The Logic of Democracy
Today, most of us would find democracy logically irrefutable. No wonder, for democracy corresponds to the structures that our mind, at the present stage of its development, projects onto the world. The world we inhabit is an atomistic and nominalistic universe brought about by the scientific revolution of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and its aftermaths. Although nowadays naturalists might not fully share such an ontology, we people from the street, including social scientists, still draw our metaphors from the classical mechanics that we have learned at school.
However, democracy does not necessarily appear logical to those who perceive the structure of the universe in a different way. Thus, medieval people, who believed the world to be a hierarchy of ideal essences, could not help seeing monarchy as the most natural form of government. It is highly plausible that to the bearers of non-Western cultures democracy may look as counter-intuitive today as it looked to the inhabitants of the medieval West.
The idea of this article comes from a feeling that the logic of democracy, as it has evolved over the last three centuries, is currently undergoing a very profound transformation, if not erosion. The intellectual revolution linked to the development of the modern science and the modern system of social and political concepts was also the birthplace of the logic of democracy. The emergence of the new logical standards was essential to the making of modernity. Aren’t we now living through an intellectual transformation comparable to the one that occurred in the eighteenth century, in the period that Reinhart Koselleck calls Sattelzeit (“saddle period”), but a kind of “Sattelzeit in reverse” ? In this case, our logical standards can not escape change.
According to Koselleck, the conceptual revolution of the Sattelzeit and the emergence of the contemporary system of social and political concepts were determined by the changing perception of historical time, which came to be dominated by the idea of progress. However, the formation of the new type of thinking involved a more complex mental change and began earlier. In this article I’ll examine the birth of the atomistic universe and its consequences for the logic of democracy. I’ll start by briefly summarizing the interconnection between the model of the “closed world,” seen as a hierarchy of ideal essences ; medieval social theories and Aristotelian logic. In doing so, I’ll be referring mostly to French medieval and early modern social thought, which is the classical case of the “society of orders.” Then I’ll consider theories of induction, developed by two mid-nineteenth-century British thinkers, William Whewell and John Stuart Mill, whom I find representative for the logic of democracy in its equally classical setting of English liberalism. Finally, I’ll explore the conservative implications of the new approaches to logic, as reflected in German thought of the early twentieth century, and suggest that there exists a tendency toward a reanimation of this style of thought in the contemporary world.
Logic and Society in Medieval Europe
The first attempt to present society as an atomistic structure was undertaken by Thomas Hobbes within the framework of radical absolutist thought. In the more standard versions of absolutist political theory, however, the idea of a society consisting of isolated individuals and opposed to the state was subordinated to the model of politeia, in which social groups were seen as socio-political entities. In contrast, the liberal model of society inherited Hobbes’ notion of absolute individuals equal to and isolated from each other.
This system of imagination came to replace the one that is usually referred to as the Aristotelian cosmos, or the world seen as a hierarchy of ideal essences. Aristotelian logic corresponded to the metaphysics of a “closed world.” According to this logic, to define a concept one has to indicate its genus proximus and differentia specifica, the latter consisting in necessary and sufficient conditions of category membership. But a property selected as the basis for a definition can’t be accidental for the concept’s meaning. Good definition has to refer to a limited number of the most important properties of the objects in question and thus to “catch” their essence. But given that the definition of any concept refers to its genus proximus, the universe presupposed by the Aristotelian logic is nothing else but a hierarchy of essences having an all-inclusive genus (ta panta) on its top. The highest genus could be easily associated with the idea of a rational substance (logos), and thus the universe, seen as a logically ordained closed world (cosmos) could be explained by a self-deployment of this substance. Only in such a universe could syllogism be taken to be the key instrument of knowledge.
Essentialism was typical for the medieval style of thinking. To the extent that the medieval logicians distinguished between sense and reference, sense (understood as essence) continued to be perceived as the primary and direct meaning (significatum primarium) of common names, while reference was the secondary and indirect meaning (significatum secundarium or suppositum) .
