Albrow has already informed us that Kantian philosophy grounds, suﬀuses, and thus thematically informs Max Weber’s sociological enterprise. But Albrow’s statement of the theme already encountered earlier, the individual who is the bearer of reason is also the bearer of freedom, no longer reveals to us the special importance of Kantian freedom for the sociologists of the second wave of The Sociological Tradition – especially Simmel, Durkheim, and of course, Weber. To advance our comprehension of the Kant-Weber relationship I begin with a claim that will be fully worked out in the course of this section: on the issue of human freedom in society and hence concerning the corresponding question of agency and structure, Weber was moving away from the conception of freedom grounded in a noumenal metaphysic to one grounded instead in a nominalistic metaphysic. Today, we can take this insight into Weber’s relationship to Kant to be a sure way to take us through and beyond Reinhardt Bendix’s classic understanding that Weber’s radical departure from Durkheimian naturalistic sociology consists in the singular fact that he “was … one of the great opponents of organic theories of community” (Liebersöhn 1987: 78). To develop this thesis I want to consider an unorthodox interpretation of the relationship of Simmel and Durkheim to the father of both the philosophy of science (the ﬁrst Critique and the metaphysics of natural science) and the philosophy of social science (especially the last two Critiques and the metaphysics of natural science). It is relevant, now, to mention the view of Kant as a social theorist that
Stark, I believe, has so cogently convinced us is the interpretation to beat. In arguing that Kantian “social theory” is a normative variety of mechanistic nominalism, he particularly emphasized the fact that this meant that “Order will then be produced and perpetuated ‘after the manner of an automaton’” (Stark 1963: 121-23, 122, emphasis provided). In one crucial respect, Stark’s take is of course most unfortunate, for it is underwritten by the traditional automatonic understanding of Newtonian mechanics. And I think it is clear that, what that traditional understanding involves, that physical determinism is supposed to operate according to rigid laws that govern matter therefore
conceived to be constituted by material automatons, expresses a belief that is underwritten by the doctrine of the ultimate thesis. Hence, the crucial way to challenge Stark’s classiﬁcation of Kantian “social theory” is of course to do so in terms of a scientiﬁc realist reading of Newtonian “determinism.” Thus, Kant’s preference for mechanistic nominalism rather than organic realism will then be seen quite diﬀerently. While from his reading of Newton’s ﬁrst and third laws of motion Kant saw nature as a community of active but unfree objects in law-like relations of reciprocity, human society, then, was to be seen as a subset community of active and free subjects in (potentially lawlike) relations of reciprocity; freedom as self-determination is then a peculiar property of the subjects who together compose a given human community. The metaphysical character of that “peculiarity” was then the bone of contention in philosophy, science, and social science. From this insight into the metaphysical subtext of transcendental philosophy it should be apparent that Simmel’s view that he was translating Kant’s individual act of freedom into a social act is no longer acceptable. Kant’s major interest was obviously not the nature of the social fact of such enlightened individuals, but rather the nature of what constituted that enlightenment. Hence, freedom referred to the determination of the self, to be sure, but of course this was a determinism that was to be an autonomy and not a heteronomy. (We’ve seen that Freud never understood this, since he in fact believed the reverse; and Holt has shown that, despite that, he returned to the Kantian ego in his Project for a scientiﬁc psychology: after that my analysis suggests it was the beginning of the end for the unconscious – that is the giving of agency to psychological structure and not the person.) It was this very idea of autonomy that Kant used to deﬁne “what is enlightenment” – daring to know – in the 1784 paper of that title. Now, we’ve seen that Simmel ﬁrst of all took Kantian selfdetermination and tried to understand it as the real a priori of power, and so, in those terms, we could understand that it certainly was the center piece of the concept of sociation. Thus, his major interest was the nature of the community of free and therefore active subjects in (possibly law-like) relations of reciprocity, and in this perspective freedom as self-determination has the peculiarity of being a relational property of the subjects constituting a given community. In other words, comparing Kant and Simmel in this very diﬀerent manner encourages us to declare that the Kantian theory of the subject is a theory of radical agentism and not, as Simmel representatively implies, a radical individualism. Thus, while Simmel’s stated translation was certainly creatively insightful, it was not, to my mind, original. His genuine originality resided in translating Kant’s bare outline for a theory of social life into a theory of social life. With regard to Durkheim’s the social fact, if indeed, as I have asserted, it
