The Subject of sociology, as is evident in recent books, is in a bad way. In one direction, it tends to get lost in the illusion that statistics, sorted by the punch card method, can explain anything. In another direction, it gets hopelessly mired in some of the most horrifying gobbledygook that it is possible to imagine.
As an example of the statistical illusion, there is Vance Packard’s recent The Status Seekers (McKay, 384 pp., $4.00), which seeks to establish the notion that people do things only to emphasize their individual worth in the eyes of the neighbors. One buys a house, not to live in, or because it is near a good school, but to flaunt to the outside world. Cars are not for travel; they are for display. Food is not to eat; it is bought, cooked, and served primarily to indicate one’s income bracket. And so on.
Well, it is incontestable that some people do some things for show, but in any neighborhood you will find scores of different people doing the same things for entirely different reasons. Punch cards which tabulate income statistics or job levels or whatever "objective" fact, are powerless to get at the startlingly variegated truth about any body of people.
As for gobbledygook, pick up almost any modern book on sociology and try it for yourself. In a piece of alleged prose by one of our more original sociologists, David Riesman, I find this:
"The politician needs contact with a great variety of spheres of life if he is to have empathy with the problems of the voiceless as well as the noisy among his constituents (the private and sheltered person, too, can find in politics a way of acculturation to the gamut of cultures which our society still encapsulates despite in some respects growing uniformity)."
Translation: Politicians must get around if they want to know what their constituents are thinking. Even those not in politics can learn a lot about the still existing variety of our increasingly uniform society if they study the subject.
C. Wright Mills, a Columbia University sociologist, thinks it is a paucity of imagination that afflicts his colleagues. In a brilliant book called The Sociological Imagination (Oxford, 300 pp., $6.00), Professor Mills lashes out at the "grand theorists" of modern sociology for their "irrelevant ponderosities" and their "splendid lack of intelligibility." He also attacks the "abstracted empiricism" of those who succumb to the statistical illusion. The "grand theorists" use "sponge words" and indulge in "mandarin rubbish." As for the "abstracted empiricists," they think they have proved something startling when, by counting noses, they demonstrate that rich people tend to vote Republican. In other words, it’s news to an empiricist when a dog bites a man.
Professor Mills has a refreshingly down-to-earth way of outlining the nature of sociology. The sociologist, he says, must begin with "biographies"—i.e., with individual people. Individuals, he notes, have troubles—and when individual troubles exhibit a uniformity of content and outline within a given group or class, it is time for the sociologist to get out his notebook for some field work. Sociology, so Professor Mills concludes, is what results when "biographies" join in significant numbers to "intersect history" within a given structure of social and political organization.
According to the Mills prescription, the good sociologist will avoid "fetishism of method and technique," he will concentrate on clear statement, he will keep his eyes open to the varieties of individuality, he will avoid concentration on "one small milieu after another," he will distrust all "official" explanations, and he will always seek to isolate the "pivots of change" as "biographies" combine to surge against traditional ways of doing things. Above all, Professor Mills warns the fledgling sociologist against being rigid about procedure. He is against the "ascendancy of research teams of technicians." The "classic sociologist" has always done his best work as "one mind that is on its own confronting the problems of man and society."
A Trap for the Unwary
Since Professor Mills writes so well about the uses of the "sociological imagination," a reviewer is irresistibly impelled to test the author’s precepts against his previous practice. Mills’s best-known work, The Power Elite (Oxford), asks a lot of relevant questions about top-level decision-making in the age of the atom bomb and the Cold War. But in checking The Power Elite against the warnings set forth in The Sociological Imagination, one is disconcerted to discover that Professor Mills is himself victimized by the statistical illusion.
Mills relies too much on the adding machine in putting together his "biographies" to arrive at his idea of the dimensions of "the power elite." Who and what constitutes this "elite"? According to Mills, it consists of the remnants of the old "metropolitan 400," the new "corporate rich," the chief executives, the "celebrities," the "very rich" (including the descendants of the "old rich" who have hung onto estates), the "warlords," and the "political directorate" (mainly administrative). Congress itself consists of politicians who, as elected officials, are mainly on the "middle levels of power."
