The Sociological Imagination

The term “class status” as Max Weber argued “will be applied to the typical probability that a given state of provision with goods, external conditions of life, and subjective satisfaction or frustration will be possessed by an individual or group.” Socialism, then, is a methodical and scientific way of figuring out how class relations impact the “big picture” per se as well as the basic conditions of life that are prevalent in a society.

One group of Chicago socialists wrote many years ago that the present system “prevented mankind from fulfilling their natural destinies on earth – crushed out ambition, prevented marriages or caused false and unnatural ones – has shortened human life, destroyed morals and fostered crime, corrupted judges, ministers, and statesmen, shattered confidence, love and honor among men, and made life a selfish, merciless struggle for existence instead of a noble and generous struggle for perfection, in which equal advantages should be given to all, and human lives relieved from an unnatural and degrading competition for bread…” 

These Chicago socialists then declared that they had “absolved from all allegiance to the existing political parties of this country” and that they were going to govern themselves. It was essentially a call to social democracy which still rings true and valid today, given that the science of assessing the consequences and impact of class ideology and class mentality on all of society over the long run has not changed. Class ideology and class mentality also mistakenly perceived or saw the choice between empire and democracy as a balancing act rather than a tradeoff. Empire and hegemony was essentially a tradeoff which broke all the basic rules of economics, given that economics by definition is the proper and wise allocation and management of scarce energies and resources

Empire and hegemony, by its very nature, means that “the political aspirations and value orientations of various ‘differentiated’ (so far as they have bearing on political activity) groups were not always harmonious with the rulers’ general value and political orientations. Nor were they always fully translated into the goals and policies of the rulers.” The imperatives of democracy and the demands of the people “could be considered only as a sort of external conditions, and not as fully legitimate participants in the political process.” 

There is a basic “incompatibility” between “the political goals of the rulers” and those of society within a context and situation defined by empire and hegemony. Discord, as well as a “punishment orientation” developed by both the rulers and their bureaucratic machines towards anyone who challenges the system, are some of the general byproducts of this “incompatibility” between those seeking empire within the system and those seeking democracy within the system, as S.N. Eisenstadt highlighted. But there is also a broader reality which encompasses the narrower reality of empire and hegemony. As one set of sociologists wrote: “It may readily be conceded that contemporary Western men, by and large, live in a world vastly different from any preceding one. Yet just what this means in terms of the reality, objective and subjective, in which these men conduct their everyday lives and in which their crises occur is very far from clear.” 

But in order for an individual living in the West to have at least a semblance of an idea of what is going on in their lives, they must define their lives and develop an understanding of their lives “in terms of historical change and institutional contradiction” to borrow from C. Wright Mills. And more often than not, this goes beyond the comprehension, capability, and understanding of an ordinary individual. We are all “made by society and by its historical push and shove.” Most men “do not possess the quality of mind essential to grasp the interplay of man and society, of biography and history, of self and world. They cannot cope with their personal troubles in such ways as to control the structural transformations that usually lie behind them.”

But what is needed, nevertheless, is a “quality of mind” or a “sociological imagination” to borrow from Mills that will enable the individual to comprehend and understand such an interplay. And this is where the journalist, scholar, artist, scientist, and writer come in, namely, to develop the “quality of mind” and the “sociological imagination” necessary for man to comprehend his individual circumstances and situation in relation to what is going on in the big picture. Add to all of this the fact that there is not just one but rather a set of surface-level determinants of social reality, and in turn people have a packed agenda before them both on an individual level and on a collective level. 

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