By Neil J. Smelser
Essays reading either historic and sleek techniques to sociological conception
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Extra resources for Sociological Theory: Historical and Formal
It was not Hobbes' intention to establish a political order that would invade and mold their very lives. Although Hobbes' theory may lack ethical appeal for us, and although events of the two centuries after Hobbes spelled the defeat of political absolutism in most of Western Europe, his theory was profoundly influential For Hobbes, social order is highly desirable, but it is artificial; it is a contrivance of reason for the mutual control of destructive passion. There is no natural or providential (that is, God-given) society.
His starting point of fearful, cunning individuals can be recognized as a reflection of the events of his own time and milieu. There is no reason to suppose that human beings, who are, after all, formed by social experience, are "naturally'* any more inclined to violence than to cooperation, nor to suppose that they will, in the absence of an awe-inspiring political overlord, break into solitary individual units rather than into families, tribes, clans, or classes. Moreover, Hobbes' limited vision of the functions of society (with Hobbes, society and Leviathan are coincident) perilously disregards the great power that social order can have over all aspects of man's existence.
It did not, however, compromise the contractual concept of government, which was the common coin of Hobbesian, Lockean, and Enlightenment social theory. The example of the Americans, who used the critical social theory of the Enlightenment to shape their political destiny, influenced the French Revolution a decade later. Once again, men took it upon themselves to change their social order and to announce their reasons and premises for so doing. In effect, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizens (1789) incorporated many of the ideas of the American Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights.
Sociological Theory: Historical and Formal by Neil J. Smelser
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