Sociology Responds To Fascism

Highlights from this 1992 book:

* Sociologists were not notably successful in understanding fascism in the interwar era, much less in educating the public about the subject, and sociologists served the Nazi regimes just as other scholars did. The history of their service has been shrouded in misimpressions which have gradually been dispelled. Many of the leading figures in postwar German sociology who lived through the Nazi period knew a great deal about the role of sociology under the Nazis and did nothing to correct the misimpressions.

* The members of the Frankfurt School scarcely discussed the topic of Nazism (or indeed Italian fascism) before their
departure from Germany. They had the most limited sort of edifying impact on their non-fascist hosts prior to the war itself…. When they arrived in the United States, the members of the Frankfurt School held to their faith in the historical inevitability of revolution and the idea that Germany represented the world-historical future.

* Sociologists participated in the Nazi order in large numbers and for the same kinds of reasons as sociologists participate in schemes of subsidized scholarship today. If anything, the Nazis were modernizers of sociology: they brought the machinery of subsidized scholarship and publication in empirical sociology and substantive research significantly closer to present models of research subsidy and relations with the state.5

* The idea of an edifying sociology, one that serves to instruct the public, fared no better in the face of fascism. The romantic notion of reweaving a social order destroyed by impersonality, shared by Tōnnies, Durkheim, and many others, such as Spann, contributed, however indirectly, to the climate of opinion in which fascism took hold.

* The ideal of an engaged sociology also fared poorly. As Weber says, to enter into politics is to contract with diabolical powers.

* The myth of sociology’s opposition to fascism and of the wisdom of sociology in the face of fascism deserves to die. But with it some other myths ought also to be undermined. The myth of sociology as a ‘legitimator’ whose services are much in demand ought simply to be forgotten. The idea that sociologists can be freed of responsibility for the consequences of their sociology ought also to be given up. There is nothing that assures that the effects of sociology will be progressive or constructive other than the definitional equation of ‘true’ sociology with the good. No sociology of the interwar era grasped fascism fully or produced an unambiguously ‘correct’ political recipe for dealing with it. The continuing dispute over the character of fascism and the interwar ‘fascist’ regimes suggests that these are inappropriately high standards for social science. But the failure to meet them indicates that the pretensions to political wisdom of social science are inappropriate as well.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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