Consciousness and Society: A Review

by Ralph Dumain

Hughes, H. Stuart. Consciousness and Society: The Reorientation of European Social Thought, 1890-1930. Originally published: New York: Knopf, 1958. Latest edition, with a new introduction by Stanley Hoffman: New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2002. My edition: New York: Vintage Books, 1961.


1. Some Preliminary Observations

2. The Decade of the 1890's: The Revolt against Positivism

3. The Critique of Marxism
I. Durkheim and Marxism as Moral Passion
II. Pareto and the Theory of the Elite
III. Croce and Historical Materialism as a Canon of Interpretation
IV. Sorel and Marxism as "Social Poetry"
Postscript: Gramsci and Marxist Humanism

4. The Recovery of the Unconscious
I. The Philosophical and Scientific Setting
II. Bergson and the Uses of Intuition
III. Sigmund Freud: Epistemology and Metaphysics
IV. Sigmund Freud: Social Philosophy
V. Jung and the "Collective Unconscious"

5. Georges Sorel's Search for Reality

6. Neo-Idealism In History
I. The German Idealist Tradition
II. Dilthey and the Definition of the "Cultural Sciences"
III. Benedetto Croce: From the "First Essays" to the "Historiography"
IV. Benedetto Croce: The Concept of Ethico-Political History
V. Troeltsch, Meinecke, and the Crisis in German Values I

7. The Heirs of Machiavelli: Pareto, Mosca, Michels
Postscript: Alain and the Restatement of Radicalism

8. Max Weber and the Transcending of Positivism and Idealism
Preamble: Durkheim and the Positivist Remainder
I. Intellectual Origins and Early Production
II. The Methodological Phase
III. The Studies of Religion
IV. Sociology and History

9. The European Imagination and the First World War
I. The Generation of 1905
II. Peguy and Alain-Fournier
III. The Novelist and the Bourgeois World: Gide and Mann
IV. The Moral Legacy of the War: Spengler and the "Elders"
V. The Literary Sensations of the Post-War Years: Hesse, Proust,

10. The Decade of the 1920's: The Intellectuals at the Point of Cleavage
I. The New Philosophical Interests
II. The Social Question
III. The Role of the Intellectuals: Mann, Benda, Mannheim
IV. A Generation in Retrospect

Bibliographical Note


(Chapters 1-2)

Hughes discusses methodological questions and goes to great lengths to justify this approach to intellectual history and this collocation of individuals. His great preoccupation here is the legacy of Enlightenment and the fin de siècle turn against the 'positivism' that dominated the latter half of the 19th century. Raised with an Anglo-French intellectual orientation, Hughes counts himself a continental European thinker. This is remarkable given that he's writing in the barren 1950s. The 'real' Europe, according to Hughes, includes France, Germany, Austria, Italy (pp. 12-13).

While the intellectual turn he documents is often termed irrationalist or neo-romantic, Hughes sees it as more complex. (29, 34) He sees a rebellion not so much against the Enlightenment as against the positivist mindset, which allegedly viewed everything, including cultural phenomena, a sort of physical secretion. The turn to mysticism notwithstanding, the enlightening impulse was still strong. (Nietzsche is used as an example—34.)

Hughes sees the 1890s as the turning point in the new emphasis on subjectivity that gripped social theory. He also chooses his cohort with generational considerations in mind.

Hughes summarizes what was generally considered to be 'positivism'. (37ff) More precision would have been helpful, as 'positivism' is often generalized to embrace scientism or a natural-scientific philosophy, without adequate discrimination and delineation.

Still, the overall picture that Hughes wishes to create is effectively established. Hughes chooses representative, or I should say, outstanding figures of the trend he attempts to delineate. While this is more selective than an exhaustive empirical study of a time period, there is nonetheless substantial empirical material to work with here. What is much more difficult, as I will attempt to show later on, is the working up of a mass of specific material into adequate explanatory generalizations about it. Hughes is very good at pinpointing the tensions and contradictions within these individuals and highlighting specific strengths and weaknesses. But there is, in my view, something missing, further generalization missed. If I recall correctly, the thinker Hughes values most is Weber. I would have to agree, as I find just about everyone else he discusses highly disagreeable. Were Hughes still alive, he would understand my criticisms, since he knew this history so well. I'm sure he would acknowledge a link I see but not discussed in the first 200 pages of the book—the correlation between the trajectory of European thought and the rise of monopolistic capitalism in its high imperialist phase and its descent into the maw of fascism.

