Science in Christian Perspective



Frank E. Houser, M.A.

From JASA 9 (June 1957): 18-19.

One of the readers of this column recently wrote to me indicating an interest in sociology and socialism. Since these two subjects have had a sporadic relation ship it might be interesting f or us to chat a bit on the topic. Two questions could be asked: A. Is sociology socialistic? B. Are sociologists socialists?

Most modern textbooks on the principles of socio logy disavow any identity between sociology and socialism. Sociology is a study of social relationships car ried out with scientific pretensions. In other words, the sociologist submits himself to the canons of science as much as he is able. This includes being as value-free n his actual research as is possible. While there are varieties of socialists, the core idea concerns an eco nomic creed and political movement which believes our ills to be the result of economic causes only to be re medied by government control of the major means of production. It has shed its objectivity in the quest to bring in the kind of society it thinks ought to exist. Furthermore, its range of interests is much narrower than sociology. Sociology runs the gamut of social relationships. Socialism focusses on the political-econ omic system.

However, it cannot be denied that some sociologists have been and are socialists. And, it can't be denied that some social theories have been socialistic. Sociology has, of course, had its share of conservatives. It's pretty hard for any man to remain in the straight jacket of  scientific objectivity for long. Outside the laboratory - and, even inside-he may make all sorts of value judgements from the data that linger in his mind. In  fact, he has as readily become an "individualistic laissez-faire, reactionary" as a flaming revolutionary. Remember that Herbert Spencer was the darling of American business interests because his study of soc iety led him to proclaim freedom from government inferferences. Of course, Spencer's beliefs stemmed from his evolutionary ideas as to the growth and "progress"
of society. All this was "sociology" for Spencer.

  The early students of society varied in their ability  to keep their objectivity. Comte, Spencer, and Karl  Marx showed varying amounts of objectivity-which makes reading them for fact and fancy a demanding exercise. As the study of society became more profes sional there comes more awareness of the need to approximate the scientific desideraturn of objectiviity. For that reason it is fairly common today for a sociologist to reveal his biases when publishing a study of any social relationships involving conflicting value orientations. Gunnar Myrdal revealed his beliefs on the beginning of his monumental work on the Negro. Seymour Lipset tells his political convictions at the outset of his book on socialism among Canadian farmers. Thus, the aim of contemporary sociology from bias in any direction as it can be.

This still leaves the second question unanswered. Frankly, I don't know what percentage of the members of the American Sociological Society are socialist. If  voting Republican is considered a sure sign they aren't socialist, then I suspect they are at least a sizeable minority. However, there are plenty of right wing Repub licans who would never agree on that definition of a non-socialist, If the slightest bit of government con trol over our economic life is  considered socialistic, then there are very few non-socialists anywhere.

Of more interest to me are the currents in modern sociology which have to do with the questions of power,
i mass society, political apathy, and so on. Here, I believe, you will find some very interesting conclusions
  being drawn which affect a man's political beliefs. Take, for example, the influential work of David Riseman,The Loneiy Crowd. His depiction of a trend to conformity in our society has hardly led to exaltation of "groupism." His sequel, Individualism Reconsidered is a series of essays lauding the autonomous man. If socialism has any connotation of welfare for all at the expense of the individual it will get little comfort here.  And, on questions of power there seem to be a large  number of respectable sociologists who are pointing out that a maximum of freedom for individuals is possible only when we have a "pluralistic" power distribution. In other words, neither the extreme of frag mentized power nor the extreme of concentrated power (in government, business, labor, or any group) is healthy for the development of freedom. These currents of thought are substantial. And, I would conclude that a substantial number of sociologists occupy a middle of the road position on the relation of power and freedom. This is hardly doctrinaire socialism.

Wheaton College
Wheaton, 111.
May 10, 1957