Discussion of "The Future of Sociology" by Albion Small

Harry Elmer Barnes
Clark University


At the outset, I want to say that I am in hearty agreement with the general thesis and the specific sentiments expressed by Dean Small. The remark-able progress of sociology in the last generation may well lead to optimism with respect to its future. I shall confine my remarks to some minor reservations by the way of emphasis rather than dissent.

In the first place, I think that I would stress a little more the seriousness for sociology of the lack of contact which it has actually made with public policy or private charity. With many notable exceptions, even the so-called "expert" positions in governmental bodies and private foundations have been and are still filled with men who received their appointment through political influence or with social workers whose viewpoint on social problems either antedates the English Poor Law of 1834 or is considerably in advance of present Russian policy. Whether sociology is ever to be more than academic gymnastics will depend upon the progress made in the next few generations in assuring that positions of social control are more and more filled with trained sociologists. This alone will make Lester F. Ward's prophecy and aspirations attainable and realized. While I am somewhat out of touch with Washington locals I have not heard of the laying of the cornerstone of the National Academy of Social Science or noted any procession of legislators to sociological head-quarters. Nor did the masses in the late presidential election seem more willing to accept the guidance of sociologists. There is a self-protective phase of this need of closer contact between sociologists and the government. Fanatics and reformers are ever on the search for pseudo-scientific shibboleths with which to embellish their program, and are now fond of urging most diverse proposals in the name of "sociology." This cannot but result in the discrediting of sociology and the postponement of its real public recognition. There are doubtless many who lay the Eighteenth Amendment at the door of sociologists. Nor can I share wholly Dean Small's view of the present passion for securing competence in positions of responsibility. This may be true in private business, but it certainly is not in public affairs. He may feel very blue about William Hale Thompson, but his New York colleagues will doubtless tell him that in comparison with their local situation Chicago has made enviable, if not striking, progress in installing talent and fidelity at the City Hall. In short, if "Billy" Sumner were now alive I doubt if he would feel called upon to abate in the slightest that intense contempt for political machinery and achievement which he brought out of his experience with New Haven municipal politics forty-seven years ago. Walter Lippmann has well stated the situation when he said: "The American people have just overwhelmingly elected a president who took pains to put himself on record against excellence . . .. We have a public opinion that quakes before the word highbrow as if it denoted a secret sin."

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As to Dean Small's optimism with respect to the superiority of present-day American democracy to the type of rule proposed in Plato's Republic I think that there is considerable cause for qualification. We may admit that this is a mere academic question, that we can never hope for any rule by a few philosophers, and that any sensible discussion must center about some form of popular government Yet all of this need in no way make us feel particularly happy over the present situation. To limit ourselves to American society since the Civil War, one might well hold that we have been governed by about as few individuals as Plato would have gathered in his band of philosopher kings and counsellors and our rulers have scarcely been philosophers or philanthropists. I would accept as wholly valid Dean Small's assertion that it is nothing short of national shell shock which prevents every interest from having its due weight in determining public policy and opinion, but in doing so I should be compelled to suggest that since 1865 we !lave been suffering not from temporary shell shock but rather have evidenced serious symptoms of a chronic, if not incurable, national psychosis. One does not need to have recourse to Upton Sinclair's Profits of Religion, Brass Check, and "100%" to learn that only one set of interests, namely, those of organized wealth, have enjoyed freedom of expression or secured proper recognition in determining public policy. The howl which is still echoing throughout the East against the Non-Partisan League is good evidence of how difficult it is even yet for the agrarian interests to assert their rights or state their case, to say nothing of the impotence of the laboring class in framing opinion or policy. The facts about our economic system which we may glean from government statistics, Professor Ross's Sin and Society, Walter Weyl's New Democracy, the report of the Interchurch World Movement on the steel strike, and the testimony of Judge Gary and Mr. Grace; what we may learn about our legal system from the writings of Justice Holmes, Professor Freund, and Dean Pound, and from the Carnegie report on "Justice and the Poor"; what Professor Ross and Mr. Lippmann have told us about the control of our press; the relation between religion and the vested interests which has been clearly revealed by Professors Rauschenbusch, Shailer Mathews, A. P. Fitch, and Harry Ward; and the comments upon the defeat of political democracy in America by such writers as Bryce, Ostrogorski, Weyl, Croly, Beard, Haworth, and others will indicate something of the distance which we yet have to go before we can even begin to discuss "democracy in America." If one is still unconvinced he can turn to Dean Small's own work on Between Eras, from Capitalism to Democracy, and if he is not then converted we may leave him as unregenerate. Ernst Freund, Roscoe Pound, John H. Wigmore, and George W. Kirchwey may be precious sociological and academic possessions, but it is more significant to note that Supreme Court decisions during the last fifteen years, as measured by the case of Lochner versus New York and the Hitchman Coal and Coke Co. versus Mitchell, reveal a change from conservatism to most gloomy reaction. Yet, were we able to secure some real democracy and attain unto the régime

( 196) of the common man, the prospect would not be bright. Differential biology and psychology have shown how little intelligence and initiative may be expected from the "common man." Without a proper utilization of the real potential talent in society one may agree with Dr. Trotter that it requires "little imagination to see that the probabilities are very great that after all man will prove but one more of Nature's failures, ignominiously to be swept from her worktable to make way for another venture of her tireless curiosity and patience." One of the most depressing features about the situation today is the startling spiritual mortality of leaders in this country which was produced by the late world-conflict and which is one of the most regrettable of the "costs of the war." Before the war there were a large number of educated leaders who could and dared to point the way to social salvation. Now, though the necrologies do not reveal their physical departure, their voices are no longer detected in the wilderness.