(Chapters 2-3)

At the end of chapter 2 (63-66) Hughes summarizes what he takes to be the key themes of the new social thought of the 1890s:

(1) "Most basic, perhaps, and the key to all the others was the new interest in the problem of consciousness and the role of the unconscious." Bergson is the key figure cited, then Freud.

(2) ". . . the meaning of time and duration in psychology, philosophy, literature, and history." Bergson, Croce, and key novelists of the time are cited.

(3) ". . . problem of the nature of knowledge in in what William Dilthey had called the 'sciences of the mind'." Besides Dilthey, Croce and Weber are cited.

(4) "If the knowledge of human affairs, then, rested on such tentative foundations, the whole basis of political discussion had been radically altered. No longer could one remain content with the easy assurances of the rationalistic ideologies inherited from from the century and a half preceding—liberal, democratic, or socialist . . . The task was rather to penetrate behind the fictions of political action . . ." Sorel, Pareto, and Mosca are the key figures mentioned.

Following this summary of the generation that emerged intellectually in the 1890s and the positivistic temperament they rebelled against is an account of their encounter with Marxism. At this point a sophisticated treatment of Marx's thought is indicated, but here is where Hughes falls short. Hughes was sophisticated enough to do a bit better than the usual 1950s mainstream treatment of Marxism was generally capable of. After all, he knew about Labriola, Lukács, and Gramsci. But what he says here is too fuzzy. He recognizes that Marx's work is variegated and can be taken a number of different ways. Hughes recognizes a tension that others have seen, which he characterizes as a tension between Marx the social scientist and Marx the moral prophet. (70) He is aware of subsequent conflicts involving Kautsky, Bernstein, and Lenin. He is also aware that 2nd International Marxism is generally considered to be positivistic, with an emphasis on the 'laws of history', determinism, and an economistic approach to social evolution, and that this very approach rotted out within in relationship to the actual position and practice of the German Social Democratic Party. However, the specifics are lacking, and therefore Hughes' account of the tools the 1890s cohort had to 'remedy' the situation and the level of their methodological sophistication or lack of it in so doing is less than fully developed and convincing. In my view a lacuna can also be found in his account of the four key themes that interest him (see above). As I see it, the psychological factors— subjectivity—is very poorly integrated into the sociological (which for Marxism would be historical materialism), even with or especially with this new emphasis. In fact, I question whether anyone even had a sophisticated grasp of the problem before Lukács' History and Class Consciousness came out in 1923.

Now for some other points of reference. First, on the German problem, see J. P. Nettl's article in the Dictionary of the History of Ideas:

Social Democracy in Germany and Revisionism

Even before Lukács and Korsch initiate what was later labeled as 'Western Marxism' in 1923, there is a prehistory dating back to the late 19th century, which includes some figures Hughes mentions (esp. the Italians) and more. This history is laid out in:

Jacoby, Russell. Dialectic of Defeat: Contours of Western Marxism. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

But there's more. What else was going on intellectually among Marxists and other socialists during the period of Second International Marxism? A more recent book is most instructive:

Lloyd, Brian. Left Out: Pragmatism, Exceptionalism, and the Poverty of American Marxism, 1890-1922. Baltimore; London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.

See my review: The Ins and Outs of Lloyd’s Left Out.

Lloyd sets out to demonstrate that pragmatism ruined the American socialist intelligentsia, and a key aspect of this was a naive psychologism pervading sociological explanation, or in some cases 'hayseed empiricism'. More generally, he adduces a number of Marxist and other socialist thinkers in Europe as well as America to demonstrate that they all drowned in theoretical confusion up through and beyond the First World War.

