A.J. Baker. Sydney Libertarianism 1999

Points Of Agreement And Difference Between Anderson’s And Pareto’s Social Theories

Source: Heraclitus No. 78, 1999;
The text, with some additions, of a paper given to the Glebe Realists’ Group on 25th May 1999;
Transcribed: by Curtis Price

John Anderson (1893-1962) and Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923) were somewhat similar in having versatile intellectual backgrounds – including mathematics. John Anderson first took honours in mathematics and physics at Glasgow and then honours in philosophy. He had some courses in political economy but only in later years became deeply interested in social theory. Pareto followed his father in becoming a civil engineer, and in his graduation thesis at Turin wrote on “The fundamental principles of equilibrium in solid bodies,” and later applied the concept of equilibrium first to economics and then to sociology. Pareto became a railway director and then a director of an iron extraction and processing firm, and only subsequently an economist, becoming professor in the subject at Lausanne in 1893 where he soon became a famous economist using mathematical methods to develop an equilibrium system. He was always interested in social theory, and in his later years turned solely to writing in that field, publishing in 1916 his main work, Treatise on General Sociology, first in Italian, and then in 1917 in French. Pareto had a French mother, and as one writer, M. M. Einaudi, put it, “He spoke a Tuscan Italian and had a French coloured with argot equally well passing with absolute ease from one language to the other.”

Both Anderson and Pareto had early radical sympathies in politics. Pareto like his father was a supporter of Mazzini and the ideals of the Italian unification Risorgimento movement. Because of his belief in this, his father had had to flee from Italy about 1835 – which was why Vilfredo was born in Paris. But later on Vilfredo was absolutely repelled by the corruption and lack of principle of the politicians in unified Italy and developed his own tough-minded pluralist view about how socio-political affairs really go on.

Anderson, as we know, had early sympathies for Communism especially because he thought Soviet Russia was in some respects operating in Sorel-type ways. But subsequently he became disillusioned, and ended up being very anti-Communist and concentrated on defending critical thinking values in education and generally feeling that we were entering one of Vice’s new ages of barbarism.

In general, Pareto, like Anderson, was an upholder of critical thinking and logical argument, and while Pareto was never technically a philosopher, his work contains many forceful philosophical arguments of an empiricist kind. Thus, (Treatise of General Sociology, Sections 29 and 50.2), like Anderson he is an empiricist in regard to the propositions both of logic and of mathematics. Also, for example, long before Christians began to play up arguments about having “experience of Jesus” etc, Pareto came out with a counter endorsement of “atheist experience” (S.2349.1).

Pareto was also a firm defender of freedom of speech (cf. S.568) and also of political and sexual freedom for women. He also criticized in an Anderson-like way censorship in literature in Le mythe vertuiste et la litterature immorale (1911). Translated by Jeff Day and Frank Fowler, it was serialized in Heraclitus numbers, 12-25, 1987-1992). Like Anderson, Pareto saw through ordinary claims about democracy (such as claims that our own system is “democratic”) but like Anderson he personally preferred genuine forms of democracy. In Pareto’s case this comes out in his preference for the Swiss system. The best government now in existence and also better than countless others that have been so far observable in history, is the government of Switzerland, especially in the forms it takes on in the small cantons – forms of direct democracy. It is a democratic government but it has nothing but the name in common with the governments, also called democratic, of other countries, such as France or the United States.” (S.2240.1).

I can also note there were some personal parallels between Anderson and Pareto. Thus both were referred to as “the Master” by disciples, both were annoyed with disciples if they disagreed with any of their views, and both had some complications in their marital lives, Pareto especially so.

Let me here just mention – and take further in discussion if need be – that Pareto has been most unfairly treated by many critics, because they were Marxists, or because (like Borkenau for example) they were unobjective Socialists or because they were ordinary academic social and political theorists who didn’t like the low opinion Pareto (like Anderson) took of their approach to the subject. In fact when I began to delve deeply into Pareto, I soon realized that most critics cannot actually have read him and scarcely knew what they were talking about.

However, because of Pareto, at least the term “political elite” is now often used in the newspapers etc, though never with any real indication of what Pareto meant by it.

In their approaches to social theory, Anderson and Pareto are both realistic and scientifically oriented – though just as Anderson could also make forceful criticisms of prevailing views at Freethought Society meetings etc, Pareto was also good at making sharp and satirical criticisms of various “established” beliefs. He detested parliamentary politicians of all kinds for their lies, hypocrisy and corruption, but perhaps the people he detested most of all were what he called on the one hand “plutocrats” and associated profit-making “speculators” and on the other hand what he called “humanitarians” – so he’d find much to detest in Australia today in a land in which what prevails is the “market forces” or greed and spoliation ethic on the one hand, and the ethic of victimology and apologyology on the other.

