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Clitalytic Strain : Analogical Altarity

Die sociale Physiologie von Paul von Lilienfeld

In Mitau, capital of the Courland Governate, in 1879, was published by the firm of E. Behre, a book, Die sociale Physiologie. The bearer and only engendrer of this fourth of a five-volume opus, Gedanken über die Socialwissenschaft der Zukunft (1873–1881), was none other than the governor de ce loin pays fécond du nord arrosé par les eaux de la mer Baltique et le golfe de Riga ainsi qu’irrigué par celles des rivières Dvina et Venta und der Kurländische Aa, Paul von Lilienfeld(1). A year before the first volume of his Thoughts on the Social Science of the Future appeared in German, Lilienfeld had put them out in Russian: Мысли о социальной науке будущего (1872). Of the initial three deutsche Theile, an anonymous reviewer in Mind had this to say:

These volumes start with the conception of Society as a real organism, and attempt to work out this point of view upon the methods proper to the Natural Sciences. The treatise commences with a demonstration that Society consists of individuals in the same manner as the physical organism is made up of cells, and that the one is real in the same sense as the other. With this idea the author seeks to exhibit a thorough-going identity between the laws of Nature as they exist in the case of its highest development, Society, and in its lower stages, including the individual human being. The first volume is entitled “Human Society as Real Organism;” the second, “The Laws of Society;” the third, “Social Psychophysics;” and a fourth is promised upon “Social Physiology.” The first three parts are worked out with great minuteness, the connecting thread being the conception of a real analogy between the individual and the social group as the essential foundation of the Social Science of the future (Anonymous 1878: 152).
Not only did Lilienfeld fulfill his promise — as Mind noticed in 1880: “The author continues in this fourth volume the comprehensive work whose earlier parts were mentioned in Mind IX, p. 152. His present subject is ‘the establishment and elucidation of the Laws of Development of the Social Organism from the physiological point of view.’ ” (Anonymous 1880: 298) — he rounded out his Thoughts on the Social Science of the Future with a fifth and final deutsche Theil on religion (Lilienfeld 1881). In addition, he penned further refinements of his ideas in that language (Lilienfeld 1898b, 1898c), and also articulated them in Italian and French (Lilienfeld 1895, 1896a, 1896b, 1897, 1898a).

Lilienfeld’s ideas, his “conception of a real analogy between the individual and the social group,” though seemingly not troubling the writer(s) of the notices in Mind, did trouble at least one later critic, Lester F. Ward. In addition to pointing out Lilienfeld’s intellectual kinship with Auguste Comte(2) and Herbert Spencer(3) (Ward 1897: 259), as well as the conceptual and methodological perils of pushing the analogy of society as an organism too far (Ward 1897: 260–264), Ward wrote that Lilienfeld’s (and other writers’) [FOOT NOTE 004] advocacy “of the social organism theory is essentially metaphysical or ontological. It is not scientific. It imputes individual reality to a classific idea” (Ward 1897: 263). For Ward, “society is an idea. It is not a concrete material thing at all. It belongs to the same general class of ideas as a genus or a species. A genus is not an organism, neither is a species, nor any other classific group. These are conceptions, ideas. They are true Platonic ideas” (Ward 1897: 263; emphasis in original). However, it is evident that, by Lilienfeld’s insistence on the real, on “Human Society as Real Organism” [Die menschliche Gesellschaft als realer Organismus], he thought that groups of individuals — that is, societies, Gesellschaften — were not merely classific, Platonic ideas, and that something much like physiological processes — however vaguely understood and articulated — linked the individuals in a given group or society or Gesellschaft.

Ward’s (1897) discussion of Lilienfeld’s ideas highlights the conceptual struggles of the time:

