Weber & Toennies: Comparative sociology in historical perspective

Weber & Toennies: Comparative sociology in historical perspective

Book Reviews 339 For North America, the design of this lexicon could very well prove a model for compiling similar dictionaries at the two ends of t...

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Book Reviews


For North America, the design of this lexicon could very well prove a model for compiling similar dictionaries at the two ends of the NAFTA zone, i.e., English-Spanish and, possibly, English-Quebec French. If Quebec should attain independence, the resulting state would probably be monolingual, i.e., French-speaking only. The result of this official monolingualism would be that Americans as well as anglophone Canadians (after independence the rest of Canada would probably be monolingual as well, i.e., English-speaking only) could no longer depend on English as a language of communication in the busy border traffic into and out of Quebec from both English Canada and the USA.

Weber & Toennies: Comparative Sociology in Historical Perspective by Werner J. Cahnman (Edited by Joseph B. Maier, Judith Marcus and Zoltan Tart) New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1995, 341 pages Reviewed by: Peter Leigh Taylor, Colorado State University

This edited volume of Werner J. Cahnman's writings brings to light the work of a relatively little known sociologist who dedicated his career to the development of a truly comparative historical sociology. Cahnman's argument that Ferdinand Toennies' work has had a central, though largely unattributed, influence on twentieth century sociological theories of social change is ultimately unconvincing. Yet though this collection of Cahnman's work is fragmentary and at times disjointed, it represents a significant achievement. The book' s theoretical chapters propose a method for resolving the often contradictory aims of theoretical and empirical work in historical sociology. Cahnman's own historical studies, reproduced in the last section of the book, show the usefulness of a Toennies-like dialectic of "pure" and "applied" theory for comparative historical analysis. Moreover, these empirical studies of religion, race and ethnicity are of disturbingly prophetic relevance for contemporary societies at one level drawn into an increasingly global system, yet riven at the same time by conflicts over national, racial and ethnic identity. Weber & Toennies is divided into four parts. Part I of Weber and Toennies describes Cahnman's debt to Max Weber. In Chapters 1 and 2, Cahnman places Weber's work in the context of the debate within nineteenth century political economy between natural law adherents and the historical school. Cahnman maintains that this debate would have been unnecessary if Weber and Toennies' notions of "ideal typical constructs" and "pure sociology concepts," respectively, had been properly understood. Economic theory did not represent a law, but instead presented a model of reality which could provide a point of comparison with a real situation or action (p. 35). Ideal typical concepts are primarily heuristic in nature and "serve the purpose of making concrete cultural, or historical situations accessible to human understanding" (p. 36). Chapters 3 and 4 attempt to correct misconceptions about Weber's theories of religion and bureaucracy. Though Weberian scholars today commonly defend Weber



against the accusation of idealism, Cahnman was arguing as early as 1964 that Weber's Protestant Ethic did not imply that Protestantism was the originator of capitalism. Rather, Weber was more interested in the early functional inter-relationship between Puritan ethics and capitalism (p. 61). Cahnman's critique of Mitzman's Iron Cage insists that Weber never used that term but rather, referred to the care for worldly goods as no longer being "like a light cloak, to be discarded at will" but as "becoming an encasement, hard as steel" (p. 67). In Part II, Cahnman makes his case for the rehabilitation of Ferdinand Toennies. Toennies' most visible impact on American sociology is seen in his often unattributed concepts of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschafi. Cahnman argues that these concepts have been widely misunderstood and are best understood in terms of Toennies' distinction between "pure" and "applied" sociology and his corresponding notions of "essential will" and"arbitrary will." It is not until Part III that the editors provide us with Cahnman's discussion of these concepts as part of his attempt to draw together Toennies' largely implicit theory of social change. Toennies' formal system is based on "pure" concepts of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft and their derivation from the interplay of "essential will" and "arbitrary will." Essential will is associated with a Gemeinschaft which represents the unity of life and thought in the individual's personality and culture (p. 89). Arbitrary will involves the calculated separation of thought from conviction, faithfulness, conscience, and is directed exclusively toward a desired end (p. 83). As society moves into the machine age, arbitrary will becomes more powerful, and society moves toward a more predominately Gesellschaft character. In the fifth chapter, Cahnman briefly describes Toennies' affinity with Marx, arguing that Toennies transformed Marxian concepts by incorporating them into his own system. In Chapter 7, Cahnman argues that Weber and Toennies' convergences were more important than Weber's reputed "distant politeness" regarding the latter's concepts of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft (p. 81). Weber referred in his later work to Vergemeinschaftung and Vergesellschaftung,reflecting his emphasis on the process of becoming a community or association, rather than seeing the dichotomy as reflecting discrete social entities. Though Cahnman complains that Toennies' Gemeinschafi and Gesellschaft are often confounded with Durkheim's mechanical and organic solidarity, he argues in Chapter 8 that the two theorists' points of departure and images of society were actually quite different. Their chief differences lie in the fact that Durkheim saw mechanical and organic solidarity in terms of external facts of social restraint. Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, by contrast, derived from internal realities of essential will and arbitrary will. Furthermore, the two concepts, for Toennies, were pure concepts which were each present simultaneously in any historical society. The task of the historical sociologist was to identify, through "applied sociology", the particular strength and weakness of each pole of this conceptual dichotomy in a given empirical instance. An important thesis of this book is that Toennies deserves recognition, along with the oft-cited Marx, Weber and Durkheim, as a major influence on sociological theory. Yet Cahnman does not show clearly enough why the overlooking of Toennies was significant and why the misappropriation of his concepts amounts to more than a relatively minor error of translation or of interpretation. In Chapter 11, Cahnman discusses Toennies' reception in America and argues that Toennies exercised an important,