What both Pareto and Anderson have in common is their concern with objective issues about how society actually goes on, and not mixing that in with moral commentary, plans for reform and the like. As an illustration of their approach I well remember when long ago I was a student at Oxford and went to a philosophy conference in Wales and heard Rush Rhees speak. He was the first “Andersonian,” having been influenced by John at Edinburgh, and although he later became a leading Wittgensteinian, he continued to agree with John’s social theory (and in a famous footnote coupled Anderson and Wittgenstein). Anyhow, Rhees gave a paper on the nature of political power, and in the discussion assorted Oxford dons and political philosophers from elsewhere went on about justice, rights, the need to stop wars and so on. I was most impressed when Rhees then got up and said that as no one had actually said anything that bore on the issues he had raised in his paper, there was nothing for him to reply to, and sat down. Pareto, as well as Anderson, would have been in complete accord with Rhees.

The main differences between Pareto and Anderson are along the following lines. John Anderson really gave only a sketch plan of a scientific social theory (just as he mostly did in regard to theory of mind), i.e. he was mostly clearing away, as Locke said, some of the rubbish which lies in the path of knowledge, and sketching the outlines of a system of social theory, whereas Pareto was much more thorough.

What Anderson indicated in philosophical outline was : the nature of social pluralism, and of pluralist determinism, and he also made the ontological realist point that – as part of the rejection of social atomism – we have to recognize that socio-psychological factors working through human beings in the shape of movements and other social forces are just as real as the separate human individuals involved. Pareto is also a pluralist and a pluralist determinist (though he didn’t use that phrase), but he says little about the philosophical questions involved. Also Pareto says little about movements in Anderson’s or Sorel’s sense – though he has a high opinion of Sorel with whom he corresponded (S.2193) and he praised Reflections of Violence including Sorel’s account there of myths and of violence. Pareto does use the term “movement” but in the different sense of the movement from cause to effect, and also the term “virtual movements” in a hypothetical causal way – e.g. if we suppose private properly to be absent from a society, what can we say would be the effects ?

However, Pareto does pay much attention to social forces in Anderson’s way.

Other differences can be noted as follows: Pareto distinguishes between what he calls general and special sociology and says his concern is with the general, but in practice he also does say much about various special or particular items, especially historical examples, in this regard Anderson is only really concerned with some issues that concern general sociology, whereas Pareto is actually much more empirical in that he backs up what he says with thousands and thousands of apt examples.

Anderson never read Pareto. I once asked P.H. Partridge about this and he said no, John hadn’t read him as he had no time for sociologists. (That is, Anderson saw that most theoretical sociologists came out with systems of unverified abstractions that didn’t even have the merit of the systems of the metaphysicians in that they were mostly merely asserted without evidence, as distinct from at least being argued for.)

Pareto wasn’t at all of that kind as Anderson would have found if he’d read him, but he would certainly have rejected some features of Pareto’s conception of what he was doing – as, to use a term neither of them favored, Pareto’s conception of his “methodology” was far too sweeping. Thus in his general comments Pareto does sometimes imply that the conception of equilibrium in mechanics can be applied as easily to sociology – compare an opening comment (S.20): “My wish is to construct a system of sociology on the model of celestial mechanics, physics, chemistry and similar [subjects], and eschew entirely the science or sciences of the metaphysicists.” Anderson would argue that the social field can’t provide exact parallels in that way – because, for example, of the notorious presence of too many variables in that field and its inability to make use of controlled experiment.

But while Pareto might make these wide methodological claims and might have believed that his own system did or could do more than it actually does, the fact is that his overall sociology actually does offer many empirical findings that fit in with and back up Anderson’s position.

Another important difference is on the side of ethics. What Anderson says about movements and social struggles gains much of its force and interest from being connected with how he takes the positive quality good to operate – i.e. the operation of communicative, productive, anti-servile activities in history and society, and he even sometimes follows up Croce’s view that “history is the story of liberty,” and seems to maintain that liberty (in the sense of struggling against forces that promote servility) is the theme or real subject matter of history.

