Shifting Identity Individuals, Groups, and the Science of Society

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“Individualism….[is] the practice of living in terms of coherent desires under the rule of law…. [It] unleashed, for better or worse, everything that makes the modern West dynamic and innovative.”

~ Political Science professor Kenneth Minogue,
writing in The Times Literary Supplement (UK), January 1999

1. The Science of Society

Academic sociologists have been trained to conceive of their discipline — sociology — as the scientific study of society, and to remit to the sister discipline of psychology the study of individuals. Strictly speaking, however, psychology is the study of the mind.

At the same time, the profound influence of the American sociologist Talcott Parsons (1902—1979), who condemned utilitarianism and individualism1 and sought to create a firm barrier between the disciplines of sociology and economics, ensured that many of those same academic sociologists have suffered from a truly woeful inability to understand fundamental economic principles.

This policy of seeking separation in a holistic doctrine was always an attempt at self-justification for a discipline which many felt had no core, even some of its own practitioners. It was a defense both against those who would argue that sociology, precisely because it had no core, was not an academic discipline worthy of the name, or had nothing to study because, in Margaret Thatcher’s so-1980s phrase, “there is no such thing as society,” and against the charge that, if sociology was to amount to anything at all, it had to be effectively “the study of everything.”

I admit that the eyes of the intellectually and culturally lively tend to glaze over at the mere mention of sociology, often with ample justification. But please bear with me, as we will presently come to the more inspiring realm of liberty, and perhaps to a word or two of wisdom.

None of the navel-gazing and nitpicking over method and raison d’être which goes on in social science faculties the world over would matter, were it not for the fact that social scientists are commonly drafted into the service of the state, and rewarded by it for coming up with solutions which are based on removing the responsibility for life’s decisions from the individual and endowing an interest group or lobby (often the ever-expanding bureaucracy) with the powers to make those decisions on the individual’s behalf.

It is hardly surprising that these are generally solutions based on the “stronger-doses-of-the-same-medicine” approach: there are vested interests at stake in perpetuating the client-provider relationship inherent to the protection culture, and in reinforcing the bureaucrat’s belief in his identity and role as the "public servant" who fixes the very problems which the sociologists have often themselves been subsidized by government to identify. More often than not such problems are the result of earlier and excessive bureaucratic intervention in economic and political life

Conservatives have for these reasons often opposed the very idea and discipline of sociology, accusing it of filling the universities with leftists. I would say the bigger problem for liberty is that Parsonian structuralist sociology bred a generation of group-minded statists: both in methodology and outcomes, that sociology has tended to holism (seeing something as always being bigger than the sum of its parts) and collectivism (the principle of giving the group priority over the individual).

2. Agency and Manipulation

An unfortunate corollary of this emphasis on "the science of society" is the conscious and subconscious tendency to attribute the power of agency to collective entities. This is an occupational hazard also for practitioners of the intermediate discipline of social psychology, which studies and interprets things like the behavior of crowds and the nature of prejudice.

In their eagerness to establish and analyze “social facts”2 and, like Talcott Parsons, to attribute to “social forces” the power to explain human action, many social scientists have wrongly ascribed the human characteristics of volition, purpose and action to states, and then to organizations and supra-national bodies like the European Union or the United Nations.

Such thinking is also found in the cultivated artifices of what the sociologists call the "political entrepreneurs" — those who seek to manipulate "identity politics" by getting individuals to align themselves with the aims and interests of the particular group — occupation, industry, sector, political party, ethnicity, religion, sect, gender, nationality — which those propagandists or lobbyists of the cause in question are representing or promoting for their particular purposes (usually influence, control and state funding, but in the worst case also conquest and extermination).

In my opinion, the word entrepreneur is misused here: they should more accurately be dubbed political manipulators. It is the groupthink manipulators who knowingly give us the pat phrases of war propaganda like “We have liberated Iraq” and “We’re going to smoke him out,” in the process eradicating individual identity and responsibility and replacing them with the mass-minded anonymity of the collective:

“When to avoid awkward repetition we use a personal pronoun in referring to a country — when for example we say “France sent her troops to conquer Tunis” — we impute not only unity but personality to the country. The very words conceal the facts and make international relations a glamorous drama in which personalized nations are the actors, and all too easily we forget the flesh-and-blood men and women who are the true actors.”