The Role of Ideas
The trouble with this sort of analysis is that it ignores the role played by ideas in pushing social transformation. No doubt classes and occupation or status groups explain a lot about "who gets what, when" in this materialistic world. But it is ideas, not statistical groups, which create the "pivots of change" which Professor Mills has counseled his students to understand. Ideas are born, they struggle for acceptance, they divide classes and even families internally, they give shape to a whole epoch regardless of the social structure of a nation, and then they fade away. True enough, social ideas usually bear some original relationship to the troubles of individuals caught in a malfunctioning economic and political structure. Nevertheless, they tend to take on a life of their own—and they may have no actual curative value in reference to the problems that are crying for solution at any given moment.
With his eyes on a statistical aggregate, Professor Mills thinks the "corporate rich" and the "warlords" are somehow in league to promote a "rampant mindlessness" in contemporary foreign policy. He is impressed by the lack of debate of great issues in Congress and in the country generally. This "mindlessness," he says, goes back to the late thirties, when a few "insiders" made the decisions that involved the U.S. in World War II.
The Academic Scribbler
But was it and is it "mindlessness"—as practiced by a "power elite"—that has resulted in the cataclysmic political decisions of the present epoch? Or is it the triumph of an idea—the idea of collectivism? Successful in Soviet Russia, collectivism has resulted in the practical barbarization and militarization of a great nation precisely as Herbert Spencer, an older social scientist who had the "sociological imagination," predicted it would. To save ourselves from possible engulfment by the Soviet military power, we have had to call in the "warlords" and to spend tax money for military equipment manufactured in plants owned by the "corporate rich." The villain in the piece is not any "power elite" of generals, admirals, and corporation executives. No, the villain is none other than that old "academic scribbler," Karl Marx. He started it back in the eighteen-forties with an idea that was compounded of a false theory of value and an envious spleen. It is as John Maynard Keynes (who ought to know) has said: The movement of ideas is more powerful than institutions, and the supposedly decisive politician of today is usually in the grip of some dead intellectual of yesterday who heard voices in the air.
In The Power Elite, Professor Mills ignores the "academic scribbler." He ignores John Maynard Keynes’s own grip on whole college departments which have provided the Washington, D.C., "political directorate" with ideas that have hitched our economy to a collectivistic and highly inflationary pap-wagon. He ignores the "Prussian socialism" that turned a great nation in the heart of Europe into a collectivist war machine. He ignores the bearded scribbler of the British Museum who blended Hegelian thinking about the role of the State with Robespierre’s trust in the creativeness of social insurrectionism.
And so, in spite of his own brilliant advice to young sociologists and his own brilliant phrasemaking about the "slow bureaucratic crawl" and the "obscurantist bunk of public relations," Professor Mills ends up among the "abstracted empiricists," a victim of the statistical illusion.
The Naked Communist By W. Cleon Skousen. Salt Lake City, Utah: The Ensign Publishing Co. 343 pp. $6.00.
This is an outstanding volume on the rise and spread of communism from a revolutionary sect to an empire embracing a third of the world’s people, plus conspiratorial activities among the remaining two-thirds. The author, a lawyer, is presently Chief of Police in Salt Lake City; formerly, he was a professor at Brigham Young University and an F.B.I. agent. Quoting extensively from original sources—the writings of Marx, Lenin, Stalin, and other Red leaders, as well as the documented testimony given before Congressional Investigating Committees—the author outlines in a systematic, step-by-step presentation the dangers confronting the free world. His book is one of the clearest and most comprehensive works on communism known to this reviewer.
The conspiratorial movement is lucidly recounted, giving the student a digest of its historical development and nutshell biographies of communism’s leaders.
