot be iron or oxygen.
In acting—in their daily routine, as well as in technology and therapeutics, and also in history—people employ “real types,” that is, class concepts distinguishing people or institutions according to neatly definable traits. Such classification can be based on concepts of praxeology and economics, of jurisprudence, of technology, and of the natural sciences. It may refer to Italians, for example, either as the inhabitants of a definite area, or as people endowed with a special legal characteristic, viz., Italian nationality, or as a definite linguistic group. This kind of classification is independent of specific understanding. It points toward something that is common to all members of the class. All Italians in the geographic sense of the term are affected by geological or meteorological events that touch their country. All Italian citizens are concerned by legal acts relating to people of their nationality. All Italians in the linguistic sense of the term are in a position to make themselves understood to one another. Nothing more than this is meant when a man is called an Italian in one of these three connotations.
The characteristic mark of an “ideal type,” on the other hand, is that it implies some proposition concerning valuing and acting. If an ideal type refers to people, it implies that in some respect these men are valuing and acting in a uniform or similar way. When it refers to institutions, it implies that these institutions are products of uniform or similar ways of valuing and acting or that they influence valuing and acting in a uniform or similar way.
Ideal types are constructed and employed on the basis of a definite mode of understanding the course of events, whether in order to forecast the future or to analyze the past. If in dealing with American elections one refers to the Italian vote, the implication is that there are voters of Italian descent whose voting is to some extent influenced by their Italian origin. That such a group of voters exists will hardly be denied, but people disagree widely as to the number of citizens included in this group and the degree to which their voting is determined by their Italian ideologies. It is this uncertainty about the power of the ideology concerned, this impossibility of finding out and measuring its effect upon the minds of the individual members of the group, that characterizes the ideal type as such and distinguishes it from real types. An ideal type is a conceptual tool of understanding, and the service that it renders depends entirely on the serviceableness of the definite mode of understanding.
Ideal types must not be confused with the types referred to in moral or political “oughts,” which we may call “ought types.” The Marxians contend that all proletarians necessarily behave in a definite way, and the Nazis make the analogous statement with regard to all Germans. But neither of these parties can deny that its declaration is untenable as a proposition about what is, since there are proletarians and Germans who deviate from the modes of acting which these parties call proletarian and German respectively. What they really have in mind in announcing their dicta is a moral obligation. What they mean is: Every proletarian ought to act the way the party program and its legitimate expositors declare to be proletarian; every German ought to act the way the nationalist party considers genuinely German. Those proletarians or Germans whose conduct does not comply with the rules are smeared as traitors. The ought type belongs to the terminology of ethics and politics and not to that of the epistemology of the sciences of human action.
It is furthermore necessary to separate ideal types from organizations having the same name. In dealing with nineteenth-century French history we frequently encounter references to the Jesuits and to the Free Masons. These terms may refer to acts of the organizations designated by these names, e.g., “The Jesuit order opened a new school” or “The lodges of the Free Masons donated a sum of money for the relief of people who suffered in a fire.” Or they may refer to ideal types, pointing out that members of these organizations and their friends are in definite respects acting under the sway of a definite Jesuit or Masonic ideology. There is a difference between stating that a political movement is organized, guided, and financed by the order or the lodges as such and saying that it is inspired by an ideology of which the order or the lodges are considered the typical or outstanding representatives. The first proposition has no reference to the specific understanding. It concerns facts that could be confirmed or disproved by the study of records and the hearing of witnesses. The second assertion regards understanding. In order to form a judgment on its adequacy or inadequacy one has to analyze ideas and doctrines and their bearing upon actions and events. Methodologically there is a fundamental difference between the analysis of the impact of the ideology of Marxian socialism upon the mentality and the conduct of our contemporaries and the study of the actions of the various communist and socialist governments, parties, and conspiracies.1
The service a definite ideal type renders to the acting man in his endeavors to anticipate future events and to the historian in his analysis of the past is dependent on the specific understanding that led to its construction. To question the usefulness of an ideal type for explaining a definite problem, one must criticize the mode of understanding involved.
In dealing with conditions in Latin America the ideal type “general” may be of some use. There have been definite ideologies current which in some respects determined the role played by many—not by all—army leaders who became important in politics. In France too ideas prevailed that by and large circumscribed the position of generals in politics and the role of such men as Cavaignac, MacMahon, Boulanger, Pétain, and de Gaulle. But in the United States it would make no sense to employ the ideal type of a political general or a general in politics. No American ideology exists that would consider the armed forces as a separate entity distinguished from and opposed to the “civilian” population. There is consequently no political esprit de corps in the army and its leaders have no authoritarian prestige among “civilians.” A general who becomes president ceases not only legally but also politically to be a member of the army.