~ Parker T. Moon, Imperialism and World Politics, 1947

3. Methodological Individualism Battles the Groupist Mindset

There is, in the more ancient disciplines of political economy and philosophy of knowledge, an ample literature of methodological individualism, refuting these forms of collectivist thinking and reminding us that only individual human beings can have those characteristics of agency.

It is far beyond my present task and intention to review all that literature: in the Austrian school alone, there is a long and distinguished inheritance of methodological individualism stretching back through Rothbard and Mises to Carl Menger. But I would like to reserve a special mention for Lorenzo Infantino’s Individualism in Modern Thought: From Adam Smith to Hayek3.

This book has been trenchantly reviewed in the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics (Vol. 2 n 1 — Spring 1999) by Kenneth Macintosh, who also reminds us that “before adopting the term ‘praxeology’ to designate the most fundamental of the sciences of human action,” Ludwig von Mises himself had referred to this discipline as “sociology.” He dropped it in favour of praxeology only because the term sociology had been adopted by others, like Auguste Comte and Émile Durkheim, who used it to describe a completely divergent methodology and theoretical outlook. Professor Infantino is also mentioned in a concise and elegant article by Piero Vernaglione (which is online, in Italian, undated).

For the rest, methodological individualism is admirably served by this eloquent quote from Butler Shaffer’s article entitled The Individual and the Collective, “Only the individual is able to generate thoughts, to be creative, to reproduce, to sense pleasure, to love, and to have transcendent experiences,” and by two key passages from Ludwig von Mises:

“First we must realize that all actions are performed by individuals. A collective operates always through the intermediary of one or several individuals whose actions are related to the collective as a secondary source. It is the meaning which the acting individuals and all those who are touched by their action attribute to an action, that determines its character. The hangman, not the state, executes a criminal. It is the meaning (the interpretation or opinion) of those concerned that discerns in the hangman’s action an action of the state.”

~ Ludwig von Mises, Human Action, p. 44

“The philosophy commonly called individualism is a philosophy of social cooperation and the progressive intensification of the social nexus. On the other hand the application of the basic ideas of collectivism cannot result in anything but social disintegration and the perpetuation of armed conflict. … every variety of collectivism promises eternal peace starting with the day of its own decisive victory…”

~ Human Action, p. 152

To read Mises is frequently to find a statement of the blindingly obvious, which yet seems to have little force or persuasiveness in the mainstream of public opinion and accepted scholarship. This is perhaps testimony to the power and reach, and also the easy comfort, of the groupist mindset. But it is also testimony to the seemingly obvious fact that the way you approach a subject influences the conclusions you are going to reach about it: as William H. Peterson has so admirably put it in his autobiographical article Discovering Mises: A Turning Point, if you ask the wrong questions, it’s fairly certain you will get the wrong answers.

It is when people are comfortable, complacent in their beliefs, and above all feel that the presence of more powerful forces absolves them of all personal responsibility for what happens and even for their own actions, that the debate on individualism and groupism heats up: the groupists then start to attribute only base, narcissistic and merely egotistical or self-interested motives to those of libertarian temperament who think, act and interpret the world from a morally principled individualist standpoint. In doing so they set up a political straw man which they can later easily knock down.

On the opposite side, some individualists allow themselves to get angry at the elements which constrain them, especially moral authority. In between we find not just the bureaucrats and the well-intentioned: worst of all are the self-righteous busybodies, many of them absolutely and irritatingly sincere, who would interfere in our lives and tell us how to think and behave on every issue under the sun.

Typical of the first, dismissive attitude is this comment by Thomas Fleming:

“[For libertarians] only self-seeking individuals exist, and the “common good” is a term invented by fascist oppressors. This is the only answer they have for any social question, from drugs to pornography to fast food…. My advice to them is to find another planet where they can all live in solitary caves, where they can snort coke and watch porn videos to their hearts content. Their ideas are irrelevant, not just to present circumstances, but to the human condition.”

~ Thomas Fleming, “Libertarian u2018Liberties,’ The Rights of The u2018Right,’ and Other Absurdities” in Chronicles Magazine — June 4, 2002

Typical of the second attitude is the "leave-me-alone," "anything goes," value-relative individualist, who is a libertine or life-style libertarian rather than a principled one. Pierre Lemieux, in an interesting article entitled “The Individualist Sentiment,” has called this type the narcissistic individualist: this attitude, which is not true libertarianism, does indeed approximate to that of egotistical self-centeredness and atomism which the opponents and belittlers of libertarianism so often criticize.

