Werner Sombart

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Werner Sombart
Werner sombart.jpg
Born(1863-01-19)19 January 1863
Died18 May 1941(1941-05-18) (aged 78)
Nationality German
Known forCoining the term "late capitalism"
Scientific career
Fields Economics, sociology, history
Institutions University of Breslau, Handelshochschule Berlin, Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität
Doctoral advisor Gustav von Schmoller
Adolph Wagner
Doctoral students Wassily Leontief
Richard Löwenthal
Influences Max Weber, Karl Marx
Influenced Karl Polanyi, Joseph Schumpeter

Werner Sombart ( /ˈvɜːrnərˈzɒmbɑːrt/ ; German: [ˈzɔmbaɐ̯t] ; 19 January 1863 – 18 May 1941) was a German economist and sociologist, the head of the “Youngest Historical School” and one of the leading Continental European social scientists during the first quarter of the 20th century.

Germany Federal parliamentary republic in central-western Europe

Germany, officially the Federal Republic of Germany, is a country in Central and Western Europe, lying between the Baltic and North Seas to the north, and the Alps, Lake Constance and the High Rhine to the south. It borders Denmark to the north, Poland and the Czech Republic to the east, Austria and Switzerland to the south, France to the southwest, and Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands to the west.

Economics Social science that analyzes the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services

Economics is the social science that studies the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services.

Sociology Scientific study of human society and its origins, development, organizations, and institutions

Sociology is the scientific study of society, patterns of social relationships, social interaction, and culture of everyday life. It is a social science that uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about social order, acceptance, and change or social evolution. While some sociologists conduct research that may be applied directly to social policy and welfare, others focus primarily on refining the theoretical understanding of social processes. Subject matter ranges from the micro-sociology level of individual agency and interaction to the macro level of systems and the social structure.

Contents

Life and work

Wirtschaftsleben im Zeitalter des Hochkapitalismus, 1928 Sombart - Wirtschaftsleben im Zeitalter des Hochkapitalismus, 1928.tiff
Wirtschaftsleben im Zeitalter des Hochkapitalismus, 1928

Early career, socialism and economics

Werner Sombart was born in Ermsleben, Harz, the son of a wealthy liberal politician, industrialist, and estate-owner, Anton Ludwig Sombart. He studied law and economics at the universities of Pisa, Berlin, and Rome. In 1888, he received his Ph.D. from Berlin under the direction of Gustav von Schmoller and Adolph Wagner, then the most eminent German economists.

Law System of rules and guidelines, generally backed by governmental authority

Law is a system of rules that are created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. It has been defined both as "the Science of Justice" and "the Art of Justice". Law is a system that regulates and ensures that individuals or a community adhere to the will of the state. State-enforced laws can be made by a collective legislature or by a single legislator, resulting in statutes, by the executive through decrees and regulations, or established by judges through precedent, normally in common law jurisdictions. Private individuals can create legally binding contracts, including arbitration agreements that may elect to accept alternative arbitration to the normal court process. The formation of laws themselves may be influenced by a constitution, written or tacit, and the rights encoded therein. The law shapes politics, economics, history and society in various ways and serves as a mediator of relations between people.

Pisa Comune in Tuscany, Italy

Pisa is a city and comune in Tuscany, central Italy, straddling the Arno just before it empties into the Ligurian Sea. It is the capital city of the Province of Pisa. Although Pisa is known worldwide for its leaning tower, the city of over 91,104 residents contains more than 20 other historic churches, several medieval palaces, and various bridges across the Arno. Much of the city's architecture was financed from its history as one of the Italian maritime republics.

Berlin Capital of Germany

Berlin is the capital and largest city of Germany by both area and population. Its 3,748,148 (2018) inhabitants make it the second most populous city proper of the European Union after London. The city is one of Germany's 16 federal states. It is surrounded by the state of Brandenburg, and contiguous with its capital, Potsdam. The two cities are at the center of the Berlin-Brandenburg capital region, which is, with about six million inhabitants and an area of more than 30,000 km², Germany's third-largest metropolitan region after the Rhine-Ruhr and Rhine-Main regions.

