Dustin Jones There were many social theorists from the period of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This period of time is regarded as the period of the Enlightenment. A few of the major figures of this particular “movement” were Rene Descartes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Immanuel Kant. They altered the way in which the social world was viewed and helped pave the way for other classical social theorists to explain the individual’s role in society.
Karl Marx, Alexis de Tocqueville, Henri De Saint-Simon, and Emile Durkheim are only the names of a few classical social theorists who set out to explore the role of an individual within society. These men believed that Reason, along with the application of a scientific approach, would be able to positively change the world and break through to a new form of power and authority. Although the ideas and theories of these men give rise to far greater advancement in sociological theory, there is a failure in intuition, and thus, a failure of the classical sociological element.
The first section of this paper includes an explanation of classical sociology along with an overview of the theories associated with some of the greatest sociologists of this time. The next section of this paper explores reasons and explanations for the failure of classical social theory and interpretations to why before-mentioned theories were compromised. The final section of this paper summarizes some of the conclusions drawn about the failure of this particular ideology. I. Classical Sociology/Theories Explained Classical sociology includes the idea that people can change the course of history through developmental progress.
The object of study was society itself. The development of modern, industrial, and capitalist societies was believed to have separated people from the traditional way of living. The explanations and theories derived from them were a way to correlate the new society with the structure, organization, and dynamics derived from the social world. One form of classical sociological theory attempts to establish a causal relationship for institutions while another form of sociological theory argues that the causal explanation for these institutions is not justifiable. The approach is not pertinent, but what is ertinent is classical sociology explains the interaction of individuals in society, and paves the way for advancement to an explanation of the contemporary world. On page 2 in Classical Sociological Theory: A Reader, Ian McIntosh states: “The more optimistic Enlightenment thinkers thought that Reason could guide a process of positive change in the world and individuals could influence the course of history in the name of ‘Progress’. Such ‘Progress’ could, it was hoped, free the individual from the yoke and shackles of traditional forms of power and authority- embodied by religion and the myriad ties of feudal obligation. Karl Marx was one of these great social thinkers who explains society in terms of social class and the material of the worker. He felt there was great conflict between the capitalists and the working class. The term capitalist is synonymous with the bourgeoisie: these were the people who controlled the land, the factories, and sought the most interest in personal gain. He believed that the value of anything is basically the amount of labor which it takes to produce it. In this way, he felt that profit can only be made by any surplus after the amount of labor it takes to feed, clothe, and shelter a man is produced.
From this theory, he believed in the exploitation of labor. He believed that with the rise of industrialization, profits would actually fall because each industry is trying to keep up with the next guy: the cost manufacturers make for machinery goes up while what is being produced drops. Karl Marx also gives a fairly detailed description of the fall of capitalism. He believed that the downfall of capitalism was inevitable. Over time, the decline in the rate of profit would be one of the factors contributing to the downfall of capitalism.
The idea is that the productive tools used for industrialization are badly utilized when workers are unemployed and goods produced are no longer meeting effective demands. Capitalism begins to move toward a huge industrial monopoly (Collins, Makowsky, p. 37). This affects the smaller capitalists who are forced to join the proletariat. The unemployment keeps high competition for jobs while those who are looking for change become more and more agitated. He believed that the economy would reach a point where the only obstacle standing in the way is a revolt within the working class and the initialization of socialism.
Alexis de Tocqueville, also known as the Last Gentleman, also believed in the working class as a great supporter for the economy, and found much inspiration for the establishment of democracy after his visit to the United States. He was a great pessimist of his time and did not much believe in progress, which is exactly what other sociologists were aiming for in their research. He was one of the first foreigners to recognize the American project for a better life: freedom. He saw the coming of democracy as more than just a social or economic development; he thought that God had his hand in giving democracy to the people.
One of the first things that stood out to Alexis de Tocqueville upon his arrival to the United States is the display of equality. One example in this display of equality which he noticed is that the relationship between the employer and the employee was strikingly different. In France, where Tocqueville is from, this type of relationship could be compared to a master and his servant; but in the United States, he notices that the employee is actually under contract to share labor. He also noticed that there was a lack of the simulated bonds of property which he had been so accustomed to back home.
In the United States, personal relationships were strengthened by bonds of personal affection. This is due to the fact that family members were no longer trying to control one another for the sake of keeping any sort of wealth and ownership within the family. People were allowed to make their own decisions and were free to fall in love with whomever they choose. On page 109, in his Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville states: “Here and there, in the midst of American society, you meet with men, full of fanatical and almost wild enthusiasm, which hardly exists in Europe. Emile Durkheim was someone who might say that crime in America is the glue with which people are held together. This is represented in his belief that crime helped to bring a society closer together. Meetings were held in which people would congregate to discuss the criminal activity of the community, thus enhancing the relationships within society. When a person is punished for his crime, then the recognition of that punishment is a reaffirmation of the law and helps to strengthen the bond of society.