Medieval social theory also portrayed society in terms of essences. In its standard version, society consisted of three categories of people – priests, warriors and laborers (oratores, bellatores and laboratores) – which together formed the “house of God” (Dei domus), or the highest entity. The word “order” (ordo, ordre) could certainly be related to a group of individuals who shared the same status or occupation, had the same way of life and exemplified the same moral value. But prior to that, it referred to this function, way of life and value itself, conceived as a syncretic metaphysical essence. The status of a person was perceived as nothing other than his essence. The word noblesse (or nobilitas) was understood primarily as an abstract name designating the quality of a social category, and not as its collective name, and the word bourgeoisie referred not so much to the class of bourgeois, but, first and foremost, to their rights and privileges. To fit such a hierarchy of ideal essences, “social” categories had to be seen as unidimensional and “parallel,” defined explicitly in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions.
At the top of the system of orders, there was a place for a supreme ruler who represented the highest level of taxonomy, the unity of the house of God. The idea of monarchy was logically inevitable for medieval thought for the same reason as the idea of God – the model of the closed world presupposed the highest level of classification. Monarchy and the society of orders were elements of the same system of thought, which was still dominant in the early seventeenth century.
However, it would be a simplification to portray medieval social thought as operating exclusively with essences. Rather, it was characterized by a peculiar combination of abstract reasoning in terms of essences with an organicist perception of concrete entities. Thus, the terms for human collectivities such as imperium (Romanum), regnum (Francorum) or ecclesia (Christiana) functioned largely as proper names that only loosely specified ontological level of the respective entities. To relate the world of concrete organic wholes to that of essences, medieval thinkers had to establish systematic metaphorical linkages between them, in contradistinction to modern thought, which tends to see entities as ensembles of individuals and hence to rely on inductive reasoning.
The Collapse of Aristotelian Cosmos
From the seventeenth century on, we find more and more elements of the atomistic world view influencing both logic and social theories. In particular, the formation of philosophical empiricism, already resulted, by the time of Francis Bacon, in systematic attacks on Aristotelian logics. Nevertheless, the Aristotelian school continued to dominate British logic at least until John Locke, and it was only in the eighteenth century that a new logic centered on induction became firmly established. In France, “The Logic of Port-Royal” (1662) clearly introduced the distinction, still clumsy in medieval logic, between sense and reference (or the comprehension and extension of general names). This was a decisive step in the liberation of bodies from the power of essences .
One of the major consequences of the gradual erosion of the “closed world” metaphysics was the break from the style of thinking based on direct inference from attributes to substances . Material bodies, and not their properties, came to be identified with substance. The world of qualities had been replaced by that of objects. Consequently, society appeared as consisting of individuals that were to be ordered empirically, and not of pre-established “orders” seen as essences. By the end of the seventeenth century, a multidimensional vision of social status became sufficiently widespread to allow for complex empirical classifications of society, similar to that reflected in the Tarif of the first Capitation (1695), the first general direct tax in French history. In this document, 569 “ranks” of Louis XIV’s subjects were empirically grouped into 22 tax “classes” characteristically designated by figures, for there were no available names to be given to them. Class theories of society, which were gradually becoming popular over the course of the eighteenth century, also presupposed an image of the multitude divided into groups. In contradistinction to orders, classes were thought of not so much as essences logically preexisting to individuals, but rather as classificatory concepts referring only to a portion of the individuals’ properties . From the mid-seventeenth century on, words like “nobility” and “bourgeoisie” were widely used to refer to social groups, so that by the beginning of the nineteenth century they came to be understood first of all as collective rather than abstract names. Characteristically, the concept of the working class which emerged at the turn of the nineteenth century, was by no means an abstract name at all.
A shift from the attribute-centered to the object-centered world view is manifest in the formation of other basic historical concepts as well. By the end of the eighteenth century, words like “art” or “industry”, which had initially been understood as attributes of “artistic” or “industrious” persons, had become collective names referring respectively to the multitudes of oeuvres d’art or enterprises. The word “history”, which in the Middle Ages mostly referred to isolated stories, in compliance with the model of historia magistra vitae, became a kollectiv-Singular Geschichte, as Reinhart Koselleck puts it, or a collective name of all the stories that have ever happened to humankind. Similarly, the words “culture” and “civilization” began to signify an ensemble of processes of the progressive development of humankind . Essences lost the power of putting things in order. In infinite empty space, individual bodies could be empirically grouped together in clusters whose origins only the history of their individual processes of formation could account for. The same is true for society. History, seen as an almighty, self-sufficient driving force that contained within it the reason for its own movement, stepped, in the world of objects, into the place that belonged to God in the world of essences.
