Auguste Comte and the Religion of Humanity: The Post-Theistic Program of French Social Theory

Auguste Comte and the Religion of Humanity: The Post-Theistic Program of French Social Theory

Auguste Comte and the Religion of Humanity: The Post-Theistic Program of French Social Theory

Auguste Comte and the Religion of Humanity: The Post-Theistic Program of French Social Theory

Synopsis

This book offers an exciting reinterpretation of Auguste Comte, the founder of French sociology. Andrew Wernick provides the first in-depth critique of Comte's concept of religion and its place in his thinking on politics, sociology and philosophy of science. He places Comte's ideas within the context of post-1789 French political and intellectual history, and of modern philosophy, especially postmodernism. Wernick relates Comte to Marx and Nietzsche as seminal figures of modernity and examines key features of modern and postmodern French social theory, tracing the inherent flaws and disintegration of Comte's system.

Excerpt

At the heart of Auguste Comte's program for resolving the 'crisis' of (early) industrial society – and explicitly so with the publication, in 1851, of Systéme de politique positive ou Traits de sociologie – was a project for 'positivising' religion by instituting (as its subtitle announced) la religion de I'Humanite. My aim in this inquiry is to interrogate that project, together with the wider conceptualisation to which it was linked.

Today, no doubt, to suggest that Comte's labyrinthine synthesis of philosophy, science, sociology, politics and religion is worth reexamining, let alone from its religious side, will meet with scepticism. We have learnt very well to mistrust all systematisers, and we are bored with the shibboleths of the nineteenth century. Who cares, any more, about Comte's totalising scientism, or about the organised idolatry of la societe which it underwrote? Why dig up Positivism, only (presumably) to bury it again? One answer, I mean to show, stems from Comte's crucial but underrecognised place in the formation of modern, and postmodern, French thought. Another concerns the continuing (or renewed) pertinence of fundamental thinking about the social itself as a topic for reflection. Yet another would argue the value of grappling with Comte as a way to clarify problems in the vantage point (political, reflexive, emancipatory) from which, in the first place, these considerations press into view.

This will already make clear that the interrogation I have in mind is not only the hard questioning of a suspect caught near the scene of a crime. Even those, I will suggest, for whom Comte is the intellectual progenitor of an odiously self-enclosed corporatism may learn something from his thinking. What I propose is an engagement with Comte, not just against and about him. The themes of such an engagement, and its angle of approach, require more comment. But before elaborating, it may be useful to set the stage by recalling first, in Comte's own terms, what he actually meant to establish. What was, or was to be, 'positive' religion?

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