He also explains that criminal behavior can help to establish new ideas within a society and in turn, help that society to develop (Marsh, Gaynor, p. 97). Durkheim also came to the realization that all religions have sacred objects and that these sacred objects are a creation of society. If people pursue a high moral character by living up to the codes formed by these religions, this will reflect individualism as well as enhance social unity. II. Failure of Sociological Theories One of the major objections to Karl Marx’s ideology is the criticism brought forth to his labor theory of value.
According to John R. Pottenger, in The Political Theory of Liberation Theology: Toward a Reconvergence of Social Values and Social Science, he believes that within the labor theory of value, assumptions based on values must be “purged” in order to create an objective perspective of social science, but since valued are not able to be “purged”, as he states, then this particular theory is open to speculation. Once mankind developed an industry strong enough which required the use of machines and tools to produce profit, Marx did not make any distinction between the idea of capital and labor.
The use of machines was actually operated by the labor force and was not meant to replace the labor force, but they helped in establishing more wealth. Another problem with which Karl Marx did not discern was his idea that the labor force would use the power of politics to overthrow capitalism and strengthen political gain. The working class actually uses the power of politics to cultivate and modify capitalism in a way which is better suited for society. With the improvement of technology, there came an increase in employment opportunities, thus creating more jobs and strengthening the working class as a whole.
This only helped to solidify the establishment of a capitalistic society. One of the biggest problems with Marx’s ideology which supports the failure of classical sociological theory is he underestimated the role that he and his ideas play in shaping history. Through the observation of Marx’s ideology, it is where society finds that supply and demand makes much more sense and that democracy is the basis for a well-rounded economy. Alexis de Tocqueville is a great supporter for this democracy, but some of his ideas about equality were flawed.
He used the word democracy as if it were synonymous with equality. In this way, he felt that there was much more equality in the United States than there really was. He did not understand the social classes which were introduced to him in the United States and believed that the middle class were the poor people. This gave him the perception that equality was more wide-spread than it really was. This correlates to the idea that no matter how deeply democracy is rooted within a society, it is not able to help all of those in need.
One of the biggest setbacks to Emile Durkheim’s theory for criminal activity is that crime creates constant tension between members of a society. Criminal activity is known to tear families apart, create havoc, and in some instances, is a focal point for the deterioration of a particular society. Also, an increase in crime rate can bring an increase of frightened civilians who live in that society. Although criminal activity is a normal part of society, as Durkheim would say it is, it does not undermine the fact that it brings about a kind of pain and suffering, a lower quality of life if you will.
III. Conclusions The most prominent factor in establishing the paradoxical failure of classical sociological theory is the rise in information technology which has brought about a better global economy. (Haferkamp, p. 218) There has been an increase in the sharing of information along with a way to actually restructure the capitalist society. Also, the social theories that have been attributed to this period of “Enlightenment” were substantiated by societal norms of a period of time that was considered to be modern.
What is considered to be “modern” times has drastically changed between now and then, and as such, theories pertinent to that day and time are no longer relevant. Industry is booming, technology is far more advanced, criminal activity is on the rise, and what is considered to be societal norms is much different. Also, the application of these sociological theories to what was considered to be societal norms does not include any use of an experimental method for testing hypotheses. With an experimental method for conducting research, researchers are able to manipulate one variable while comparing its effects to a different constant variable.
The problem with non-experimental methods for conducting research, as is the case for classical sociological theories, is that the hypotheses are difficult to prove, and if or when they are proven, it normally requires a long period of time. In correlation to this idea, the fact that these are “theories” suggests to the reader that they have not yet been proven, and with the lack of scientific experiential data, may never be proven. Another significant factor contributing to the failure of classical sociological theory is the success in social change in the 19th and 20th centuries.
According to Melvyn Dubofsky, in The State and Labor in Modern America, he states that “reformers and working-class leaders stressed collective action, more individualistic forms of thought dominated national culture, institutions, and legal doctrines. ” He goes on to describe the way in which workers began to unite and form collective revolutions for the advancement of class, race, or gender. This shift in social reform has strengthened individualism and accentuated the positive effects of capitalism where people have continued to attribute failure to classical sociological theories. IV. Summary
Classical sociological theory helped to explain social change and structure of society which aided in the establishment of the contemporary world. Karl Marx’s prediction of the fall of capitalism failed to see its day due to the fact that the working class has used the structure of capitalism to better establish their place among society. When reflecting upon the ideas and works of Alexis de Tocqueville, it is understood that no matter how deeply ingrained capitalism might be within a particular society, there are those who do not reap the benefits capitalism attempts to offer for all people.
One of the principle notions which stand out after reviewing some of the works by these classical sociologists is that their personal objectives and theories failed to be achieved. Capitalism has continued to flourish, the industrial revolution has come to an end, and a new era of technological advancement has dawned. Bibliography Collins, Randall, & Makowsky, Michael. (2005). The Discovery of Society. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill. Dasilva, Fabio B. , & Pressler, Charles A. (1996). Sociology and Interpretation: From Weber to Habermas.
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