Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Leo Strauss and Natural Right, Part 3-B: Max Weber

TAKEN TO ITS LOGICAL EXTENT, Max Weber's sociological science would be able to give a marvelous scientific description of a concentration camp and of the practical motivation of its social members, but it would have to abstain from any value judgments that such an institution is intrinsically wicked. Under Weberian strictures, the latter moral characterization would import a value judgment which would constitute a foray into something other than fact.

There is something seriously offensive, inhumane and against common sense in such a view of science. What a cold heart it would require of its adherents. What intellectual dishonesty it would require of its adepts who would be forced to paint in black and white, and act as if there were no color. So clearly deficient would such a description of fact without value judgment be that it would not even be real; it would be a "bitter satire" of reality.

In fact, Weber was not so seriously inhuman as to avoid value judgments, even in areas less extreme than a sociological analysis of a concentration camp. We find his writings riddled with value judgments, blithely inconsistent with a strict application of his own theory. "Weber . . . could not avoid speaking of avarice, greed, unscrupulousness, vanity, devotion, sense of proportion, and similar things, i.e., making value judgments." Strauss, 52. He could tell the difference between "Gretchen" and a prostitute, an authentic charismatic prophet and a "sophisticated type of swindler" such as Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormons. Strauss, 55. In assessing the behavior of a general or of a statesman, the sociologist has to distinguish between rational considerations and erroneous or emotional factors such as bravery or cowardice, barbarism or humanity. To make these distinctions, the sociologist must evaluate, that is to say, he must judge. The Weberian formula seems flawed.

The rejection of judgments under the guise of relying on fact alone also is objectionable in another regard, though such non-evaluative science may be useful in a limited way if recognized to be so limited. What is the social scientist supposed to do when studying a society different from his own, particularly its morality, religion, art, or culture? Is he to accept uncritically the social group's definition of what is good, beautiful, etc.? This, of course, would translate to falling prey "to every deception and every self-deception of the people one is studying." Strauss, 55. Is the only way we can study the sociology of the Third Reich: to accept uncritically the premises of Hitler. Must we act as if we were Hitlerian to study German society in 1939? This seems to ask too much. "[I]t penalizes every critical attitude; taken by itself, it deprives social science of every possible value." Strauss, 55.

It would also be improper to study other cultures or societies as if what they truly believed were mere fictions. It is apparent that such an attitude would immediately require what a Weberian would find disdainful: a value judgment. It follows: "The sociologist cannot be obliged to abide by the legal fictions which a group never dared to regard as legal fictions." Strauss, 56.

It is perhaps a commonplace that the "social scientist ought not to judge societies other than his own by the standards of his society." Strauss, 56. But as mentioned earlier, it is erroneous to accept uncritically the other society's values--that's blinding. Similarly, it's wrong to view another society's beliefs as fiction--that's deafness. So this seeming factual neutrality appears dubious. Accepting uncritically facts and accepting critically facts seem both to be unsupportable options. Moreover, there is another reason why this much-vaunted neutrality appears dubious: to understand requires some "conceptual framework or a frame of reference." Invariably, these must be the social scientists' own. The result is he will "force these societies onto the Procrustean bed of his own conceptual scheme." Strauss, 56.
He [the social scientist that invokes his own frame of reference] will not understand these societies as they understand themselves. Since the self-interpretation of a society is an essential element of its being, he will not understand these societies as they really are.
Strauss, 56. But the problem is even more severe. "[S]ince one cannot understand one's own society adequately if one does not understand other societies, he will not even be able really to understand his own society." Strauss, 56.

Are social scientists doomed to ignorance? No, but it requires a tremendous tight-rope walk to avoid the extremes of a Scylla of "non-evaluating social science" and a Charybdis of a presentism or parochialism in social science.
[The social scientist] has then to understand various societies of the past and present, or significant "parts" of those societies, exactly as they understand or understood themselves. Within the limits of this purely historical and hence merely preparatory or ancillary work, that kind of objectivity which implies the foregoing of evaluations is legitimate and even indispensable from every point of view.
Strauss, 56-57. In other words, the social scientist must, as a prerequisite to even being able to assume any kind of objectivity, live a sort of ersatz life where he has seen a number of societies of different time and place as they saw themselves, including the assumption that there were such things as objective value judgments. This necessarily requires the use of value judgments. First he must use value judgments (not his own) so as to make "non-evaluative" assessments of societies other than his own. Second, he must use value judgments, and believe that there is some source of objectivity, so as to be critical of all societies, his own, and those other than his own. He must, in Strauss's words, be able to call a spade a spade. Strauss, 61. This latter requires the use of objective value judgments.

Strauss accuses Weber of failing his own ideal of neutral or fact-based objectivity. Weber was altogether all too wed to a parochial conceptual framework of a post-1789 Continental European while the intellectual battalions of the revolutionaries and "reason" still battled it out with the battalions of pining for the ancien régime and who sought to preserve "tradition." Strauss gives a number of examples from Weber's writings where he failed his own ideal, but spends the most amount of time on Weber's famous study on Calvinism and Capitalism: The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. According to Strauss, Weber's failure in methodology did not allow him to recognize that it was not Calvin's doctrine that led to capitalism, but a corruption in Calvin's doctrine that was the source of the spirit of capitalism.

No comments:

Post a Comment