What is the point of all this? Well, the problem is much larger than the picture Hughes gave us of it in the 1950s. The problem is two-fold: the prevailing intellectual currents of the time, and the intrinsic difficulty in combining objective sociological explanation with the analysis of subjectivity and psychology and cultural phenomena. Also, the recovery of the full range of Marx took some decades of the 20th century for those who were capable of doing it to accomplish. Lukács (1923) was the most prominent of the Marxist philosophers to first recover the Marxian conception of praxis from the narrow historical determinism of Second International Marxism, inherited by the Bolsheviks as well. (See my forthcoming review of A Defence of History and Class Consciousness: Tailism and the Dialectic, by Georg Lukács, translated by Esther Leslie, with an introduction by John Rees and a postface by Slavoj Žižek. (London; New York: Verso, 2000.)) And all this together is a mere drop in the bucket when it comes to synthesizing all the insights and research that all the various schools of Marxism have generated. With an expanded perspective, we can see beyond Hughes' purview: what he finds so fascinating about his cohort, though he is sensitive to their weaknesses, might be viewed otherwise, i.e. as a serious failure to advance social theory without lapsing into fundamental ideological regression. Indeed, the historical crossroads of the 1890s, viewed when we pan out from a myriad of empirical details to a broader schematic perspective, from which we can see a monumental failure to overcome the antinomies of bourgeois philosophy, vacillating between positivist and neo-romantic (irrationalist) tendencies.

Durkheim is inspired by Marxism, but is stymied in the effort to sort out its scientific content from its moral passion. Not being able to find a coherent methodology in Marx beyond an amassing of empirical data combined with prescriptive doctrine, Durkheim develops sociology in another direction while inspired by socialism's moral passion.

Pareto attacks Marx ferociously and becomes the theorist of elites.

Croce studies as much Marx as he needs to engage the problems that interest him, and then drops the subject. Croce collaborates with the Italian Marxist Labriola for awhile until their incompatibility becomes manifest.

Sorel begins as a syndicalist extremist and ends up with fascist tendencies, embracing a subjectivist, irrationalist psychological attitude to political action. Socialism is removed from the domain of science and re-cast as 'social poetry'.

In the 1950s Gramsci was barely known, esp. in the English-speaking world, while today he is one of academia's hotties. Hughes gives Lukács some credit in passing, but deems Gramsci the best of 20th century Marxist theorists. Hughes details Gramsci's relationship to Croce and compares him to other figures in his cohort, but in the end it is difficult to place Gramsci's actual accomplishments in Hughes's schema. Hughes is after all interested primarily in the place of consciousness in social theory, and this is why, in my opinion, he leaves us hanging.

(Chapter 4)

While Nietzsche is the natural progenitor of much of the thought of this era, Hughes finds no direct influence of Nietzsche on any of the people discussed in this chapter, except for Jung. (105-6) And this goes for other major intellectual influences of the time—Mach, Poincaré, Vaihinger (philosophy of 'as if'). The deepest long-term influence was Kant, and a neo-Kantianism was pervasive, influencing the influential. The idea of the conventional and the fictional was foregrounded by Mach, Poincaré, and Vaihinger, and became widely influential, but not on Hughes' subjects. (Why they could have provided another way out of positivism is not clear to me.) As it happens, William James had a much deeper impact on the Continent, with many major figures citing his influence. James and Bergson greatly admired one another. (It's one of many good reasons to condemn James, though Hughes might not agree.)

(Coincidentally, a few days ago I took a gander at Boltzmann's Atom: The Great Debate That Launched a Revolution in Physics by David Lindley. I've always thought poorly of Mach, but his fundamentally anti-theoretical, truncated view of science emerges forcefully in this book.)

I don't know if anyone pays attention to Bergson now, but in his time he was huge. He seems to be the ur-philosopher for every mystic, irrationalist, obfuscator, and reactionary of his time. Rejecting his own intellectual inheritance and the Enlightenment, Bergson became the apostle of intuition, arguing for 'creative evolution' on the basis of vague, shaky analogical reasoning. He was also deeply in love with the Catholic Church, which for a Jew, means a deep sympathy with authoritarian reaction. Hughes doesn't go this far, but the affinity is clear. Hughes criticizes Bergson's philosophy, but yet differentiates it from Romanticism, seeing a valorization of science in Bergson lacking in the Romantics of an earlier era.

Many have seen Bergson as a philosophical forerunner of fascism. A wikipedia article on fascism [disputed at the original time of writing] names Bergson as a source.

The French Marxist Georges Politzer summed up the meaning of Bergson upon Bergson's death during the German Occupation:

Politzer, Georges. After the Death of M. Bergson (1941).

Politzer highlights the anti-Enlightenment stance of fascism and explains why only Bergson's Jewish origin kept the Nazis from showering him with more explicit praise.

Another article of interest on the place of Bergson in French philosophy:

During, Elie. « 'A History of Problems' : Bergson and the French Epistemological Tradition ». Article publié dans le Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology, vol. 35, n° 1, janvier 2004.