In referring to ideal types the historian of the past as well as the historian of the future, i.e., acting man, must never forget that there is a fundamental difference between the reactions of the objects of the natural sciences and those of men. It is this difference that people have wanted to bring into relief in speaking of the opposition of mind and matter, of freedom of the will, and of individuality. Ideal types are expedients to simplify the treatment of the puzzling multiplicity and variety of human affairs. In employing them one must always be aware of the deficiencies of any kind of simplification. The exuberance and variability of human life and action cannot be fully seized by concepts and definitions. Some unanswered or even unanswerable questions always remain, some problems whose solution passes the ability even of the greatest minds.
[1 ]Letter to Starkenburg, Jan. 25, 1894, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Correspondence 1846–1895 (London, M. Lawrence, Ltd., 1934), p. 518.
[2 ]Taine, Les Origines de la France contemporaine, 1, Bk. III (16th ed. Paris, 1887), pp. 221–328.
[1 ]Das Kapital, 1, 335, n. 89.
[2 ]Engels’s Herr Eugen Dührings Revolution in Science (Anti-Dühring), (London, Lawrence & Wishart, Ltd., 1934).
[3 ]Ibid., p. 191. “[T]he weapons used have reached such a stage of perfection that further progress which would have any revolutionising [sic] influence is no longer possible.”
[4 ]Ibid., p. 193. “And we have seen in case after case how advances in technique, as soon as they became usable in the military sphere and in fact were so used, immediately and almost violently produced changes in the methods of warfare and indeed revolutionized them, often even against the will of the army command.”
[5 ]Engels, Der Ursprung der Familie, des Privateigentums und des Staates (6th ed. Stuttgart, 1894), p. 186.
[1 ]See below, p. 207.
[2 ]For various other names suggested see Arthur Spiethoff in the Preface to the English edition of his treatise on “Business Cycles,” International Economic Papers, No. 3 (New York, 1953), p. 75.
[3 ]Mises, Human Action, 4th ed. 1996, p. 101.
[4 ]Ibid., pp. 117–18. See below, p. 205.
[5 ]Mises, “Trends Can Change,” Planning for Freedom (South Holland, Ill., Libertarian Press, 1952), pp. 163–9. In later editions of this anthology (1962, 1974, and 1980) see pp. 173–9.
[1 ]Gunnar Myrdal, The Political Element in the Development of Economic Theory, trans. by P. Streeten (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1954), pp. 199–200.
[2 ]John Stuart Mill, Essays on Some Unsettled Questions of Political Economy (3d ed. London, 1877), pp. 140–1.
[3 ]Böhm-Bawerk, “Grundzüge der Theorie des wirtschaftlichen Güterwerts,” Jahrbücher für Nationalökonomie und Statistik, N.F., 13, (1886), 479, n. 1; Kapital und Kapitalzins (3d ed. Innsbruck, 1909), 2, 316–17, n. 1. Eng. trans. Capital and Interest, South Holland, Ill.: Libertarian Press, 1959, Vol. 2, pp. 121, 128–9, n. 6, p. 422, n. 7.
[1 ]Walter Bagehot, Physics and Politics (London, 1872), p. 212.
[2 ]A. J. Toynbee, A Study of History, Abridgment of Volumes I–VI by D. C. Somervell (Oxford University Press, 1947), p. 254.
[1 ]Leslie Stephens, The English Utilitarians (London, 1900), 3, 70 (on J. Stuart Mill).
[2 ]Mises, Omnipotent Government (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1944), pp. 84–9.
[1 ]See above, pp. 22 f.
[2 ]R. H. Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (New York, Penguin Books, n.d.), pp. 38 and 234.
[3 ]W. Sombart, Der proletarische Sozialismus (10th ed. Jena, 1924), 1, 31.
[1 ]Otto Neurath, “Foundations of the Social Sciences,” International Encyclopedia of Unified Science, Vol. 2, No. 1.
[2 ]John B. Watson, Behaviorism (New York, W. W. Norton, 1930), p. 11.
[3 ]Watson, p. 269.
[4 ]Horace M. Kallen, “Behaviorism,” Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences,2, 498.
[5 ]Karl Mannheim developed a comprehensive plan to produce the “best possible” human types by “deliberately” reorganizing the various groups of social factors. “We,” that is Karl Mannheim and his friends, will determine what “the highest good of society and the peace of mind of the individual” require. Then “we” will revamp mankind. For our vocation is “the planned guidance of people’s lives.” Mannheim, Man and Society in an Age of Reconstruction (London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1940), p. 222. The most remarkable thing about such ideas is that in the thirties and forties they were styled democratic, liberal, and progressive. Joseph Goebbels was more modest than Mannheim in that he wanted only to revamp the German people and not the whole of mankind. But in his approach to the problem he did not differ essentially from Mannheim. In a letter of April 12, 1933, to Wilhelm Furtwängler he referred to the “we” to whom “the responsible task has been entrusted, to fashion out of the raw stuff of the masses the firm and well-shaped structure of the nation (denen die verantwortungsvolle Aufgabe anvertraut ist, aus dem rohen Stoff der Masse das feste und gestalthafte Gebilde des Volkes zu formen).” Berta Geissmar, Musik im Schatten der Politik (Zürich, Atlantis Verlag, 1945), pp. 97–9. Unfortunately neither Mannheim nor Goebbels told us who had entrusted them with the task of reconstructing and re-creating men.
