The humanities and social sciences – useful knowledge for state and society Ruthless Criticism

The humanities and social sciences –
useful knowledge for state and society


The theoretical investigation of state and society, art and culture, thinking and feeling, has the same task as the branches of the natural and applied sciences: They should also provide their sponsor with useful knowledge about their fields. The state doesn’t only want to know how the atom functions in order to build bombs and power plants, it also wants to know how humans, upper and lower stratas, production and consumption, education and edification function – so that it and its responsible departments can successfully bring about “socially desirable” results. Here too the democratic state provides itself with an enormous apparatus alongside the natural sciences, believing that in the case of society it must deal with something similar to nature: it is also controlled by laws that must be known and respected if it wants to control them in practice and, by utilizing their modes of action, bend them to its purposes. “Knowledge relevant to practice,” which is expected – today loudly demanded – of philosophical subjects, is driven by the ideal of getting people and society “under control.” The demanded social technologies that follow from this ideal and task are useful, first of all, to those who bear governmental and economic responsibilities. Information about how one can most adroitly mould and shape, lead, motivate, stimulate, and harness humans, how to control conflicts in the society and keep them under control, is the intention of knowledge as a means of rule. Secondly, however, the results of the social and cultural sciences are also offered to the ruled, both as techniques for “getting a grip” on themselves and their circumstances, as if they could help them handle problems with their children, careers and partners, and on the other hand explicitly as “orientational knowledge” which allows one to define one’s own place in a “complex world” and find meaning in it.

Assigning scientists with social technologies for above and below, and their doubtlessly available willingness, leads to a peculiar sort of science, of which at least one thing is certain: as a set of techniques for steering people and nations, for avoiding crises and misfortunes, and for eliminating the famous problems of life, it is useless. The small and big problems that science is supposed to help cope with remain in place for the modern world and its denizens.


That is no surprise, because the state assignment is not to serve science. It charges it with gleaning laws that regulate the human being – his will and mind, his social and economic activities, etc. – as if dealing with primordially given mechanisms, like the whims of nature that are tracked by the other disciplines. However, the necessities and laws that are in force in social life do not simply exist like gravity, they are imposed on it – and it is really no secret what they consist in. There is even a university subject which deals with the laws that the society really obeys. This subject, however, has nothing to do with discovering some unexplored lawful regularities. This very subject – the science of law – even feels no need to explain the constraints with which it deals. It is fully aware that the laws that govern society are the result of decisions – made by legislators – thus are a question of the power to issue them and create respect for them. The only open question whose treatment jurisprudence has registered in the name of science is what the law, which the state power makes valid, requires or prohibits in a particular case. The application of the law to the case, the subsumption of the facts under the “facts of the case,” is the theoretical anticipation of the sovereign function exercised by judges, lawyers and prosecutors. Their craft of bringing humanity and its deeds under the law according to fixed rules is “useful,” even if it isn’t knowledge about the world. It is the practice of rule, and it bends the legal subjects under the aims of the political power. Police and prisons complete the work of legal scholars.


Obviously, state institutions only have to remember their own decisions in order to make the laws which the society is subjected to known; a citizen might need a lawyer, but in no case a social scientist. The social laws that are expected of them and are offered are not found at the level of the real power and its decrees, to which the researchers decide to pay no attention. Their laws are located behind it, work without a subject, and are absolute. They do not permit anybody the freedom to perhaps deny them recognition and to fight them; a freedom that stands open to the merely real political power and its edicts, after all. The laws working behind the perfectly visible power and the perfectly visible obedience are understood as something like natural laws of economics, governing and obeying, feelings, learning, etc. Certainly, it is not nature that is spoken of, but consciously acting people who have their purposes and also know them. Science discloses that they are following laws, in the process and as a result, about which they have no idea. It informs humans about what has been guiding their actions without them knowing it.

If there is something to laws that are beyond the legal provisions of the political power and determine social life “behind the backs” of the actors, then the social sciences are based on a scandal of alienation and unconsciousness: the members of the society have their actions determined by quasi-natural laws that are bereft of their will and their control, which they nevertheless put into effect only through the social interactions which they engage in. If they execute laws unknowingly, then the individual intentions, which they surely know, do not coincide with the socially valid, ruling purposes which they engage in at the same time. The people lend themselves to alien and unknown purposes which often enough cause their own intentions to come to naught. Without a separation and opposition between individual and socially valid purposes, the social world of those involved would be transparent to them. Nobody could make themselves interesting by offering to reveal mysteries of social life, to solve puzzles of the market or the psyche, and “to make conscious” the unconscious laws of human activities.

When science encounters such laws, which are “based on the unconsciousness of the participants” (Friedrich Engels), then it has discovered a curiosity of modern society which it can not acknowledge with consent. The alienation of people from conditions they themselves create, and the explanation of the laws and powers which they allow themselves to be determined by instead of consciously organizing, requires criticism. Insight into them is not content with “making them conscious,” but leads to the demand to put an end to people’s subordination under self-created constraints, so that they are again the masters of their circumstances. [1]


This conclusion is not drawn by the science that the state pays for. It limits itself to a studied analogy with the natural sciences, of revealing hidden laws of man and society that are only accessible to them, so that those educated about them can appear foresightful and clever about their autonomous laws – like the weather report. “Savoir pour prévoir” – to know in order to foresee, Auguste Comte called the classic formulation of the ideal of this science; forgetting that social scientists do not have to deal with fixed physical laws that are independent of people, but only with purposes, albeit purposes that dominate and control actions. They do not follow the necessities and constraints they discover back to the purposes from which they spring, which indeed only express their systematic priority over other purposes; they proclaim, vice versa, the social institutions and purposes which they investigate to be necessities: Necessary for the utility they bring about. These scientists do not comply with the state task of providing useful knowledge by compiling a knowledge that is unbiased and can be relied on, that proves useful in that one knows what one has to deal with. An objective consideration would have to find out what the free market, school grades, and the prohibition of incest are good for – maybe for nothing or for indefensible interests! To know even that would be useful – but not for this society. It creates useful knowledge by finding itself useful for the objects of its research, and this usefulness constitutes its good sense and reason for existence. It lets count as an explanation only that which demonstrates the usefulness of their objects – committing itself thus to the dogma of utility. The practical standpoint of utility is taken in thought and made into a false theoretical category: one thing is useful in relation to another; instead of seeking the object of knowledge’s own determinations and essential connections, social science puts its object in relation to other things for the effects it has as a condition or as an obstacle. Then, in the light of the external reference point, i.e. for it, the object being looked at seems useful, even indispensable. In this way, this science perceives the objects which it examines as so many tools for good services.

Even their representatives note that the laws they “discover” differ from a natural science model. What they call “laws” are nothing but purposes whose usefulness they certify. Their “law” has therefore a telltale dual character: on the one hand, it should be something like a natural law of the social sphere that can’t be violated; on the other hand, the science calls for it to be respected, so that it can also function and produce its beneficial effects. If one were speaking of laws as apply in nature, the call to respect them would be esoteric: The utility of natural science does not consist in warnings that one should not ignore gravity. Social scientists, however, tell people about laws they always unconsciously follow in social life, so that they also really do. The usefulness of their science for the society consists in warnings to the public of this type: the benefits that it wants, it can only have if it submits to the objects and their autonomous laws. The science is not only biased towards its object of knowledge, in that it finds it beneficial in principle, it furthermore takes the standpoint of caring for it and its functioning – something that would be superfluous with social laws of nature, if there truly were such a thing. Nobody could violate them, the rationality of the society would be objective and would not need to be consciously followed by those it calls to heel. If, however, the social laws only function to the extent that people adhere to them, then they are just not as immutable and objective as the science portrays them. In their “laws,” the social sciences want to know about a necessary unfreedom of people and yet propagate this as well. Their knowledge becomes practical by advising conscious acceptance of this unfreedom. Humans should subordinate themselves to social necessities because they are subordinated to them anyway. Nothing remains of the claim of “useful knowledge,” of the ideal that knowledge of the secret forces and systematic functioning of the economy, society, psyche, etc. could give those who consciously adapt to these laws leverage for their interests – except the advice to adapt.