The logic of democracy was born out of the internal contradictions of the atomistic model of society, more precisely out of the conflict between the logic of proper names that underlay the empirical ordering of individuals and the logic of general names that allowed for the construction of abstract models of society. To be sure, the two logics seem inherent to human reasoning in general. What matters for a historian is the proportion in which they come together to produce different worldviews. In the Middles Ages, the balance between them favored the logic of general names. By contrast, in the Early Modern period the discovery of the atomistic universe altered the balance between the two logics in favor of empirical ordering.
A Prototype Theory in Victorian Britain : William Whewell
A brief excursion into the theory of categorization is needed at this point . Empirical classification tends to produce categories that we often fail to describe in terms of Aristotelian logic. To the extent that the properties of empirical objects, including individuals, are grouped in an arbitrary way, the general and abstract names referring to these properties are of limited use for classification purposes. Most of these names tend to be understood analytically : we seek to define their meaning by emphasizing a limited number of their connotations. But whatever property we chose as the basis of our classification, we soon realize that our categories bring together individuals that are similar in some, but different in too many other respects. Confronted with such a situation, we often start to classify empirically, “calculating” synthetic individual ranks in our imagination and grouping together those ranks that resemble each other “in general,” instead of distributing them according to the preexisting “analytic” categories designated by general names.
In doing so, we produce prototypical (or polithetic) categories. They are built around the objects that in light of our previous experience appear as the “good examples” of a certain type (not always clearly defined). “Less good examples,” and even marginal ones, can be associated to these objects on the basis of a holistic “family resemblance.” Prototypical categories differ from Aristotelian ones in several ways : they do not have to satisfy the requirement of necessary and sufficient conditions, and they appear as internally structured (have a hard core and a periphery). It is possible to belong to a prototypical category to this or that extent. In the late 1970s – early 1980s, there was a strong tendency in the cognitive sciences to dismiss Aristotelian logic as a purely artificial one and to consider prototypical categories as the only kind of “natural” human categories. However, more recent research suggests that human categorization is multiform and that we often form categories that follow different logics at the same time.
But although we can form prototypical categories, we may not have appropriate names to give to them. Empirical ordering operates with unnamed objects that preexist categories of language and produces groups of objects that do not have to coincide with those for which language has names. Under these conditions, the only consistent solution is to attribute to each object and to each empirical category a conventional sign, little different from proper name . But for the sake of cognitive economy we can’t help relating general names to empirical categories. That is why in practice different kinds of compromises take place in our reasoning. Many notions that we use are designated by common names that have a general meaning, but at the same time refer to concrete occurrences (“good examples”) and collective entities. They function partly as common and partly as proper names, to different degrees in different cases.
We can come back to the logic of democracy. On the one hand, liberalism needs abstract individuals considered before they become members of social groups . Only such individuals can be seen as isolated from and equal to each other. But empirically, individuals are not exactly equivalent because they are different from each other in many respects, which call for empirical classification and reasoning in terms of proper names. On the other hand, liberalism needs general names that express universal values and make it possible to think of individuals in terms of equivalence classes. A society seen as a set of groups designated by collective proper names could hardly be described in universal terms and grounded in universal values.
Although largely neglected by the class theorists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the experience of empirical ordering was gradually becoming an integral part of modern intellectual culture, thanks, first, to the central role that taxonomical work played in the natural history of the Age of Enlightenment and, second, to the growing interest in social statistics , not to mention an “individualistic shift” brought about by political economy. Complex polithetic classifications appear as a natural consequence of the birth of the atomistic universe. At the same time, Enlightenment thinking was still largely logocentric. Some of its favorite figures of thought, although intended to break away from the past, were in fact inherited from the Middle Ages. The two orientations of thought, the object-centered and the word-centered, seem to have been equally strong in the Enlightenment mind. The balance between them that was achieved in the eighteenth century continued to determine Western thought until quite recently. Although it was called into question on many occasions, primarily (although not exclusively) by conservative thinkers who played the logic of proper names against that of general names, it was constantly reaffirmed by other thinkers of a more liberal orientation.