[1 ]K. Koffka, “Gestalt,” Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences, 6, 644.
[2 ]Ibid., p. 645.
[3 ]Gustav Mayer, Lassalleana, Archiv für Geschichte der Sozialismus, 1, 196.
[4 ]Hegel, Philosophy of Right, sec. 258.
[1 ]E. R. A. Seligman, “What Are the Social Sciences?” Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences, 1, 3.
[2 ]Seligman, loc. cit.
[1 ]M. R. Cohen and E. Nagel, An Introduction to Logic and Scientific Method (New York, Harcourt, Brace, 1934), p. 317.
[2 ]G. Tarde, Les lois de l’imitation, 3d ed. Paris, 1900.
[1 ]Some writers, for instance, Santayana, employed the term “literary psychology.” See his book Scepticism and Animal Faith, ch. 24. However, the use of this term seems inadvisable, not only because it was employed in a pejorative sense by Santayana as well as by many representatives of naturalistic psychology, but because it is impossible to form a corresponding adjective. “Thymology” is derived from the Greek Θυμός, which Homer and other authors refer to as the seat of the emotions and as the mental faculty of the living body by means of which thinking, willing, and feeling are conducted. See Wilhelm von Volkmann, Lehrbuch der Psychologie (Cöthen, 1884), 1, 57–9; Erwin Rohde, Psyche, trans. by W. B. Hillis (London, 1925), p. 50; Richard B. Onians, The Origins of European Thought about the Body, the Mind, the Soul, the World, Time, and Fate (Cambridge, 1951), pp. 49–56. Recently Professor Hermann Friedmann employed the term Thymologie with a somewhat different connotation. See his book Das Gemüt, Gedanken zu einer Thymologie (Munich, C. H. Beck, 1956), pp. 2–16.
[1 ]P. Lacombe, De l’histoire considérée comme science (2d ed. Paris, 1930), pp. 35–41.
[1 ]Mises, Human Action, 4th ed. 1996, p. 101. See also above, pp. 135 f.
[1 ]Sometimes historical research succeeds in unmasking inveterate errors and substituting a correct account of events for an inadequate record even in fields that had up to then been considered fully and satisfactorily explored and described. An outstanding example is the startling discoveries concerning the history of the Roman emperors Maxentius, Licinius, and Constantinus and the events that ended the persecution of the Christians and paved the way for the victory of the Christian Church. (See Henri Grégoire, Les Persécutions dans l’Empire Romain in Mémoires de l’Académie Royale de Belgique, Tome 46, Fascicule 1, 1951, especially pp. 79–89, 153–6.) But fundamental changes in the historical understanding of events are more often brought about without any or only slight revision of the description of external events.
[1 ]L’Inferno,xxvi, 118–20. In the translation by Longfellow:
[1 ]Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1953), p. 53.
[2 ]G. May, “Prostitution,” Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences, 12, 553.
[3 ]Strauss, p. 52.
[4 ]3d ed., 1934, p. 273.
[5 ]Ibid., p. 1042.
[1 ]See p. 177.
[2 ]See especially Dilthey, Einleitung in die Geisteswissenschaften, Leipzig, 1883. See also H. A. Hodges, The Philosophy of Wilhelm Dilthey (London, 1952), pp. 170 ff.
[1 ]See above, p. 61.
[1 ]There is a distinction between the Communist party or a Communist party as an organized body on the one hand and the communist (Marxian) ideology on the other. In dealing with contemporary history and politics people often fail to realize the fact that many people who are not members—“card-bearing” or dues-paying members—of a party organization may be, either totally or in certain regards, under the sway of the party ideology. Especially in weighing the strength of the ideas of communism or of those of Nazism in Germany or of Fascism in Italy, serious confusion resulted from this error. Furthermore it is necessary to know that an ideology may sometimes also influence the minds of those who believe that they are entirely untouched by it or who even consider themselves its deadly foes and are fighting it passionately. The success of Nazism in Germany in 1933 was due to the fact that the immense majority of the Germans, even of those voting the ticket of the Marxist parties, of the Catholic Centrum party, and of the various “bourgeois” splinter parties, were committed to the ideas of radical aggressive nationalism, while the Nazis themselves had adopted the basic principles of the socialist program. Great Britain would not have gone socialist if the Conservatives, not to speak of the “Liberals,” had not virtually endorsed socialist ideas.