The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Scrap the Social Sciences – Especially Sociology

Jeff Minick had an excellent suggestion last week at Intellectual Takeout, a cultural commentary website operated by the Charlemagne Institute. He proposed that instead of defunding the police, the universities which have been churning out these barbaric Maoist thugs who are trying to tear down Western Civilization should be defunded instead.

I can legitimately claim to have been ahead of the game on this one. Towards the end of May, while George Floyd, who is the pretext for all this crime, violence, and destruction, was still alive and kicking, I wrote not one, but two essays in response to the pissing and moaning from the University of Manitoba after they had their provincial operating grant slashed by five percent. I concluded the first one, “How the Universities Have Betrayed the Founding Principles of Academia”, by saying:

A five percent reduction of their funding? That's a start and it is only just considering that it is the experts they have been producing and telling us to listen to who have done so much unnecessary damage to the economy that supplies the government revenues that pay for their grants. It would be better to cut them off altogether until such time as they return to the principles of the Great Academic Tradition.

Indeed, I can even claim to gone a step further than Mr. Minick. He has excluded the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) departments from his proposal:

I don’t mean in all academic departments, of course. American universities still lead the world in scientific research. We still produce fine mathematicians and excellent engineers, though not enough of the latter. Our colleges and universities still graduate skilled nurses and doctors, business professionals, and computer scientists.

By contrast, these were the very departments I condemned in the essay referenced above, on the grounds that by dividing what was traditionally regarded as a unified whole – human knowledge – into isolated fields that had little to do with each other, they were producing the very sort of thing – “experts” who profess far more knowledge they actually possess, and masses who ignorantly take their every word as Gospel – that the Socratic school attacked at the beginning of the Western Academic Tradition. Of course, at the time I was thinking of the way the lockdown, suspending our basic freedoms, had been so widely accepted because the “experts” recommended it. Since then we have passed from Apocalypse 2020 Mach I: The Stand to Apocalypse 2020 Mach II: The Camp of the Saints and in the context of the latter, Mr. Minick is quite right to target the humanities as they are presently being taught in the universities, as I did in my second essay, “The Bonfire of the Humanities.”

There is a third major division of university departments which deserves “defunding” in the light of the present crisis, however. Indeed, most of the bad ideology which is now corrupting the humanities has bled into the liberal arts from this division. The division in question is that of the “social sciences” or as they are sometimes called the “soft sciences.”

The social sciences occupy a kind of middle territory in academia between the humanities and the STEM disciplines.” The social sciences purport to be “sciences” in the same sense as the “hard sciences” of physics, biology, and chemistry, all of which fall under the S in STEM. Human behaviour, especially the organized behaviour of groups such as communities and societies, is their subject matter. While this has been a major subject for organized human knowledge right from the beginning – the entirety of the Platonic canon can be said to be concerned with it in one way or another, as are the Ethical and Political writings of Aristotle – the social sciences are distinguished from previous studies of human behaviour by their claim to apply the methodology of Modern science. This is why some disciplines, such as history, can be classified as falling under both the humanities and the social sciences, depending upon the approach to the subject matter taken.

Conservative Christians have subjected the methodology of Modern science to sound criticism from a number of different angles. Gordon H. Clark, for example, the Calvinist theologian and apologist, who was for many years the chairman of the Philosophy Department at Butler University, argued that it was epistemologically worthless in his The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God (1964). Its value, Clark argued, is strictly utilitarian. It helps us to improve our standard of living, but it does not lead us towards the truth. Its laws and theories, for all of their usefulness to mankind, are always false. George Grant, the conservative Canadian Anglican philosopher who taught in the philosophy department of Dalhousie University and the religion department of McMaster, criticized Modern science and the technology with which it is inseparably intertwined, from an ethical standpoint. Modern science is Baconian science, and as such has as its end the subjecting of all it studies to the human will, or as Bacon himself put it “the enlarging of the bounds of human empire, to the effecting of all things possible.” This, Grant argued was the goal of the Age of Progress, which in theological terms amounted to an eschatological view of history that substituted the “Kingdom of Man” for the “Kingdom of God.”

The social sciences are especially vulnerable to both of these critiques. Since human beings are themselves the subject of the social sciences it is that much more impossible for them to separate the output of the study from the input of the investigator. As for Grant’s criticism, if we agree with him, as I happen to do, that the project of bending nature to serve the will of man set mankind down a wrong path of trying to put himself in the place of God, then the further down the path we get, the deeper into error we sink, and surely the bending of our own nature to our own will is about as far down the path as is possible to get.

The preceding criticism calls the value of the social sciences into question. The positive case for defunding them is that they do little other than indoctrinate gullible young people with left-wing ideology turning them into the sort of people who like to put on masks to intimidate lecturers they disagree with, stir up riots, and vandalize the memorials of the past. Not a dime of public money should ever go towards such indoctrination. The humanities are also guilty of this, but there is a significant difference between them and the social sciences in this regard. The humanities are the disciplines, mostly going back to ancient times, which formed the core educational curriculum up to the Renaissance. If they are churning out neo-Maoist cultural revolutionaries today, this is because they have been infiltrated and subverted from their original purpose. Taught properly, they would do no such thing. With most of the social sciences, however, the corruption goes back almost to the very beginning of the disciplines.

In the case of sociology, a convincing case can be made that is was built upon the shaky foundation of left-wing ideology right from the very beginning. Sociology has long been held in suspicion by those who view it as simply the dumping ground for all the spare parts left over from the other social sciences and not a real discipline in its own right. Conversely, its proponents have maintained that it is the unifying discipline of the social sciences, that ties anthropology, psychology and all of the others together.