The debate between William Whewell (1794-1866), the Master of the Trinity College at Cambridge, philosopher and historian of science, theologian and moralist, and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), a classic of both liberal political thought and modern logic, was one of the first confrontations of the two logics to occur after the discovery of the atomistic world. The following quotation from Whewell is an eloquent statement of the prototype theory : “Though in a natural group of objects a definition can no longer be of any use as a regulative principle, classes are not, therefore, left quite loose, without any certain standard or guide. The class is steadily fixed, though not precisely limited ; it is given, though not circumscribed ; it is determined, not by a boundary line without, but by a central point within ; not by what it strictly excludes, but by what it eminently includes ; by an example, not by a precept ; in short, instead of Definition, we have a Type for our director.”
However amazingly modern it may have been in some respects, Whewell’s thought appears as a largely conservative response to the philosophical questions raised by the development of science, which he was seeking to integrate into a profoundly religious world view. The intellectual experience Whewell had to deal with consisted, first and foremost, in the new analytical procedures developed by “classificatory sciences” like mineralogy (of which he was professor at Cambridge in 1828-32), botany and zoology, which were commonly referred to as natural history. There existed a profound affinity between this experience and the “historicist turn” that began in the eighteenth-century social thought. In both cases, the world came to be seen as a product of historical development. But a historically formed world was inevitably one of concrete occurrences that came to exist through individual processes of formation . A combination of empiricist atomism with historicist perspective explains the unique interest of Whewell’s theory of classification.
Whewell explicitly opposes his logic to that of Aristotle : in the latter’s lifetime, there had been no classificatory sciences to be reflected upon. The use of words, as Whewell states clearly anticipating Wittgenstein is not governed by definition, for very often we can’t give one. And when we can, it often happens that “particulars which are included in a class […] transgress the definition of it.” There exists a gap between the nature of the definition and the way we actually form categories . Although Whewell seeks to overcome this gap, he has not that much to say about the mechanisms that make it possible. He simply states that without definitions deductive reasoning would be impossible.
The key point comes next. In contradistinction to physics and chemistry, which study abstract qualities of bodies, “natural history has to describe and class bodies as they are.” But when we class bodies, we do not take only their external properties into account. We are guided by a vague feeling of resemblance between individuals that involves the idea of relationships between their parts, by a feeling of organic structure, a feeling of life . Still obscure when we study inorganic bodies, this feeling becomes clearer when we turn to organic ones. But in order that a part could serve a whole there should be a plan, perhaps even a rational one. The idea of function brings Whewell to those of final cause, unity of plan and divine intention.
A parallel with the German historical school that considered history as a manifestation of God’s will is obvious here. Both the historical individuals (including collective entities) of Leopold von Ranke and the empirical categories of William Whewell were meant as the opposite of the mechanistically understood laws of nature, and required a quasi-mystical act of intuitive grasping in order to be disclosed . Individuals composing a species are thought of as descendants of the same parents, the fact that explains their family resemblance. History is the way the world is, whether it would be nature or society. That is why Whewell suggests that the analytical procedures of natural history can be applied to the social world .
Classification theories of the eighteenth and even nineteenth centuries were still very much a language that was used to talk about God. The view of the world seen not as a universal mechanism, but as a set of collective individuals each of which had its own “ground-plan,” was more compatible with the idea of God. The prototype theory of categorization avant la lettre thus had quite conservative ideological implications .
Prototypes and Universal Values : John Stuart Mill
Mill had to respond to this. He was a liberal of a rather complex vintage who endeavored to give the idea of the absolute individual a more moderate form by relating it to that of culture. However, the framework of his social thought was undeniably atomistic. The individuals that he deals with are considered before they become members of any social group, including society itself . The moral sciences have to be based on the laws of individual psychology. But given that human nature, contrary to what Jeremy Bentham thought, can’t be reduced to pursuit of pleasures, individual behavior is subject to the law of the plurality of causes. This is why, again in contradistinction to Bentham, who thought it possible to deduce the laws of society from those of human nature, Mill relies on a combination of inductive and deductive procedures. In doing so, he leaves more space for deduction than Whewell. This method Mill calls concrete deductive method .