The communist philosophy, with its theories of nature, the origin of life, and the place of mind; its account of the derivation and significance of religion, morals, private property, and the State; its interpretation of history in terms of the "class struggle," and the plan of action with "Dictatorship of the Proletariat in the Classless Society" are simply, concisely, and yet comprehensively catalogued—along with a devastating critique of communism’s untenable materialism.
The story of communism’s rise to power in Russia; its exploitation of world problems; its rise in the United States; its activity, technique, and tactics before, during, and after World War II, including the China and Korea debacles; its association with the UN; its current "Party Line," are dealt with factually and readably. The final section of the volume devotes a chapter each to five vitally important questions:
1. What do the defenders of communism say?
2. How does a people build a free nation?
3. What is free enterprise capitalism?
4. Did the early Christians practice communism?
3. What is the secret weapon of communism?
This book is a veritable encyclopedia of communism in one brief volume. It is well indexed and contains an extensive bibliography. August W. Brustat
A Guide To Anti-Communist Action By Anthony T. Bouscaren. Chicago, Illinois: Henry Regnery Company. 244 pp. $4.00.
Dr. Bouscaren, a professor of Political Science at Marquette University, has served up a double portion: a handbook for the initiated anticommunist and a primer for those who have the convictions but are in dire need of knowledge about communism in theory and practice. In addition, he reprints a penetrating ability to trace emerging patterns of political evolution. Here is a masterly mind that can both grasp facts and interpret truth.
Burnham knows that tradition is not convention, but a living, organic mode of health. The "liberal," who does all things ill, sees "progress" in terms of the rolling ball that "no question makes of Ayes or Noes": but all genuine advance is that of the root that can grow because it is forever bound by its own life and love. Burnham sees tradition as an organic pattern—the abiding, and therefore growing root. He sees the vital organism developing a valid pattern: growing ever in the cumulative direction of its own entelechy.
He distinguishes what he calls two conflicting "syndromes," the conservative and the progressive (which has come to be called the "liberal"). He prefers the conservative—but he is fair to both. He traces the designs of the Founding Fathers, the true American tradition, which was to combine in valid tension a government strong enough to act but not strong enough to usurp. He casts new light on the famous "checks and balances," and is especially noteworthy in his emphasis on the individual states. He well says: "Even in laws, the states, in spite of practical inconveniences and logical confusion, are stubbornly unlike…. The states are realities that can be seen and felt—still seen and felt—by one who travels widely over our land. They look and smell different." He writes vividly of the contrast of "the stretching horizon of Montana" and "the closed scenes of Connecticut." He sees Congress, in this pattern of diffusion and balance, as important because it represents the power to hesitate, to examine, to discuss, to shed the light of criticism rather than to generate the warmth of action.
Decline and Fall of Congress
In the center of the book, Burnham discusses the decline and fall of Congress from its former high estate to its present robes of sorrow. One of his most startling, original, and valuable insights is his revelation that our present bureaucracy has developed into a fourth branch of government. The Founding Fathers never foresaw this. Burnham shows how this immense, toxic, calamitous spider, bureaucracy, has spun its webs around Congress till it hardly needs to use its poison on so silk-bound a victim. He points out the "arrogance of the bureaucrat toward Congress." He shows how, in relation to the bureaucracy, to the executive, to the judiciary, Congress, through conformity that seven notable papers bearing upon his subject by such experts as John Foster Dulles, David Sarnoff, and Hanson Baldwin.
Bouscaren makes it clear that the battle for men’s minds is every bit as important as the missile program. As it stands now, anticommunists are losing the vital battle for the mind to the opposition because we have failed to be as dedicated, forceful, and articulate in defense of our way of life as they have in defense of theirs.
The author is disturbed by the double standard and great inconsistency of American liberals who were quick to denounce Nazi tyranny but have found it difficult to admit that communism belongs in the same category. Consequently, we have witnessed the rise of a new species, the anti-anticommunists who regard anticommunism as a greater threat to America than communism.
Dr. Bouscaren tells who some of these people are; and on the positive side, he appends a recommended list of organizations, books, periodicals, columnists, and commentators.