The social sciences in unison decipher the economic and state constraints as objective constraints, useful institutions and necessary forms for living together: The laws to which people are subjected fit them. They get the evidence for this interesting disclosure by an astonishing follow-up question: Why else would people get involved with them? They buy with money, go to the polls to vote, belong to a nationality – hence they obviously have a need for money, the vote, and the nation. That’s why – and as long as the subjects put up with the conditions and seek to cope with them, they give themselves the proof for how much in need of them they are. The mere existence of the observed objects is proof of their necessity: There is literature, education, morality, religion – thus there must also be a human need that calls for all this. Scientists can work on whatever they want, their treatises always have in truth only one subject: “the human.” The cheap reflection of external institutions and customs inside human nature, in order to then extrapolate them again, draws a picture of the human to which the capitalist world, in which he must live, fits exactly. This is how it arrives at the conclusion that everything it does not explain but wants to explain as necessary is interpreted as an expression of a primordial feature of this remarkable being. So each discipline gets its own animal whose nature calls for what the discipline deals with: these beings in need of capitalist constraints, because they are considered ineluctably aboriginal, answer to these preferably in Latin and Greek names: a “homo economicus” simply needs free prices and competition because otherwise he could not maximize his benefits. The “zoon politikon” needs a state because he is a “state builder by nature.” A “social animal” needs society, because, as the name suggests, he can not be left alone. In his younger days, this animal is a “homo educandus” whose whole existence calls for education, without which the “unfinished born altricial” would not be viable. Another discipline keeps up with a “homo ludens” who needs art and literature because ultimately “homo faber” can’t be everything.

The never-changing reflection of social objectivity in human nature results in a dual human image: the human is the basis of all this objectivity; the social world is his, and he can be happy that he has it, because it suits him. On the other hand, this human needs the objectivity of his reason separated from him in external institutions and objective constraints that force the purpose-oriented social behavior on him that is beneficial to him and others, but which he is neither ready for nor capable of on his own. On the one hand, this dual human needs compulsion and subordination because he is incapable of rationally regulating his own and the common interests. On the other hand, he is insightful enough to accept the constraints of his world as the necessary corset of his weakness and to submit to them voluntarily and consciously.

The knowledge produced by the social sciences is therefore neither true nor useful. It is nothing but an ideological message which varies the somewhat differently intended phrase from old Hegel, freedom is the recognition of necessity, in as many ways as there are subjects in the economic and philosophical schools.

I. Economic science – objective constraints of benefits

The subject promises “to investigate the economy” and wants to provide “fundamental insights into economic processes and interconnections.” However, when it introduces itself and names its object, it doesn’t proceed to speak of commodities and money, capital, interest, wages and rent, but of beloved humans, elaborating on a special part of their behavior, the “rational.”

Benefit maximization – a requirement of human nature

“Economics is understood as the rational management of scarce goods which serve to satisfy human needs. If the supply of goods is always enough to satisfy the total demand for them, then it is concerned with free goods. However, if the demand exceeds the supply of goods and services, then scarce goods are spoken of. Only these are the object of economic science ... It explores the connections in the distribution of scarce goods between the single individuals and communities ...” (Gabler’s Scientific Lexikon, 11th ed. 1983, keyword: economics)

While their predecessors, the classical economists, tried to explain the origin of the enormous “wealth of nations” (Adam Smith) that was in front of their eyes, the modern economists, who have seen a much greater abundance, take the starting point of their science in a universal human hardship that is never overcome – the scarcity of goods, which are never plentiful enough to satisfy the excessive need for them. The very first sentence of this science obviously does not aim at explaining the existing wealth and its forms, and certainly just as little the poverty that accompanies it. The first step of the science does not aim at all at explaining the specific economy which it promises to shed light on, but answers the fitting question: Why do people engage in economic activity anyway and not do nothing at all? The answer designates a human problem: The Romans with their slaves, the feuds with their servants, the entrepreneurs with their wage laborers, all engage in economic activity for the same reason and the same purpose: roast pigeons do not fly into into their mouths, so they have to deal with the discordance between their needs and the means of satisfying them. They create an economy to satisfy their needs – as best they can within the limits of universal scarcity. Before the economists have considered the existing economy, they are already finished with their main point about it: it serves, like any of the various economic modes, to satisfy needs. This crucial justification can no longer be lost in a consideration of reality – it is included in the starting point.

The economic basic problem should be, like all assumptions about the human, directly intelligible; in the end, the real economy is derived from this problem after it has been overcome. In fact, citizens of the economy can easily be persuaded of the scarcity of goods – they have experienced the conflict between their needs and the insufficient means of satisfying them. Some, because they always earn too little for the needs that capitalism has aroused in them with its constantly growing line of commodities; this experience of scarcity has its basis in the fact that an income does not permit its possessor to access what is offered, thus the existing abundance. But even the others, those who lack nothing, know a scarcity problem, because their purchases are not immediately aimed at satisfying a limited scope of needs, but at money and assets itself; one can never have enough of these, precisely because the demand for money is not circumscribed by any needs. Economic science does not want to explain to people their diverse experiences of scarcity; they should accept it as a basic fact of human existence in order to then explain the existing economy that leads to the phenomenon of scarcity. A beautiful circle!

Purely scientifically, it is fundamentally wrong to define the economy from the fact that the land of plenty does not exist. That the means of satisfying needs does not exist by itself is the reason for work and production. However, this banality is not expressed in the sentence: demand exceeds supply. Without work, there is no supply at all – and in accord with work, the means are organized to produce what the work has resolved on. The economists construct a problem of an inequality between needs and the means of satisfying them that is so fundamental that it can’t be remedied by production; the scarcity of goods is not only the starting point of productive effort, but also the end point: they remain scarce – because, secretly, they think of nothing but sums of money and profits to be forever maximized, which should officially be derived through these first reflections on human nature. What is innocuously introduced – nature does not provide us with what we need without our cooperation – is the dogma of excessive needs that can never be satisfied in light of “limited means.”

“Economics is based on the assumption that scarce resources should be disposed over with alternative possible uses in the appropriate way; affluence makes economics superfluous. Since economic theory is concerned only with economic phenomena, it proceeds on an assumption of economically motivated behavior. It is formulated in a extreme simplification as so-called economic principles. It means: to gain either a maximum possible result with given means or a given result with a minimum of means.” (ibid. keyword: Economic Theory).

The economic principle is not about – here even explicitly – what is. It formulates an imperative that one could find sensible: economic subjects should dedicate themselves to maximizing the return and minimizing the expenditure, because in any case the result of their production is never enough and the cost is always too much. The benefit of reaching their goal, the needs to be satisfied as well as the labor effort to satisfy them, are excluded by the dogma of scarcity. Production is not the overcoming of shortage, but only one way to deal with its inevitability. Other ways of dealing with it must be added: a restriction of needs and a compulsion to work are required. Decisions must be made here about who has to work at what and who gets granted what access to the scarce means of need satisfaction.

The real market economy – one possible solution to the problem of all economies

“At the center of economics are answers to the questions: the what, when, how, what (for whom) and where of production. These basic problems occur in every economic system, in planned economies as well as in market economies. In the market-based solution, production goals, methods of production, distribution, and location regulate themselves with the help of the supply and demand mechanism of price movements, i.e. ultimately the free decisions of the consumers. In planned economies, these decisions are basically settled by planning authorities.” (ibid)

The ultimate purpose which is here ascribed to the market economy is apparently not its specific feature: one should imagine it as a solution to a more general problem of coordination and distribution which could also be solved in other ways. Regarding what that mainly involves doesn’t differ from other modes of production, which it differentiates itself from very hostilely. Already formally, this nice interpretation is different from an attempt to formulate the concept of the capitalist market economy. It is comforting to know that even its radical supporters can only form a reasonable image of an economy by thinking of the necessary work to be planned and distributed for the purpose of supplying people with useful things. Now they just call money-making and money accumulation, banks and stock exchanges, tools for supplying people with bread and butter.

