What Is Politics Analysis

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is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Political Theory. http://www. jstor. org WHAT IS “POLITICS” GIOVANNI SARTORI Universita di Firenze HE CONCEPT”POLITICAL CIENCE”derives its meaning S from the interplay of two variables: (1) the state of the organizationof knowledge, and (2) the degree of structural differentiation within the frameworkof human collectivities. With. respect to the first variable, the notion of science makes little sense-or at least no precise sense-unless there exist division and specialization in the cognitive endeavor.

Thus, it does not make much sense to speak of political science as long as “science” is indistinguishable from philosophy-ie. , as long as any and all scire defines itself as love of wisdom. The notion of science, therefore, achieves precision when scientific knowledge has been weaned from alma mater, from philosophical knowledge. Of course, science is also different from what is commonly called opinion, theory, doctrine, and ideology. But the first and most fundamentaldistinction is that between science and philosophy.

EDITORS’NOTE: This is part one of a two-part article. The second part will appear in a forthcoming issue of Political Theory. This article has been reviewed by the author and translated by Professor O. Ragusa of Columbia University. It appears as a chapter of Volume 6 of the History of Political, Economic and Social Ideas edited by LuigiFirpo, Torino, UTET, 1972-1973. Political Theory, Vol. 1 No. 1, February 1973, )1973 Sage Publications, Inc. [51 [61 POLITICALTHEORY / FEBRUARY 1973.

With respect to the second variable,the notion of politics applies to everything,and therefore to nothing in particular,as long as the realmsof ethics, economics, politics, and society remain united and are not embodied in structural differentiations-that is, in structuresand institutions which can be qualified as political in that they are different from those which are declared economic, religious, or social. The most difficult knot to unravelis that between the sphere of politics and the sphere of b society.

But the knots are many, beginningwith the overlapping etween the nomenclature that has its roots in Greek-the words derived from polis-and the nomenclaturethat stems from Latin. Let us say, then, that the notion of political science variesaccordingto what is meant by science and what is meant by politics. Thus, it is quite futile to speak about a “perennial”political science which is born with a Aristotle,rebornwith Machiavelli, nd which maturedinto an autonomous in the nineteenth century.

Before risking a history of political discipline scienceas such, there must be a sciencewhich is “science,”and there must be a significantencounter between the idea of science and the idea of politics. Until that moment, a history of political science resolvesitself, or divides itself, into a bicephaloushistory of the concept of science on the one hand, and of the concept of politics on the other. This separationis necessary not only because science and politics are both variablesof great variance, but also because their variationshave occurred at different times and at a different speed.

We are confronted, therefore, by varying combinations of different notions of science and politics. The stages or periods of political science will be all the more numerousas one pushes back the date of birth of this discipline. But even a short hostory, confined, for example, to one century, would have to be periodicized. The age of Mosca, Pareto, and Michels is for us already a far-off era. Similarly,the political science of the 1940s appearsoutdated when comparedwith that of the 1960s. I shall not attempt to date the birth of the “first” political science.

Rather, I will try to single out the elements of the manifold, plausible, “significantencounters” that have taken place between those methods of observingpolitics which can be qualified as scientific on the one hand, o and, on the other, a series of characterizations f the idea of politics. ‘ This part of the articledeals with the latter. THE NAME AND THE IDEA It is customarytoday to make a distinction between the political and Sartori /WHAT IS “POLITICS” [71 the social or between state and society. These are, however, distinctions and contrasts which take shape in their present-day sense only in the nineteenth century.

We often hear that, while in Greek thought the political encompasses the social, modem man is inclined to invert this relationship and to have the social subsume the political. But this statement contains at least three errors. First: there was no separationof the sort in Greek thought. Second: things social and “the society” are not equivalent. Third: our noun politics does not have the meaning of the Greek politike, just as our political man is miles apart from Aristotle’s “political animal. ” If for Aristotle man was a zoon politikon, the subtlety that often escapes us is that this was a definition of man, not of politics.

It is only because man lives in the polls and, conversely, because the polis lives in him, that he is able to realize his full human potential. Thus Aristotle’s political animalexpressedthe Greek conception of life,2 a conception that saw the polis as the constitutive unit and the supreme achievement of existence. Therefore, political life and the things political were not perceived by the Greeks as a part or a single aspect of life; they were its essence and totality. Conversely, the nonpolitical man was a deficient, defective being, an idion (the original meaning of our word idiot).