As an economist and especially as a social activist, Sombart was then seen as radically left-wing, and so only received — after some practical work as head lawyer of the Bremen Chamber of Commerce — a junior professorship at the out-of-the-way University of Breslau. Although faculties at such eminent universities as Heidelberg and Freiburg called him to chairs, the respective governments always vetoed this. Sombart, at that time, was an important Marxian, someone who used and interpreted Karl Marx — to the point that Friedrich Engels said he was the only German professor who understood Das Kapital . Sombart called himself a "convinced Marxist," [1] but later wrote that "It had to be admitted in the end that Marx had made mistakes on many points of importance." [2]

Heidelberg Place in Baden-Württemberg, Germany

Heidelberg is a university town in Baden-Württemberg situated on the river Neckar in south-west Germany. In the 2016 census, its population was 159,914, with roughly a quarter of its population being students.

Marxian economics school of economic thought

Marxian economics, or the Marxian school of economics, is a heterodox school of economic thought. Its foundations can be traced back to the critique of classical political economy in the research by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Marxian economics comprises several different theories and includes multiple schools of thought, which are sometimes opposed to each other, and in many cases Marxian analysis is used to complement or supplement other economic approaches. Because one does not necessarily have to be politically Marxist to be economically Marxian, the two adjectives coexist in usage rather than being synonymous. They share a semantic field while also allowing connotative and denotative differences.

Karl Marx Revolutionary socialist

Karl Marx was a German philosopher, economist, historian, sociologist, political theorist, journalist and socialist revolutionary.

As one of the German academics concerned with contemporary social policy, Sombart also joined the Verein für Socialpolitik [3] (Social Policy Association) around 1888, together with his friend and colleague Max Weber. This was then a new professional association of German economists affiliated with the historical school, who saw the role of economics primarily as finding solutions to the social problems of the age and who pioneered large scale statistical studies of economic issues.

Social policy policy affecting human welfare

Social policy is policy usually within a governmental or political setting, such as the welfare state and study of social services.

The Verein für Socialpolitik (German: [fɛɐ̯ˈʔaɪn fyːɐ̯ zoˈtsi̯al.poliˌtːik], or the German Economic Association, is an important society of economists in the German-speaking area.

Max Weber German sociologist, philosopher, and political economist

Maximilian Karl Emil Weber was a German sociologist, philosopher, jurist, and political economist. His ideas profoundly influenced social theory and social research. Weber is often cited, with Émile Durkheim and Karl Marx, as among the three founders of sociology. Weber was a key proponent of methodological anti-positivism, arguing for the study of social action through interpretive means, based on understanding the purpose and meaning that individuals attach to their own actions. Unlike Durkheim, he did not believe in mono-causality and rather proposed that for any outcome there can be multiple causes.

Sombart was not the first sociologist to devote an entire book to the concept of social movement as he did in his Sozialismus und soziale Bewegung, published in 1896. His understanding of social movements was inspired by Marx and by a book on social movements by Lorenz von Stein. For him, the rising worker’s movement was a result of the inherent contradictions of capitalism. The proletarian situation created a “love for the masses”, which, together with the tendency “to a communistic way of life” in social production, was a prime feature of the social movement.[ citation needed ]

Social movement type of group action

A social movement is a type of group action. There is no single consensus definition of a social movement. They are large, sometimes informal, groupings of individuals or organizations which focus on specific political or social issues. In other words, they carry out, resist, or undo a social change. They provide a way of social change from the bottom within nations.

Lorenz von Stein 19th century German legal scholar

Lorenz von Stein was a German economist, sociologist, and public administration scholar from Eckernförde. As an advisor to Meiji period Japan, his liberal political views influenced the wording of the Constitution of the Empire of Japan as well as major constitutional thinkers such as Rudolf von Gneist.