To turn to the more purely academic points involved in the paper I would be inclined to qualify somewhat the sentiment expressed as to the superiority of "principles" to "mere information." One is always in danger of acquiring the Ricardian contempt for mere facts when he is interested in giving forth good theory. It will, of course, be admitted by all that laws, generalizations, and the establishment of principles are the ultimate aim and goal of social science as of all science. It may further be conceded that some preliminary generalization was necessary in the formative period of sociology in order to mark off the subject and distinguish its methodology, but we have now reached a stage where we should proceed with caution in further generalization. We have no longer any need for preliminary generalization and tentative definition, and may well postpone additional systematization and generalization until we can gather and classify the data essential to assurance that the "principles" established in the future will have some high degree of validity and permanence. We need to halt generalization for at least one generation and to devote this time to a careful gathering and classification of data by refined statistical methods, with especial attention to that critical selection of data which Professor Chaddock has long urged. Then the abler and more constructive minds devoted to sociological study will be able to set forth with some assurance the principles of sociology. Herbert Spencer gave us the first and most voluminous statement of the principles of sociology and now Professor Cooley tells us that he hesitates to discuss them lest he be accused of joking. Dr. M. M. Knight has shown that Lester F. Ward's whole theory of social evolution based upon the doctrine of "gynaecocracy" does not square with the findings of modern biology. Professor Bristol and Graham Wallas declare Tarde's system of psychological sociology to be brilliant literature rather than psychic or social science. Professor Giddings has worked over and radically altered his own system and is one of the most emphatic of those who now call for more concrete data upon which to base generalization. Dean Small has just told us that he has abandoned what was once the central point in his sociological

( 197) system and has asserted the necessity for a continual revision of social theory. One hesitates to say what may become of the older social psychology after the psychological progress of the last ten years has been appropriated by sociology. Finally, while admitting the primary value of scientific generalization, it may be held that there is much valuable sociological material which will be available only as "mere facts" and that purely descriptive and institutional sociology demands a recognition which has not hitherto been accorded to it.

I am in hearty agreement with Dean Small as to the number and variety of crimes committed in the name of social research. Much of the enthusiasm for research can doubtless only be properly comprehended under the Freudian term of "compensation." Not only is there a distressing prevalence of those who are said to be carrying on research but who have no adequate comprehension of what is meant by a "problem" or by the methodology of research, but it may also be safely asserted that more social research is being directed by those who have had no real sociological training than by sociologists of standing. Further, there are great obstacles ahead of those who both have discovered and "sized up" a real problem and have the training and capacity to carry it out to a successful execution. Most important of these is the growing difficulty of securing the publication of the products of research. The profit point of view has inevitably permeated the publishing world as it has the other forms of modern economic endeavor, and the best piece of social research ever produced would receive scant consideration from the publisher in competition with one of Harold MacGrath's novels. Research, if it is to attract the modern publisher, must be adapted to compression and racy statement within about a hundred pages of twelve-point type. It is well-nigh impossible today in this country to get a competent piece of research published unless the author is a person of means or has some connection with an endowed or governmental commission. The better and more comprehensive it is the more hopeless the task of securing publication. This is one of the most alarming situations now facing social science and one which must be met and eliminated if sociology is going to advance through further additions to concrete sociological data.

These are the more important points which have occurred to me from the reading of Dean Small's suggestive paper. There are one or two lines of possible improvement which I would suggest of my own initiative. One relates to the utterly scandalous condition of the so-called historical sociology, which is today what biological sociology would be if still based upon Lamarck and Darwin alone. Not only is the conventional historical sociology full of minor errors, and inaccurate in all of its major generalizations, but it is also based upon a fundamentally erroneous methodology and a false major premise. The works of the critical ethnologists, such as Ehrenreich, Marett, and, above all, Franz Boas and his disciples in this country, have, after a long period of careful assembling and classification of concrete data, proved conclusively that the facts furnish no substantiation of the theory of the inevitable unilateral

( 198) evolution of successive cultural stages and accompanying types of social institutions, and that cultural and institutional parallelisms may have proceeded from quite different antecedents and may possess a quite different psychic content. Dr. R. H. Lowie's admirable synthesis of the newer data bearing upon social organization in his Primitive Society has destroyed forever the historical sociology of the Morgan variety and has shown that there is no succession of maternal and paternal kinship, no correlation of maternal kin-ship with lower material culture and of paternal with higher civilization, no sharp break between kinship and civil society either in point of time or characteristics, and no such radical differentiation or inseparable gap as was once postulated between primitive and modern society. It scarcely needs to be pointed out that even these few major contributions of the critical ethnologists call for a complete rewriting of the present historical sociology.

Finally, I would call attention to the dangers of discipleship and classicism which is already imparing sociological effort. There are two types of disciple-ship, one the true discipleship, or a following of the methods and inspiration of a respected teacher and master, and the other the servile but false disciple-ship which consists in the deferential, if not fawning, repetition of the phraseology of the master and the feigning of a personal injury when his doctrines are questioned by another. In exhibiting some undoubted tendencies toward the latter type of discipleship the sociologists are in danger of getting into the same difficulties which have obstructed the progress of economic science since the days of Adam Smith and Ricardo. The founders of sociology, Comte, Spencer, Ward, Giddings, Small, Sumner, and Ross, were not servile followers of any writers or teachers. If they had been, sociology would not have been "founded" when it was. Rather, they were fearless innovators who literally, as Dean Small has said, "challenged fate" to bring sociology into existence as a determinate and systematic social science, and those of us from a younger generation will be their truest disciples if we do not rest content with a second-hand and necessarily inferior restatement of their views but carry on the subject in keeping with their aspirations.


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