This is an explication of the sociology of cultural despair. On the
premise that social forces, social thought and intellectuals'
personal lives interact and create the spirit of an age ("the
choice of a particular social ideal is in the last analysis
dependent on the individual's whole conception of life and the
world" was how Werner Sombart put it) Mitzman has sought the roots
of Central Europe's inter-war alienation in the biographies and
collected works of three colossi - Tonnies (Wesenwille and Willkur,
Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft), Sombart (the capitalist as either
adventurer or burger) and Michels (the iron law of oligarchy in
politics). All traveled on the same trajectory - from estrangement
with Imperial Germany's rapidly developing capitalism and
semi-feudal Prussianized military-bureaucratic complex, through a
flirtation with Socialism to cynical rightist romanticism. The
legacy these thinkers left was largely negative - that "community
is not compatible with contemporary institutions," that
entrepreneurial joie de vivre gets smothered by bureaucracy, and
that socialism when selling out for power and position becomes
"incapable of changing anything." It's Mitzman's intent to revise
these judgments and reclaim "community, creativity and altruistic
socialism" as realizable ideals, but only those who have read his
primary sources will stay with him to the end. (Kirkus Reviews)
Arthur Mitzman's critical study of three major German
sociologists--the nineteenth-century pioneers Ferdinand Tonnies,
Werner Sombart, and Robert Michels--is rooted in the context of
German social and intellectual history. Mitzman shows how Tbnnies's
interest in community and Michels's critique of socialist
bureaucracy were both intimately connected with their allegiance to
an older, more communitarian and decentralized Germany that was
being irreparably destroyed by Prussian domination. Sombart's
analysis of modern capitalism and his evolution from supporter of
revisionist socialism to bitter critic of modernity are similarly
related, by the author, to his increasing estrangement from German
With the brilliance of analysis that distinguished his study of
Max Weber--"The Iron "Cage--Arthur Mitzman's book has revised
long-held ideas about the beginnings of sociology: Far from
originating as an antiseptic development of scientific objectivity,
it grew out of a passionate commitment to humanist values within a
social order apparently determined to destroy them.
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