Pareto, in contrast, would have none of that. He was an unrepentant believer in a relational view of ethics, and saw any reference to the good in the same way as he saw references to justice, duty, rights, natural law, equality, progress, etc, etc, namely as mere illogical camouflage used by particular social groups to mystify other people (and themselves) and to promote their own aims and interests. As an example of his views, let me quote the following : “The sentiment that is very inappropriately named equality is fresh, strong, alert, precisely because it is not, in fact, a sentiment of equality and is not related to any abstraction, as a few naive ‘intellectuals’ still believe; but because it is related to the direct interests of individuals who are bent on escaping certain inequalities not in their favor, and setting up new inequalities that will be in then- favor, this being their chief concern.” (S.1227).

In his overall approach Pareto offers us a somewhat more detached or less involved view of social affairs than Anderson does.

One way of making the point is this : some of you will remember Anderson’s wonderful lectures on Socrates. In them he agreed in part with Socrates’ distinction between knowledge and mere opinion, opinion being the sort of conventional, illogical and prejudiced beliefs that flourish in society – and flourish today in the media – which in Socrates’ time were notably sponsored by the Sophists. Anderson of course was an empiricist as against Socrates’ rationalism, but leaving that aside here, he wanted to stress the resemblances social knowledge has to mathematical and scientific knowledge and to show that we can also be objective and scientific in regard to social affairs. Hence Anderson was specially concerned to criticize prevailing social beliefs (“opinion”) so as to assist in the discovery of social truths.

Now Pareto was also deeply attached to critical thinking and anti-servile values in Anderson’s way and of course he agreed at rock bottom that there can be objective scientific study of social affairs, but he believed that only a very few people ever actually proceed in this way. In his judgement illogical opinion-type belief always has and always will prevail, so the thing to do is not just to dismiss it as Anderson tended to do, as examples of the illogical thinking of politicians, journalists, etc, but to see that a study of it is central to a scientific study of society.

Anderson himself seemed to lose much of his interest in social theory once he became fully disillusioned after the war. Thereafter he mostly confined himself to fighting to preserve critical thinking, disinterested learning, and uncommercial values in university education – a cause which now seems largely to be lost, and in support of which post-Anderson philosophers do not seem to have fought tooth and nail in the way Anderson would have done.

With regard to Pareto’s and Anderson’s more specific views about the ways of working of social affairs, it can be said they both endorsed the following lines of thought.

First of all, influenced by Marx, they both upheld a pluralist conception of historical materialism including a theory of social classes or groups and the conflicts amongst them, especially between the ruling class or ruling elite (as Pareto said) and the lower orders. According to S.E. Finer (by far the best commentator on Pareto), Pareto also arrived at his theory of spoliation by elites, such as capitalist elites, through a study of Marx.

Anderson of course was particularly Marxist/Communist in his earlier years though he always repudiated the theory of dialectics and the theory of relative truth.

Likewise, both Pareto and Anderson held views about the significant role of illusory beliefs in society, Pareto very much so.

The simplest theory that they might both agree with as a starting point is that of Mosca (though Anderson of course never read him). In Mosca’s theory, in every society there is a dominant ruling class assisted in its role by a second stratum of less figures: leading administrators, lawyers, editors, professors, writers and so on. These two groups gain material benefits and other privileges at the expense of the lower classes, but over time for economic and other reasons the ruling class may be overthrown and replaced by a new ruling class and a new attendant second stratum.

Anderson did not go into much detail about his version of this except that in “The Servile State” he agreed with Burnham mat a new managerial and bureaucratic class was rising as a replacement of the old owner-type ruling capitalist class. Pareto developed a more elaborate version of Mosca’s theory, referring to ruling elites (leading politicians plus leading owners/financiers) and non-elites. He spoke about the “circulation of elites” in two senses : (a) the entry of new members into an existing elite from the non-elite especially in upwardly and downwardly mobile societies, and (b) the replacement in the long historical run of each ruling elite by a completely new elite drawn from sections of the non-elite – as commonly happens in revolutions.

While Pareto became well known for his elite theory and his views about more dynamic and more decadent elites and so on, the most original part of his overall theory is his account of the socio-psychological factors involved in the rise and fall of elites and in other important social developments.

In brief, what Pareto maintains is that on the one hand interests, including especially economic interests, play a very important part, often in a logical way, on social affairs and conflicts. But on the other hand, equally important are non-logical activities; these are widespread sentiments, propensities and so on that people have and which, with little reference to facts or sound reasoning, greatly affect social and political affairs.

Now Anderson did take account of psychological conflicts in people’s minds which can obstruct the thinking even of the ablest minds. But he didn’t try to study the subject or itemize the sorts of things involved – except sometimes by referring to the Freudian account of the ego, super-ego and the id. By and large Anderson concentrated on logical-thought and argument and probably thought that with a good educational system most people, or at least most able people, could learn to think and act logically including in the case of social affairs.