I shall have more to say about the relation of Hughes' cohort to Marxism and fascism when I come to the chapter on Sorel.

Freud is so well known to us we need not review him in detail. Most interesting here is Hughes' portrait of the motivating impulses and conflicting forces within Freud. Of particular note is a duality in Freud as a hard-headed scientific man endeavoring to keep his deep Romantic impulses under control. But perhaps most revealing of Freud's limitations are his forays into social theory. Hughes notes how embarrassingly insupportable is Freud's fairy tale of the origins of civilization in Totem and Taboo. Hughes also points out how fundamentally politically conservative Freud must be if the only force for civilization is guilt and the control of man's inherently violent impulses.

Curiously, Hughes sees Jung as having a greater sensitivity to history, but he still sees Jung as the lesser theorist and excessively nebulous. Hughes finally pigeonholes Jung as a mystagogue and explicitly names him a reactionary. Bravo.

(Chapter 5)

With Sorel my worries over the subject matter of this book come to a head. In the 1930s, Russian and Italian ambassadors paid tribute to Sorel. Sorel had praised both Lenin and Mussolini. Lenin thought him a blockhead. Sorel went through a number of phases, from provincial conservative to Dreyfusard to revolutionary syndicalist to proto-fascist. He was strongly influenced by Bergson and William James. Sorel had connections with Bergson, Croce, Pareto, and Peguy. Sorel seems to be at the center of everything, while remaining psychologically isolated. What is the meaning of all this?

According to Hughes, Sorel is represented in English only by Reflections on Violence, which contain his notions on the romance of violence, myth, and revolutionary leadership, but this book apparently does not do justice to the range of his thought. (So I shouldn't dismiss Sorel as a proto-fascist as I did decades ago?) Hughes' strength is to point up the contradictions motivating these people, and Sorel is chock full of them. Sorel was an engineer with the temperament of a moralist. He had a scientific bent with a strongly vitalist streak and an aversion to raw nature. His driving motivation was to create an 'artificial world of order'. He harbored a rigid, old-fashioned, puritanical morality, and was temperamentally illiberal. (170) While there is an intellectual affinity with Nietzsche, there is a paucity of evidence of direct influence. (171-2) In any case, Sorel sought a political outlet as Nietzsche had not.

Hughes attempts to explain Sorel's methodology, encapsulated in his notion of 'diremption', which had to do with symbolic abstractions. (171ff) For an engineer Sorel was remarkably unimpressed by precision, and did not seek precision in his ideas or their application. Hence the descent into Bergsonian fluidity and myth. "The result was a kind of sociological mysticism." (176) Sorel had an affinity not only to Bergson but to William James, with some reservations. (176-7) But Sorel, like James, disavowed any imputations of anti-intellectualism.

Finally, there is Sorel's relation to Mussolini. While Sorel praised Mussolini and Mussolini praised Sorel, there is no indication of a direct influence of Sorel on Mussolini's politics. (179)

Finally, Hughes attempts to rank Sorel as a thinker. (180-182) Hughes is very good at criticizing Sorel's shortcomings, and sees him most effective as a critical thinker, whatever that means. Hughes sees Croce and Weber as doing a better job at resolving Sorel's dilemmas.

This, however, is too nebulous a conclusion for my taste. What, after all, is the meaning of this turning from 'positivism' towards mystical intuitionism? So far, the picture I get is one of unmitigated intellectual bankruptcy. What is the ultimate sociological as well as ideological meaning of all this?

I came across an interesting article on the Internet:

The Mystery of Fascism by David Ramsay Steele.

Its perspective is fundamentally flawed, the author being an apologist of free market libertarianism, yet this essay is still interesting and deserves to be taken seriously. At the same time, it is possible to deepen the perspective offered by supplementing it with other explanatory considerations.

Steele claims that fascism has been fundamentally misrepresented, especially by the communists, who portrayed it as the creation of the imperialist bourgeoisie. Yet this belies fascism's history as a mass movement, esp. on the part of Mussolini, who took a very risky position as a revolutionary syndicalist. Steele sees fascism as the outgrowth of disaffected congeries of revolutionary socialists, who gravitated toward subjectivism—in the 1890s!—upon finding the working class disappointingly non-revolutionary. Steele also delves into the irrationalist philosophies that fed fascism, which is how I came upon this essay.