And this inadequacy stemmed precisely from his havinglost-or fromhis never having acquired-a full symbiosis with his polis. In short, a nonpolitical man was less-than-a-man, n inferior being. a Without delving into the various implications of the Greek conception of man, what needs underscoringis that the political animal, the polites, was indistinguishablefrom the social animal, from that being whom we call societal or sociable. Political life-living in and for the polis-was at one and the same time collective life or, more intensely, life in koinonia, in communion and “community.

” Hence, it is inaccurate to say that Aristotle thought of the social as being included within the political. The two terms were for him one and the same: neither was contained within the other, because political meant both. In fact, the word social is not Greek, but Latin, and was interpolated into Aristotle by his medieval translatorsand commentators. It was Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) who authoritatively translated zoon politik6n as “political and social animal,” observing that “it is the very nature of man to live in a society of many.

“3 But the matteris not as simple as that. Thus Egidius of Rome (circa 1285) translatedAristotle as saying that man is a politicum animal et civile. 4 At first sight, it might appear as if Thomas were clarifying Aristotle’s notion, while Egidiuswas [8] POLITICALTHEORY / FEBRUARY 1973 simply being redundant-after all, politicum is a Greek calque for civile. However, the appearanceof the two terms social and civil merits further commentary, and it would show that both Thomas and Egidius were addingto Aristotle. It is clear that when the Greekssaid polites, the Romanssaidcivil.

It is just as clear that polls is translatedinto Latin as civitas. But the Romans were absorbing Greek culture at a time when their city had long since t surpassed he dimensionsthat permitteda “political”life as understoodby the Greeks. Consequently the Roman civitas is relatedto the Greek polis, as a diluted body politic-and this in two respects. First, the civitas is visualized as a civilis societas, thereby taking on a more elastic meaning which broadensits boundaries;and, second, the civitasacquiresa juridical organization.

The civilis societas thus becomes, in tur, equivalent to a juris societas, which permits the Romans to substitute the “juridical”for the “political. ” Cicero (106-43 B. C. ) already maintainedthat the civitas was not just a random association of men, but that associationwhich was founded upon a consensus concering the law. 5 Alreadyin Cicero’s time we are near, therefore, to a civitas in which there is almost nothing of “political”in the Greek sense of the word. The juris societasis to the polis as a condition of depolitization would be to a condition of politization.

The cycle is completed with Seneca. For Seneca (4 B. C. -65A. D. ), and for the Stoic conception of the world in general,man is no longer a political animal but, on the contrary, a sociale animale. 6 Here we reach the antithesis of the Aristotelian conception, because the social animal of Seneca and of the Stoics is a man who has lost the polis, who withdraws from it, and who adapts himself for living-negatively more than positively-in a cosmopolis. The ancientworld concludes its cycle bequeathingto posterity not only the image of a political animal, but also the image of a social animal.

Yet these two representationsin no way foreshadow the disjunctionbetween the political and the social sphereswhich characterizeour time. The first difference is that the sociale animal does not coexist alongside the politicum animal. The two terms do not point to two facets of the same man, but to two anthropologicalviews which are mutually exclusive and replace one another.

The second difference-and the element that needs particularemphasis-is that in the discoursedevelopedthus far politics and politization have never been perceived vertically-i. e. , in an altimetric projection which associates the idea of politics with the idea of power, of command, and, in the final analysis, with a state superimposedupon society. Sartori / WHAT IS “POLITICS” [9] The point is that the verticalor hierarchicproblemis largelyextraneous to the discussion based on Greek nomenclature-polis, polites, politikos, politike, and politeia-to its Latin translation and to its medieval development.

The Greek title of what we know as The Republic of Plato was Politeia-an exact translationfor the world which thought in Latin, since res publica (republic) meant that which is public-i. e., “a common thing” and affair of the community. Res publica, Cicero noted, was res populi7-i. e. , a thing of the people. Likewise, Aristotle’s argumenton the good city (often referredto, erroneously,as the optimal “constitution”) was calculatedly rendered by its first medieval translatorsas de polit’a optima, and successively as de optima republica, all terms which are connected to a horizontal discourse. This horizontal idea goes into the English common weal and commonwealth,and is renderedtoday by the notion of common good, public good, and generalinterest.