Not only in the present treatise [Lilienfeld 1896b], but throughout his great five-volume work, and, later than either, in a pamphlet recently issued [Lilienfeld 1896a], he denies that society can properly be called a superorganism, as Mr. Spencer proposes, and insists that it is in very truth an organism. But what manner of organism does he make it out to be? An organism consisting entirely of a “social nervous system” and “social intercellular structure.” Is there any such animal or plant as that? How much of the body of an animal consists of “intercellular structure”? Is not this expression to the biologist a contradiction of terms? What is “structure” in biology? Is it not wholly cellular (or vascular, in which the most highly developed cells are differentiated into vessels)? It is true, there are fluids of various kinds flowing through the animal body in various physiological capacities, but the blood is full of corpuscles, i. e., cells, and the lymphatics and secretions are not “structures.” There are also some structures in the animal body that for physiological reasons are devoid of sensitive nerves, but they are all made up of cells. Lilienfeld and Worms both agree that individual men constitute the cells of the social organism, and both take this in a literal biological sense, that they represent the “real” cells as made known by Schleiden and Schwann. But the first of these authors maintains that the individual men in society taken together only constitute the nervous system of society, and that society is devoid of all the other systems of the animal body. In their stead we have the intercellular structure, which, as he says, is produced by the nervous system, or, as the biologists would say, secreted by it. And what is this intercellular structure of society? As I understand him it consists chiefly of the material (and perhaps spiritual) capital of society, the product of human labor and thought. Sometimes he seems to give it somewhat the scope that Mr. Spencer gives to society itself, as including the soil, water, air, flora, and fauna, in short, the environment of society. But if this is all intercellular structure and is only the product of the nervous system and not part of that system itself, where is the consistency in speaking, as both our authors do, of telegraph lines as analogues of nerves? (Ward 1897: 260-261).
At one level, Lilienfeld’s notion of “social intercellular structure” seems to be grappling with something intangible, but real, operating in social relations. Sociophysiologists now characterize this aspect of Lilienfeld’s “social intercellular structure” as the hormonal and pheromonal substrate of the “sociophysiologic linkage,” the “sociophysiologic feedback loop [...] maintained by reactions to reactions” (Adler 2002: 885) at play in the interactions between individuals. However, Lilienfeld conflates this sociophysiological level with overlying cultural levels, thereby giving rise to the definition of “social intercellular structure” as “the material (and perhaps spiritual) capital of society.” This aspect of Lilienfeld’s analogy prefigures Dawkins’s (1976, 1989: chapter 11) meme metaphor, and will be pushed perilously close to incomprehension by the Eugenical Altarity of Reinheimer (1920). The further conflation of “social intercellular structure” with Spencer’s “environment of society” touches on the fact emphasised by the Ethological Altarity of Waxweiler (1906) that the social group(s) an individual inhabits is (are) just as much a part of the individual’s environment as the physical environment of “soil, water, air, flora, and fauna,” and whatnot.

Schmoller’s (1902) remarks clarify this “social environment” aspect of Lilienfeld’s thought:

I recall the words of P. L. (Paul de Lilienfeld, Die menschliche Gesellschaft als realer Organismus, Mitau 1873): “If man, from the physical point of view, is first of all a product of nature, he is, from the point of view of intelligence, above all a product of society. The most important organs of the nervous system form, develop, differentiate, and integrate under the influence of the social milieu, just as the purely physical part of man is formed and developed under the influence of the physical milieu by the natural differentiation and integration of forces. The economic activity of society, work, customs, habits, laws, political liberty, authority, religion, science, art, in short, all of social life, forms and educates man, gives to his efforts, to his intellectual, moral and aesthetic needs, this or that direction, pushing in this or that sense the complete development of the superior organs of the nervous system” (Schmoller 1902: 169, note 81). [FOOT NOTE 005]

1. Paul von Lilienfeld, also identified as Paul de Lilienfeld as well as Pavel Fedorovich Lilienfel'd-Toal' (Павел Фёдорович Лилиенфельд-Тоаль), a Russian aristocrat of Swedish extraction (Barberis 2003: 69), was born in 1829 (or 1828, according to the Bibliothèque nationale de France [→]), and died in 1903. Capozzi (2004: 92) calls him “un funzionario russo,” while Ward (1897) throughout calls him “Senator,” referring to the fact that Lilienfeld eventually became a senator in the Russian parliament at St. Petersburg (Лилиенфельд-Тоаль, Павел Фёдорович – Википедия [→]). Prior to accepting this honor, Lilienfeld had served as vice-governor, then governor, of Courland, which latter post he seems to have held for 17 years (Barberis 2003: 69), from 1868 to 1885 (Pavilosta Regional Studies Museum [→]; Pāvilosta – Pāvilostas Novadpētniecības muzejs [→]). On either the 16th or the 22nd of May of the same year in which Lilienfeld put out his Social Physiology, his brother, Baron Otto Friedrich von Lilienfeld, founded on Courland’s far western Baltic coast, a quaint seaside town along the banks of the river Saka, naming it after our author and governor: Paulshafen [Pāvilosta] (Pavilosta Regional Studies Museum [→]; Pāvilosta – Pāvilostas Novadpētniecības muzejs [→]; P­āvilosta – Vikipēdija [→]). For the sake of clarity, the honorific particles “von,” “de,” “di,” and so on and so forth, have been dropped from our paperism.

2. Particuliarly relevant is Comte’s notion of “physique sociale” [social physics], which he explores in lessons 46–49 of his Cours de philosophie positive, tome 4, Paris, Rouen frères (Bachelier), 1839.