Book Reviews


though "anonymous, almost subterranean" influence (p. 139) on American sociology, especially through his contacts with the Chicago School. Cahnman links Toennies' concepts of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft to Park' s "sacred versus secular" concepts, to Wirth and Redfield's dichotomy of "folk and urban societies" and to Redfield's notions of "Little Society and Big Society" (p. 149). But aside from the chronological and geographic coincidence of these sets of dichotomies, Cahnman does not demonstrate persuasively that the American versions had their intellectual roots in Toennies' s work. They may rather, reflect the propensity of historical analysts in the West to interpret industrialization as a massive transformation of a previously static, traditional society. One weakness of Cahnman's championship of Toennies' contribution to historical sociology is his relatively uncritical theoretical discussion of Toennies' dialectical system, based on the Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft dichotomy. The reduction of a particular historical society's nature to either Gemeinschaft or Gesellschaft, even with the caveat that these are "pure" concepts which are actually mixed in reality, runs the risk of caricaturizing non-industrial, non-Western social experience. Recent studies by anthropologists and sociologists of "traditional" societies suggest that non-industrial"traditional" societies should not be assumed to be held together by a uniform, static culture and a kinship-based cooperative solidarity. In his study of culture and kinship in early modern Germany, for example, David Sabean argues that culture is contested. What characterizes a community is not shared values, but the fact that the participants are involved in the same argument (Power in the Blood: Popular Culture and Village Discourse in Early Modern Germany. London: Cambridge University Press, 1984). Leyla Neyzi shows, in her ethnography of a pastoralist community in southern Turkey, that "traditional" societies have long accommodated a great deal of external and internal change without losing their unique cultural identity, and that kinship provides not only a source of cooperative solidarity but a language for struggle among relatives for control over resources (Beyond 'Tradition' and 'Resistance.' Kinship and Economic Development in Mediterranean Turkey. Cornell University Ph.D. diss.). Interestingly, Cahnman's own empirical studies do not suffer from a static, homogeneous or consensus view of "traditional" society. Part IV's selection of Cahnman's works on religion, race and ethnicity represent complex, multi-level analyses of often conflictual interactions among economic, political and cultural processes shaping historical change. These works also are evidence of Cahnman's relevance to present day sociological problems. For example, in Chapter 19, Cahnman discusses the Turkish "millet system", devised by the Ottomans to explicitly recognize ethnic differences while providing the space for distinct cultural groups to co-exist (in conflict as well as in cooperation) within the same society. The recent invasion of the Western principle of "territorial nationalism" has "put dynamite" to the societies of the East. "Populations that have lived side by side for centuries, even in the face of frequent conflict, have been uprooted from their homes, driven from one country to the other, starved and butchered by the millions, only to please the jealous God of Uniformity, who tolerates no other gods besides him" (p. 272). Written in 1943, this study is hauntingly prescient of the violent struggles among ethnic groups in today's Balkans. Even more to the point is Cahnman's discussion of the problem of the reconciliation of nationali-



ties in Chapter 20. Focusing on Austria between 1866-1971, Cahnman discusses Adolph Fischhof's suggestion that in the absence of a clear majority ethnic group, a multinational state can only be organized as "an association of peoples" (p. 279), based on respect for the spiritual individuality of a people and an explicit recognition of diverse political and economic interests. Instead, the twentieth century has seen the victory of the principle of the identity of nationality and territoriality, rejecting cultural diversity as subversive and bringing misery to millions where ethnic groups interlock to defy clear-cut territorial separation (p. 271). The chief weaknesses of this book emerge from the inadequate link between Cahnman's attempt to show the centrality of Toennies's thought to historical sociology and his own "applied sociology" where he employs "pure" sociology in an insightful and flexible fashion. The last section of Weber & Toennies actually best represents the complexity of Werner Cahnman's union of theory and comparative historical research. Since this is a posthumous collection of Cahnman's writings over many years, the editors might have addressed this link more explicitly in the introduction. They might also have chosen a title which emphasizes the true strength of this book, which is not its comparison of Weberian and Toennesian theory, but Cahnman' s own unique contribution to comparative historical sociological theory and method. Nevertheless, Weber & Toennies provides an interesting and valuable perspective on theories of social change and comparative historical method. As such, the editors have made available a body of work of value to a wide range of social historians and historical sociologists.