Books of the Day
Man and Society
Man and Society in an Age of Reconstruction. By Karl Mann- heim. (Kegan Paul. 16s. 6d.) DR. KARL MANNHEIM is a sociologist, indeed, one of the most distinguished of living sociologists ; and this massive work has the inexorable formality and complete apparatus (with seventy- three pages of bibliography) that one expects of continental scholarship. It is also difficult reading ; though the difficulty of Dr. Mannheim's style is not due to any imperfection of English, and not, as with much American writing in this field, to the employment of a technical jargon. The vocabulary is that of any educated person. The difficulty of reading is due rather to a conscientious thoroughness, which prevents the author from passing any point until he has considered it from every aspect, and keeps the impatient reader marching at his own slow pace ; it is also due to a judicial and remarkably impartial temper of mind, which refuses to present the difficult as if it were simple, or to allow prejudice or emotion to usurp the province of Wig.
It would seem at first, therefore, that this book is one which should be reviewed only by a professional sociologist for the benefit of other sociologists. If that were so, it would hardly be reviewed in these columns, and certainly not by this reviewer. This is, in fact, a book which everyone seriously interested in the future of our society ought to read ; and being the work of a mind not only powerful and learned, but intelligent and widely cultivated, and possessed of urbanity and wisdom, it is profitable reading quite independently of our prejudices either for or against the science of which the author is an exponent. The value of reading it is not dependent upon our accepting any particular conclusions, but resides rather in giving us a widened consciousness of the contemporary situation ; this is, indeed, one of that small number of books an acquaintance with which be- comes " experience." To compare it with any other book published within the last few years must be misleading, but I hope that it will at least be read by all those to v:hom the names of Borkenau and Peter Drucker have significance.
I cannot attempt any account of the whole field that the book covers ; the most that one can do is to suggest the assumptions from which it starts. The dilemma of modern society is the apparent necessity of choice between freedom and organisation. The future of totalitarian society may seem very doubtful ; its structure may be very brittle, its cohesion superficial ; its ability to preserve even the level of civilisation which it inherited may Vanish ; but it has undoubted advantages of efficiency in the present, and might conceivably succeed in bringing all other forms of social order to its own condition, even though that condition be deplorable. To Mannheim, as to many other thoughtful minds, the totalitarian order is only a local attempt to cope with a malady which infects the whole world ; it is a specific which only alters the phase of the disease. Society can- not be restored to the nineteenth century situation ; it must alter its aims. Society cannot return to any earlier degree of simplicity ; it can only proceed to a more intelligent and thorough organisation. But freedom of some kind is also essential for human beings ; so the problem is, in what areas of life are we to have organisation and control, and in what areas are we to have freedom of action by voluntary associations and by individuals? Hence the phrase, which Dr. Mannheim has put into currency, " planning for freedom."
Such is a very crude summary of the premisses of the book. Incidental to their elaboration is a great deal of very penetrating analysis of the contemporary situation and its origins. The first impression of the reader on reviewing the author's elaborate armament of social techniques, social controls and scientific authority may be one of panic ; or he may be unfairly biased by memories of one or another of Mr. Wells's flimsier inven- tions. Overcome by the prospect of all this planning, the reader may wonder whether the " freedom " will not become illusory, and whether, human nature being what it is, the result will be any more tolerable than what has already been produced in Germany. One reason why people may respond in this way is that most of us, however radical, progressive or open-minded we flatter ourselves to be, have an unconscious determination towards the past: we tend to escape into the past and into the future at the same time, and refuse to acknowledge that the
present is what it is and not another thing. But there is a rejoinder of another kind. Dr. Mannheim is quite clear in understanding that " techniques " such as he is concerned with are neutral. He is quite ready to admit that they can be used for evil purposes as well as good. But there, he would say, they are : for better or worse, we have a " mass " society ; and if we do not study how to use the techniques for good, then we must certainly be prepared to see them used for evil. And when we have read and pondered his whole discussion we must face the question : " What is the alternative? " It can only be, I believe, that which we may call the " dark age attitude "—wait- ing, perhaps for many generations, for the storm of the machine age to blow over ; retiring, with a few of the best books, to a small self-contained community, to till the soil and milk the cow. That, like extreme pacifism, is an attitude with which there is no argument. But if we still look for any other attitude to adopt we must adjust our minds to consider Mannheim's proposals with equanimity.
One reason why this book is so substantial and impressive is the consistency with which the author confines himself to his terms of reference : this may cause misunderstanding on the part of those who hastily assume that he ought to be doing something that he has not attempted. And even if we under- stand the limitations I do not suggest we shall all accept his analysis everywhere. For instance, in his very important dis- cussion of the nature of elites he speaks of selection on the basis of blood, property and achievement, as if these represented a simple progression from an aristocratic, through a bourgeois, to a mass society. It might be argued, I think, that in the most productive periods of civilisation there had been all three, and that they had overlapped and partly fused. It is perhaps owing partly to the disintegration of elites that we may be considered to have no effective elite at all at the present time. But Dr. Mannheim reminds us that " we have no clear idea how the selection of elites would work in an open mass society in which only the principle of achievement mattered "; he has no more illusions about the future than about the past. He only asks the questions : " What is the actual situation? " and " What, if we are to do anything, should we do about it? " That, his answers are in terms of sociology, and not in those of religion, ethics, economics or political idealism, is a limitation which only