A Sociologist Looks Back Over the Sixties and the Seventies

I am recalling the glory days of “flower power” and the elation I felt in the 60s and 70s when I saw students and faculty at UC Berkeley mobilizing and creating a radical social cultural and educational agenda designed to diminish inequalities between university administrations, faculties and students. Looking around at our America today, including our educational system, I’m here to say:  “Things really haven’t changed all that much in the past half century. And with regards to progress we made in the 60s and 70s in regard to women’s rights, we seem to be actually backsliding and losing ground under the current Democratic administration today. But that’s the way things always go: two steps forward, and one step back. So I say: What we need is nothing less than another RENAISSANCE, what the protagonist of my first book, Max Scheler, called, following Nietzsche, and Vom Umsturz der Werte!  So let’s give ’em hell! Let’s unite together and destroy and rebuild our ever-so-corrupt corporate-capitalist-run educational and cultural institutions (where today considerations about the “the Bottom Line” seem to determine everything most of the time!)           

Yes! I’m a disgruntled 75 year old ex-Hippie and former “radical sociologist,” a disciple of guys like Paul Goodman,–Growing Up Absurd–Paolo Freire–Pedagogy of the Oppressed”– Ivan Illich, De-Schooling Society–and C.Wright Mills. Remember his popular books exposing political and social injustices in corporate America like The Sociological Imagination and The Power Elite?             

Two great radical sociologists that I had the privilege of teaching sociology with at Washington University in Saint Louis were Irving Louis Horowitz and Alvin Gouldner–in fact I was hired there and given a prestigious endowed chair that the tenured faculty had other plans for– by a radical student-junta who that year controlled the Sociology and Anthropology Dept. Search Committee (during the ’68 student-led revolution) and forced the committee to choose me over several older more distinguished sociologists of the day including Bennet Berger, who I later became close friends with here in la Jolla. Once we met, we found that we shared a common passionate interest in (1) participant-observing and writing about Hippie Communes and (2) the social psychology of creativity.           

At that time I was also fortunate to get to know several brilliant radical sociologists          at Brandeis University including the Hegelian-Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse–who moved to UCSD later on–and Lou Coser another former Frankfurt School Critical Theorist,  who was instrumental in getting my first book, Max Scheler, (a study in the origins of phenomenological sociology and the sociology of knowledge) published in 1965.        

I have always felt an affinity with the Frankfurt School theorists, perhaps partly because that was where Scheler was headed for when he died prematurely and unexpectedly only in his mid 50s in 1928. Paul Tillich then took up the call originally directed to Max Scheler. He was followed in 1933 by Karl Mannheim, who continued and further developed the Frankfurt school’s interest in the Sociology of Knowledge, first generated by Max Scheler in 1925 with the publication of his monumental study of Die Wissensformen und die Gesellschaft. Scheler had already made his reputation secure a few years earlier with his Nietzschean exposé of the social psychology and phenomenology of Ressentiment and his  pioneering sociology of the emotions book on The Nature of Love and Sympathy.       

The ex-Frankfurters Herbert Marcuse and Erich Fromm, both of whom influenced             me a lot, guiding me through Critical Theory and Hegelianized Marxism into the magical interdisciplinary alchemy of Freudo-Marxian Frankfurter Social Psychology, such as Fromm’s Escape From Freedom, The Sane Society, and To Have or to Be and Marcuse’s  Eros and Civilization, One-Dimensional Man,  and Negations.          

While I was teaching “Modern European Thought and Culture” & “Historical Sociology” at the University of California in Riverside in the late-60s, I met and apprenticed myself to Robert Nisbet, that great exponent of Grand Theory. His masterwork, The Sociological Tradition, was my favorite teaching tool for years. Bob was a beautiful man with a warm highly cultivated intellect, what I would call a “Distinguished Gentleman,” a model for the kind of person I aspired to become some day, the perfect mentor for me at that stage in my lifelong quest for the TRUTH. It was Bob, a former Dean of the College of Arts  and Sciences at UCR who introduced me to the attractions of European Sociological Theory and its power in comparative analyses of historical data. This was very appealing to a natural generalizer like me. [Many historians eschew generalizations as much as they can, though I believe that is changing with the younger generation of historians coming up today].   Bob loved the humanities and had a profound and extensive knowledge of the History of Ideas, and histories of art, literature, and sociology of culture in general. Although he was politically and socially a Conservative through and through, Bob shared with me, who was temperamentally more of a rebel, a dislike of bourgeois liberalism and its politics of compromise.      