Also typical is the libertarian interventionist, whom Joseph Stromberg has christened the “liberventionist” and Isabel Paterson the “humanitarian with the guillotine” — he who, in a startling contradiction in terms and a total abandonment of principle, would use coercion and pre-emptive war to enforce a good intention — or, to put it more graphically, to enforce a variant of affirmative action with depleted uranium bombs.

Mises again should have the last word on this:

“According to the doctrines of universalism, …holism, collectivism, … society is an entity living its own life, independent of and separate from the lives of the various individuals, acting on its own behalf and aiming at its own ends…. In order to safeguard the flowering and further development of society it becomes necessary to master the selfishness of the individuals and to compel them to sacrifice their egoistic designs to the benefit of society.

This is the philosophy which has characterised from time immemorial the creeds of primitive tribes. It has been an element in all religious teachings. Man is bound to comply with the law issued by a superhuman power and to obey the authorities which this power has entrusted with the enforcement of the law.”

~ Human Action, p.145-6

4. Principled Liberty, not License

The fact is, as Alexis De Tocqueville and Ludwig von Mises both remind us, it is axiomatic that if humanity is to enjoy anything more than the life of Mises’ primitive tribe, then there is such a thing as society, and living in society involves sacrifices and constraints on individual behavior. Such constraints are properly the province, not of the coercion of one group or nation by another, nor of the mass by an elite, nor of government (whether said to be acting on behalf of an oppressed minority, for a supposed common good, or even for a noble concept), but rather of the force of moral law.

It is the customary terminology of political debate, and the identity politics practiced within it by the manipulators, allied to the sheep-like willingness of ordinary people to let themselves be distracted or carried along, which obscures these axiomatic or praxeological realities:

Of course, there will always be individuals and groups of individuals whose intellect is so narrow that they cannot grasp the benefits which social cooperation brings them. There are others whose moral strength and will power are so weak that they cannot resist the temptation to strive for an ephemeral advantage by actions detrimental to the smooth functioning of the social system. For the adjustment of the individual to the requirements of social cooperation demands sacrifices. These are, it is true, only temporary and apparent sacrifices, as they are more than compensated for by the incomparably greater advantages which living in society provides….

~ Human Action, p. 148

True liberty therefore, which is a responsible liberty, is not license:

“In the liberal opinion the aim of the moral law is to impel individuals to adjust their conduct to the requirements of life in society, to abstain from all acts detrimental to the preservation of peaceful social cooperation and to the improvement of inter-human relations…. Liberalism is rationalistic. It maintains that it is possible to convince the immense majority that peaceful cooperation within the framework of society better serves their rightly understood interests than mutual battling and social disintegration. It has full confidence in man’s reason.”

~ Human Action, p. 157

5. The Mechanisms and Consequences of Groupism

Fanatics and extremists of all stripes would say, and have forever said, that such belief in rational choice is hopelessly idealistic and “irrelevant to the human condition,” especially today, “post-9/11,” an era I have heard called the age of theocratic terrorism. But such prejudiced labeling serves merely to describe the means of coercion and control. The end has always been the same: to plunder and control "the other," while all the while putting it about that the plunder is really in the best interests of the plundered.

I am one who fights such pessimism, deception and marginalization of the other. I write this because I partake of the passionate anger which animates the style and content of true libertarian and anti-war websites and publications, and the revulsion at the calculated cultivation of the groupist sentiment, operationalized in engines of inter-ethnic aggression and war. This is a struggle to enable the spirit of human liberty to flourish against a darkening backdrop of growing authoritarianism, in which all that is offered by the mouthpieces of the powers that be (the criminal gangs if you prefer) is endless conflict, war and decline — personal decline, and therefore societal decline as well.

Here is Alberto Benegas of the Argentine Hayek Society:

“Planning and authoritarian systems arise directly out of those atrabilious (*) conceptions which seek to treat the individual as one who lacks personal motivation and who must bend before u2018the will of society,’ as represented by the apparatus of the state, which has to segregate the u2018socially maladjusted’ because they do not accept the detailed objectives drawn up by those who happen to be taking their turn to be in charge of it.”

~ Alberto Benegas Lynch, Ingenieria Social y Sociologia (Social Engineering and Sociology), Agencia Interamericana de Prensa Económica (AIPE) — November 2002 (Spanish-language PDF document)

[*atrabilious (New Oxford English Dictionary): originally: “affected by choler adust, one of the four supposed cardinal humours of the body.” Now: “melancholy, hypochondriac; acrimonious, splenetic.”]

