A Dream of Reason- IV- Part 4 On Social Structural Positions…

On Social Structural Positions: Variations On a Theme by Karl Mannheim (1995)


            This section is incomplete…. A crucial unresolved problem is to construct explicit typologies of   emergent determinate processing potentialities and orders of life. – Other relevant unresolved issues include the bourgeois position, the nature and limitations of “craft rationality,” and the special situation of the “intelligentsia” as a position that exists in, through and for the sake of mediation.[1]

A discussion of problem/solution that does not explore the concept of social structural position would be fundamentally unbalanced.

2. Opening


            Common patterns of intergroup relationship naturally generate common problem/solution nexi and thus, everything else being equal, common characteristics. One may refer both to particular intergroup locations and to ideal typical social structural positions.

We do not posit that all structural positions are co-constitutively human. We assert that “the excluded other” and “the tyrant” are not inherent in the human condition. They are pathological.


            Writing in 1960 on Plato’s Republic I came across a brief section of Ideology and Utopia in which Karl Mannheim outlines five patterns of “political historical thinking” (117):

  1. Bureaucratic conservatism.
  2. Conservative historicism.
  3. Liberal-democratic bourgeois thought.
  4. The socialistic-communist conception.
  5. Fascism (Ibid. 118).

He also considers separately

  1. The intelligentsia.

He presents these brief brilliant sketches as based on “a survey of political and social currents of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries” (117-118). I suggest that “transcultural” ideal typical social structural positions are caught by these explicitly local sketches.

3. Some General Divergences From Mannheim’s Typology

            We abstract in the direction of generically human resonance (e.g., Mannheim’s “bureaucratic conservative” position appears here as a species of “context bound existence”).

In these sketches Mannheim does not distinguish positions from regimes…. A position is, whatever else it also is, an orientation and a potential identity. A regime is a system of governance (e.g., of roles and statuses, of rights and duties). The bourgeois is a social-structural position. Liberal democracy, fascism, socialism and communism suggest regimes. We remove “liberal democracy” from Mannheim’s bourgeois liberal democratic orientation. We substitute “estranged authoritarianism” for fascism. We exclude socialism and communism.

Democracy and socialism are, whatever else they also are, exile dreams of the silenced and oppressed. We consider “the excluded resident.”

We refer to x as “conservative” in so far as it tends towards stasis. We do not assume prior to investigation that any position is in all variations and under all circumstances conservative. Thus we substitute “rule bound” for “bureaucratic conservative” and “communal historicism” for conservative historicism.

Our types are:

  1. Context bound existence (including “rule,” “communal” and “mass” bound).
  2. The aristocrat/communal historicism.
  3. The bourgeois.
  4. The excluded resident.
  5. The tyrant/estranged authoritarianism.
  6. The dialogical intellectual.

In this preliminary report on a work in progress we will discuss only (a), (b), (d) and (e).

4. On Context Bound Existence (2004)

4.1. Opening

         Ideal typically to be “bound” to interpretative context x is to exist entirely within it. X is a nondialogical ground that would consume its “figures,” a horizon that does not expand as one advances (as though one lived in a locked room).… Relevant received disciplinary terms include “alienation,” “a-meaningful thought” (Koch 1985), “conformity,” ethnocentrism,” “reification,” “repetition-compulsion” and “ritualization.”

One can proceed by distinguishing contexts. Here we consider rule, style, and, in passing, “mass culture.”

Rule awareness and style awareness are co-constitutive species potentialities. Mass culture emerges through the generic determinate processing potentiality of lowest common denominator simplification.

4.2. Rule Bound


             In industrial orders of life, rules, often explicit, usually tightly and systematically integrated, are typically omnipresent and dominant.

We suggest that in an industrial order of life, a Socratic conversation with someone in the process of practical action would normally “hit cultural bedrock” with “because it is the rule,” “because it is my job” and (especially in the military”) “because I am following orders.”

In the military, insubordination is not tolerated: the primary rule is “obey one’s superiors.” Thus, “I was only following orders” is a variation on “because it is the rule.”

I suggest that, at least relevant to justification, “because it is my job” is usually “a short hand” for “because it is my job to follow and/or represent (e.g., enforce) this rule.”[2]


4.22 (1997)

            In bureaucratic[3] and proto-bureaucratic[4] orders of life, rule following is normally conservative.


The fundamental tendency of all bureaucratic thought is to turn all problems of polities into problems of administration…the sphere of activity of the official exists only within the limits of laws already formulated. Hence the genesis or the development of law falls outside the scope of his activity. (118)

Rule bound thought can survive awareness of alternatives. There are theoretical constructs, some quite elaborate, bounded by concepts of rule, system and organizational accountability.