That can be done: one must only keep in mind the scarcity- and decision-problems with which economics “understands” the economic – and already the struggle for markets and money seems enormously sensible and charitable: in contrast to the planned economy, the market namely organizes the humanly inevitable restrictions in a free way, so that when people make their purchasing decisions they exclude themselves from the share of the goods they can’t have anyway. In fact, and viewed without the economist’s glasses, the price of the commodity, the property measured in money, is my exclusion from the object of my needs. I can only overcome it by satisfying the interest of the seller in the money that I must have raised beforehand. So my need is made dependent on whether it is good for making money for others. In the light of economics, the matter looks as follows: because scarcity is universal, a person must forego some things and decide which needs to satisfy and which to suppress. Because he must do this anyway, he finds in prices a helpful form of relative exclusion which he can overcome according to what is important to him and how much money he just has or doesn’t have. That because of the money economy and its prices people must do without, decide on and against things, now looks as if thanks to prices they are first free and secondly able to make informed decisions. The money that they have and the amount of the commodity price that they must pay function as aids to making decisions about what to pick and what best to leave alone. In this way, they can organize their restriction themselves and anybody can achieve an optimum benefit out of the amount of their “household income.” The proof of this optimum? They have freely decided, in the end; nobody hinders them from distributing their income differently over a defined “bundle of goods” according to price and quantity!

Equilibrium – a coordination achievement of the markets

But not only that. While the buyer budgets himself in accord with his income and the given commodity prices, at the same time he decides the question about what should be produced for whom and for what price. Despite all the scarcity, the market economy is one which at the same time produces what the consumer desires – and at the prices he is willing to pay. The questions that must be decided by a central planner are decided by the consumer’s behavior in the market. The economists come to the core of their theoretical whitewash when they interpret the antagonism between buyers and sellers, the competition within both camps and between them, as a substitute for planning, as a “decentralized ex post coordination” of the economic agents’ activities. Because some commodities reach people in some quantities and at some prices, when they are not left unsellable, “the market” can be interpreted as an ingenious higher economic power, as a substitute for planning, that achieves without consciousness and subjectivity more than people could – and as a result lets the individual economic agents act so free, as if they were not dependent in their work and needs on others. Methodologically savvy modern economists no longer dare recite the praise of the market in such a nice metaphysical way as old Adam Smith, who knew of an “invisible hand” which also increases the benefit of all, even when each individual only looks out for himself and enriches himself off others. But they mean the same thing when they now try to express it less awkwardly and still only orate about the balance between supply and demand created by “the market.” They too have their higher power whose unerring laws we must submit to for our own good. For this purpose, they grasp the capitalistic competition in which some wrestle for the largest possible share of profit and others for their livelihood as a sort of discussion between millions of economic agents which they carry out unconsciously, that is, with their commodities in the language of prices, about what should be produced and in what quantities next time. They are not bothered by the fact that in this struggle of all against all the standpoint of a social total labor and its appropriate division into partial labors exists just as little as the standpoint of supply. That’s just it: nobody knows, wants and causes the coordination of the independent participants in the economy, they automatically regulate themselves through the market.

Of course, always only “in the end.” In the present, it would seem absurd indeed if the buyer should determine the price of the offered good when he pays what is charged. Whoever buys orients himself by a given price; and someone who does not buy something because he isn’t able to pay for it, or saves for more important things because of his tight budget, bends to the demands of the seller and doesn’t determine them. But the theory of price looks at this simply twice: once as the budget’s given amount, so that the quantity of purchased goods takes its cue from the charged prices. Another time, as an effect of demand, so that the price paid takes its cue from the quantity in demand. It is not entirely unknown to economists that either one side must be fixed so that the other can be a variable determined by it, or vice versa, but both can not at the same time be a fixed given and the variable of the other. They organize the matter so that they pursue one dependency under budget theory and the other under production theory – and so they nevertheless maintain the double-sided dependency of prices coming from quantity and quantity coming from prices. All in all, then, the “market model” still assumes that prices have no other determinant than demand – so that with decreasing demand, the commodities would become cheaper and cheaper, and that demand has no other determinant than price, so that with sinking prices, larger and larger quantities of a type of commodity would be bought. The assumptions have nothing to do with reality, but are necessary to hold if one wants to demonstrate the ingenious production of an equilibrium between supply and demand by “the market.”

Really nothing is regulating itself there and nothing is balancing itself out. The balance of supply and demand, which the aforementioned mechanism should bring about at least in the end, occurs only under the condition that the unfulfilled needs which do not get a chance because they lack the purchasing power for the current prices, and the unsold commodities, which are cheaper only at a loss and therefore not offered at all, do not count as arguments against the equilibrium. If, however, it only requires that a balance occur between “effective market” demand and the same supply, then it takes place in each case and is without any content: it is then the cheap tautology that the quantity of purchased commodities corresponds to the quantity of commodities sold – and at exactly the price that buyers and sellers have agreed on – the equilibrium price. This equilibrium can be obtained at any level of distress and crisis, unemployment and sales slump.

Models and mathematics

Economists are prepared in their own way for such objections. They concede that their “assumption” that all commodities which should be sold are also sold, and all intended demand also gets its turn, is “unrealistic.” They also know that the “linear substitution” of price and quantity – the cheaper bread becomes, the more it is consumed, the more expensive it is, the less – is a highly contestable but simply essential “assumption” if one wants to visualize their image of the market’s coordination achievement. They are happy to let objections hold, not against the empty tautology of their equilibrium law, but against the realism of the premises it makes: they admit that idealized premises are made about the law in order to be able to represent it more purely. The theory is revoked for the model, it does not capture the reality as it is, but gives an idea of how one could well imagine it functioning.

Economics defends the model separated from reality even more consistently – actually, the whole field consists of a methodological defense of this idea of the functioning of the market. Using mathematics and all the intricacies of differential and integral equations, to stick with the given example, the presented dependency of price and quantity is reduced in an unsurpassably exact formula: Y = f(x). Curves and straight lines can be laid so that they intersect and “prove” even to the untrained eye that there is an optimum quantity for each price and for any budget – and vice versa. Nothing has to be calculated, because generally calculating is not done with existing amounts, but all amounts are selected for purposes of the demonstration. For anything more than a picture of the dependency of two amounts, the abuse of mathematics is not at all required.

The achievement – for above: the appearance of a technology of economic control – For below: The rejection of demands

Economics doesn’t only draw this image of dependency of price and quantity, but of all economic quantities with each other, by representing each of these amounts as functions of the other. All in all, it thereby generates the idea of a complex interdependency in which everything is connected according to laws. Wage and interest rates, growth and money supply, investments and state spending – everything necessarily interacts and any change of quantity leads, thanks to the market, to a new equilibrium of all other quantities with each other.

With its idea of a lawful interdependency in which each quantity influences all the others and can thus also be used as an influencing lever, economics offers itself to the state’s perspective as the technological knowledge needed for steering economic processes. With its combination of necessary and predictable effects on market reactions, on the one hand, and the freedom to change individual quantities, on the other hand, economics copies nature, which is controlled through knowledge of its laws and its consciously directed utilization. Control of the anonymous market laws is possible – but only if it turns out to be in line with market requirements, hence if the state subordinates itself to them in order to steer them to its objectives: unemployment can be fought by wage reduction, weak capital growth through tax incentives and low interest rates, housing shortages through liberalization of rent laws, etc.

