Main Currents in Sociological Thought: Durkheim, Pareto, Weber - Vol. 2

By Raymond Aron; Richard Howard et al. | Go to book overview

I N T R O D U C T I O N

Three Thinkers and Their Generation

PERHAPS THE FIRST thing to be said about Vilfredo Pareto (an Italian), Émile Durkheim (a Frenchman), and Max Weber (a German) is that they belong to the same European generation. Pareto was born in 1848, Durkheim in 1858, and Weber in 1864. Durkheim died in 1917, Max Weber in 1920, and Pareto in 1923. All three belong to the second half of the nineteenth century; and it can be said that their ideas were formed in the last quarter or the last third of the nineteenth century, and were relevant to the historical reality of Europe at the turn of the twentieth century. All three had published the greater part of their work by the outbreak of World War I. All three lived in that period of European history retrospectively regarded as a privileged age (la belle époque). As I think Spengler has said, the end of the nineteenth century was the least warlike phase of the history of Europe. Europe was relatively peaceful. Memories of war were dim. The wars of the nineteenth century—the wars between 1815 and 1914— had all been short and limited, and they had not fundamentally altered the course of European history.

It might be imagined that these authors took an optimistic view of the historical moment in which they lived. But the fact of the matter is quite the opposite. All three, albeit in different ways, were of the opinion that European society was in crisis. This opinion is not in itself very original; there are few generations which have not had the impression of living through a crisis or a turning point. Indeed, what

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