This is an interesting attempt at a unified explanation, which at least gets to something missing in Hughes so far, yet it doesn't go deep enough. First, there is a lack of historical explanation in Steele himself, as with all libertarians. Does history go wrong out of unaccountably mistaken philosophical and ideological orientations, or is there an inherent social process connecting one epoch with subsequent developments? In other words, can one really dissociate laissez-faire capitalism from the monopoly capitalism that followed, and with the subsequent developments of corporatism, syndicalism, social democracy, socialism, communism, and fascism, and turn the former into some betrayed ideal type? And how to explain the historical appearance of these disaffected intellectuals that go in one or more or all of the possible directions listed here?

Steele misses all the New Class theories and all of the intellectual currents of the anti-Stalinist left that account for this social type. Just to take one example, Alvin Gouldner, a left-wing sociologist, sees Marxism as the false consciousness of a flawed universal class (the revolutionary intelligentsia), and thus has a perspective on why revolutionary intellectuals go shopping around for suitable historical agents.

See my summary of Gouldner's ideas, with links:

Alvin Gouldner: Notes & Commentary.

Of course the Communists got fascism wrong. Their misguided policies had a hand in allowing Hitler to come to power. Subsequently, when forming their Popular Front policy, i.e. a coalition with liberals and eventually the capitalist democracies, they had to sharply differentiate the USSR from the fascist forces on the basis of a differential position on private property. They had to disavow any hint that the USSR, far from being an expression of socialism, was founded upon the rule of the New Class, and that this was also a source of attraction for intellectuals of varying tendencies (Fabians and liberals and assorted malcontents (e.g. Wittgenstein) as well as Marxists) disaffected with the arbitrary, irrational rule of private property.

Balancing the scales is right-wing Romantic anti-capitalism, the hatred of mechanical routine and the mediocrity of the bourgeoisie, as exemplified by Nietzsche and all the intellectuals inspired by him, the fascists and Nazis and irrationalist crackpots of all stripes.

So taking all these sources together (and let's not leave out Lloyd's Left Out), we need to transcend the framework of Hughes' history-of-ideas approach and try to clarify in terms of a social theory that accounts for intellectual trends as to why what gelled in the 1890s took the form it did. Hughes might have known enough to be able to answer this question for himself, but remember how primitive the understanding of these matters was in the 1950s, esp. in the philosophically underdeveloped Anglo-American world. Perhaps Hughes filled in some of the blanks in his subsequent books, I don't know. What should be clearly visible is a fundamental schizophrenia of bourgeois society that gives rise to the philosophical schizophrenia of positivism and irrationalism. The accumulating tensions of bourgeois society, and capitalism's morphing into its high monopolistic imperialist phase, must have had an impact on intellectuals, forcing a confrontation of subterranean psychological impulses with the reified world of mechanized routine, industry, and bureaucracy, ideologically personified in positivism. That the sought-after alternatives, let alone a satisfactory synthesis, should prove to be so egregiously lacking, should not be surprising. Hegel's Owl of Minerva mocks again, but with a worse time delay. Only around the time of the Frankfurt School did social theory mature to the point of being able to handle these tensions in a more sophisticated fashion, but there were failures here, too—the Romantic tendencies of Marcuse, the misbegotten framework of Horkheimer/Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment, and the failure of the whole tradition to adequately engage the natural sciences.

(Chapters 6-7)

Hughes begins chapter 6 with a review of the predominance of neo-Kantian thinking (Rickert, etc.), (190) He summarizes Dilthey's watershed intervention: the distinction between the natural and cultural sciences. (194ff) Three further distinctions in the geisteswissenschaften are distinguished: (1) real history, (2) abstractions—social science, (3) value judgments, rules, practice. Dilthey rejected both existing positivistic and metaphysical conceptions of science. He seems to have been more inspired by economics and psychology than anything else. There are affinities with William James. As for history, the researcher has a vital relationship with the object of investigation, in contradistinction to the natural sciences; a goal is to re-experience the past. Hughes sees Dilthey's successors as more successful in effecting a synthesis.

Then the story of Croce begins. Croce by-passed Freud and disavowed Bergson. (201) He studied Marx before Hegel. (206ff) Vico was an influence. Croce incorporated philosophy into history (rather than vice versa) and prioritized it over the natural sciences. (210ff) But here is where his idealism kicked him: history involves "internal comprehension", re-experiencing, imaginative re-creation, yet the rational alone is the subject of history.