The government even orients itself by the recommendations of the experts it commissions. This is because the “economic wise men” with their high reputation suggest nothing other than what the government intends on its own anyway. The experts’ reports on the economic situation and their advice are “followed” because they are good justifications for cabinet decisions – otherwise they would fare the same as the (economically seen) no worse “counter-studies” from the camp of economists with trade union ties. These people, particularly the staunch ideologues of their guild, consider capitalism an efficient as well as purposeless interdependency which can be steered with the right use of the right levers to any objective, even social ones. Their recommendation to redirect the macroeconomic process with lower interest rates and government spending towards full employment and wages is reliably punished with contempt. The scientific policy advice of their pro-capital colleagues, which purports to tell the powerful “how its done,” may thank the political power for the predicate “realistic” which it is given. What does it matter that economics is still not the technology that it wants to be and that the prognoses that its economic policy advice to the government is based on are regularly wrong? Politics proves the realism of the science by “complying with it.”

Scientific recomendations to behave in line with market requirements is also given to the citizens with little or even no income. They too can comply with these recommendations – admittedly, only very passively. The expertise about levers to influence the market are aimed less at them than the clarification about their necessary and incontrovertible effects. Whenever the results of the economy do not suit somebody – consumers, the unemployed, renters – economists insist that the market is only the universal reactor into which all specific claims and benefit expectations enter. It only gives market participants the necessary equilibrium response to their claims. “The market” can’t help it if there are no apartments, if there are a lot unemployed, if prices rise and savings shrink. A shortfall in the amount of housing? Apparently, rents are too low, so “the market” can’t make more available. Mass unemployment? Apparently, the price of labor is too high, so there is not an adequate demand for it. Rising prices and falling mass purchasing power? An effect of overly high wages and excess demand. In the “wage-price-spiral,” price increases are only the necessary disturbance of the balance by the wage side. The propagandists of the market return any complaint back to the complainer – if the market lets his claims down, then he just has unrealistic demands – and these are mercilessly exposed by the balance machine.

The discipline is a single plea against political and social correctives to the results of capitalist competition – those are all distortions of the free play of market forces and can only lead to the opposite of the benefits it is intended for. The greatest general benefit occurs if one leaves the market undisturbed to find out what the demand is, at what price. The bias of the discipline applies thus completely by itself not only to the system of the market economy, but also each private standpoint in it, called “the economy.”

Economics does not explore the constraints of the market, but gives them a good meaning: they are the results of a lot of private benefit calculi, which likewise come into effect by becoming reduced to their realistic level. The economist has pulled off the feat of deducing a constraint from the benefits and expediencies which the economic actors are subjected to through their pursuit of benefit. This constraint is thereby justified by the fact that it arises only from the benefit and only serves it. The materialism of the market participant is validated when the market validates him, and accuses him of an unrealistic demands mentality when the market does not validate him. Because the market makes no mistakes! Its laws work relentlessly.

II. Political Science – Constraints of rule

This discipline deals with the state and its institutions, hence with power and rule in modern society. All the definitions of the “political” raised by this science know that it deals with a subject that is characterized by coercion, by binding decisions made by one side on the other and by non-binding, divergent desires on the side of the governed. It is no secret to the specialists that they discuss a relation of domination whose one side connotes freedom of choice and whose other side connotes submission. But even the obvious fact that an authority subjects its subordinates to services or restrictions which they do not want themselves does not tempt these scientists to question the what and why of the requirements and prohibitions which are imposed on society by the state’s monopoly on violence – from which the defining purpose of rule would probably emerge. Political scientists are interested in the completely “value-free” question as to which regularities in the area of command and obedience can probably be discovered, and which higher necessities determine the relation of rule and subject.

The derivation of the state from human nature: humans need coercion

Not to find the real, but the good reason for political rule, this science first departs from the object whose regulations it investigates and rants about the state in general in relation to humans and how they would fare without an order-giving power. The kind of need for the state that political scientists want to establish has simply nothing to do with the specific purpose of the existing state and does not want to explain the necessary range of its activities from this purpose, rather they want to explain the state as such as a plain necessity. The first subject of the science of the state is thus the human.

Since its early bourgeois origins, political science has known of this human, that he would live without political rule in a “state of nature” in which the law of the jungle applies and “man is a wolf to man.” The wild beast robs and murders unless prevented, and feels – therefore? – a strong need for a power over himself which forbids him from living out his nature so that he can pursue his interests in peace. Political scientists aren’t much bothered by the contradiction that this predator, according to them, strives to give up the natural state that corresponds to his nature. Political scientists find it completely obvious that one day free savages must have met and decided to establish a power over themselves so that they can obey it and let it prohibit them from doing what they would do on their own. If today’s representatives of Hobbes, Locke, Montesquieu and Rousseau, who remain part of the permanent collection of “political theory,” no longer want to be understood literally and only circulate “creation myths” of the modern state as apt symbols of its genesis, no longer the actual one, then it is not because they would have noticed the absurdity of a voluntary self-submission by previously free savages, but only because they must have learned from history that it has never been like this. The image of the “social contract” is in fact quite indispensable to them – it’s their whole idea for the reason and nature of the state; in this respect, the modern distancing from this nice image is merely an immunization against its refutation, but not a retreat from it.

The fitting image of the robbing and murderous beast who at the same time yearns for peace, but who would never be at peace on his own, but who in addition needs, wants and creates a power over him ... – this political science idea of the ideal-typical origin of the state is not met by universal laughter from the public. It seems automatically familiar to this audience: People only need to take part in the offered thought experiment and wonder what they would do if the law and its institutions did not restrain the many. Everybody surely knows what happened in New York in the 1970s when the electricity went out, along with the power of the state authorities who otherwise keep the citizens in check: just about what political scientists consider to be the natural condition! The persuasive power of this thought experiment is based on the fact that the addressed citizens are self-evidently imagined as owners of private property, with their mutual exclusion from the objects of their needs and their hostile antagonisms against other owners, who are also under the legal system of property – but now without the state which establishes this order and protects them against immanent attack. The state is provisionally imagined as not existing within the relations of private property created by it – so that it quite dramatically stands to reason that it must quickly be conceptualized again: its existence is a blessing to private property owners who know and fear each other and their equals. The proof that wants to show that a peace- and order-creating state force is a necessary requirement of human nature and that the real state comes from this need – that’s what the thought experiment shows, at least – is a simple circle in which only this much is true: A world of private property can’t exist without the force of the state, which reserves exclusive power of disposal over each piece of the world to some of its citizens. It is a very different thing to say that the human by nature is a private property owner. But that surely does not need to be proved if a science wins its persuasive power by appealing to the very private subjects who want to keep it this way.

The unfreedom of the sovereign – a blessing for the subjects

Political scientists don’t let themselves be vexed by logical doubts when they represent rule as a service to its subjects. The paradox, however, forces them to make a clarification: Not every state deserves this predicate. The forced rule of a state leader is identified with bad copies instead of the rule of a state force, and in these cases the experts suddenly remember that domination and subordination can obviously make “sense,” that when the interests of rulers come into effect, the governed must do things that do not benefit themselves, but the powerful. For political scientists, this counts as a clear case of “despotism” and “abuse of power,” which is already fully explained by human nature’s wickedness – this time on the part of those in power. Good rule is a service to humans – and it proves its quality through a new paradox: the non-sovereignty of the sovereign. In this respect, the above formulated question of the discipline is already the essential message: even a political rule which is distinguished by freedom towards its objects is subject to the effects of laws which it can’t get along with. The unfreedom of the powerful proves that they do not do a service for themselves, but the society over which they rule.

