Bill Long 10/17/05
From the previous essay we learned two things, courtesy of Albion Small: (1) that "social scientific" work would be aided by ample dollops of biography/autobiography of the scholars who write; and (2) that social science theory is an attempt to address very practical problems that, once identified, help make clear what the scholar is trying to do. With these insights, then, we are ready to understand aspects of German history and the rise of social sciences.
Small's Periodization of Modern German History
Since social science, for Small, is a reflection of underlying societal problems and, since modern Germany is the place where social science emerged, it behooves us to listen to him as he "divides" modern German history. In his 1913 Presidential address to the ASA (American Sociological Association; at first this group was called the American Sociological Society, but its name was changed, for obvious reasons, after the sociologists thought about it for a while), appearing in AJS 18 (1913), 433-469, he lists four such problems or periods: (1) "The first cardinal problem of the Germans was that of protecting the state against other states--the cameralistic problem. This task was more and more distinctly present to the German mind from 1555-1765, and we may say that it virtually dominated all other public problems until 1815" (439). (2) The period from 1815-1850 whose problems, as Small admits, he is only provisionally able to identify. "As a rough general proposition, German public life and German social theory centered upon..." "how to protect the citizen against the state" (441). But, the agitation in France delayed dispassionate consideration of this problem for a long time. (3) The period from 1850-1871, which was "dominated by the problem of protecting the majority of the citizens against the economically dominant class;" and (4), the period since 1871, which has been "occupied by the problem of committing Germany to a permanent policy of promoting human improvement."
Even though the middle two periods are open to considerable debate (and Small was aware of this), and the contours and extent of the first period are uncertain, the virtue of his characterization, to me is the strength of his first and last categories. It is plausible beyond peradventure that the problems in trying to keep local power and control in 365 or so dispersed fiefdoms from the 16th to 18th centuries in Germany would provoke all kinds of thinking on the issue of state power; it is also plausible that with Bismarck's reforms after 1871 that much social scientific thinking would focus on systems to promote human betterment in the new united country. Less helpful is his characterization of the century from about 1770-1870. I still will have to search around for insight in this area. But the remainder of this essay focuses on the Cameralists, those who helped the petty and large princes keep control of their hundreds of small states.
Small wrote a book on the cameralists in 1909, but also condensed his findings in a 1923 AJS article. The political effect of the German Reformation was the assertion of sovereignty by each prince over his particular domain, which ranged in population from a few hundred to several million. As life grew more complex, the affairs of these nearly 400 principalities became more difficult. Small says:
"The problem of bare existence loomed up before each of them. They were plunged into a condition of promiscuous warfare, or incessant danger of warfare.. Under these circumstances, the life-and-death question of every state was, 'How may a government be strong enough to resist other states, and to preserve order among its own people?' This question produced the body of social theory known as cameralism" (i.e., the affairs of the Kamera or the princely treasury and administrative bureaucracy).
What was on the cameralists' mind? Again, Small is clear:
"The cameralists started with the question formulated above, 'How may a government be strong enoug, etc.?' And their answer was: By having ready means to pay expenses. Therefore, the central question of cameralism became, 'How may states secure a sufficent supply of ready means, i.e., money?'
But Small takes us further. Even though this appears to be an economic issue, the princes took it as an administrative one. What this means is that the focus was not on how more money might be generated in the economy as a whole in order to derive higher taxes from industry, but simply on how to extract money from various subjects of the prince. It was only when Schroder made the brilliant suggestion around the end of the 17th century that the state ought to be interested in wealth creation that the issue was broached (His mantra was "no rich prince without a rich people.") Of course, as is often the case, the suggester of the idea was vilified and dishonored, while his idea became fully accepted over the next century. Thus Small concludes, "The beginning of German social science in general then, and of political science in particular, was fiscal science, or ways and means of supplying the public treasury." Very nice, very practical, and very helpful.
But Schroder's idea wouldn't die. The reason that he was vilified, because he implicitly argued for an additional source of power in a state (big industry or the people), became the basis for new social thinking in the 18th and 19th centuries. But here the story becomes very murky, for Small and for me. All Small can say is:
"From the close of the cameralistic period proper (1765) to the formulation of economic problems in a fundamental sense (Adam Smith, 1776; Rau, 1823) the European mind in general was too much agitated to be capable of the formation of permanent policies, or even of very generally convincing theories" (161).
Maybe so. But this leaves my mind in a little bit of mush as I try to understand 19th century German social/economic/political thought. Since this period stands behind so much of American social science and even jurisprudence (Roscoe Pound's efforts to bring German sociological jurisprudence to American attention early in the 20th century are an example of this), I need a sure guide to the players and ideas of the 19th century. I will have to keep searching, even though Small is of wonderful help in starting me on my quest.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long