And Butler Shaffer again:

All political systems are dependent upon the generation of mass-minded thinking, to persuade each of us to lose our sense of individuality and responsibility in the collective herd. We condition our minds to accept identities for ourselves, to think of ourselves not as self-directed, self-responsible beings, but as members of various groups, whose interests are not only mutually exclusive, but antagonistic. Whether we identify ourselves by race, religion, nationality, lifestyle, ideology, economic interests, gender, geography, or any other category, we put ourselves into a state of conflict with others. Political systems then promise to protect us from “them,” and most of us are too dull to recognize that our alleged “protectors” are the very ones who induced us to play the games that now threaten us!

~ Butler Shaffer, The Individual and the Collective, August 2002

6. Beyond Identity: Don’t Be Fooled by Appearances

Identity was traditionally a personal attribute, and personality psychologist Erik Erikson (1902—1994) is generally regarded as having fathered the expression “identity crisis,” in the context of personal human development (he was talking about the ontological uncertainties facing the adolescent self). The term has, however, migrated into common parlance and, as with sociology generally, into the snare of attributing personal characteristics to groups.

More than this, as Rogers Brubaker, sociology professor at UCLA in California, has set out in his interesting paper “Beyond Identity,” the concept of identity became both method and object, something used by both analysts (the sociologists) and practitioners (the political manipulators and lobbyists). To understand this, consider just the following common uses of the word: identification, categorization, self-comprehension, social location, commonality, connectedness, groupness and, last but not least, that wonderful German word Zusammengehörigkeitsgefühl — the feeling of belonging together.

However, in today’s world of entertainment, which is already becoming tomorrow’s real world, we have something beyond even this: the potential for political manipulation of the complete uncertainty in our perceptions of the identity of others, whether it be the "stolen identities" of the 9/11 hijackers, an eventual biological clone, or something I have mentioned before in connection with the movie Mission Impossible II: the theatrical device whereby one person can be made to adopt, or morph into, a plaster cast-like mask which makes that person identical to an "enemy:" thus, a mask of the hero is superimposed on the face of the bad guy’s accomplice to trick the bad guy into shooting down his own man. This is a neat symbol for the widespread and time-honored use of the tactic of deception by the secret services of every state.

The same device is used in numerous episodes of the X-Files TV series. Certain (usually evil) characters have the ability to morph their faces into those of, in particular, heroes Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, generating serious but deliberate perceptual confusion in the mind of the viewer and of the real character involved. This is indeed the mainstreaming of paranoia, as Paul Cantor has described in his enormously enjoyable book on the significance of popular culture, particularly the X-Files, Gilligan Unbound.

Small wonder then that the social scientists are seeking to go beyond identity both as a methodological tool and as a pragmatic concept. This was the theme of a fascinating debate which took place at the end of 2003 in the pages of the sociological journal “Ethnicities,” which describes itself as “aiming to achieve a critical nexus between the disciplines of sociology and politics with respect to debates on ethnicity, nationalism and identity politics.”

On one side of the debate was Rogers Brubaker, whom I’ve already mentioned. He argues for a re-interpretation of identity which is “neither individualist nor groupist.” On the other side was professor Craig Calhoun of NYU, New York (also president of the US Social Science Research Council), who defends the "variability of belonging" in an increasingly cosmopolitan world.

Lest this all sound a bit dry, I should say that all debates of this sort seem to partake of a tacit assumption among participants that they should try to maintain objectively value-neutral positions. This avoids having to commit to an ultimate choice between opposing methodological approaches or philosophical standpoints. In our age of value-relativism and even nihilism, these may appear to be equally valid, but of course, in logic and practice, they cannot be so: the search for value-neutrality almost inevitably ends up being an argument in favor the status quo, which usually rests on relationships of power and control rather than of ethical conduct and voluntary co-operation.

Once the doomed quest for value-neutrality or "unified theory" is discounted (again Mises is an invaluable guide on this), we can actually derive considerable benefit from these debates. They pitch interesting analytical ideas into the ring, out of which real alternatives may grow to the crude binary oppositions which so inflame people’s passions when antagonistic group-mindedness rules, such as: "us" and "them," Israeli vs. Palestinian, Hindu vs. Moslem, insiders vs. outsiders, freedom fighter vs. terrorist, good vs. evil, etc.