“In earlier periods of history, governance was characterized by formulas such as ‘concern for the common good,’ ‘preservation of peace at home and abroad,’ ‘extension and protection of the law’ – formulas that today we must describe as empty formulas, since they leave rulers mostly free to choose what content they want to give these formulas ... hardly useful any more for characterizing modern governance. In the last century, a radical change has taken place: a radical change in the structures of political society which has led to a radical change in government. Today ... government studies must ask how is the political system structured, how as a result government tasks are defined in content or would have to be, and which government instruments are adequate to the system. Governments are components of political systems, understood as social total orders. Their general task is to control such hypercomplex systems by means of executing a large number of individual tasks.” (Heinz Laufer, Government Studies, in: Political Science Today, Munich 1971, p. 79-90)

That the figures in power do not indulge their wills arbitrarily, but carry out “government tasks,” proves in truth only that there is no longer only a personal, but an objective purpose of rule whose bearers are the state functionaries. The comparison with past times in which the state was the private property of sovereign lords may let the modern state seem to people who acquiesce to it in a pinch as such a bit of luck for the subjects that they find the non-arbitrary exercise of rule to be the same as a type of socially necessary function based in the division of labor. Nevertheless, political domination does not turn into its opposite by a cleverly chosen comparison. And what applies to the state’s functionaries – they hold administrative offices with legally regulated and limited authorities – does not apply to the state’s purpose on whose behalf they act: This is by no means restricted and inhibited just because it assigns functions to its office-holders. The sovereign power itself is not “subjected to social tasks” when its agents perform their tasks. The state does not serve interests which are given to it by the citizens, but defines and creates these interests; it “serves” only social positions, statuses, classes and “protects” only laws and interests that it establishes with its monopoly on violence and lays down for the society. State activities only present themselves as services to an observer who looks at the state from the standpoint of the society that this state has created with its force. The qualification of the services that the state performs for its society can’t quite hide the functionalist circle from which it emerges:

“The tasks of government can be obtained from these elements of the political system ... In summary: protection of the physical existence of the political society by organizing military defense; protection from domestic dangers by criminals, traffic, technology, biological and biochemical means, illnesses and epidemics; taking care of the material basis of existence of the citizens by organizing the economic order, the financial system, the energy supply, by promoting employment and the organization of labor relations; ... guaranteeing and protecting the personal existence of the members of society through legal protection of life, liberty, equality, property, preventive medicine, and health care, social security in cases of illness, disability and retirement.” (ibid.)

First, the state protects from external dangers. These originate from other states, thus from others of its ilk. In its majority, the state is thus itself the basis for the dangers which it “protects” from. Therefore, the term “protect” is nothing but a euphemism for the perpetual competition of force which the political sovereigns duke out with each other. Secondly, the state “protects” from internal dangers, all of which – health risks from chemicals, transportation, jobs, poverty – it has created itself or explicitly permitted. It protects citizens above all from criminals – people who could not exist without the state and its laws, who are defined by the fact that they violate these laws. Finally, it protects person and property – simply because it has imposed on the people under its sovereignty the roles of private individuals and property owners.

There are also leftist political scientists. In the name of the capitalistic state, they are critical of its economic basis and have the highest esteem for the task which they ascribe to it. They exaggerate the criticism familiar even to their colleagues of the inherently destructive private egoism for a little capital criticism: they derive the whole state from a deficient functioning of the inherently self-destructive mode of production and give it the task of wrenching a social reproduction from this inherently anti-social economy. They go so far as to describe the state that creates this economy with its force and sets it in law as its victim: capitalism makes it difficult to impossible for the state to follow its task of the common good, so that many who set forth to “understand” the state as a “repair authority of capitalism” saw the same repair failing in the 1990s. Their research results in a negative judgment – the state ultimately does not regulate the anarchic events on the globalized market. They do not take this peculiar message, that what they would like to see as a state achievement does not take place, as a critique of their idealistic ascription of functions, but a modern theory of the state.

Politics is the political process

Rule is simply necessary – we recall the natural irrationality of the political animal – but rule nevertheless is often enough used for the rulers, thus abused. Therefore, its defensibility depends fully and completely on how strictly it and its functionaries are bound to their task – to be a function for the society. In the state’s self-binding – separation of powers between different branches of the state – and in the binding of the state’s will to the society, political science recognizes the crucial need for the state power to be worthy of recognition. The state power has to mediate itself to the subjects, and mediate its subjects to the reasons of state. In addition to the execution of the reason of state, maintaining relations between above and below, with which the officials justify their actions before the governed, the discipline counts as the political power’s main task and springboard: the relation of rule and subordination is, in the light of the justifying mediation of both sides, generally drowned in the abstraction of a relationship in which it is only considered that above and below are dependent on each other and influence each other somehow. Thus the system idea finds its way into political science: the parts – state and society – are defined by the whole, and this in turn by its parts; all sides of the ensemble need each other, because they would not be what they are without their respective other side. This “insight” into the necessity of the state for the society blatantly presents itself as a prohibition on thinking:

“For our essential connection is the possibility of a further differentiation of this political reality – according to its peculiar entanglement of subjective and objective elements – in political practice, in political institutions and practices as normative institutions and the respective concrete form of this political reality giving meaning to concepts or ideas of political order which are based on the concrete experiences of people and their interpretative development. ... A political science analysis of the political reality that wants to live up its object can not randomly isolate any of these items from the other and treat them as independent; it must remain mindful of the fundamental unity of the political reality and the inseparable connection of the three elements to each other in the life process of politics if it is not to thoroughly miss the political reality ... Political institutions can therefore be understood as governing systems of a communicative nature, as educated ensembles of linguistically mediated, intersubjective valid rules which define political practice and on the other hand are dependent on concrete conceptions of order, thus reached by linguistically mediated intersubjective validity.” (Theo Stimmen, Zur Geschichte der modernen demokratischen Institutionen, in: Politische Wissenschaft heute, p. 53-66)

If one wants to grasp the relation of rule and ruled, one may certainly not determine each of the extremes of the relation separately in order to determine their relation from their characteristics; instead, one must always “think associatively” of both sides, mix them up, take each side for the other – and “understand” both in light of the ideas that the people entangled in these relations maintain about them. Then one arrives without fail at the insight that rule and its execution is a communicative process that follows rules that people have invented to their liking so that they will obey them. The proper object of political science is not the state, but this communication process between above and below that it discovers. It no longer wants to be the science of the state, because that word would convey the impression of an opposition between state and society, instead of the much nicer impression of the two’s interconnection, which it produces. It substitutes the state with its new object, the “political process,” and investigates this construct: the procedure of democracy thereby becomes the only side of state activity that interests the science of democracy. Rather than explaining the democratic techniques of authorization from the concept of the state, it identifies and justifies the state from its democratic forms of association – as if it does not know that there are plenty of states that handle their “tasks” without parties, elections and parliamentary majorities, and that every democracy has its emergency law which will rescue the state if democracy fails in its service.

Institution theory – everything is mediation

Political science has the same concept for all democratic institutions. Whether discussing parliament, parties, elections, or the media, the science always has one message: All institutions are middlemen that the state slides between itself and the governed in order to communicate its measures to the people and vice versa, the people communicate their wishes and expectations to the centers of power. The benefit of being well provided with rule does not seem to be so clear that those benefiting from it would not always need new mediating steps between them and their benefactors in order to convince themselves of the quality of the services and to believe that orders and restrictions really are the answers to their needs. Political scientists don’t like to waste a thought on the content of the antagonisms between power and subjects in a freedom-granting state, but even less on the bridging over of the same. What needs to be bridged over here turns out to be suitably abstract and takes place solely on the field of numbers: millions of citizens’ wills must be transformed into a single state will; interests must be bundled and induced to compromise in order to finally lead to a government program that includes all interests. This must then again reroute these interests, something that certainly can’t be seen as fulfilling them, and explains to the citizens that, precisely because of their interests, they must be passed over either way. Political scientists are ignorant of the question why different interests, if it were then merely a matter of numbers, should not all come into effect, but must first be transformed into a single state program; they are also just as ignorant of the other objection that conflicting interests can’t be unified; instead, some are always plowed under when another is made valid by the state. All told, if the state power makes its decisions according to its priorities, the image of compromise and an averaging out of diverse interests is inappropriate. Political scientists do not let such objections put them off to the pretty idea by which they find politics reasonable: They cling to the idea of a back and forth exchange between state and citizens which would not at all be needed if the state acted with the interests like they say.