is a phoenix that arose from the ashes of transcendental freedom, it nevertheless returned once again to the ashes that are composed, in fact, of both theories. The unorthodox dimension of this reading then is this: Durkheimian theory of social life is only as viable as the understanding of the Kantian
theory of freedom that is its reason for being. But I have argued that the theory of the social fact fell far short of fully realizing a theory of sociation, and, in that sense, the nub of the problem was a failure, on the one hand, of understanding Kant’s theory of freedom from the standpoint of Kant’s and Durkheim’s shared scientiﬁc realism, and thus on the other, of understanding that the robust realization of a theory of sociation required as a major condition the solution to Kant’s theory of freedom in terms of its scientiﬁc realism. In other words, the fact of social structure should be a robust realization of the fact of human agency: structure is then not the theft of agency, for it is the way agency is lived, “as” various kinds of orders and their corresponding degrees of freedom. Here then, one now can understand that the natural disposition to agency is transformed into the structuralization of liberty; and so, to change that structure societal members must retreat to their natural disposition to agency, once again, and treat it as an inﬁnite resource in order to seek new structures of liberty that will have expanded the degrees of freedom beyond those past structures. We arrive then at the doorstep of one last unorthodox view, given the above discussion: Weber’s interpretative sociology of radical social change, I do believe, was grounded in that very standpoint. Now, with this perspective on the relation of Simmel and Durkheim to
Kant in mind, I am simply proposing that Kant’s theory of freedom must have been a special problem for Weber as he was inventing interpretative sociology. In that case, perhaps Albrow did not have it quite right, for, in Weberian sociology the pessimistic, if not tragic, theme is that the bearer of reason is not necessarily the bearer of freedom. In locating the Kantian subject in history Weber no longer accepts Kant’s proposition that freedom and reason are twin sides of a coin that is a metaphysics, and a noumenal metaphysics at that. For us then, in light of Weber’s insight into the deeply problematic relation of freedom to reason in history, we must take up this major theme of Weber’s interpretative sociology: rationality in all of its historical forms, and particularly in that of the formal rationality of Western modernity, tragically compromises human freedom by the various ways in which reason orders social life. Reiﬁcation, from this standpoint, would then appear as the cunning and uncanny conspiracy of reason against freedom. Certainly, we have in this rendition of reiﬁcation Weber’s unique way of conceding to the traditional terms of the Science and Humanism debate: historical social structures at the hands of the various forms of rationality and of rationalized social action dominate and thereby virtually squelch individual agency. The consideration of Weber’s historical depiction of freedom as being under this heavy burden of reason in reference to his dramatic image of the iron cage of modernity calls for, and indeed calls forth, a corresponding literary image that, I think, captures its dark existential power. In the penultimate chapter of The Trial, Kafka presents a scene that takes
place in a cathedral where K and a priest are to talk on the topic of, “Before the Law”; it is during K’s wandering about the cathedral before the priest’s
arrival that, like a moth, he is drawn to a corner where there is a single candle in total encompassing darkness, except for the fact that it is lit. No longer a Prince, this commonplace(d) Hamlet feels his freedom not as freedom itself against the darkness, but rather he feels the immensity of the darkness itself, in which freedom is then barely noticed. After all, freedom merely illuminates the darkness. Thus, if, contrary to Durkheim, Weberian freedom is on the far side of agency (that is of autonomy, rather than of heteronomy as in Durkheim’s case), in his theoretical vision of Western civilization, especially modern capitalism, reason winds up throughout its history being on the far side of structure. Here, intimately, Weber was, perhaps unintentionally, challenging Durkheim’s claim that modern society was not a mechanical but an organic solidarity in which the unleashing of unprecedented freedom, amoral though it was, threatened the modern division of labor.