Hence, Mill’s theory of classification seeks to marginalize prototypical effects and to include them in a system dominated by the logic of general names. The fact that some categories are actually structured in terms of types doesn’t mean, for Mill, that feature analysis has nothing to do with empirical classification. An object can be apprehended as a whole, but also described as a list of properties . The gap between synthetic judgment and deductive reasoning no longer looks as dramatic as it appears in Whewell’s writings. It is true that necessary and sufficient conditions of category membership cease to be necessary ; they become hypothetical properties that members of a category are likely to possess (nowadays the same probabilistic argument is used by the adversaries of the prototype theory). But these hypothetical properties are expressed by general names, which thus appear as an unproblematic tool used to refer to empirical categories. Atomism is safely complemented by a nominalism, thus allowing for the assertion of universal truths about the atomistic universe.
Speaking more concretely about Mill’s understanding of social structure, it is evident that he avoided thinking of social groups as heavy substances that could damage the vision of society as composed of equal individuals. By his time, “languages of class” had become widely spoken in Europe, a fact that contributed to a reification of the concept by suggesting that classes were fundamental entities of which society consisted . Mill took the notion of classes in its original physiocratic sense, according to which society is divided into three categories “laborers, capitalists and landlords” (although he thought this division inapplicable to many empirical societies). But given that human behavior obeys to the principle of the plurality of causes, classification based on wealth must be complemented by other classifications . Mill’s emphasis on the plurality of factors of social differentiation was a means of achieving a balance between atomism and universalism such as would allow him to keep the idea of the autonomous individual and to exorcise anything like natural kinds that could destroy his atomistic world of universal of truths.
To sum up, Mill’s theory of induction seems to be most representative of a rather unstable logical balance achieved by the liberal thought of the nineteenth century, and implicitly contained in the contemporary notion of democracy, while Whewell was challenging the logic of democracy, exploring its limits and suggesting going beyond it, by drawing from atomistic metaphysics more radical logical conclusions than Mill.
Type Concepts in Germany : Neo-Kantians (Heinrich Rickert and Max Weber)
Whewell was almost completely forgotten soon after his death. However, the tendency that he had exemplified was carried on by other thinkers, mostly in Germany, which seems natural given the affinity of his thought with some postulates of the German historical school. At the turn of the twentieth century, the German Neo-Kantians Heinrich Rickert (1863-1936) and Max Weber (1864-1920) suggested a theory of concept formation in the cultural sciences, exploring some of the figures of thought that had informed Whewell’s theory of induction .
However, there was an important difference between Whewell and Rickert. The former developed his prototype theory of categorization avant la lettre with reference to the problems of empirical classification, while the latter believed that there was no place for a “pure classification” in the human sciences he was interested in, because “the individualizing method (of cultural sciences) excludes any kind of atomization of historical objects.” The metaphysics of the historical world as imagined by the nineteenth-century German historians was largely dependent upon the organicist metaphor of society. For this reason, Rickert could not fully appreciate some of the logical implications of his own theory of concept formation. To the contrary, Max Weber whose thinking was influenced by positivism, found himself in a position more similar to that of Whewell, a fact that allowed him to develop his famous theory of ideal types.
Rickert’s theory of concept formation was built on Wilhelm Windelband’s distinction of nomothetic (natural) and idiographic (historical) sciences. The natural sciences are interested in what is general to phenomena, and form concepts by means of abstraction of the common properties of concrete occurrences. Their concepts follow the principle of necessary and sufficient conditions. To the contrary, the cultural (or historical) sciences are interested in individual phenomena. The relation to values (Wertbeziehung) guides the formation of objects of study in the cultural sciences and plays a role similar to that of the abstraction of common properties in the natural sciences. But this does not answer the question of the logical structure of historical concepts. Rickert only says that, like those of the natural sciences, these notions operate with conceptual elements that have a general content, but combine them in such a way as to refer to individual phenomena. However, Rickert’s reflections on the concepts of collective individuals, which he calls group concepts (Gruppenbegriffe), are of interest for us. Rickert does not exclude that the historian, just as the naturalist, can see “the individuals that make up a group as equivalent (Italics are Rickert’s),” so that “every individual is both a member of a historical whole as well as an instance of a general concept.” This presupposes the logic of necessary and sufficient conditions. But Rickert also envisions different cases : “The words like the German or the Greek do not refer in history to the generic concepts comprising what is common to all Germans or all Greeks. […] The factual content […] of the concepts of peoples, periods or cultural epochs […] consists of what can be found only in a relatively small number of individuals. […] So if the soul of the German people has meaning for the historian, it is not a generic concept, but an individual process of development.”