            In tribes a proliferation of situationally specific rules can help freeze life in narrow channels. Yet increased abstraction, logical integration and explicit formulation of rules accompanies and can promote integration of tribal communities in more inclusive patterns.

4.3. Style/Communal Bound



             People together in “face-to-face” activity spontaneously generate “mutual stylistic harmony” (in the sense of “dancing together”). Even conflict can become stylistically harmonious, two boxers pounding each other in a rhythm neither separately intends.


        The distinction between rule and style is central to Chinese theory. A.C. Graham remarks:

Confucius prefers the aesthetic order sustained by ritual, music and performative naming to the order sustained by laws and punishments. (30)

In responding with the immediacy of echo to sound or shadow to shape the sage hits any particular situation on that single course which is uniquely appropriate yet fit no rules. This course, which meanders shifting direction with varying conditions like water finding its own channel, is the Tao. (188)


Cooperative and antagonistic interaction persisting year after year, generation after generation, shapes relatively permanent “communal” constellations.

In ideal-typical style/communal bound existence, ritual reenactment of mythological themes shapes and is shaped by face-to-face many sided and “multi-bonded” (Sorokin, 1947p.171) interactions; contemporaries, remembered ancestors and imagined descendants are experienced as “co-present in mutual concern.”



We define “tribe” as follows: x is a tribe in so far as it is a self-contained “free standing” face-to-face order of life.

We hypothesize that, everything else being equal, explicit rules predominate in industrial orders of life and style predominates in tribes.

One must be careful not to build previously nonexistent rules into tribal discourse within the act of inquiry.   … It is difficult for those who control conversation to avoid imposing their categories on the speech of others and then claiming that speech as neutral evidence.

We suggest that in a tribe a Socratic conversation with someone in process of practical action would normally hit cultural bedrock with “because it has always been done” or “because it is

our way.”[5]


            In industrial orders of life, communal patterns appear as “informal relationships” and as semi-autonomous constellations.

There is a tendency for every division to generate a distinct “community”: the communal is omnipresent, yet rarely appears “in pure form.” “A community” may also, even predominately, be a political constituency and pressure group (e.g., “the gay and lesbian communities”, “the disabled community”, etc.). Communities arise spontaneously even in uncongenial settings (e.g., on assembly lines, in prisons, in asylums). All bureaucratic configurations are interwoven with informal relationships.

There are also older forms (e.g., religious and/or peasant and/or ethnic communities) that have maintained relative autonomy.

Influenced by Simmel, we suggest that communal diversity can contribute to personal-interpersonal openness, autonomy and complexity. Yet this influence cannot be exerted by communities entirely closed within themselves. Communal bound existence can preserve yet cannot actualize dialogical potentiality.


            In tribal orders of life communal bound existence is normally conservative. Yet as early as classical Greece, abstracted, idealized – half remembered half invented – “visions” of an ideal community haunt all successors as a golden dream. The struggle to regain the personal-interpersonal balance of tribal communal existence on level after level of increasing complexity is a crucial historical dynamic.

4.4. Mass

            In industrial orders of life with their mechanical repetition and extreme inter-generational discontinuity there is a tendency for community to be replaced by “prefabricated” politically and commercially manipulated lowest common denominator routines. We shall refer to “mass patterns.”

4.5. Outside the Walls

            We suggest that in all orders of life a Socratic inquirer will find something other than surface and cultural bedrock. S/he will sometimes be told (with a resonance not entirely reducible to received cultural patterns), “I do this because it is just” and/or “because it is compassionate” and/or “because it is naturally harmonious and fitting.”

In so far as such answers are given, the order of life (however isolated) is not entirely closed within itself.

5.The Aristocrat/Communal Historicism




The je ne sais quoi element in politics, which can be acquired only through long experience, and which reveals itself as a rule only to those who for many generations have shared in political leadership is intended to justify government by an aristocratic class (120).

Aristocracy is aware of that irrational realm in the life of the mind that cannot be managed by administration. It recognizes that there is an unorganized and incalculable realm which is the proper sphere of politics. Indeed it focuses its attention almost exclusively on the impulsive irrational factors which furnish the real basis for the further development of state and society. (120)

Each generation of aristocrats is believed to incarnate the vital essence of “their people.” The ideal-typical identity of an aristocrat is as the highest realization and historical champion of his/her order of life. The particular order of life championed is not justified by universal standards. It is itself source and measure of all good.


