Review of Primitive Society by R.H. Lowie.
The sociologist who recovers from his first disappointment will find this work interesting and valuable. His disappointment will be due to the limitation which the author has set for himself in the omission of so many topics which the title would lead one to expect, and in which ethnologists as well as sociologists are commonly interested. No discussion of religion appears, nor magic, mythology, or folklore. One looks in vain for a treatment of art or morals or ceremonies. Nothing save in the most incidental fashion is said about music or language; and, in general, psychological questions are left alone.
Had the book been called Primitive Social Organization it would have been more accurately named, for the author declares his purpose in the introduction so to limit himself. The topics treated include "Marriage," "Family," "Property," "Rank," "justice," and the various forms of kinship, fraternal, social, and political groupings.
The point of departure is taken in a criticism of Morgan's Ancient Society and the revisions are conclusively made out. In forty-three years so much has been done that it seems hardly worth while spending so much time noticing the arguments which are now no longer put forth. Nevertheless, it is good to have the current views placed in contrast with the older ones.
The technique adopted is too often the discussion of the theories of opposing men, but this is in accordance with the tradition of our academic tribe. Sociologists in particular cannot come with clean hands, for with us too often science is the opinions of professors.
The two main conclusions presented in the summarizing chapter are concerned with the multiplicity of social relations, and with a polemic against the unilateral theory of social evolution. And both in the summary and in the body of the work the thesis is well maintained. The method is objective though psychological explanations tempt him, as when he declares the horror of incestuous marriages with sisters to be instinctive.
The author is on the staff of the American Museum of Natural History and has investigated personally some of the plains Indians, particularly the Crows. It is quite natural that much of the illustrative material should be taken from that field. About half of the references are from American writers, but one notices some regrettable omissions. Thomas is not mentioned, nor Dewey, nor Mead, nor Herbert Spenser. In view of the inclusion of Andrew Lang, one finds the omission of Westermarck quite inexplicable. The same can be said of the inclusion of Hobhouse while the work of Steinmetz is left unnoticed. Why should Freud be quoted and Wundt not even mentioned ? The sociologist's feeling in reading the book is perhaps to be accounted for by the lack of reference to the authorities with which the author is apparently not familiar.
But the book is interesting and valuable and the reviewer has found it a useful reference in the course on social origins.
UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO