Social Discovery

by Eduard C. Lindeman, with an introduction by Herbert Croly. New York: Republic Publishing Co. 1924. 8vo. xxvii+375. $1.00.
THIS brave attempt to supply sociology with a more penetrating method of discovering social facts is sure to leave its mark upon that broad field of research and discussion. Briefly, the thesis is that the unit in which social change manifests itself most clearly is the group, and that the group functions most vitally in conflict. Observe the group in conflict, therefore, if you would know social trends.
On his way to this conclusion Mr. Lindeman clears the ground by showing the shortcomings of other methods — notably those of statistics, logic, analogy, and history. These are allowed due weight as having contributed to social knowledge and as likely to do so in the future; but it is clear that too great insistence upon anyone of them may lead to absurdity unless constantly checked with reference to reality. Life — as Mr. Lindeman says, perhaps a bit too often — is not simple enough to be solved by assumptions, phrases, premises, analogies, or adding machines.
After the time-honored methods of sociology have had their way with the material, there remains always the troublesome unknown in the human equation. One and one make two except in society; there they make two plus, the interrelationship having created an intangible but nevertheless determining influence. Wedded man and woman are henceforth something more or less than two; they are a couple. As the author keenly notes, asking the Smiths for dinner is very different from asking either of the Smiths, separately, to dinner. It is elemental that no advice would help Smith very much to improve his condition, or no research into Smithiana would add to the total of human knowledge, unless it reckoned with Mrs. Smith. And with the little Smiths. And with Smith’s job, his club, union, coöperative lodge, scientific society, church, or other group through which everlasting Smithiness manifests itself. Inasmuch as relationships make social life possible, and inasmuch as improvement of those relationships is the key to social progress, anything like the whole truth about Smith’s world cannot be discovered unless Smith is studied as a group-man, as well as an ego, and a family man.
This is, perhaps, over-simplified; but its force becomes apparent when we are reminded by Mr. Lindeman that in these days he who lives to himself dwindles toward nothingness. Except in the fine arts, and even there the influence of the ‘schools’ must be considered, the individual does by himself little that is socially important. Production and distribution have become vast processes in which many work together, contributing mites of energy to a common purpose. Ideafinders soon discover that they must form groups in order to get hearings for their ideas; and patently those who are quite willing to leave things as they are must combine, even against their conservative inclinations, to defend things as they are.
In the unending conflicts of these multiplying groups Mr. Lindeman thinks that social observers may find the realities of the social process more certainly than elsewhere. His study, presented with every indication of competent scholarship, is a stimulating contribution in a field which from its very breadth and depth stands in need of methodic criticism and exact thinking.
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