Thank you all for telling me to continue. And so I shall.
If you stand back and try to get an overview of serious writing in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it is astonishing how different the two bodies of literature are. Descartes, Locke, Hume, Spinoza, Leibniz, Hobbes, and Rousseau sound nothing like Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Burckhardt, and Freud. To some extent, especially in Philosophy, this is a consequence of the fact that Hume and Kant between them simply killed off rational theology, which had occupied a central role in philosophical writings for two millennia. But I think the difference is more a result of the discovery of Society as an object of investigation independent of Nature and Man. [Don't give me grief. Everyone I am talking about said "Man" rather than "Man or Woman," and at this point I am doing some interpretive intellectual history.]
The change pretty clearly has its roots in the rise of a large, literate, politically active middle class, or bourgeoisie, but its intellectual origins can be traced in part to the impact of the writings of Hegel [a fact I find it painful to acknowledge, since I hate Hegel's writings, but fair is fair.] In his historicizing of the Christian story, Hegel represents history as a series of stages in the unfolding and coming to self-consciousness of Geist, variously translated as Spirit or Mind or even Reason. What matters here is that Hegel had the brilliant idea of characterizing each stage of historical development as exhibiting, in all of its aspects, a unifying aesthetic principle. Thus, we learned to talk of the Classical era, the Baroque era, the Romantic era, and so forth. It became commonplace to speak of Classical architecture, Baroque furniture, the Renaissance Man, Romantic politics. An entire civilization, understood as something other than the mere agglomeration of individual persons, could be conceived as the embodiment of a ruling aesthetic principle.
Starting with Smith in the late eighteenth century, and continuing through the nineteenth century, one disciplinary unit after another broke off from "Moral Philosophy" to become a new Social Science. [In this regard, it is interesting to see the German terms Naturwissenschaft and Geisteswissenschaft joined by the new term Sozialwissenschaft.] The first new discipline, as we have seen, was Political Economy, as it was called for a while, or Economics, as we now know it. [To Aristotle, of course, "oeconomics" was essentially household management, something relegated to the lady of the house.] We have already commented on the emergence of Sociology, and in particular Emile Durkheim's explicit rationale for its autonomy as a branch of investigation.
Equally striking was the development of what we now call Anthropology. There had always been a literature of travelers' accounts of the strange practices of strange peoples, going back to ancient times, and including the narratives of medieval travelers like Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta. The accounts gave rise to a lively debate about the relative benefits of civilization versus primitive life. Some writers celebrated the peoples of the South Pacific islands as pure, uncorrupted by city life, natural, admirable. Others shared Sherlock Holmes' views concerning "the idiocy of rural life." During the last century or so of the ancien regime in France, Dukes and Countesses at Versailles dressed up as simple shepherds and shepherdesses and played at tending sheep while waited upon by clouds of bewigged servants.
What especially fascinated more thoughtful students of the travel narratives were the accounts of the religious practices of the "natives." Quite naturally viewing Christianity as the highest form of religious belief and practice, [or at least Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, the three religions "of the book" what shared a reverence for the texts of the Old Testament], some of these writers developed an evolutionary typology, along Hegelian lines, in which primitive animism gives way to polytheism and finally develops into monotheism. This in turn led one author in particular, Sir Edward Burnett Tylor, virtually to create the discipline of Anthropology in his classic two-volume work, PRIMTIVE CULTURE [1871.] Here is the opening sentence of volume one. It is literally the moment of birth of the new discipline:
"Culture or Civilization, taken in its widest ethnographic sense, is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society."
There are, for our purposes in this brief exposition, several very important features of this famous definition. First of all, Tylor uses the term "culture" to refer not merely to classical literature, metaphysical poetry, or the music of Bach and Beethoven, but to the totality of the habits, practices, beliefs, and customs of an entire people. This means that the lower classes have culture too, a profound change from the earlier aristocratic view that only the upper orders have something that can be characterized as culture. The marriage rituals of Irish workers count as culture, as do Cockney rhyming slang and the weaving techniques of Scottish crofters. Secondly, EVERY people will, by this definition, have a culture -- not merely the French [about whom the English had long-standing ambivalent opinions] but also Trobriand Islanders, Zulu warriors, and Algonquin trappers. With this dramatic revision, Tylor creates modern Anthropology and offers to us a new object of study.
Notice -- we shall have a very great deal to say about this later on -- that on this conception of culture, no one can be identified as the creator of culture. Beethoven's Ninth was created by Beethoven. The tragedies of Aeschylus were written by Aeschylus. But no identifiable individual created Cockney rhyming slang. There is a paradox here that needs very careful examination.
On the one hand, Cockney rhyming slang [to continue our example] is obviously a human creation, and therefore at some time or other, individuals must have started trying it out, slowly bringing it into existence, even if those individuals did not leave their names on it for us to find. The same thing is true of all dialects, kinship practices, productive economic techniques, and even habits of bodily display and deportment. They did not grow on trees, and they were not handed to human beings by the Gods [although there are countless myths of this sort about the origin of fire, etc.] On the other hand, each of us, upon being born, grows up into a society in which the roles and practices, dialects and modes of bodily deportment are already in existence and are presented to us as part of the objective world order, as fixed and separate from any identifiable individuals as are rocks and trees. Ask a child, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" and she will name a clearly identified social role: Doctor, teacher, resistance fighter.
Well, once again, this is growing much bigger than I anticipated. Tomorrow, I will continue the story.