A Reviewer's Notebook - 1959/8

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.

"Abstracted Empiricism"

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.

Further Reading


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