The Sociology of Knowledge: An Essay in Aid of a Deeper Understanding of the History of Ideas

By W. Stark | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
THE ANTECEDENTS OF THE SOCIOLOGY
OF KNOWLEDGE

(a) SOCIAL DETERMINATION VERSUS IDEOLOGICAL DISTORTION OF THOUGHT

THOSE who know the literature of the sociology of knowledge already, may have been surprised to find that the first chapter of this book, which was designed to provide a preliminary orientation in the subject, does not even mention the concept which, with many authors, occupies a key position: the concept of ideology. The reason for this conscious avoidance both of the word itself and of the phenomenon it signifies is the conviction of the present writer, that the doctrine of ideology is no more than a historical antecedent of the sociology of knowledge; that its centre of interest lies in a different level of mental life; that it is also different in its nature because it is a psychological rather than a sociological discipline; and that the sooner the traditional connection of the two studies is severed, the better it will be for both of them.

What is meant by an ideology? Following our usual practice, we shall try to answer this question with the help of a concrete example. In the early thirties of the present century, when the world was groaning under the load of misery brought on by the economic crisis, two different diagnoses were offered, and two different remedies were pressed. One school of thought maintained that the economic order had been thrown out of gear because the wage-level had been raised too high and fixed there. Everything, it was argued, has its due market price; so long as this economically correct price prevails, disequilibrium need not be feared; but as soon as any one price is artificially distorted, disequilibrium must ensue and trouble follow. Since Trade Unionism had achieved a position of power in society (power which was largely based on extra-economic, political factors), the market-system had not been able to work properly, for one of its elements was constantly prevented from adjusting itself to the given situation, and unemployment was the

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