For example, consider the notion of overlapping circles of belonging, by opposition to a rigid and prioritized hierarchy of affiliations: you belong to a nation, to a profession, to a religion, to a community, to a political group, to a group of a few who share your values and ideals. Your belonging to such groups or interests is not uniform, and the people you meet in the course of the activities of the groups are not necessarily the same, yet the circles of belonging overlap and interact. It is in that overlap and interplay that we may find those possible alternatives which enable peaceful, voluntary exchange and co-operation between individuals to take place, rather than in the politically-engineered tension and conflicts between propaganda-inflamed groups.

7. Cosmopolitanism: Citizens of the World

The academic debate also helps to publicize the activity of others in related fields, such as, in this case, the interesting work of professor Martha Nussbaum of the University of Chicago. She, in her article entitled Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism for example, is eloquent in defense of an ancient notion of cosmopolitanism, the citizenship of the world — not, as many fear, as some form of preparatory indoctrination for world government, but rather as education for understanding others according to Stoic principles:

“We should give our first allegiance to no mere form of government, no temporal power, but to the moral community made up by the humanity of all human beings. The idea of the world citizen is in this way the ancestor and source of Kant’s idea of the u2018kingdom of ends,’ and has a similar function in inspiring and regulating moral and political conduct. One should always behave so as to treat with equal respect the dignity of reason and moral choice in every human being.”

Martha Nussbaum is not without her opponents, and it is as well to remember the caution expressed by early American sociologist William Graham Sumner, who wrote: “If the social doctors will mind their own business, we should have no troubles but what belongs to Nature. Those we will endure or combat as we can. What we desire is, that the friends of humanity should cease to add to them.” Yet I still feel, after a brief first acquaintance with her work here, that she is one of a few writers and thinkers in the academic mainstream who may be helping to rehabilitate the fundamentals of moral philosophy and principled liberalism.

But then again who knows? Initial impressions can be deceptive, I could be wrong, and there are those who might say that cosmopolitanism is a Faustian pact, designed to deprive people of their loyalty to national identity. The paranoia strikes home: might she secretly be an NWO agent in disguise?

8. The Getting of Wisdom

So where does this leave us, and what should we do? I like to think one answer lies in the adoption of a certain humility, an acceptance that the more we know, the more we realize there is more to know, together with an awareness that all order is transitory. This sentiment was admirably expressed by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, perhaps Germany’s greatest ever playwright and philosopher (who, incidentally, was home-schooled). In August 1772, Goethe, who later was to have his own battle with Satan, wrote the following to a young schoolboy in Frankfurt who had asked him for advice:

To see the world properly we should not think it is worse or better than it is. Love and hatred are closely connected, and both distort our vision. The thing to do is to look at everything as attentively as possible, to inscribe all things in our memory, never to let a day go by without learning something. Then to apply oneself to those branches of knowledge which give the mind a definite direction, to compose things, to determine values — that is what we have to do now. At the same time we must not want to be something that strives to become everything; and, especially, we must not stand still and rest more often than the weariness of mind and body demands.

Words of wisdom indeed, from a man who was at the time only 22 years old!

References and Links to Further Reading

Alic, Margaret, William MacDougall, Gale Encyclopaedia of Psychology

(*) Benegas Lynch, Alberto, Inginieria Social y Sociologia, AIPE (Agencia Interamericana de Prensa Económica) N 16 — November 4, 2002 — PDF, in Spanish

Boeree, C. George, Gordon Allport, 1998

Brubaker, Rogers, Neither Individualism nor Groupism, Ethnicities 3, 4 — Fall 2003 (**)

Brubaker, Rogers, Ethnicity without Groups, Archives of European Sociology, 18, 2 2002

(*) Brubaker, Rogers, Beyond Identity, Theory and Society 29 — 2000

Calhoun, Craig, Belonging in the Cosmopolitan Imaginary, Ethnicities 3, 4 — Fall 2003 (**)

Calhoun, Craig, The Variability of Belonging, Ethnicities 3, 4 — Fall 2003 (**)

Callahan, Gene, Carl Menger: The Nature of Value, — October 17, 2003

(*) Franssen, Maarten, The Not-so-Trivial Truth of Methodological Individualism, online, undated

Gordon, David, The Philosophical Origins of Austrian Economics,

(*) Hazlett, Thomas W., Carl Menger: Ivory Tower Iconoclast, The Freeman — May 1977

(*) Heckathorn, Douglas D., The Paradoxical Relationship between Sociology and Rational Choice, The American Sociologist — 1997