Hughes outlines Croce's political career, and his evolution towards liberalism. He wasn't exactly a progressive figure, but eventually opposed fascism. (214-222) But even in opposing fascism, his political prescriptions were vague, though he was a compelling stylist. (223)

Hughes finds weaknesses in his method, owing to his idealism, esp. the role of intuition in his method. (226ff)

Hughes follows the trajectories of Troeltsch and Meinecke. My attention started to flag here, but I noted Troeltsch's struggle over the values of cosmopolitanism and the national state. (234) Both he and Meinecke were compromised by German nationalism, the bane of the German intellectuals. (237-8) During the war, though, Troeltsch struggled with the issues of 'historismus' and relativism. (239-41) Nazism woke Meinecke up, and, after surviving the war, as a very old man questioned the entire tradition of German nationalism. (245)

Pareto, Mosca, and Michels all inherited the Machiavellian tradition; all were concerned with elites and the manipulation of the masses. But Pareto came up with a theory of "residues" and "derivations". (257) Hughes summarizes Pareto's background and interests. (259-65) His background was in engineering and classical studies, and he inherited a strongly positivist bent. He was a bookworm cloistered in the construction of a speculative sociology, and he held democratic, humanitarian values in contempt. Hughes nonetheless argues that Pareto is interesting (267-70), outlining Pareto's theory of residues and derivations, central to this theory of elites. I can't make much out of this mess, so you'll have to read it for yourself.

Was Pareto then responsible for fascism? (271-3) There is certainly a connection. Pareto supported the fascist regime, but apparently with some liberal reservations. (Liberalism and democracy were two separate affairs for the Italians, and one could be pro-liberal and anti-democratic at the same time.) Mussolini was an admirer of Pareto, but it's not clear how intensively he studied him.

Alain is thrown is as a postscript, apparently to show by contrast what a democrat, albeit a provincial, was like.

Borrrrrrring . . . On to Durkheim and Weber.

(Chapters 8-10)

We finally get a bit more information about Durkheim. He starts out a positivist and ends up an idealist. (278-9) He was a staunch representative of Enlightenment and an unflinching democrat, and respected by a diversity of people. (280) He was peripheral to the German-Italian nexus, and was not only anti-metaphysical but also non-historical. (281) Durkheim's ultimate problem was the fusion of the mechanical and psychological. (283) While non-religious, he seriously engaged religion as a social need. (284-5) But finally Durkheim went overboard to full-blown idealism, casting society as a mental phenomenon, nay a religious one. (285-6)

Hughes outlines differences between Durkheim and Weber. (287ff) But more importantly, Hughes paints an in-depth portrait of Weber, showing him as a man of intense personal, political, and intellectual contradictions, barely able to surmount the tensions within him, that originate with his very upbringing. One of his early tensions, leading to disillusionment with the ruling elite, was the tension between nationalism (which motivated him his whole life) and the labor question. His very concepts were antithetical, e.g. the opposition between bureaucracy and charisma as key forces of modern society. He plunged into Freud, but we don't know with what result. (298)

Hughes describes Weber's twofold battle against positivism and idealism (302), and his methodological goals (302-6). Part of Weber's scrupulousness was to eschew the abuse of one's academic position by lending it the authority to make moralistic pronouncements. This appears to be the origin of Weber's insistence on value neutrality in scientific work, though he certainly did not believe in value neutrality outside of it. (307) Hughes also delves into Weber's notions of science and method. (309-314) Weber had an interesting take on whether the natural and social sciences were differentiated by method or the object of investigation, taking the position that the two were aspects of the same thing. (309) One aspect of Weber's method was a continuation of the intuitive approach—verstehen (understanding). But this should also be combined with causal explanations. Weber also proffered the analytical construct of the 'ideal type'.

Of especially interest is Weber's approach to the study of religion. Here we also see how seriously he engaged Marx and was willing to incorporate the insights of historical materialism into his allegedly larger view. (315-8) Also, Weber allegedly generalized beyond 'capitalism' (and its alternative 'socialism') to analyze rationalization and bureaucratization in general. (317-8) Hughes's treatment of Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is most interesting. (319-23) He emphasizes that Weber never claimed that Protestantism caused the rise of capitalism. But he was trying to show the complexities of causality in linking together a certain mindset and practical exigencies. Weber denied he was attempting to refute a materialist explanation of history. But both sides of the causal chain should be treated; hence Weber wanted to run the causal sequence the other way to complement Marx. (Weber was also influenced by William James and the relation between religion and American business.)