For this very Preason, however, we misunderstand lato’s title, just as we misunderstand the use of res publica in the entire literaturefrom the Romans to Bodin (whose Six Livres de la Republiqueappearedin 1576). Havingbecome for us a form of state (a form opposed to monarchy),our republicis placedin that vertical dimension which was absent in the ideas of politeia, res publica,and common weal. This does not mean that we must wait until Machiavellior Bodin to discoverwhat I have called the verticaldimension-that is, the hierarchical structuring-a sub- and superordering-of associativelife.

It is quite clear that Plato did imply a verticality. But his ideal was sophocracy:the power of wisdom, not the power of power. And this was not the element received and transmitted by the Aristotelian tradition. 8 On the other hand, if Machiavelliis the first to use the word “state” in its modem sense,9 it is clear that the perception of verticality-today transfusedinto the notion of politics-goes all the way back, to say the least, to the Romanistic tradition. But this idea was not expressed by Greeknomenclature,by the word politics and its derivatives.

Until the seventeenth century, it was generally and variously expressed by such terms as principatus,regnum, ? dominium, and gubernaculum’ (more so than by such terms as potestas and imperium,which referredto legitimate power and were used within a juridicalframeof reference). For the medieval and renaissancewriters,whether they wrote in Latin, Italian, French, or English, the cominiumpoliticum was not “political”in our sense but in the sense of Aristotle: it was the “ideal city” of the polites, a res publica which served the good of the community and a res populi equally removed from the degenerations of democracy and of [10] POLITICALTHEORY / FEBRUARY 1973 tyranny.

In fact, medieval writers used dominium politicum as the opposite of dominium regale, and even more as the opposite of dominium despoticumn This is equivalent to saying that the adjective politicum referred to the horizontal vision, while such terms as royalty, despotism, and principality expressed the vertical dimension. Thus, the best way to translatethe idea of dominium politicuminto modem terminologywould be to say “the good society”-except that we are much more naive or optimistic in this respect than the medievalauthors.

We could also say that dominiumpoliticum refers to a “statelesssociety. ” But the caution would be, here, that the society in question is both a civilis societas and a iuris societas, and not just the unqualifiedand unfettered society spoken of in contemporarysociology. On the other hand, the term that symbolized more than any other the vertical focus-what we would consider the characteristicallypolitical discourse-that term is “Prince.

“It was no accident that I Principe(1513) was the title chosen by Machiavelli. De Regimine Principum (circa 1260-1269) had already been the title of Thomas(as well as of Egidiusof o Rome), while Marsilius f Padua(circa 1280-1343) had used principatusor pars principans to indicate the functions which we today call governmental, and might have labeled the kind of government described by a Machiavelli s a principatusdespoticus 1 The conclusion emergingfrom our sweepingsurveyis that the complex, tortuous history if the idea of politics transcendsat every point and in a thousand ways the word itself. ‘ 2 The politics of Aristotle was, at one and the same time, an anthropology, a conception of man indissolublylinked to the “space”of the polis.

With the collapse of the polis, the meaningof the political is variously diluted or turnedinto somethingdifferent. In one respect, politics became juridicized and evolved in the directionindicated by Roman thought. In another respect-on which I cannot dwell-the v things political became theologized, first conformingto the Christian iew of the world, then adapting to the strugglebetween the Papacy and the Empire, and finally reflecting the schism between Catholicism and Protestantism. In any case, the discourseof, and about, politics developsbeginning with Plato and Aristotle-as a discourse which is jointly and indissolubly ethicopolitical.

The ethics in question could be naturalistic, theological, or juridical-that is, an ethics that debates the problemof the “good” in terms of what is “just,” appealingto justice andjust laws. The doctrine of naturallaw, in its successivephases and versions, summarizes quite well this amalgam of juridical and moral norms (see Passerin d’Entreves, 1951). For these and still other reasons, there can be little Sartori / WHAT IS “POLITICS” [11] doubt that it is not until Machiavellithat politics attains a distinctive identity and “autonomy. ” THE A UTONOMY OF POLITICS.

Whenwe speak of the autonomy of politics, the concept of autonomy should not be understood in an absolute but rather in a relative sense. Moreover,four theses can be posited with respect to this notion: (1) that politics is different; (2) that it is independent-i. e. , that it adheresto its own laws; (3) that it is self-sufficient-i. e. , autarchicin the sense that it is sufficient for explaining itself; (4) that it is a first cause, generatingnot only itself, but, given its causal supremacy, everything else. Strictly speaking, the last thesis is an inference that exceeds the limits of the concept of autonomy.