With their double standard – a unitary state will must emerge from the political process, into which the undiminished diversity of citizens’ interests must enter – the scientific experts are prepared to reach a final judgment on each democratic institution and each measure of government: to form political parties and to vote must be allowed so that the citizens can present their concerns in the political process; there they must also be institutionally hindered from carrying them out: A struggle between the interests of the citizens would endanger the formation of a unified state will – and also, unlike in little Switzerland, the market place in a mass democracy is not big enough to gather all the people and have them vote. Direct democracy and the imperative mandate – democracy like this would be superficial – are unfortunately not practical, thus can not be granted. With such considerations, political scientists “understand” the wisdom of the real democracy in which the citizens elect their representatives, who enjoy the constitutional freedom to liberate themselves from the demands of their constituents in order to serve as agents of the reason of state and to form the state’s will. Proportional representation – to take another example – is very good and democratic because it allows all political currents a representation in parliament, but it is also bad because it hinders the clear formation of a majority and a government; majority representation is the other way around. The nice thing about this discipline’s expertise is that all the measures with which the democratic state involves the citizens without letting itself be restricted by the will of the people – thus measures by which the sovereign always reproduces its sovereignty – attest to the exact opposite: they are regarded by political science as forms of the bond and obligation of the master to the will of the governed.

Legitimation – the higher law of democratic rule

The discipline itself isn’t even sure whether it really deals with determinations of politics that exist or whether it more likely moralizes, namely prescribes how politics must function so that political scientists can find it rational. Political science and political philosophy, one says in addition, just can’t be completely separated. The discipline’s fertile debates result from the relative weight of both – irreconcilable – intellectual activities. A level higher, namely in a methodological comparison of the many “concepts of politics” that exist in the discipline, political scientists explicitly pore over the contradiction of their science, stating good reasons for state power that they would then somehow also like to consider real reasons of real power. Here there is an “empirical concept of politics” which proceeds without an evaluation of the fact of domination and takes an interest in its functioning in order to find regularities and calculatingly use them for policy advice. This is the meaning of “useful knowledge,” “objective” thinking – but quite uncritical. “Unreflective positivistic affirmation” is prohibited, however, especially with the sensitive subject of rule for people who want to scientifically express their faith in the rationality of the democratic state power. They lean towards a “normative concept of politics” and decisively oppose cynically advising the rulers as to what they have to do in order to remain in the saddle unchallenged. Even this “theory of power,” “natural law of politics,” however, has its limited rights in political science; the “brilliant Machiavelli” and Carl Schmitt, who consider politics an ongoing battle against the enemies of the collective, are still considered the bad boys of the guild. They want simply cozier images of their subject. On the other hand, however, the well-intentioned “normative concept of politics” is not the wisdom’s last word. Its representatives labor away at their ideas about the state’s self-restraint and accountability to the subjects of its rule, which in their eyes would indeed be good reasons for the state, but are perhaps not the real principles of its functioning.

All schools converge in the concept of legitimacy: in this, the discipline has the fusion of its biased orientation towards democratic values and the idea of objective laws that rule above and behind all rules. Legitimacy is discovered by the discipline, both universal as well as beneficial objective constraints of good rule, which not just moralists of power postulate, which really rather no power holder can escape. That rule is therefore legitimate that manages to be held as legitimate by its subjects and thereby engenders a lasting “willingness to obey” in them. If the rule succeeds in embedding the “willingness to obey” its exercise of power in the people, then it can freely perform its duties. Freedom and necessity are thus differently distributed with relations of rule for both poles: the citizen is free when he sees that power must be exercised over him so that he does not destroy his freedom. The state, by contrast, deserves the sovereign freedom of action that the government needs, in that it recognizes and complies with its dependence on the people’s willingness to obey.

The beauty of this law is that it explains the success of rule and obedience to be – solely – the purpose of this rule and the criterion of its laws. The great law is a tautology without any objective content: The power must engender its subjects’ willingness to obey, otherwise they do not obey and the state does not survive:

“If the state fails to keep the dysfunctional side-effects of the capitalist economic processes within limits still acceptable to the voting public; if it is also not successful in lowering the thresholds of acceptability itself, the phenomena of delegitimization are inevitable ... distribution conflicts intensify ...” (Habermas, Legitimationsprobleme im modernen Staat, in Politische Vierteljahresschrift, Nr. 7/1976)

The tautology, as befits a tautology, can also be turned around: if a government is not disturbed in its exercise of power by the governed, hence if citizens acquiesce to the rule, then it is apparently perceived as legitimate. The pure functioning of the state proves its higher legitimacy. Popular discontent and rebellion prove, by contrast, that the government has forfeited with its freedom of action its higher legitimacy. It has neglected its first task of producing legitimacy, and is no longer at any point in fact legitimate. At the latest, when the revolution triumphs. Then it is namely legitimate.

Political advice and loyalty control

To make sure this doesn’t occur, political science becomes practical and advances policy advice. It openly acknowledges its partisanship and point of view on the success of the thing which it allegedly investigates. The discipline explicitly thinks nothing of the distance and impartiality which scientific judgments require: because they themselves are citizens of their state and are affected by its activities, political scientists explain that they are not in a position to objectively face their object of research – “like external nature,” they say; they insist that their thoughts about the state only come to them and only make sense because they raise their voices as its engaged partisans. As such, they warn of “self-destructive tendencies of liberal democracy” with too much liberalism and against the risks of a “welfare state legitimation of rule” – namely in crises, when the loyalty of the people is needed most, a legitimation built on promises of social services fails. Political scientists become “investigators of extremism” to ensure the legitimacy of the power so critically examined by them, and they discover in the parties and circles which are taken under control by the agencies for protection of the state that such “self-appointed” elites are really intolerable for democracy, because they arrogate all the qualities that the elected bearers of state power are entitled to: willingness to use violence, intolerance, and the belief that they have solutions to social problems. While they serve the state with warnings and scientific debunking of its enemies, they examine, on the other side, the condition of the loyalty of the masses and show the rationality of voting decisions in empirical election research by correlating votes with defined segments of the population: Is it women, retirees, the rural population or those with high school educations who are loyal to the governing party? If layers can be found who run away it from it, then there must also be reasons in their situation for it. Or, at least, in the way they are addressed by those responsible: election research also finds out which slogans make an impression and which of its accomplishments the government should better keep under wraps if it wants to attract voters.

There are leftist political scientists, as mentioned, too. They diagnose “legitimation problems in late capitalism.” They accuse the economic system established by the state of making it difficult for the state to do its good deeds and, in the end, even its legitimacy suffers from this. This also worries the engaged.

III. Sociology – Objective constraints of living together in general and its basis in our need for it

The science of society presents itself problematically. Introductions and short descriptions inform the novice about the difficulty of explaining what it is that the discipline actually investigates. Unlike economists and political scientists, who start from a particular part of reality as their research object – in order to work out legitimizing interpretive models that they then apply to anything and everything – sociologists can’t refer to such a distinct object from the outset. They do not make their object of research any facts unexplored by other sciences, but look at what the others see in their own way, yet differently. There is no overlooked object that still awaits explanation, instead there is a theory in search of its object: In and behind the economic, political, educational, artistic, etc. facts which the others deal with, sociologists search for “the society.” If they take their object as their “difficult relation from the beginning to their ‘object’”[2] – in quotes – they admit to the methodological nature of their discipline: they offer a view that is derived not from the particular nature of the objects considered by them, but from a way of seeing chosen independently of them, to which these objects are subsumed. To study, that is, to learn sociology, is to adopt this unusual perspective. Introductory literature and seminars do not announce knowledge about an object, but advertise for these optics; they call it an “Invitation to Sociology” – and promise to the novice “an introduction to sociological thought.”

Not natural ...

Sociology justifies its way of thinking with a critique of its neighbor disciplines in the social sciences. It doesn’t accuse them of any mistake – so that it would correct what they get wrong – but of sticking to the surface. While they certainly accept the reasons and theories proclaimed by the others “on the theoretical level,” they are at the same time dissatisfied with them and look behind them. Talcott Parsons, for example, finds it correct to deduce the laws of the market economy from the motives of those who have to get along with it; he also can’t imagine an explanation of social objectivity any differently than the construction of a human image that fits it. So he agrees with the assumption

“that the immediate goal of economic activity in a market economy is to maximize the net money gain or generally to maximize the difference between benefit and costs.”