Capitalism is an economic system based on the private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit. Characteristics central to capitalism include private property, capital accumulation, wage labor, voluntary exchange, a price system, and competitive markets. In a capitalist market economy, decision-making and investment are determined by every owner of wealth, property or production ability in financial and capital markets, whereas prices and the distribution of goods and services are mainly determined by competition in goods and services markets.

In 1902, his magnum opus, Der moderne Kapitalismus (Historisch-systematische Darstellung des gesamteuropäischen Wirtschaftslebens von seinen Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart), appeared in two volumes (he expanded the work in 1916, and added a third volume in 1927; all three volumes were then split into semi-volumes for a total of six books). It is a systematic history of economics and economic development through the centuries and very much a work of the Historical School. The first book deals with the transition from feudal society to capitalism, and the last book treats conditions in the 20th century. The development of capitalism is divided into three stages: [4]

The historical school of economics was an approach to academic economics and to public administration that emerged in the 19th century in Germany, and held sway there until well into the 20th century. The professors involved compiled massive economic histories of Germany and Europe. Numerous Americans were their students. The school was opposed by theoretical economists. Prominent leaders included Gustav von Schmoller (1838–1917), and Max Weber (1864–1920) in Germany, and Joseph Alois Schumpeter (1883–1950) in the United States.

Although later much disparaged by neo-classical economists, and much criticized in specific points, Der moderne Kapitalismus is still today a standard work with important ramifications for, e.g., the Annales school (Fernand Braudel). His work was criticised by Rosa Luxemburg, who attributed to it "the express intention of driving a wedge between the trade unions and the social democracy in Germany, and of enticing the trade unions over to the bourgeois position." [5]

In 1903 Sombart accepted a position as associate editor of the Archives for Social Science and Social Welfare , where he worked with his colleagues Edgar Jaffé and Max Weber.[ citation needed ]

In 1906, Sombart accepted a call to a full professorship at the Berlin School of Commerce, an inferior institution to Breslau but closer to political “action” than Breslau. Here, inter alia, companion volumes to Modern Capitalism dealing with luxury, fashion, and war as economic paradigms appeared; the former two were the key works on the subject until now. Also in 1906 his Why is there no Socialism in the United States? appeared. The book is a famous work on American exceptionalism in this respect to this day. [6]

Sombart's 1911 book, Die Juden und das Wirtschaftsleben (The Jews and Modern Capitalism), is an addition to Max Weber's historic study of the connection between Protestantism (especially Calvinism) and Capitalism, with Sombart documenting Jewish involvement in historic capitalist development. He argued that Jewish traders and manufacturers, excluded from the guilds, developed a distinctive antipathy to the fundamentals of medieval commerce, which they saw as primitive and unprogressive: the desire for 'just' (and fixed) wages and prices; for an equitable system in which shares of the market were agreed and unchanging; profits and livelihoods modest but guaranteed; and limits placed on production. Excluded from the system, Sombart argued, the Jews broke it up and replaced it with modern capitalism, in which competition was unlimited and the only law was pleasing the customer. [7] Paul Johnson, who considers the work "a remarkable book", notes that Sombart left out some inconvenient truths, and ignored the powerful mystical elements of Judaism. Sombart refused to recognize, as Weber did, that wherever these religious systems, including Judaism, were at their most powerful and authoritarian, commerce did not flourish. Jewish businessmen, like Calvinist ones, tended to operate most successfully when they had left their traditional religious environment and moved on to fresher pastures. [8]

In his somewhat eclectic 1913 book Der Bourgeois (translated as The quintessence of capitalism), Sombart endeavoured to provide a psychological and sociological portrait of the modern businessman, and to explain the origins of the capitalist spirit. The book begins with "the greed for gold", the roots of private enterprise, and the types of entrepreneurs. Subsequent chapters discuss "the middle class outlook" and various factors shaping the capitalist spirit - national psychology, racial factors, biological factors, religion, migrations, technology, and "the influence of capitalism itself." [9]