Pareto, however, regards non-logical thought and action as part and parcel of what goes on, along with the more logical pursuit of interests. (He uses “non-logical” to include both cases where people are illogical and cases where they do things or have beliefs simply out of habit, custom or tradition.)

People, we may agree, have certain underlying psychological states or conditions, including ones that are biologically based and others that arise from parental and other types of early conditioning. What Pareto maintains is that there are various important manifestations or outcomes of these that affect social affairs. These are the deep-seated sentiments, attitudes, predilections, prejudices and propensities that people very often have, which are largely impervious to logical argument and which when, as is so often the case, they are wide-spread or have pronounced social group strength, can have great influence on social and political affairs.

Obvious examples are nationalist, religious and racial sympathies and antipathies (as much in the news today as they were in Pareto’s time). But there are lots of other sentiment types that are also influential and fluctuate in strength in different countries, in different periods, and also amongst different social groups. Pareto himself distinguishes some 43 varieties. He makes a particularly important contrast in politics and history between sentiments, propensities, and so on, that involve political cleverness or cunning, deviousness, self-helping and so on (as found so often in ordinary politics), and ones that involve actuation by belief in religion, ethical tenets, dedication to causes, and so on, which are found (a) very often indeed amongst hidebound, long in power elites and in their indoctrinated non-elites, but also (b) among people attached to more dynamic ideals and principles, including in the case of the up and coming new elites which make revolutions.

Connected with all of this is another part parallel between Pareto and Anderson concerning the role of unreason (or as Anderson might have preferred to say the role of error) in history. Thus, both are concerned to bring out the illogical character of the arguments that flourish among politicians and in the newspapers, and also flourish amongst many soi-disant political and social theorists, most of whom (as Pareto says) have really been ethical moralists or political canvassers rather than genuine inquirers into what are the actual ways of working of society.

Anderson often talked about “exposing illusions” which very much included political and social illusions. Amongst these, as part of pluralist determinism, he criticized the modem emphasis on social planning on the ground that most plans go wrong usually with unwanted side-effects and that, in general, no one can “make the future” in the way that promise-making politicians and would-be social engineers assume.

Pareto goes into great detail about this type of question and in his account of non-logical conduct in history and society brings out how rarely in ordinary politics, let alone in the case of the grand historical aims, are intentions fulfilled.

Anderson and Pareto take up these questions in different ways – Anderson with more concern with philosophical issues and with criticizing Marxist and welfare State social planners, while Pareto gives many, many examples from past history.

In general, Anderson’s and Pareto’s views supplement one another in a number of ways. But there are also some differences that can be brought out by surveying their views from the perspective of 1999.

Anderson would have been very pleased about the collapse of Stalinist Communism. But otherwise he would have been appalled by the main developments since his time – such as by the continuing decline in education, very much including the deleterious effect on the humanities of the now dominant market forces demand for profit-making subjects in the universities, and likewise by the fact that in Australia and elsewhere social movements he would have regarded as exhibiting the quality good are now very thin on the ground indeed. He would also have been quick to note and criticize the current tendency to conceal conflict and promote the myth of social unity by setting up wherever possibly committees, councils, etc, drawn from all sides to discuss in a conciliatory way outstanding differences and so on – when of course underneath the camouflage, certain demands and interests of specific social groups nevertheless triumph at the expense of those of other specific groups. All in all then, in 1999 Anderson would probably have kept to his fear that we are entering a new age of barbarism.

Pareto would also have personally much deplored developments of these kinds. But there is the difference that he would have been little surprised. That is to say, his social theory can easily accommodate such notable features of today’s society as the following : the way in which the growth of multinational corporations and the onset of economic rationalism have entrenched the dominance of Western capitalist elites; the way in which the secondary or auxiliary elite (Mosca’s second stratum) has strikingly come to include more and more government-paid “politically correct” apparatchiks, etc; and the way in which the all powerful influence of mostly mindless television and the proliferation of media propagandists (who all too often specialize in ad hominem, emotive and other forms of argument), coupled with the deterioration in the quality of mass education, have ensured that despite all the immense advances in e.g. technology and medicine, critical thinking and objective awareness about society and politics have steadily declined.

In other words, Pareto would nowadays emerge as a rather less lugubrious realist and pessimist than Anderson. Probably adding a few satirical asides, he would see in recent developments new confirmations of his views about how economic and political elites maintain their control, how underlying sentiments, attitudes, prejudices and so on continue to have very powerful and unpreventable influence, and how the role of unreason in socio-political affairs has not in the least diminished.