Bob was an inspiration to me. He, more than anyone else, guided me and inspired me in Sociology and Social Theory.He also supported me in my effort to start an Institute for the Study of the History of Ideas at UC in Riverside when I was teaching there in 1965-68. He also wrote the recommendations for me that got me the fellowships that enabled me to do my post-doc in Sociology at UCBerkeley in 1968-1969.

At one point Bob sought to draw together the Humanities and Social Sciences in a fine essay he called “Sociology as an Art Form.” I loved his ideas, and proudly published it several years later in my interdisciplinary Humanistic Sociology and Humanistic Psychology textbook which I called HUMANISTIC SOCIETY. I co-edited that interdisciplinary text with a social psychologist,  John  Glass, who was a disciple of the famed organizational consultants Robert Tannenbaum and Warren Bennis, of the UCLA School of Management and the Institute of Applied Behavioral Sciences there, which meant that John could bring to the table practical and organizational expertise that had not been part of my kit of tools before then. I created the reader under the inspiration and blessing of Carl Rogers at the Center for the Person in La Jolla and my therapist of that era the existential humanistic psychologist James Bugental,then an editor of the Journal of Humanistic Psychology]


What did I mean by  this term. Humanistic  Sociology?  Reading Peter Berger, and Existentialist and Phenomenological Philosophers like Heidegger, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus, Marcel, Scheler, Schutz, and Buber was my inspiration for this sociological perspective. It was radical existential phenomenological philosophy applied to understanding the social world. As “radicals,”[radical comes from ancient Greek: “relating to the roots”] we seek to get at the fundamental essential roots of things. But acquiring a deep-rooted understanding of things and their causes did not completely satisfy my radical intentions. I agreed with old uncle Karl [Marx] that our goal exceeded merely “understanding” the coercive power of social structures and social institutions, like language, sexual exploitation,  and/or courtship or marriage, for example. Our purpose was to use our understanding of society to CHANGE social conditions at their roots for the better, and not in an Evolutionary but in a Revolutionary way. I felt impatient,as did many of my colleagues & students then. 

So what are the fundamental principles of Existential-Humanistic Sociology? First of all–and most importantly, in this alienated-objectified-reified age of “the organization man,” mired in Kafka-esque multi-levelled bureaucracies–we begin at the roots of human existence with the ineffable mystery of human being and human consciousness itself, and of our own personal experience of our own unique individual personhood, at the center of which we find is our own subjectivity. Preceding the famous “Turn to Language” in the late 20th century, this was a turn and for many actually a Re-Turn to the  Self, as Core and Agent and our Goal, as well, when like Eliot we discover that in our end is our beginning and coming home [to the Self] we recognize it for the first time.           

I had first been introduced to the “Existentialists” by Colin Wilson in his book The Outsider written and published in his early 20s, which I read shortly after it came out in 1957 when I was an undergrad philosophy and theology student with the Jesuit fathers at Georgetown University in 1957-1958. The Outsider  made a huge impression on me for many reasons. I identified with the subject at once. It was all about me. What more could anyone want from a book? Furthermore,  I have always loved high level intellectual gossip, and that’s what one finds there (and in most of Wilson’s subsequent books): short acid-etched portraits of reprobates like Baudelaire, Verlaine, Rimbaud, and of course Proust, all of whom I had already been reading about in another popular book and another favorite book of mine from that decade:  Edmund Wilson’s Axel’s Castle, an introduction to the imaginative literature of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.]         