Weber was a nationalist who had to deal with the consequences of the war he supported, and got involved in the new democratic government. He was more consumed with the unbearable contradictions of social existence and his own than ever. Hughes sees Weber's intellectual weaknesses in his psychology and in his failure to see the relativist implications of his ideas. In spite of his political faults he faced all the issues of his time squarely and with full recognition of the bleakness he saw in society's prospective. And thus he was respected from a diversity of ideological viewpoints (e.g. Lukács). He was a man of the Enlightenment.

Hughes concludes with a virtual rhapsody:

Alone of his contemporaries, Weber was able to bridge the chasm between positivism and idealism. In the taut formulas of his methodology, he united the residual positivism of Freud and Pareto and Durkheim with what he had found valid in the tradition of Dilthey and Croce. In so doing, he, like them, abandoned to the realm of the irrational—to the unconscious—a vast field that could never be more than partially comprehensible. But in return he had won for social thought a complete autonomy within the field in which it had chosen to operate. Self-limitation, he realized, was the prior condition to intellectual liberation: the recognition of the irrational and the insistence on rigorous scientific procedures were only superficially in contrast. As against the dogmatism of the positivist and Marxian traditions, as against the invertebrate "intuitionism" of the idealists, Weber had anchored social thought in a "fictional" theory that asked only to be judged by its results. (335)

While I am convinced that Weber is the most interesting of the lot, I'm not convinced by this glowing conclusion. Hughes shows no signs of understanding Marx at all, so he is hardly in a position to compare Weber to Marx, regardless of the shortcomings of 2nd International Marxism. In fact, his excessive praise of Weber shows how little he understands Marx, a much deeper thinker. However, Weber has been termed the "bourgeois Marx", and he has in fact been had a great influence on Marxist and Marxisant (e.g. Habermas) thinkers as well as on social theory generally. (There are also some more contemporary books comparing Weber to Marx.)

I am not familiar with Hughes' work since the 1950s, so I don't know what his final conclusions were. It's amazing, I suppose, that he got as far as he did given the barrenness (which he mentions at the end of the book) of American sociology in the '50s.

The rest of the book is for me a denouement, showing up the ultimate bankruptcy of the European bourgeois world. Hughes discusses nationalism and the First World War, but he has nothing to say about imperialism, and thus he misses the driving force behind Europe digging its own grave.

The generation of 1905 was very different from the generation of the 1890s. The younger generation was irrationalist and bellicose. Nietzscheanism and Bergsonism ran rampant. (339) A religious resurgence followed an earlier period of anti-clericalism.

Peguy and his relations with others—particularly Sorel—becomes a focal point for this chapter. Peguy, like Sorel, had gone through a radical period, but converted to Catholicism. He was loyal to Republicanism, though. Peguy quarreled with everyone except Benda (with whom he had nothing in common). (350) He was happy to go to war, and got himself killed. He was heavily influenced by Bergson. His plague-on-both-your-houses mentality garnered him a lot of popularity, and he was able to mediate conflicts, including addressing the problem of anti-Semitism. (355)

After the war, the lid was off, esp. in the works of novelists, and dissonance as well as forbidden psychological territory were open for exploration. (365ff)

Hughes reviews how nationalism had affected the various intellectuals during the war—most of them went along, more or less in tune with their general populations (and the divergent conditions affecting each). While the war changed things, it was only in Germany where the postwar intellectual scene became radically different from before. The cultural status quo collapsed. (371-2) The surviving elders dealt with the mess left by the war, trying to keep humane values alive in German politics. But the young conservatives were vicious.

Spengler was the younger philosophical reactionary of the day, with his potboiler The Decline of the West, with its cyclical view of history. (375-8)

The disillusionment affected the novelists who survived the war differently. There was Mann, and the pacifist Hesse, but on the other there was the vicious reactionary Junger (383). A new kind of novel became prominent after the war. Proust is compared to Bergson. (385-7) Pirandello, who became a big success after the war, scorned the rationalistic values of Croce. (389)

In the final chapter, Hughes sees the creative energy of his cohort winding down after 1923. The old battles were forgotten, and the younger generation had different interests: Lukács, Scheler, Husserl, Heidegger. (396) And the nature of philosophy changed with Russell, the Vienna Circle (Carnap), Wittgenstein. Philosophy, like the arts, was becoming less accessible to the broad public.