Congress and the American Tradition By James Burnham. Chicago, Illinois: Henry Regnery Co. 363 pp. $6.50.
This book is distinguished in two ways. Even at a time when good writing is one of the casualties of the "liberal" debacle, it is good writing; even at a time when calm logic seems lost in the hypnosis of mass manias, it is calm and logical. Burnham knows Latin, which is one of the lost bases of style, and he loves noble rhetoric. Thus his book delights the artistic mind and has that lost validity which comes from saying beautifully what you see clearly. And, though he has a positive philosophy, he engages in no special pleading, no grinding of literary axes, no manhandling of reality in the Procrustean bed of theory. The book is what art ought to be and generally isn’t. It is what science ought to be but seldom is.
Burnham divides his exploration of Congress into three parts. He studies the American system of government and the place of Congress therein; he explores the present decline of Congress; and he probes the present decline for a prognosis of future demise—or recovery. In all these he combines two things in happy synthesis: a comprehensive, often startlingly original, understanding of history; stems from lethargy or cowardice, has gradually allowed its freedom and function to be usurped or paralyzed. He makes clear a very important fact: that, in private and as individuals, members of Congress will be clear in criticizing and firm in opposing, yet when it comes to a public vote, they will weaken and obey. Congress has lost its power to criticize largely because government has grown so vast that the individual too often abdicates his principles because he is dizzied by a spate of details; partly, too, because the Executive and the bureaucracy have become arrogant and bossy. Thus, Congress has largely lost control of the purse, the sword, the making of treaties, the declaration of war, and has even been curtailed in its most vital power—the power to investigate.
The "theoretical gravediggers" of "liberalism" have used their power over communications to gnaw and nibble at Congress. Internal weakness—timidity, conformity, fear to use its own true function, the desire to live like politicians rather than to die (if necessary) as statesmen, have weakened Congress from within. External attack from the "liberal" Procrustes, stretching out or hacking off natural reality to conform it to its own rigid dogmatism of fantastic theory, has weakened
Congress from without. But the external enemy has triumphed largely because of the internal weakness: the will to live (which always means the courage to live dangerously) has ebbed. Congress, which should have been proud and inexorable in fulfilling its own function, has grown mousey. If it continues its will-to-death, it seems fated to end not with a bang but a whimper.
Conditions for Survival
Will Congress survive? Burnham asks the question in the last third of the book. He asks: "Will Congress survive? We must reply that it is not probable on the evidence; possible, of course, but not probable." Yet, he nobly adds: "But it is nowhere decreed that men must submit to impersonal trends, no matter how well established. Let us shift the question somewhat, and ask, not, Will Congress survive? but, What are the conditions for its survival?"
What are the conditions? First, beyond men and in the Providences of God, there is luck or fortune. But much more, there is wisdom and destiny—in the Aristolelian sense of entelechy. What should Congress do? It should not (and cannot) investigate all the factual details of a question, such as: "How much aid should go to Lilliput or Brobdingnag? How much subsidy should be allocated to men with one leg? And so forth and so on, ad nauseam. Rather, it should decide on principles, on philosophy: Shall government go into private business? Is the United Nations serving our national interest? Shall the teaching of science be subsidized by the national purse? This insight is as wise as it is brilliant.
Burnham sums up the need for Congress thus: "To keep their political liberty, Americans must keep and cherish their Congress. They will keep neither unless they want liberty more than any other political value… the choice of liberty, made for us at the nation’s beginning by the Founding Fathers, is now up for review on the national as on the world arena. Is it really true that men can learn the value of liberty only by losing it?"
This lucid, cogent, fair, beautifully written book shows anew why the "liberals" are the straw men, the hollow men, leaning together. They are no longer, in the root and noble sense, liberal: this book has all the virtue that once was their basis and boast: it is clear, it is fair, it is intelligent, it is bold. "Liberalism" could never write so fine a book. For "liberalism" today is the dead yesterday that men forgot to bury; conservatism, as this book proves, is the absolute and eternal sun that alone can bring the renewal that is tomorrow’s sunrise.