3. Ward (1895: 317) notes that an article by Spencer, “The Social Organism,” appeared in the January 1, 1860, issue of the Westminster Review, and, later, in revised form, in Spencer’s Essays, Scientific, Political, and Speculative, from which Ward quotes extensively to show Spencer’s take on the analogies between societies and organisms. Basically, there are four “conspicuous” ways in which societies and organisms are alike, and four “leading” ways in which they are different. They are alike in that (i) both start as “small aggregations,” then “augment in mass;” (ii) both start out “simple in structure,” even “structureless,” and, “in the course of their growth,” increase in “complexity of structure;” (iii) the “early undeveloped states” of both show “scarcely any mutual dependence of parts, their parts gradually acquire a mutual dependence, which becomes at last so great that the activity and life of each part is made possible only by the activity and life of the rest;” and (iv) “the life and development” of both “is independent of, and far more prolonged than, the life and development of any of [their] component units.” Societies and organisms differ from each other in that (i) “societies have no specific external forms;” (ii) “though the living tissue whereof an individual organism consists forms a continuous mass, the living elements of a society do not form a continuous mass, but are more or less widely dispersed;” (iii) most cells in an organism are “fixed in their relative positions,” while “those of the social organism are capable of moving from place to place;” and (iv) “the last and most important distinction is, that while in the body of an animal, only a special tissue is endowed with feeling, in society all the members are endowed with feeling.” This last distinction is so important to Spencer — “it is one which we should keep constantly in view” — because it is “an everlasting reason why the welfare of citizens cannot rightly be sacrificed to some supposed benefit of the state, but why, on the other hand, the state is to be maintained solely for the benefit of citizens” (Spencer 1891: 272ff; cited in Ward 1895: 318–322).

This top-down notion of the social group influencing an individal’s neurophysiology or psychology (les organes nerveux les plus importants) shows affinities with Marcel Mauss’s (1936) ideas about les techniques du corps (body techniques). On the other hand, Albion W. Small (1898), reviewing the second edition of Schдffle’s Bau und Leben des socialen Kцrpers, classed Lilienfeld among Schдffle’s “friends,” stating that they have “incessantly asserted” that the tracing of these analogies is not the essence of sociology, but merely the most vivid method of presenting the phenomena of society in such form that the actual problems of sociology will appear. The analogies and terms suggested by them are tools of research and report, not solutions of problems…. The metaphors emphasize obvious analogies between social relations and physiological relations. They are used as spurs to scientific curiosity, so as to facilitate discovery of the limits of analogy, and thus of the distinctively social phenomena (Small 1896: 311). Marcel Mauss, in his Manuel d’ethnographie (1926), used the term “social physiology” in precisely this metaphorical, instrumental sense. For Mauss, “la physiologie sociale” was one of the three major landmarks in his “Plan d’йtude d’une sociйtй” [Guide for studying a society], the other two being “la morphologie sociale” [social morphology, or social structure] and “phйnomиnes gйnйraux” [general phenomena] (Mauss 1926: 10). The latter touched on “language, national phenomena, international phenomena, and collective ethology;” social morphology dealt with “demography, human geography, and technomorphology;” while social physiology more broadly covered such things as “techniques [or technology], aesthetics, economics, law [or laws], religion, and science” (Mauss 1926: 10). Furthermore, Mauss stated, Social physiology studies phenomena in and of themselves and in their movements, not in their material manifestations. I put in this category, according to their degree of materiality, the techniques [or: technologies], that is, all the arts and crafts of production without exception: war is the art of destroying, it is an industry, a technique [or: technology]. Techniques have as their maximum expression, the sciences [or: systems of practical knowledge; or: ways of knowing]; there is no so-called primitive society completely deprived of a system of practical knowledge. Aesthetics is still very material, even when it appears to be very ideal; plastic aesthetics is hardly different from technology. Less and less material, but controlled by collective representations, very clear-cut, economics offers, as one of its emanations, the money which is found in all of the Americas and all of Africa. Higher than economics and controlling it, is the law, moral and judicial phenomena. Higher still, religion and science (Mauss 1926: 11). [FOOT NOTE 006] In summary, then, three substrains of the analogical strain of sociophysiology may be perceived: The analogical strain proper, involving the comparison of society to an organism, one aspect of which-“social intercellular structure” as the hormonal and pheromonal basis of the “sociophysiologic feedback loop”-moves from under the shadow of analogy and informs current sociophysiological thought; another aspect of which-“social intercellular structure” as “the material (and perhaps spiritual) capital of society”-prefigures Dawkins’s meme concept, and will be taken to the verge of incomprehension by Reinheimer (1920). The instrumental strain, in which biological analogies to the study of society are used only as tools, as ways to sketch or map the functional relations among social structures and institutions, fruitfully employed by Mauss (1926). The top-down, or social environmental, strain, which highlights the influence of society on the individual’s neurophysiological make-up, taken in a fruitful direction by Mauss (1936).

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