In a work published in 1915, a "war book" with the title Händler und Helden Sombart welcomed the "German War" as the "inevitable conflict between the English commercial civilisation and the heroic culture of Germany". In this book, according to Friedrich Hayek, Sombart revealed an unlimited contempt for the "commercial views of the English people" who had lost all warlike instincts, as well as contempt for "the universal striving for the happiness of the individual". [10] To Sombart, in this work, the highest ideal is the "German idea of the State. As formulated by Fichte, Lassalle, and Rodbertus, the state is neither founded nor formed by individuals, nor an aggregate of individuals, nor is its purpose to serve any interests of individuals. It is a 'Volksgemeinschaft' (people's community) in which the individual has no rights but only duties. Claims of the individual are always an outcome of the commercial spirit. The 'ideas of 1789' – Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity – are characteristically commercial ideals which have no other purpose but to secure certain advantages to individuals." Sombart further claims that the war had helped the Germans to rediscover their "glorious heroic past as a warrior people"; that all economic activities are subordinated to military ends; and that to regard war as inhuman and senseless is a product of commercial views. There is a life higher than the individual life, the life of the people and the life of the state, and it is the purpose of the individual to sacrifice himself for that higher life. War against England was therefore also a war against the opposite ideal – the "commercial ideal of individual freedom". [10]

Middle career and sociology

At last, in 1917, Sombart became professor at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität, then the pre-eminent university in Europe if not in the world [ citation needed ], succeeding his mentor Adolph Wagner. He remained on the chair until 1931 but continued teaching until 1940. During that period he was also one of the most renowned sociologists alive, more prominent a contemporary than even his friend Max Weber.[ citation needed ] Sombart's insistence on Sociology as a part of the Humanities (Geisteswissenschaften) — necessarily so because it dealt with human beings and therefore required inside, empathic "Verstehen" rather than the outside, objectivizing "Begreifen" (both German words translate as "understanding" into English) — became extremely unpopular already during his lifetime. It was seen as the opposite of the "scientification" of the social sciences, in the tradition of Auguste Comte, Émile Durkheim, and Max Weber — (although this is a misunderstanding since Weber largely shared Sombart's views in these matters) — which became fashionable during this time and has more or less remained so until today. However, because Sombart's approach has much in common with Hans-Georg Gadamer's Hermeneutics, which likewise is a Verstehen-based approach to understanding the world, he is coming back in some sociological and even philosophical circles that are sympathetic to that approach and critical towards the scientification of the world. Sombart's key sociological essays are collected in his posthumous 1956 work, Noo-Soziologie.

Late career and National Socialism

During the Weimar Republic, Sombart moved toward nationalism, and his relation to Nazism is still debated today.

In 1934 he published Deutscher Sozialismus where he claimed a "new spirit" was beginning to "rule mankind". The age of capitalism and proletarian socialism was over, with "German socialism" (National-Socialism) taking over. This German socialism puts the "welfare of the whole above the welfare of the individual". [11] German socialism must effect a "total ordering of life" with a "planned economy in accordance with state regulations". [12] The new legal system will confer on individuals "no rights but only duties" and that "the state should never evaluate individual persons as such, but only the group which represents these persons". [13] German socialism is accompanied by the Volksgeist (national spirit) which is not racial in the biological sense but metaphysical: "the German spirit in a Negro is quite as much within the realm of possibility as the Negro spirit in a German". [14] The antithesis of the German spirit is the Jewish spirit, which is not a matter of being born Jewish or believing in Judaism but is a capitalistic spirit. [15] The English people possess the Jewish spirit and the "chief task" of the German people and National Socialism is to destroy the Jewish spirit. [15]

However, his 1938 anthropology book, Vom Menschen, is clearly anti-Nazi, and was indeed hindered in publication and distribution by the Nazis. In his attitude towards the Nazis, he is often likened to Martin Heidegger as well as his younger friend and colleague Carl Schmitt, but it is clear that, while the latter two tried to be the vanguard thinkers for the Third Reich in their field and only became critical when they were too individualistic and elbowed out from their power positions, Sombart was always much more ambivalent. Sombart had many, indeed more than the typical proportion, of Jewish students, most of whom felt moderately positive about him after the war, although he clearly was no hero nor resistance fighter.