Hoppe, Hans Hermann: Economic Science and the Austrian Method,

Hülsmann, Jörg-Guido, Introduction to Mises’ Epistemological Problems of Economics (especially pp. 12—13 and p. 18 “u2018anti-economists’ prevail” and p. 21 “subjective value not quantifiable”)

(*) Infantino, Lorenzo, Individualism in Modern Thought, Routledge, September 1998

Infantino, Lorenzo, Ignorance and Liberty, Routledge, December 2002

Jones, Reilly, Epistemology, personal website page, 2001

(*) Lemieux, Pierre, The Individualist Sentiment, Arms, Law & Society , No. 5, p. 1—18 — Spring , 1996

Long, Roderick, Two Cheers for Modernity, Free Radical, undated

Long, Roderick, Herbert Spencer: The Defamation Continues, — August 28, 2003

(*) Macintosh, Kenneth H., Infantino: Individualism in Modern Thought: From Adam Smith to Hayek, book review — QJAE, Vol. 2 n 1, Spring 1999

(*) Mayer, Christopher, Sumner’s Forgotten Classic,, September 5, 2003

Mingardi, Alberto, Mises in Italy,

Minogue, Kenneth, How Civilizations Fall, The New Criterion, Vol. 19, No. 8, April 2001 (comment: a blistering attack on militant feminism as a cancer on the body of culture and civilization).

Miscellaneous, Sociologists on Government, online, undated

Mises, Ludwig von, Extracts from “Epistemological Problems of Economics”:

(1) The Program of Sociology and the Quest for Historical Laws

(2) Sociology and Economics: Some Comments on the History of Economic Thought

Mises. Ludwig von, Human Action — Scholar’s Edition, Mises Institute

Mises, Ludwig von, On the Rejection of Methodological Individualism, in The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science,

Mises, Ludwig von, The Chimera of Unified Science in The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science,

Nussbaum, Martha, Rules for the World Stage, Newsday — April 20, 2003

(*) Nussbaum, Martha, Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism, online, undated

Peterson, William H., Discovering Mises: A Turning Point, Mises,org — November 2003

Pettigrew, T., A Tribute to Gordon Allport, Journal of Social Issues, Fall 1999

Rockwell, Llewellyn H., Jr., Libertarianism and the Old Right — May 12, 1999

Salerno, Joseph T., Carl Menger: The Founder of the Austrian School,, undated

(*) Shaffer, Butler, The Individual and the Collective,, August 20, 2002

Shaffer, Butler, The Ego and his Own,, September 27, 2002

Smith, Barry, A Unified Theory of Truth and Reference, Logique et Analyse 43, 2000 (published 2003)

Snyder, Jeffrey, A Nation of Cowards, The Public Interest, Fall 1993

Sperber, Dan, Methodological Individualism and Cognitivism in the Social Sciences, personal web page, 1997

(*) Vernaglione, Piero, L’individualismo metodologico dei libertari, online, undated — in Italian

Watkins, John, Methodological Individualism, British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, III, 1952-53, p. 186

White, Tom, Egotism, the Western Thing, — February 2, 2004


(*) Links to articles marked with one asterisk are also provided in the body of this article.

(**) At least until March 31, 2004 several issues of this journal, including the 2003 volume 3 number 4 which contains the Brubaker-Calhoun debate, can be viewed online through the website of the journal’s publisher Sage Publications, after free registration.


  1. Of the individualist 19th-century philosopher Herbert Spencer, Talcott Parsons famously and rather dismissively used as the first words of the introduction to his major work, The Structure of Social Action (1937) the words of Professor Brinton: "Who reads Spencer nowadays?"
  2. The expression "social facts" is the legacy of Emile Durkheim, one of the grandfathers of sociology, and his book The Rules of the Sociological Method (1895).
  3. From the editorial summary: "This text aims to present a comprehensive survey of methodological individualism in social, political and economic thought from the Enlightenment to the 20th century. Exploring the works of such figures as de Mandeville, Smith, Marx, Spencer, Durkheim, Simmel, Weber, Hayek, Popper and Parsons, the study underlines the contrasts between methodological collectivism and methodological individualism. The analysis offered here also reveals the theoretical presuppositions behind the collectivist and individualist traditions and the practical consequences of their applications. Infantino concludes in favour of individualism. This work touches upon issues in social and political theory, intellectual history, political philosophy, political economy and sociological theory."

Richard Wall (send him mail) has a Master’s degree in International Relations from the London School of Economics & Political Science, and lives in Estoril, Portugal, where he currently works as a freelance writer and translator.

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