Such a concept can hardly be defined in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions. However, Rickert does not try to work out any alternative principle of classification. It was Weber who raised the question of the logical structure of historical concepts formed by means of Wertbeziehung. Like Rickert, he sees historical concepts as “individual constellations” of elements that have general meaning, and explicitly denies the relevance of Aristotelian logic for their analysis. These concepts take the form of ideal types produced by “mental accentuation of some elements of reality.” This brings Weber to the question of the logical specificity of ideal types in comparison with the concepts of the natural sciences : “It (the concept of city economy) is formed by the one-sided accentuation of one or more points of view and by the synthesis of a great many diffuse, discrete, more or less present and occasionally absent concrete individual phenomena, which are arranged according to those one-sidedly emphasized viewpoints into a unified thought concept.”
An individual can belong to an ideal type to this or that degree, which is impossible for Aristotelian categories but fundamental for prototypical ones. Taken together with the use of the word “type,” it justifies the supposition that Weber was in search of something resembling the prototype theory. This aspect of Weber’s thought did not attract much attention on the part of his contemporaries and followers. However, similar ideas were occasionally formulated by other neo-Kantian philosophers . It seems that, “diffusely and discretely”, these ideas belonged to the Zeitgeist formed under the influence of the German historical school.
Type Concepts in Germany : Radical Conservatives (Otto Brunner)
No wonder they were echoed in the thinking of Carl Schmitt (1888-1985) and other right-wing German intellectuals. Schmitt’s notion of konkrete Ordnungen (“concrete orders”) clearly develops the idea of historical individuals apprehended synthetically, related to concrete contexts and escaping definition in the analytical terms of “bourgeois-liberal” legal theory. From jurisprudence, this notion was transferred to history by Otto Brunner (1898–1982), professor of medieval history in Vienna, the founder of Begriffsgeschichte and, alongside Schmitt, one of the leading German intellectuals involved with the Nazi regime. For Brunner, konkrete Ordnung became a means to overcome the analytical distinction of state and society, and to oppose to these abstract notions “concrete concepts” like Volk, Land, Reich, Führer, etc., that had been formed in the course of German history.
Brunner starts with a claim that each historical period has to be understood in its own terms, and that consequently the conceptual apparatus developed by nineteenth-century liberal jurisprudence is inapplicable to the Middle Ages. Alongside concrete categories of his own time, the historian has to abandon the “abstract” and “positivistic” style of thought that is manifested in the distinction of ontological levels (“positivistisches ‘Trennungsdenken’”) . Nor is it only medieval estates that were not classes ; the very model of the society of orders is an abstract model of the same kind as that of the society of classes. In order to understand the “internal order” of medieval society, one has to look into the history of political struggle and to identify collective historical actors, which must be described as konkrete Ordnungen. For medieval Germany, it can be done only for the local level, that of different ‘lands’ (Länder).
Konkrete Ordnungen thus appear as inductively formed notions that Brunner often calls type concepts (Typenbegriffe) . The question arises to what extent he has been influenced by Max Weber. To be sure, Brunner’s attitude towards Weber is an ambivalent one. He praises the “magnificent scientific work of Max Weber,” ironically distances himself from the notion of ideal type, but brings back, under the name of type concepts, something rather close to it : “Relatively universal type concepts (relativ allgemeine Typenbegriffe) are formed, and further generalized, on the basis of concrete, limited empirical material. But insofar as a historical type concept can’t loose its connection to its concrete starting point, it is always in danger either to become meaningless or to overstate the general character of unique historical phenomena.”