            Leadership selection through precisely specified biological connections (e.g., the eldest son of the ruling couple rules) is not required. There are aristocracies where representative champions are selected – usually from favored gender and age categories (e.g., elder males) – by spontaneous recognition and/or informal negotiation (Hoebel). There are also mixed forms in which the pool of eligibles is through “blood lines” but final selection is open to communal influence.


            Liberal democracy should not be defined prior to inquiry as pure necessary articulation of the bourgeois position. We should not move to the other extreme and identify the elected office holder with aristocratic representation…. The concept of “the abstract individual” with rights and duties distinct from a particular order of life – and thus the principle “one person one vote” – is central to liberal democracy and foreign to aristocracy.


            In conflict with bourgeois patterns within relatively complex orders of life aristocracy can generate a borderline pattern we term “communal codification.” The particular order championed is no longer entrusted to the organic growth of custom. Local patterns are explored in their generically human implications and supported by conscious “social engineering”.

Confucianism is a crucial instance. The ideal typical Confucian civil servant fulfilled a function but was not only – or primarily – a functionary. He was to embody the culture (and conscience) of the group.


            Under extreme pressure the normal aristocratic commitment to its order of life as a-unity-to-be-preserved-intact can generate a distinction between core and peripheral patterns. Instances range from the attempts of Pontiac and Tecumseh to unite Native American tribes against invasion, to aristocrats who supported Japanese and German industrialization.


            The aristocratic project of representing an order of life can lead to patronage of group identified artists and intellectuals.

In periods of struggle to articulate and codify group essence, conservative patronage and connoisseurship can blossom into tolerance of – and even enthusiasm for – formal innovation (might even accept “experimental” re-interpretation of received symbols).


            When tyranny – even under cover of banal nationalistic rhetoric (as in Nazi Germany) – abrogates tacit “precontractual covenants” (Durkheim 1964), traditional communities united under their customary leaders often emerge as “islands” of relatively nuanced shared sensitivity…. Yet if they resist it is often only when directly endangered and thus too late.


            Cross group aristocratic commitment can lead to betrayal (as when traditional aristocrats betrayed democratic cities to Sparta). It can also ease the brutality of intergroup conflict (e.g., through codes of chivalry).


            The aristocrat’s claim to embody group essence is in tension with his/her claim to qualitative superiority over the other group members. Representation can mutate into domination and the representative champion into “the master,” and at the extreme into the predator (aristocrat as vampire).

6.The Excluded Resident


            The ideal typical excluded resident belongs to an order of life in which s/he is a “non-person.”[6] The excluded resident has duties but no rights, not even a right to survival. – The master is not bound, not even by rationality (usefulness does not guarantee permission to live on)…. Ideal-typically the excluded resident is property and thus bound absolutely.


            A crucial tension immanent/natural in the position of the excluded resident is between the humanity of those oppressed and “the master’s” denial of this humanity. We suggest some ideal typical responses:

  1. The excluded resident appears to him/herself as incompletely human, not merely lacking but opposed to freedom. Repressed passion for liberty is expended in short term “hustles.” Publicly one conforms, [i.e., keeps one’s (subordinate) place]. Privately one “operates.”
  2. The excluded resident accepts his/her status but interprets it as paradigmatically human (as an emblem of mortal powerlessness). Passion for freedom and dignity is expressed through self-control. One seeks moderation and holds fast to duty.[7]
  3. The excluded resident would triumph by literally mastering the master (would directly enact the master’s fantasies of domination upon the master).
  4. The excluded resident asserts equality with the master by assuming his/her style (e.g., as family tyrant and/or chivalrous peasant).
  5. The excluded resident attempts to “rise above” all local circumstances as a pure will grounded in itself. One may or may not perform one’s duties but (unlike alternative “b”) one is not in one’s own mind a slave.
  6. The excluded resident would “master the master” not directly (as in alternative “c”) but “in patience and cunning” through, in Nietzsche’s terms, “the transvaluation of values.” The struggle is to remove the interrelated terms and concepts of freedom, humanity, the good, the true and the beautiful, etc., from the grasp of the dominating elite into the control of the excluded and oppressed. “The world” in practical fact still belongs to the master. Yet the master speaks against him/herself. S/he is imprisoned in the language of the slave.

Nietzsche interprets the slave’s transvaluation of values as turning with repressed and disguised envy against the vital healthy direct untroubled life affirmation of the master. Yet because (as we noted) “the world of the master” is grounded in and depends upon unjust repression held outside of dialogue, it is neither untroubled nor unambiguously life affirming. – The world of the master is founded in the unacknowledged lie that master and slave are two distinct species, and thus that their inequality is just. They belong to one species. It is unjust.

Another positional potentiality is the purification and expansion of reason in more inclusive dialogue.

