War in Social Thought: Hobbes to the Present

War in Social Thought: Hobbes to the Present

War in Social Thought: Hobbes to the Present

War in Social Thought: Hobbes to the Present


This book, the first of its kind, provides a sweeping critical history of social theories about war and peace from Hobbes to the present. Distinguished social theorists Hans Joas and Wolfgang Knöbl present both a broad intellectual history and an original argument as they trace the development of thinking about war over more than 350 years--from the premodern era to the period of German idealism and the Scottish and French enlightenments, and then from the birth of sociology in the nineteenth century through the twentieth century. While focusing on social thought, the book draws on many disciplines, including philosophy, anthropology, and political science.

Joas and Knöbl demonstrate the profound difficulties most social thinkers--including liberals, socialists, and those intellectuals who could be regarded as the first sociologists--had in coming to terms with the phenomenon of war, the most obvious form of large-scale social violence. With only a few exceptions, these thinkers, who believed deeply in social progress, were unable to account for war because they regarded it as marginal or archaic, and on the verge of disappearing. This overly optimistic picture of the modern world persisted in social theory even in the twentieth century, as most sociologists and social theorists either ignored war and violence in their theoretical work or tried to explain it away. The failure of the social sciences and especially sociology to understand war, Joas and Knöbl argue, must be seen as one of the greatest weaknesses of disciplines that claim to give a convincing diagnosis of our times.


In 2009 we published a book called Social Theory, which attempts to provide a comprehensive overview of developments in sociological theory and adjacent fields in the German-, English-, and French-speaking worlds since the Second World War. Our latest joint effort is another book of theory and history of thought. This book goes much further back in history but has a narrower thematic focus. We are concerned here with the history of social theorizing on war and peace. the period in question extends from the early modern revolution in thinking about political issues in the work of Thomas Hobbes to the immediate present. There was of course an extensive philosophical, theological, and historiographical discourse on war and peace before Hobbes. By beginning with Hobbes, however, we are following a well-founded convention common within philosophy and the social sciences, one evident in the work of authors from Leo Strauss to Talcott Parsons. Our account revolves around the development of sociological theory, though supplemented by consideration of those thinkers whose writings—whatever their specific disciplinary affiliation—have exercised and continue to exercise a great influence on the development of sociology and the social sciences. We have not been concerned to achieve encyclopedic completeness, but we have tried to write a coherent narrative presenting a history of theory rather than the history of a discipline.

The key justification for our project is that, particularly when it comes to the topic of war and peace, we can fully comprehend and evaluate arguments only in their historical contexts. a historical account enables us to observe current assumptions and conclusions, as it were, in statu nascendi. We are not advocating a historical reductionism here, as if every contemporary idea were merely a lingering echo of classical thinking. But the practice of analyzing arguments in context helps us take a step back and gain perspective when thinking about the present.

We decided to organize the mass of relevant material on an essentially chronological basis. One alternative would have been to structure our account around paradigms, whether still emerging or with a lengthy . . .

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