War in Social Thought: Hobbes to the Present, Hans Joas and Wolfgang KnÖbl, Princeton University Press, Pp 338 (HB), $35.00
Dr Vaidehi Nathan
WARS have been fought in the farthest back memory and record of man. They have been waged over land, wealth and for sheer ego. The fact is that millennia later, in today’s modern world wars continue to be fought. And yet, the role of war in the society has never been discussed as part of sociology or political science, say authors Hans Joas and Wolfgang KnÖbl in War in Social Thought.
They point out that though the biographies of several historians/sociologists have been influenced by war and yet they have hardly discussed it.
“A truly in-depth engagement with the problems of war or the threat of war that might have driven theoretical developments is absent both from the oeuvre of Talcot Parsons, the most influential sociologist during the first few decades after the Second World War, and from the grand theories of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.
Authors such as Jugren Habermas and Niklas Luhmann in Germany and Pierre Bourdieu and Alain Touraine in France al produced a more or less systematic theory of society without seriously examining the problem of war and associated phenomena.”
Sociologists paid more attention to economic, social, and political inequality than to the phenomena of violence in general and war in particular. The authors believe that this is so because of the Western social sciences’ attachment to the world-view of liberalism(s).
“Ignoring the question of the role played by military conflicts in the genesis and form of modernity results in sociological blind spots” say Joas and KnÖbl, adding that war is a field well worth researching, especially from a theoretical standpoint.
Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) is considered as a kind of intellectual water shed in social theories. His Leviathan “was a key influence as the sociology of war and peace got off the ground,” say Joas and KnÖbl. Most writers in social theory were unable to account for wars while Hobbes suggested that the notion of the individual right to self-preservation provided a basic reason for it. Hence the book uses Hobbes as a starting point.
But why is it so necessary to understand wars sociologically? Because, “if we fail to take account of war, we can understand neither the constitution of modernity through the nation-state—rather than transnational processes—nor many of the social and cultural changes that have occurred in the modern age.”
The sociologists have treated war as merely a relic of the past a barbaric relic. Joas and KnÖbl argue that if the sociologists continue to argue this way and fail to grasp the significance of wars, and continue to suppress them, “it will be squandering major opportunities to analyze the contemporary era—with far-reaching consequences for the future of the discipline.”
This book is an academic exercise on understanding wars through sociological perspective, an area largely ignored. And that precisely is the case of Joas and KnÖbl. Hans Joas is professor of sociology and social thought at the University of Chicago and Wolfgang KnÖbl is professor of sociology at GÖttingen University. The arguments of the authors need to be taken seriously as it may yet pave the way for a war-less future.
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