The question of commitment became more severe with the 1903s than it had been in the previous war. Exile, 'inner emigration', Popular Fronts became urgent options. Of the great intellectuals, only Heidegger and Jung compromised themselves by association with fascism, says Hughes. (402-3) The role of the intellectuals became an intellectual subject. Mann portrayed the struggle of Enlightenment with unreason in his novels. Benda and Mannheim were the major public voices on the social role of intellectuals.

Benda's Treason of the Intellectuals is well-known. (411-8) To be sure, Benda was an uncompromising partisan of the Enlightenment and democracy, but his provincial, traditional, classical education made a control freak out of him. In his rejection of recent developments—including developments in literature as well as irrationalist philosophy, he lacked the flexibility to engage contemporary trends with the necessary flexibility and concreteness.

Mannheim's Ideology and Utopia is also well-known. Mannheim flirted with the issues of relativism and psychologism without giving in completely. His debt to Marx is evident. Hughes thinks there's too much Marx in him. (421) But I have the impression that Marxists have rejected him. While underestimating the longevity of fascist movements, Mannheim issued a dire warning about a future without the utopian element, which would bring about the loss of a historical perspective. (423-4) Unlike Benda, who was worried about the dangers of engagement, Mannheim was worried by detachment and apathy. Mannheim outlined four possibilities for the relation of intellectuals to society—radicalism, skepticism, revival of the past, withdrawal. Critical skepticism, enabled by the free-floating independence of the intellectual class, seemed the best option. (425)

Summing up, Hughes finds the 1890s generation the last cohort of European intellectuals who knew social stability. (427ff) Reality could no longer be assumed to be orderly, though, and consciousness as the connecting link between man, society and history. The influence of this new attitude spread internationally in the 1920s, but it was fraught with tensions. The generation of the 1890s had delved into the irrational, but were not about to reject rationalism. Theirs was a delicate balancing act, and some of these intellectuals lost their balance and fell into mysticism. (430) Croce and Freud had trouble managing the line between intellectualism and fantasy, going in opposite directions. And Weber gets the last kudo:

Max Weber had been acutely aware of the danger. In his effort to transcend the positivist-idealist polemic he had striven for formulations that would keep together the sphere of logic and the sphere of value. In so doing, he alone invariably held to the central understanding of his whole generation. He alone never wavered in his insistence that both reason and illogic were essential to the comprehension of the human world. While reality, he implied, was dominated by unreason, it was only through rational treatment that it could be made comprehensible. Yet Weber's intellectual coherence had been acquired at the price of a psychic tension that was almost too much for the human mind to bear. For a brief decade or two he and his generation had striven to keep reason and emotional value in precarious balance: it was not surprising that the two should so soon have parted company. (431)

So ends this breathtaking intellectual narrative. As far as he goes, Hughes paints a vivid intellectual portrait of a period in history. But he's none too clear about what tore Europe apart, or for that matter, about the theoretical resolution of the countervailing tensions of positivism and idealism. The social forces that drove Europe to imperialist war and mass destruction are missing, and missing are also are the analysis of same and of the politics to address the depth of the problem. Because Hughes did not take the trouble to take Marx seriously into account, he could neither analyze this historical period adequately nor its intellectual reflections. Nor is he convincing that Weber represents the apex of theoretical endeavor, though Weber is obviously superior to the sorry competition presented here. There is a hole in this account, in terms of historical-political-economic forces, social theory, and philosophy. Hughes' very biographical accounts of this cohort betrays both the sickness of the individuals concerned and of bourgeois European society. How could it head toward anything other than disaster? It sickens me just to read about these people. But nevertheless here is one map of a complex territory to help us reconstruct the ideological trajectory of the late 19th and early 20th century, and thus of the course of modern philosophy, though, with coverage of this select cohort, it's still just an abstract.

The landscape has also altered beyond recognition since the '50s when Hughes wrote. Intellectual history has accelerated by leaps and bounds, but now we have this past half-century of ill-digested theory to work on, with a paucity of vision of the long view to make sense out of it. Prevailing trends of the past quarter century alone have obscured even what was going on in the '50s-'70s. But when we gain a longer view of this period, we will find some of the same issues resurfacing, albeit under a very different social and ideological configuration.

Written 24-27 November 2005
Edited & uploaded 8 October 2006
©2005, 2006 Ralph Dumain

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