He does not find it correct that economists take this motivation as a self-evident given and deal no further with its origins and its conditions; since he does not want to accept it as an ultimate, deep purpose given by human nature.

"From this seemingly obvious fact, one could easily reach the generalization that the system would be kept in motion by the ‘rational pursuit of self-interest’ of all parties, and believe that this formula is the key to a theory of motives of human behavior, at least in economic and business environments ... It is (however) certainly unwarranted to assume that this immediate goal is a simple and direct expression of the ultimate motivating forces of human behavior ... The remarkable consistency and universality of economic motivation is not the result of a corresponding uniformity of ‘human nature,’ its egoism or hedonism, but certain basic principles in the structure of social action systems.” [3]

Parsons accuses the economists of narrow-mindedness; not possibly because, instead of examining commodities and money, they speculate about the motives of human behavior and derive a human sense of the capitalist economy, but because they don’t reach far enough in their research into motivation. What they do not do, what they in any case do not put any special importance on, he explicitly does in order to make it into a reproach: he generalizes their subject’s motive into a natural basic constant of all “human behavior” – and protests against it. Sociologists do not want to grant the validity of a direct derivation of profit maximization from human nature. And not only that. In a scientific setting, in which the representation of the object of knowledge as the outcome of human nature generally passes as its explanation, they present themselves as critical enlighteners and prudent spirits: they do not consider institutions, practices and motives as natural and inevitable as the other humanities and social scientists believe. Sociologists look beyond this society and invoke the historical and anthropological fact that in other countries and times, no motive to maximize profits, no monogamy, no ruling mandate by elections are to be found, and human nature also quite readily tolerates different customs. Because sociologists disgrace the equation that the others maintain between their research objects and an immutable human nature, they have incurred the reputation of mockers who downgrade what is sacred to others and undermine the validity of morality, religion and law on which co-existence is based. Actually, the unconstrained tone and deliberate provocation of customs, values and ideals are part of the discipline. [4] Its critical message is: Social facts are not naturally determined; they are made by humans and – sociologists sometimes add – therefore changeable.

... but social!

When sociologists set about an explanation, they grasp their objects in the same abstract and methodological version they criticize in their neighbor disciplines. Sociologists are not interested in what economy, state, military, judiciary, education, language, and science are, or what these different fields are respectively about; they notice the same thing in all of them – namely, nothing but cases of the “remarkable consistency and universality” of human action – and ask where the motivation is coming from and is rooted. Beyond the purposes that the listed institutions have – thus beyond the interests that cause people to get involved in them and their laws, as well as beyond the force connected with institutions of rule and the constraints to which even subjects without interests submit – sociologists want to answer why humans, whose nature is not prescribed in particular, act generally consistently and universally. Beyond the real compulsions and beyond the real lawful regulations proper to the logic of a field, sociologists seek to answer the question: Why do people follow the rules? Beyond the specific reasons that exist for the “rules” in this or that field, however, there aren’t any reasons for them at all.

Behind the backs ...

Sociology sees this differently. They know their reason for rules, without also knowing one single rule and its reason: Society! Because people live in society, they stick to rules – no matter in which society, and no matter which rules. The social is the regulatory, binding, supra-individual in people’s actions. Sociologists subsume everything they take as a subject under this abstraction – and in this way, everything becomes the same for them: It is no wonder that everything seems identical if what distinguishes the various institutions and fields of action is left out: rule and power, property and law are lumped together with traffic lights, the rules of grammar, the rules for card games, and the universality of scientific arguments. It takes no great skill to assemble more and more material under ever thinner abstractions, about which less and less is communicated. The skill of the sociologist consists in explaining this meager abstraction to be the higher power and the “fact of society” around which life revolves. However, they reduce all specific institutions, constraints, rules to accessories that can turn out one way or another.

They subsume their objects to their wrong abstraction and always emphasize, in contrast to their specific properties, the social significance they attach to them: that they function according to rules. They thereby defamiliarize the universally known objects of their scrutiny and contradict the conscious aims and objectives pursued by the people involved with and in them. Sociologists clarify that what actors mean and want is not the point, but that by and in their conscious activity they unconsciously execute something completely different – their sociality. The discipline mooches off a tradition of criticism of false consciousness and is the exact opposite of such criticism: It does not at all see its duty as proving mistakes to people – whether in their actions, so that they have effects different than intended, or in their thinking about them. Without criticizing the alleged unconsciousness, the elitist Know-It-All is so free as to claim a “behind things” and to explain the real purposes as inessential foreground. Common sense may keep its superficial consciousness quiet – it’s surely the right thing for it and its practice – but sociologists and their students look more deeply and understand what the ordinary guy means when he joins a chess club because he wants to play chess. An expert knows that chess fans want to form a social group; but such a group, in order to delimit itself from its environment, needs a group purpose distinct from other groups, and in this case that just happens to be the board game. Young people might break into vending machines to prove their courage and get a few bucks, but sociologists recognize this as “deviant social behavior” by which rowdies rebound from otherwise required rule-conforming behavior. A man finally marries because he wants to have a wife and start a family, but sociologists see through his personal wish and know that he only obeys conventional, long-prescribed behaviors, norms and rituals that he at the same time validates with his obedience. Sociology sees through people and their intentions and discovers deeper meanings in their actions. In everything they do and in whatever they aim to achieve, they bend to the given social objectivity and at the same time thereby produce it. In their actions, they are just as unconscious a product of social interdependency as this is the unconscious product of their actions.

Methodological rules for visualizing the social

The metaphysical subject which determines human actions behind their backs and is at the same time determined by them – the social system – is not a matter of experience; it is delineated by following methodological instructions in which all the determinations that the science brings to light are already contained as prejudice. When the sociological theorist approaches an object of knowledge, he then considers it as “socially mediated,” i.e. he should view it in a social context and not investigate it separately. Sociologists do not await an unbiased explanation of the nature of their object in order to determine its specific connection or non-connection with other things; rather, they determine beforehand that it has to be explained by some connection with all kinds of other things. It thereby does not depend on the determination of the connection – how else, if it does not result from the nature of both sides standing in connection? Situating-in-context is the methodological prejudice over all objects of social science, and also the judgment that comes out at the end: In society, everything is in connection with everything else, responds to and interacts with others, forming an organic whole, the integration of its parts. They could not be what they are without their relation to the bigger whole; and this not without its parts. Everything is both cause and effect – just a system.

Early sociologists (Max Weber) quibbled with materialist colleagues about whether the “Protestant ethic” – the belief that man must justify himself with hard work and earn the kingdom of heaven – brought about capitalism, or whether it was vice versa. Modern representatives have recognized that it is quite pointless to distinguish causes and consequences for the message they are getting at. In their eyes, those are outmoded categories of thought that only lead to quarrels. They have disentangled themselves from this and attest a social meaning or social significance to everything they think about. If one does not take logical categories too precisely, religion can without difficulty also be interpreted as an expression of the social and economic system and as a contribution to its functioning: the belief in personal guilt and justification appears as both an effect of the “individualization” that the modern economy spawns, as well as the religious sacred values which in turn help stabilize the various subsystems of society. [5]

The discipline creates a single logical category for its intellectual needs, which throws cause, effect, condition, expression and still more into one pot and shows only the most indeterminate relation between two things conceivable: everything social is a function [6] of the whole, and has a function in the whole and for it. Function crops up so often because it maintains nothing more definite than a sociologist feels like moving one thing into connection to another.

A provisional message is therefore certain – and indeed, for purely methodological reasons, independent of the object under consideration: If the behavior of people is interpreted as an expression of the social structure, but in turn the society is interpreted as the expression of the values and ideas of people, then in any case both sides suit each other dandy. This basic ideology, which all bourgeois science somehow boils down to, comes into the discipline, which blathers so much about mediation, without any mediation – without benefits and specific needs: solely, the fact that people play along and mentally adapt to their participation proves how well the “society” suits them and how much it must meet a need for it.