Sir Isaiah Berlin wrote in his biography of Karl Marx (1937) that he was the “true father of modern sociology in so far as anyone can claim the title.” By this, he did not mean that Marx had thought up all the basic ideas of sociology and laid down its operating principles in its writings. He meant that Marx, as a critic, forced those who were doing this work, to clarify their ideas. That having ben said, Marx and Auguste Comte, who founded the discipline in the more formal sense, were both heavily influenced by Henri de Saint-Simon.

Saint-Simon was born into a French aristocratic family and as a teenager took off to North America and fought in the American Revolution under George Washington. After his return to France he joined the Jacobin Club in the early stages of the French Revolution. It is important to remember, that while it is now commonplace to speak of the Left as “Marxist” as if it began with Marx, the subversive movement against Christian civilization is much older. It was first called the Left in the French Revolution, but even the Jacobins, who took Cromwell’s revolt of a century and a half earlier as their inspiration, were not the originals. The Left is older, therefore, than Saint-Simon, although it did not go by that name until he had joined it. He left his mark on what it would thereafter be, however, in that he was the first socialist. Marx and Engels classified him as a “utopian socialist”, but all of the different socialisms that sprang up in the nineteenth century, from Proudhon’s to that of Marx and Engels themselves which eventually became the dominant socialism, can be traced back in one way or another to Saint-Simon.

Comte was a student of Saint-Simon in the most literal sense. He served him as secretary for a period in the early 1800s, during which time he also studied under him. It was in this period that Comte’s first writings appeared under Saint-Simon’s patronage.

Given the influence of the French Revolutionary and first socialist Saint-Simon on sociology’s official father, Comte, and Marx’s influence on the development of the discipline as discussed by Berlin, it is hardly a huge leap of logic to saw that the overwhelming left-wing dominance of this field that is evident today, as it was throughout most of the last century, can be attributed to a left-wing slant having been built into it from the very beginning.

It should be noted that Robert Nisbet’s The Sociological Tradition (1966) can be cited as giving evidence to the contrary. Nisbet was that rara avis, a conservative sociologist, which is all the more unusual in that he received his Ph.D from Berkeley, began his teaching career at that stronghold of left-liberalism, and ended it at Columbia University, the epicentre of the outbreak of the cultural revolutionary brand of leftism in North American academia. In The Sociological Tradition, he identified five “unit-ideas” of sociology – community, authority, status, the sacred, and alienation – and traced the history of each in the thought of such nineteenth to early twentieth century sociological pioneers as Comte, Durkheim, Weber, Tönnies, and Simmel. With regards to each of these, he argued that the early sociologists had borrowed heavily and knowingly, from how these same concepts appear in the counter-revolutionary writings of Edmund Burke, Louis de Bonald, François-René de Chateaubriand and Joseph de Maistre. As the discipline was being established, he argued, the ideas of two polar opposite figures, Alexis de Tocqueville and Karl Marx, struggled and strove to shape it. He argued that Tocqueville, who represented the thought drawn from the well of the aforementioned counter-revolutionaries, had triumphed over the revolutionary socialist Marx, before the nineteenth century was even over.

Nisbet’s history of sociology is not as contrary to the idea that it was built with a left-wing bias as it may appear. He was not arguing that sociology itself was traditionalist, conservative, or reactionary, much less that the average sociologist was any of those things. He merely maintained that the aforementioned unit-ideas had been borrowed by the early sociologists from the writings of the right-wing critics of the Enlightenment Project and the French Revolution. Unit-ideas are the basic concepts from which philosophies and theories are constructed, in the history of ideas as postulated by Arthur O. Lovejoy in The Great Chain of Being (1936), from which Nisbet borrowed the term. Much like how the same kind of brick used to build a school can also be used to build a slaughterhouse, so can unit-ideas from one philosophical tradition, be borrowed in the construction of another that is radically different. In this case, the unit-ideas in question were used by the counter-revolutionaries to challenge the individualistic values of Enlightenment liberalism. These leading figures in sociology borrowed these concepts from the counter-revolutionaries because they also rejected these liberal values, but they put them to a radically different use.

If Nisbet maintained that Tocqueville was triumphant over Marx by the end of what he called the “Golden Age of sociology”, he was not so naïve to think that this was still the case. In the new “author’s introduction” to the 1993 re-issue of his book, he discusses the poor state of sociology in the United States when he was a student, and the renascence it underwent in the 1930s and 1940s. One of the forces that brought about that renascence was the influx of European scholars who had fled the Third Reich. While these scholars were not all Marxists, a great many were. These included both classical Marxists and the neo-Marxists whose re-interpretation of Marxist theory into cultural rather than economic terms produced the Critical Theory that is now being shoved down everyone’s throats, in academia and out, by the militant woke. While Nisbet makes no comment on this directly, it is interesting to note that toward the conclusion he states that “The pathetic truth is that what I have chosen to call the sociological tradition, the tradition emanating from Tocqueville in the first instance and continuing unmistakably in the writings of Weber and Durkheim and others, is in serious straits at the present time, as is sociology as a whole.” He then makes reference to an article by Irving Louis Horowitz entitled “The Decomposition of Sociology” which complained that sociology “has largely become a repository of discontent, a gathering of individuals who have special agendas, from gay and lesbian rights to liberation theology” and that this was driving all the real scientists out. Horowitz, whose own company Transaction Books put out this re-issue of Nisbet’s book, felt so strongly on the matter that he expanded that very article into a book, which Oxford published that same year, in which he stated “Sociology has become a series of demands for correct politics rather than a set of studies of social culture.”

The state of sociology that Horowitz and Nisbet decried twenty-seven years ago has certainly not improved since then. It has gotten much, much worse and is bearing a most toxic form of fruit.

It is time that it be cut off from the public purse entirely.

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