  1. The excluded resident struggles to transform his/her position in “practical fact” and “in theory,” not in order to reverse roles with the master (i.e., to master the master) but to abolish the oppressor/victim relationship and move towards a just, compassionate, merciful, humane world.


            Mannheim identifies Chiliasm as an orientation of the oppressed in late medieval Europe.

Chiliastic experience is absolute presentness. We always occupy some here and now on the spatial and temporal stage but, from the point of view of Chiliastic experience, the position that we occupy is only incidental. For the real Chiliast, the present becomes the breach through which what was previously inward bursts out suddenly, takes hold of the outer world and transforms it. (215)

This potentiality for sudden transformative outpouring of long repressed inwardness in speech and action transcends the radical Christian traditions (Anabaptist and Hussite) in which Mannheim discovers it. It is explored by Euripides in The Medea.

Absolute repression dreams absolute freedom. As the excluded resident is restricted and repressed by the entire order of life in which s/he is enclosed, direct assertion (especially “along lines” c and g) is naturally abrupt and total.



            Slavery is often modified by the organizing principle of the order of life in which it appears: by shared communal identity, by openness to personal uniqueness, by recognition of common humanity and/or by state limitations on property destruction. Yet the central principle remains ownership of one person by another.


            Normally the slave is valued property. In Nazi Germany, Jews were defined by the majority as “pestilential subhumans to be destroyed.” The slave is “the paradigm case,” but the victim of genocide is the most extreme instance of excluded resident.


            In almost all times and places most women born or adopted into the dominant group are not unambiguously and routinely defined and treated as mere property. Yet often they are incorporated more as markers and emblems through which lines of descent are traced and traditions rigidly embodied than as autonomous actors.

Women’s participation is often on condition that “they keep their place,” avoiding even the appearance of self willed – thus potentially deviant – motion. When the sustaining web of relationships is torn (as in conquest) women are uniquely vulnerable. This vulnerability is articulated in a dialogue across millennia between Martha C. Nussbaum and Euripides. Nussbaum remarks:

Women, in this play (Hecuba) and in other plays of Euripides, are the creatures who, by their social position stand most vulnerable to chance. Euripides’ famous interest in women is an interest in this condition of exposure, this powerlessness before the affronts of war, death, betrayal. It is women who are raped and enslaved in wartime, while their men at least have the chance to die bravely. It is women whose bodies, as Euripides repeatedly and graphically stresses, are regarded as part of the spoils of war, to be possessed as one might possess an ox or a tripod. If we are looking for a situation in which good character is corrupted by extreme circumstances, then we do well to look at human beings who, on the one hand, can grow up as good as any – and this Euripides really seems to think and often stresses – but who, on the other hand, are exposed more clearly than others to the extreme in fortune. Through the not uncommon social reality of a woman’s life (for when women are not queens such adversity does not even require extremity) we come to see a possibility for all human life. (413)


            Each time and place has its excluded residents.


In the United States millions of African-Americans are routinely, parent and child, generation after generation, (with one or another “cover story”) excluded from full citizenship.

Our legal system guarantees rights and carefully specifies conditions and procedures for their temporary punitive abridgement. Yet this “nation of immigrants” now contains rightless “illegals.”

Homelessness is often a progressive descent into an irredeemably rightless shadow world…. All this before the triumph of automation.

Parsons suggests that the general movement of history is from ascribed to achieved status.

In this schema the United States of the 1950s figures as predominantly achievement oriented. Yet ascribed common humanity and human rights were traditionally and legally institutionalized.

Continued movement towards achievement predominance interpenetrating increasing automation is potentially pathological…. Current debates on “health care” and “welfare” suggest that commitment to “a safety net” of human entitlements (e.g., to food, shelter and up-to-date medical care) might be abandoned in this country (except as the haunting memory of a past golden age).

If the concept of species entitlement is undercut then all of its applications (including freedom of speech and assembly) are weakened…. Only the rich will be entitled.

There is a potential future in which hopeless excluded residents are ruled by an elite that conceives itself as a separate, superior species and is desperately serviced by the still employed… This is not an image of what must be, but of what might be. – “The ball is still in spin.” There are no “iron laws of history.” We have not reached the point of no return.

7.The Tyrant/Estranged Authoritarianism


            Viewed in long historical perspective the fascist appears as a species of tyrant. Tyranny is in and through breakdown. To the ideal-typical aristocrat, breakdown is a threat to continuity. To the tyrant it is an opportunity.

The tyrant, unlike the aristocrat, does not represent a traditional order. Beneath the public mask he represents only himself, and he is empty. – Those he rules, their hopes and traditions, their lives, are of only instrumental value. – Nothing is sacred.