This looks like quite a sophisticated interpretation of Weber. The feeling of similarity becomes even stronger as Brunner continues : “In this book, the concrete concept of ‘land’ has been developed from a quite perfect example of ‘lands’ of late medieval Germany. But we know that there are ‘lands’ of a different kind that no longer possess all characters of the perfect concept of ‘land’. […] What we need is not […] an abstract concept of ‘land’, […] but a presentation of different types of ‘lands.’”
Thus there are no necessary and sufficient conditions that a territory has to satisfy to be a “land”. There are only good examples of lands from which a “concrete type concept” can be abstracted, and “less good lands” that form the category’s periphery.
There is an ongoing debate about the extent to which the thinking of the Nazi “fellow travelers” such as Heidegger, Schmitt or Brunner was a substantially fascist thinking. Insofar as Brunner is concerned, there seems to be nothing specifically fascist either in his emphasis on the unique character of different historical epochs or even in his conception of politically-based “total history”. These are but developments of the largely traditional themes of the German historical school. Nor can Brunner’s theory of concrete type concepts be said to formulate anything like “Nazi logic.” Quite to the contrary, this theory endeavors to explicate, and to apply to historical research, one of the logical intuitions inbuilt in our mental apparatus. Brunner has proposed an important theoretical tool worthy of further elaboration. However, in the intellectual climate of the 1930s the heritage of historicism in general and the theories of individualizing concepts in particular could be easily exploited to promote exclusivist thinking. Brunner’s Conclusion to Land und Herrschaft is a hymn to the German Reich, or Volk, which he interprets as a concrete historical concept which, coming from the Germanic roots, has survived over the long course of German history to finally overcome the positivistic liberal Trennungsdenken, with its separation of state and society and its eagerness to disintegrate the organic unity of collective destiny mechanistically into individuals.
Organicism distinguishes Brunner’s understanding of type from that of Whewell or the neo-Kantians, who thought it to be, first and foremost, a scientist’s mental construct, a “research utopia” and not a primordial organic whole. It is perhaps the constructivist character of ideal types that made Weber’s theory unacceptable for Brunner and forced him to develop a parallel notion of Typenbegriffe. However, organicist tendencies were not completely alien to the neo-Kantian philosophy of history either (especially to Rickert).
The radical conservatives thought of types (including racial types) as something that preexisted individuals, while for liberal thought, even after its social-democratic “reorientation”, individuals retained, if not absolute, at least an autonomous character. In contradistinction to the neo-Kantians, the Nazi did not care much about universal values. Their paradigmatic notion, that of the German Volk, was largely inherited from the German historical school. This concept had to be described as a concrete historical destiny, and could not have universal predicates. In its extreme form, the idea of type, born out of the image of the atomistic universe, finished by being integrated in a profoundly organicist world view.
Type Concepts Today : Sattelzeit in reverse ?
A summary of the analysis presented above might be useful before we turn to the question of its implications for understanding the current intellectual situation. Both logics – the logic of proper names, which is “responsible” for the empirical classification of synthetically apprehended objects, produces prototypical categories and suggests the image of the world seen as a historically formed ensemble of entities ; and the logic of general names, which allows for the analytical interpretation of common terms and for deductive reasoning, in accordance with the requirement of necessary and sufficient conditions, and which aims at formulating universal truths, suggesting the image of the world as governed by immutable laws are necessary parts of human reasoning. But their relative importance varies historically. Thus, in Antiquity and in the Middle Ages, when the world was seen as a hierarchy of ideal essences, the logic of general names prevailed ; while the formation of the atomistic world view on the eve of modernity created a new balance of logics that was more favorable to that of proper names.
However, liberalism could not allow this balance to be changed too radically without running the risk of undermining its own pretension to knowledge of universal truths. At the same time, liberalism itself became possible only due to the formation of the atomistic world view, which allowed for the idea of absolute individual. That is why it was condemned to carefully sustain a balance of the two logics, and even the emergence of the idea of social democracy, which became the second foundation of contemporary democratic theory, has resulted only in softening, but not in overcoming its logical atomism. But the image of the multitude favors empirical ordering in natural kinds, and this excludes the justification of the social order in terms of universal values. It presupposes entities produced by individual processes of formation, and hence risks bringing about exclusivist ideologies and nationalisms of all kinds. Prototypical classification seeking to discover natural kinds and the social-democratic notion of culture represented two different ways of overcoming the atomism of modern thought and hence were dangerous paths to be explored with great care.