Society: its existence prevents its absence

The discipline attests that the “complex functional context” by which it explains its object – the system – itself has a “function,” certainly a highly tautological one: to function, to keep its continuity and itself in the world. Sociologists ask “What holds highly individualized societies together?” (U. Beck), hence they are not interested in the qualities of their object, but in the conditions of its success – but certainly a success that no political or economic system of rule aspires to. Such systems seek success in their own purpose – which is capitalism, the growth of national wealth and the expansion of government power. Ruling orders are so modest as to only want to just survive, at most in the brief moment of revolution. And even then this is the case because of the difference between the two, i.e. because of the interests that rule in them and the interests of the classes that have these interests, and not because their order is a system and does the same as the other system that threatens to directly replace it.

In the various answers to its question about the “social glue,” sociology wins an appearance of factuality by indicating the particular structural principles of the society, to which it attributes the unchanging achievement – of holding the system together. Which norms and sanctions stabilize the behavior of people and integrate the (human) elements into the system? Which achievements of the system bring about people’s readiness to be classified and sub-ranked and their social identity? That something like this must be present proves the existence of society to sociologists even before any further inquiry. According to their particular structural principles, from which they construct the functioning of their system, they are always giving, nicely pluralistically, one and the same society ever new names: In the 1960s, many made the alleged minor differences in the living standards of the citizens responsible for the social peace and spoke of a “middle-class society”; others traced the durability of the society back to an advantageous cooperation between the organized interests of the antagonistic capitalistic classes, spoke of “industrial society” and the productivity of its conflicts. In the 70s, when the level of consumption rose even for the working class, sociologists spoke of, but also pronounced, an “affluent society,” the need for “post-scarcity value orientations and identities.” Today, when unemployment and neglect abound, the discipline discovers the latest phase of capitalism to be a “work society” that integrates its citizens through the supply of labor and creates their social identities through work. Its most recent expression has been issued by the fashionable sociologist Ulrich Beck. He always notices the world in the same way, as described by his sociological colleagues, a system that maintains itself by the fact that it provides orientation, reliably classifies and integrates its elements into predetermined social ranks and categories. All these traditional pillars of social behavior, according to his diagnosis, are breaking down more and more in the “risk society.” The system that his colleagues have outlined no longer functions; but that is not a drawback, but a gain in the freedom of its elements to self-define themselves: people are forced to choose and define the values they want to obey, the groups they want to be classified and sub-classified into, the self-images they want to pursue, and to make the functioning of the society their own thing.

The functions of the society are thus nothing but functions for themselves. The discipline, which methodologically raises the category of benefits into a universal theoretical tool – something is good for something else – and with it polemically goes back to the “superficial” derivations of state and economy from its benefits for people, promises no benefit at all from the society for its human members. In other words: benefits can only be spoken of ironically if the society is construed not by any achievements, but by its pure existence and self-preservation as a service to the suitably deficiently designed “social animal.”

A pillar for the order-needing humans

The thoroughly methodological ideas of system and integration formulate the relation of individual and society as at once an unbridgeable conflict and as a perfect identity. The alternatives of the discipline – are actions taken on an individual basis or on the basis of predetermined social imperatives? – allow no mediation; and a specific, thus delimited and perhaps removable opposition between individual interests and community demands is not even envisaged. For the same reason, the aforementioned opposition is at the same time invalid: If no opposition is addressed except for the formalism – individual or social? – then it is impossible to see why the individual should not be identical from the outset with the social. The problem of individual and society is posed in a false abstraction in order to at one time deny the difference that people know, at other times the identity they know, and in such a way as to represent the society as a process for solving the problems that sociologists read into it – that’s the enlightenment this discipline has to offer.

So in their abstract oppositioning, sociologists are proud of always emphasizing the opposite of what stands in the forefront of general consciousness: classes and strata, rich and poor, they decipher as opportunities for the individual to “socially locate” himself, the underclass as a social homeland, prison and police as orientation guides. By contrast, sociologists expose activities in which people are certain of their subjectivity – language, thinking, love – as nothing but cases of subordination under a stifling universality that effaces the individual. And all that, in any random matter, to issue the sociological message of the identity of the subordination of individuals with a help for them and their liberation. Political scientists have some clue that prohibition and punishment are negative restrictions aimed against interests that the citizen must put up with, and know good reasons for it. Sociologists go a step further, explaining that the restriction of individuals helps them and expresses their need for it. Indifferent to the specific content of the rules, customs, and laws with which they set themselves off from other disciplines, they are also ignorant of their reason and purpose. They assign good sense to norms apart from their specific content: the specific norm – which is, like all others, conventional and replaceable – is not a service to humanity, but the existence of norms and laws at all. The function that sociologists attest to society is tautological: it and its body of rules do nothing but prevent their absence; precisely in this lies their benefit for humans, as sociologists see it. That people may not do everything that they want is a help for them: Because it brings security in their relations, telling them what they have to do and what to expect from others. The rules of the social world restrict the endless possibilities that an action would have without them, and thereby helps the humans to find a specific action – as if actions don’t want anything specific and one is therefore just as good as its opposite or something completely different could take its place! Very directly, the mocker ends up with the naturalness of property, monogamy, etc., thus even the nature of the human; only what kind of human. They imagine their “social animal” as a disorganized slob who wants nothing and would not even get out of bed in the face of the sheer possibilities of what he could want if society did not restrict these possibilities – i.e., reduce their complexity (Luhmann ).

All historical forms of rule and state fulfill this one function of averting lawlessness and chaos: they preserve themselves through the integration of their members and thereby as social entities. That makes them more than hermitages. The benefit given by society proves the necessity of the specific society in which we live. Sociology supplements its critical prelude – “Society is humanly-constructed, therefore changeable!” – with a small addendum: There is just no reason to! Considered as a system, one society does the same as any other.

[1] This subordination of the subjects under an autonomy of its social products is what Marx called the fetish character of economic relations: Independently of each other, private producers produce for social needs; whether and to what extent they meet such a thing with what they produce, thus find solvent needs, they only learn afterwards on the market in the prices received for their goods: “These magnitudes vary continually, independently of the will, foreknowledge and actions of the exchangers. Their own social movement has for them the form of a movement of things – things which, far from being under their control, in fact control them.” (Marx, Capital Vol. 1, p. 167). He considered this discovery a criticism, not only of consciousness, but of private production. The university disciplines consider it the other way around: their enlightenment sponges off the scandal, against which they have no objections.

[2] Joachim Matthes, Stichwort Soziologie, Staatslexikon, 1995.

[3] Talcott Parsons, Motivation of Economic Activities, Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science 6, 1940.

[4] The reader can randomly find without difficulty in sociological writings a lot of sobering information about our society which at first glance sounds like criticism of what is popularly glossed over. An example: “In Western democracies, with their ideological emphasis on voluntary compliance with popularly legislated rules, this constant presence of official violence is underemphasized. It is all the more important to be aware of it. Violence is the ultimate foundation of any political order.” Peter L. Berger, Invitation to Sociology, 1963.

[5] The egalitarianism of sociology includes even the world of thought. It sees the stupidest religion and the most correct theory as equally valid. Whether thoughts are true or false is a question that sociologists do not understand; they consider them to be simply functional. Ideology for them does not mean a construct of ideas that uses false arguments to justify irrational relations, but every theory, because without examining its truth they certify a bias in it and a function for the society in which it arises.

[6] The schools of sociology, which have sometimes appeared even polemically against each other, give themselves different names by exposing various moments of their one and always identical thought. Functionalism underlines the method with which it sees things socially and moves everything and everybody into connections so that the social world looks like system theory says. The social system, however, needs, in order to hold together, a principle and an internal order; structuralism sees its appeal in its emphasis on this. Interactionists, by contrast, find the idea of a pregiven order which integrates its elements much too objective, almost like a rape of the elements. They remind their colleagues, who do not deny this at all, that the structure of the society is the deed of its actively interacting elements, which integrate themselves and form the system.