            Lust for power fills the vacuum. Mannheim:

At the very heart of its (fascism’s) theory and its practice lies the apotheosis of direct action, the belief in the decisive deed, and in the significance attributed to the initiative of a leading elite. The essence of politics is to recognize and to grapple with the demands of the hour. Not programmes are important, but unconditional subordination to a leader. History is made neither by the masses, nor by ideas, nor by “silently   working” forces, but by the elites who from time to time assert themselves. This is a complete irrationalism but characteristically enough not the kind of irrationalism known to the conservatives; not the irrational which is at the same time the super-rational, not the folk spirit (Volksgeist), not silently working forces, not the mystical belief in the creativeness of long stretches of time, but the irrationalism of the deed. (134-135)

The tyrant lusts for control: power for the sake of power and to preserve “a mask of sanity.” The tyrant isolated in the discontinuous moment turns against the past. “The tyrannical moment” is not the concrete moment in its fertile complexity. Tyrannical action is not the sudden liberation into speech of the long silenced and oppressed. Tyrannical moment and action are pure nexus and gesture of control. Tyranny betrays all dreams of liberation.


            Tyranny abstracts, actualizes and intensifies the potential pathologies of all positions. Rule following conformity hardens into conscienceless rigid obedience. The communal tendency to disregard or reject “the outsider” rigidifies into a passion for annihilation. The aristocratic tendency to identify the elite as qualitatively distinct from and superior to the many mutates into a distinction between superman and disposable subhuman. The bourgeois split between active constructive maker and inert material (with its tendency to dissolve the individual into the universal and potentially into facticity) distorts into a vision of dominating people anonymously and en mass through conscienceless technical manipulation.

Fascism and communism can be interpreted as, whatever else they also are, the tyrannical forms of capitalism and socialism.

Tyranny is inherently pathological…. There are no natural masters and slaves.

[1] It might be helpful to suggest relevant lines of inquiry we intend to develop once this manuscript is completed.

We suggest that the bourgeois position is intimately related to the crafts… How is “craft” worked free from subordination to all foreign purposes to comprehend itself as a distinct autonomous “way of seeing”? –   How does “a craft consciousness” committed to perfecting and routinely enacting traditional skills in the service of fundamental human needs become an open ended dynamic transformative project? –   How does the crafts person move from “servant/slave” to “independent artisan,” to a crucial transformative champion of “instrumental rationality”?

Autonomous static craft consciousness was a Greek discovery-invention. Collingwood remarks:

It was the Greek philosophers who worked out the idea of craft. The philosophy of craft, in fact, was one of the greatest and most solid achievements of the Greek mind. (Collingwood 1938, 17)

He cites the line from Socrates to Aristotle. (Idem.) I would begin with Protagoras and include the sophists.

We suggest that only the intervention of explicit theory enabled craft to comprehend itself. Yet explicit theory is distinct from craft and can question and oppose craft consciousness. What, then, is the relationship between craft consciousness and reason?

Perhaps the problem constellation through which craft consciousness mutated into an open ended theoretically driven project of mastery included the reassertion of Greek disciplinary purification and self- knowledge in a complex multicentered constellation with a rich practical technology and a relatively abstract theology. (I think it is historically crucial that Confucius was more successful than Plato in stabilizing his received order of life by imposing an ideal “template” on the ambiguous openness of existence…Perhaps the division between Confucianism and Taoism helped to separate the free play of creativity in art and science from “practical existence.”)

Inquiry into “the intelligentsia” requires exploration (from the, admittedly partial, position of sociology-psychology) of the direct interplay between social structural, disciplinary, and transdisciplinary, positions (Reason is, whatever else it also is, a transdisciplinary position). The bourgeois and the intelligentsia should be explored together.

Exert from A Dream of Reason by Avron Soyer, Continue Reading A Dream of Reason V. Person, Context, Action


[2] The Euthyphro presents the primacy of rule as the eccentric destructive foolishness of a grotesque comic figure. Here, as often, Plato miraculously grasps and critiques a pattern from its “embryonic” prefigurings.

[3] For example, modern industrial and, probably, ancient Chinese orders of life.

[4] For example, ancient Egyptian and Roman orders of life.

[5] Stated directly or through mythical narrative.

[6] Thus visitors with diminished rights where they voluntarily reside but a home elsewhere are outside the category.

[7] See, for example, the nurse in Euripides’ Medea.


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

eight + seventeen =

Writings and Interviews by Avron Soyer

Reflections on life, paintings, theory, conversation.

Follow and share Avron’s posts

Subscribe to Avron’s blog