A human being is a multidimensional creature and is potentially open to many subjectively experienced and cognitively analyzed and categorized worlds. I observed this through participant observation studies of various religious communes and Hippie groups. Through sympathetic understanding we try to enter into different spiritual, emotional,  and sociocultural worlds–the world of the child, for example,  or the world of the borderline,    the manic-depressive, or the schizophrenic, the world of the actor or playwright, the artist, architect. or sculptor, and the “social circles” within which each of these live and are socially supported and confirmed. Let’s ask ourselves: How does the “world” that we call “reality” look to the viewer/experiencer from each of these different perspectives? We spoke of so-called “reality.” Let’s keep in mind the “social construction” of “fantasy” and”imagination”  as well. The social conditioning of  perception and cognition is generally acknowledged today, but let’s not forget that not only these cognitive functions, but also the the “fantasy worlds”  imagos, and archetypal images that we carry within us shape our perception and cognition as well, andoften influence our actions and reactions in both our inner and outer worlds. Man is a “social animal,” Aristotle famously observed. We are never alone even when we are alone. We experience our world not as private–in fact as Max Scheler discovered–and Martin Buber, Jean Piaget and Erik Erikson later confirmed, phenomenologically we begin our earthly lives within the WE/US [mother/infant] structure, long before we even begin experiencing the “I,” the solipsistic solitary I-centered Ego, so celebrated and cursed by modern poets and philosophers!  In short, already from birth we are born into a sociocultural world of Others, and we live dialogically intersubjectively linked with an Other, no matter whoever we select from our horizon to fill that Anlage/hole/space /role/structure (at least temporarily). From the beginning of conscious life–even within the womb–we are constantly interacting with other beings besides ourselves, whether imagined or real. Just observe a small child converse in imagined dialogue with his imagined friends. [I called my imaginary interlocuter “Mr Bowlie” because I always imagined him wearing an impressive round black bowler hat like Charlie Chaplin did.] Thrown into an alien world,we are forced to find our way, and to come to terms with it somehow, as Heidegger remarked. However, from the beginning we experience this multi-dimensional, ever-changing and evolving puzzling confusing deceiving mysteriously fascinating world as a combination of one nature and many cultures with their subcultures.         

A humanistic view of sociocultural being assumes that man is a “creative”as well as a “destructive” being, individually and collectively. It assumes that the world  of our personal experience is a real and authentic one, a world one can hold as positive unless and until it proves to be deficient in some way. And let us not ignore or forget that we are embodied beings, bodies that have physical and emotional needs–for warmth, love, and tenderness, as well as food, sex, and sleep. We are not pure mental structures or disembodied abstractions in which we tend to become lost when we indulge in fantasies and “flight of ideas.”         

My purpose in assembling our interdisciplinary reader, combining readings from the humanities, humanistic psychology, social psychology, and social theory, was to restore the “person” to its rightful place as the core concept and the principal agent of action in social theory and psychological practice. I insisted that in my view Humanistic Sociology [H.S.]. was more than just one more social or social psychological theory. In fact, H. S. wasn’t really a “theory” as such, but rather more of an “attitude”, a perspective toward the world,  a sympathetic compassionate  way of looking at oneself and at the world “which retains as much of the immediacy, richness, and personal quality of my experience as possible.” in the sense that phenomenologists like Max Scheler, Alfred Schutz, and Petr Berger spoke of the “natural attitude.” The humanistic sociologist might use any and all of these lenses [or theoretical frameworks] on his subject matter, depending on the questions he wished to answer.           

HUMANISTIC SOCIETY was intended to educate a new generation of [hopefully] interdisciplinary and humanistic social scientists. “In dreams begin responsibilities,” said the poet Yeats. The vision of HUMANISTIC SOCIETY was based on the notion that the roots of human motivation lie in our unconscious and these are manifested in our dreams. Despite the enormous power of social institutions and of our instinctual behaviors over us,  shaping the future lies within our reach, at least to some degree. How? Through our dreaming selves.  Our “future” is a “social construct,” a set of “imaginative hypotheses groping toward whatever essential utopias lie in the depths” of our unconscious, from which fragments and traces appear to us in our sleeping and waking dreams. (Paraphrased from Warren Bennis’s paper, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future,” first published in American Psychologist, 25 (1970) and reprinted in HUMANISTIC SOCIETY (1972) p.388.           

After our attempted revolution within the disciplines of sociology and psychology had failed to take hold, and our hoped-for “revolution” had dissipated its accumulated intellectual and emotional energy in short-sighted internal squabbling, as human beings–both inside and outside the Groves of Academe–tend to do, John Glass abandoned academia altogether, creating a new role for himself as a “Clinical Sociologist”–today we’d say a “psychologically savvy organizational consultant” or executive coach, offering to heal the ills of executives and organizations within the larger society. In doing this engaged “action research” John was following the example of Nevitt Sanford (one of the authors of the famous study of The Authoritarian Personality) who was later to be my mentor in Social Psychology when I got my Ph.D. in Psychology at the Wright Institute in Berkeley, in the mid 1970s.


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