One of Sombart's daughters, Clara, was married to Hans Gerhard Creutzfeldt, who first described the Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease.

Legacy

Sombart's legacy today is difficult to ascertain, because the alleged National Socialist affiliations have made an objective reevaluation difficult (while his earlier socialist ones harmed him with the more bourgeois circles), especially in Germany. As has been stated, in economic history, his "Modern Capitalism" is regarded as a milestone and inspiration, although many details have been questioned. Key insights from his economic work concern the - recently again validated - discovery of the emergence of double-entry accounting as a key precondition for Capitalism and the interdisciplinary study of the City in the sense of urban studies. Like Weber, Sombart makes double-entry bookkeeping system an important component of modern capitalism. He wrote in "Medieval and Modern Commercial Enterprise" that "The very concept of capital is derived from this way of looking at things; one can say that capital, as a category, did not exist before double-entry bookkeeping. Capital can be defined as that amount of wealth which is used in making profits and which enters into the accounts." [16] He also coined the term and concept of creative destruction which is a key ingredient of Joseph Schumpeter's theory of innovation (Schumpeter actually borrowed much from Sombart, not always with proper reference). [17] [18] In sociology, mainstream proponents still regard Sombart as a 'minor figure' and his sociological theory an oddity; today it is more philosophical sociologists and culturologists who, together with heterodox economists, use his work. Sombart has always been very popular in Japan.

One of the reasons of a lack of reception in the United States is that most of his works were for a long time not translated into English - in spite of, and excluding, as far as the reception is concerned, the classic study on Why there is no Socialism in America.

However, in recent years sociologists have shown renewed interest in Sombart's work. [19] [20]

Bibliography

See also

Notes

  1. Harris, Abram L. (1942). "Sombart and German (National) Socialism". Journal of Political Economy . 50 (6): 805–835. doi:10.1086/255964 .
  2. Werner Sombart (1896), Socialism and the Social System NY: Dutton and Sons, translated by M. Epstein, p. 87
  3. See the German WP article about the Verein, here
  4. Sombart, Werner. International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, 1968. Encyclopedia.com.
  5. Luxemburg, Rosa (2008). The Mass Strike. Haymarket Books. p. 178. ISBN   978-1931859-36-3.
  6. Walker, Jesse (2011-02-22) People Who Live in the Shade, Reason
  7. Werner Sombart, The Jews and Modern Capitalism, English trans., London 1913. Cited in Johnson, p.284
  8. Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews, p.284
  9. Werner Sombart, The quintessence of capitalism: a study of the history and psychology of the modern businessman. New York: Howard Fertig, 1967.
  10. 1 2 Hayek, Friedrich: The Road to Serfdom . Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979, p. 126.
  11. Harris, pp. 808-9.
  12. Harris, pp. 810-11.
  13. Harris, p. 811.
  14. Harris, pp. 812-13.
  15. 1 2 Harris, p. 813.
  16. Lane, Frederic C; Riemersma, Jelle, eds. (1953). Enterprise and Secular Change: Readings in Economic History. R. D. Irwin. p. 38. (quoted in "Accounting and rationality" Archived 2011-07-22 at the Wayback Machine .)
  17. Reinert, Erik. Creative Destruction in Economics: Nietzsche, Sombart, Schumpeter. In Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900).
  18. http://www.stephenhicks.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/reinert-nietzsche-creative-destruction-in-economics.pdf
  19. Joas, Hans (2003). War and modernity. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN   978-0-7456-2645-1.
  20. http://www.sociologica.mulino.it/journal/article/index/Article/Journal:ARTICLE:322/Item/Journal:ARTICLE:322

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