SOCIAL SCIENCE AND POLITICS
The revolutionary burst of violence provoked by the Paris Commune set off a round of profound political reflection among both conservatives and radicals. Conservatives took heart in the Commune's failure at the hands of Bismarck and Thiers but could not ignore the popular resentment illustrated by the events of 1871; radicals rejoiced at the revolutionary force demonstrated by the masses but had no clear idea on what form a popular government would assume. As a result, after 1871 all groups, on the right and the left, were forced to reopen the debate on the legitimacy of governments, the functions of the state, and the role of classes in society. During this discussion a consensus emerged: that the empirical needs of society must serve as the starting point to orient governments. This understanding meant that a clear comprehension of how society actually worked could produce a science of politics capable of resolving social and political problems.
In considering this problem, thinkers already had a model. Between 1830 and 1842, the French philosopher Auguste Comte had published his influential Cours de philosophie positive [Course on Positive Philosophy], arguing in favor of a "science" of society, a study necessarily based on sociology. For Comte--father of "positivism"--society would become the center of interest for all science. Positivism considered sense perceptions as the only basis for observation and thought. Comte affirmed that it was essential to scrutinize society as a complex structure with competing class and group interests embroiled in economic problems and religious differences. For Comte, it was indispensable to clarify relationships between political and social forces, always keeping in mind collective interests.
In the late- nineteenth-century intellectual context, a positivist methodology applied to social realities came to be considered capable of provid