Given that the two logics are equally rooted in our mind, it is normal that many concepts that we form are characterized by a tension between general meaning and reference to the concrete experience reflected in them. Although some concepts of the natural sciences (like those of natural kinds) also exhibit such a tension, the latter seems more typical for the social sciences, whose terms are but semi-proper names (Passeron) or relatively universal type concepts (Brunner) . However, if general names can be used as semi-proper names, proper names can have general meaning, which sometimes becomes so strongly associated with them as to transform them into semi-general concepts. Thus, the word civilization often stands for Europe, while Europe can stand for civilization par excellence.
Now, what is the role that the logic of proper names currently plays ? It has certainly lost most of its religious connotations. However, prototype theory may have had indirect ideological implications (mostly leftist, as is usually the case for contemporary intellectual radicalism) because it challenged the balance of logics underlying liberal thought. If that was the case, then the logic of proper names appears as a manifestation of intellectual radicalism on both ends of the political spectrum. The cognitivist reaction of the 1980s can probably be seen as parallel to the rise of the neo-liberalism, whose emphasis on logical atomism goes together with the claim of certainty and universal values. Although, in the 1980s, cognitivism was largely successful in overcoming the “revolutionary” crisis of the 1970s in philosophy of mind and reestablished the balance that underlies the logic of democracy, the tendency to further atomization of our world view looks strong, and I would tend to see the victory of cognitivism as a provisional one.
As was mentioned above, according to Reinhart Koselleck our conceptual apparatus emerged out of the change in the perception of historical time. Instead of describing the domain of experience, the newly emerging concepts became oriented towards a horizon of expectations. They became necessarily less descriptive, and more general and abstract than the old notions. Some observers believe that the epoch of future-oriented thinking has come to its end due to the evaporation of concepts, which have lost power to suggest new projects for the future. Thus, according to François Hartog, we are living now in an eternal present, so that history as a whole has lost most of its meaning, which the future alone was able to communicate to it . The famous “crisis of history” split into pieces appears as a corollary of présentisme, or the new régime d’historicité. Left outside the framework of global history, basic historical concepts have necessarily become futile.
But if our concepts are no longer oriented toward the future, then the role of experience becomes fundamental. Every social scientist knows how useless basic historical concepts are for the description of the empirical world. It is clearly not what they have been coined for. Their mission was to structure the horizon of expectations. Now that concepts endeavor primarily to describe the domain of experience, they have to be adjusted to the new mission, and their logical structure has to change again. One can predict that their sense will become less important, and their reference more important for their meaning. In other words, the balance of the two logics will move further in favor of that of proper names. The “end of history” and a new “historical turn” in our thinking are by no means mutually exclusive.
Is there any evidence to support such a prediction ? I’m afraid there is some, although we are only at the beginning of a long-term intellectual mutation. As it has been suggested, the concept of Europe can stand for civilization, while that of civilization can stand for Europe. The same is also true for the concept of the West. Like Europe, the West is a proper name, but with a slightly different logical balance, for it seems to have been invented to express an abstract meaning, a feeling of shared values. So the element of general name in the concept of the West is stronger than that in the concept of Europe. But currently, the concept of the West seems to be undergoing a decay. In George W. Bush’s political rhetoric it tended to be replaced by the notion of the United States, which is a much “more proper” name than the West, although it is associated with the ideal of democracy that is supposed to inform the U.S. policy. However, with the switch from the notion of the West to that of America, historical justification through a process of individual formation begins to prevail over legitimization in terms of universal values. To the extent that Europe can be opposed to the U.S., the concept of Europe also becomes a “more proper” name and looses its capacity to stand as unambiguously as before both for the West and for civilization. Europe seems to be emerging as a new-style basic historical concept characterized by the predominance of the logic of proper names. It is not excluded that in the new intellectual climate democracy can survive not so much as a universal value but as a proper name of a part of the world that history alone will be able to legitimize.