It should also be noted that the second and third propositions often go together even if, rigorously speaking, the idea of autonomy must be distinguishedfrom the idea of autarchy. At any rate, the preliminary hesis is the first. t To say that politics is “different” amounts to stating a necessary,but not a sufficient, condition of its autonomy. Yet the rest of the argumentis conditioned by this point of-departure. Different from what? In what way? And to what degree? With Machiavelli (1469-1527), politics established itself as being different from morality and religion.

Here is a first, hard and fast separation. Morality and religion are indeed essential ingredients of politics, but as means to an end: they are instrumentalto politics. “If a Prince wants to maintain the state, he is often forced to do evil,” to act “against faith, against charity, againsthumanity, and againstreligion. “‘3 Politics is politics. But Machiavelli does not arrive at his “verita effettuale,” at the actual truth of things, because he is value-free or becausehe takes a nonnormativestand. Let alone the fact that Machiavelli is animatedby moralpassion,he prescribes o the “new” princethe proper t conduct necessary for the preservation or establishment of a state.

Machiavelli’sgreatest originality lies in asserting-with unparalleledtheoretical vigor-the existence of an imperativepeculiarto politics. Machiavelli not only declares the difference of politics from ethics, but also arrivesat a clear-cutaffirmationof its autonomy:politics has its laws, laws that the statesmanmust apply. In the above sense, therefore, it is correct to say that Machiavelli,not Aristotle,, “discoveredpolitics. ” Why Machiavelli? And for what reasons? [12] POLITICALTHEORY / FEBRUARY 1973.

His discovery can be hardly attributed to a “scientific” spirit (on this point, see Abbagnano, 1969; Olschki, 1969; Matteucci, 1970; generally, see Sasso, 1967, 1958). On the other hand, Machiavelliwas not a philosopher-and this is a major reasonwhy he achieved the directnessof vision possessed only by those who begin, or who start again, ex novo. Machiavelli “uncovered” what had been covered by the philosophical tradition. Thereforeto say that he was neither a philosophernor a scientist does not detract in the least from his stature, while it goes a long way toward explainingwhy he succeeds in discoveringpolitics.

The point can be highlightedby comparingMachiavelli nd Hobbes. a Hobbes (1588-1679) nears “pure”politics even more than Machiavelli. His prince, the Leviathan(1651), is the closest and direct precursorof the Big Brotherof Orwell: he creates a political order by his own fiat and by his power to create words, to define them, and to impose them upon his subjects. ‘The first truths,” writes Hobbes (1829-1845: I, 36), “were arbitrarilymade by those that first of all imposed names upon things. ” From this, Hobbesconcludes that political truths are like the arbitrary nd a conventional truths of geometry.

If the prince of Machiavelligoverns according to the rules of politics, the leviathan of Hobbes governs by creating these rules and by establishingwhat politics is. The world of man is infinitely manipulable, and the leviathan-the Grand Definer-is its absolute, ultimate manipulator. Actually, no one had ever propoundeda politicization as extreme as that of Hobbes. He not only asserts the absolute independence and self-sufficiency of politics, but affirms a “panpoliticism”in which everythingis reabsorbedin, and generatedby, i politics. If Machiavellinvokes “virtu,”Hobbes invokes nothing.

If in the of Machiavellione detects a moral passion, Hobbes writes as a pages detached reasoner coldly intent on constructing a perfect mechanical universe of bodies in motion. If Machiavellilooks upon religion as a buttress for politics, Hobbes gives his monarch-as Comte would latercontrol over religion. 14 Not only does Hobbes go beyond Machiavelliin affirminga “pure” politics that is all-pervasiveand all-causing;he is also far more scienceconscious. In the century or more that separatesthem, therehad appeared Bacon (1561-1626) and Galileo (1564-1642).

Moreover,Hobbeshad been exposed to the method of Descartes(1596-1650), his younger but more precocious contemporary. In its own way, then, Hobbes’ thought is pervaded by scientific spirit. His philosophical system is inspiredby the mechanistic conception of the universe,and his method-inspired by the model of geometry-flows from the logic of mathematics. At first sight, Sartori / WHAT IS “POLITICS” [13] therefore, we may be tempted to conclude that in Hobbes there exist all the necessary elements for the existence of a “science of politics.

” According to the canons of Cartesianphilosophy, Hobbes uses a scientific method. At the same time, he theorizes the most extreme form of autonomy of politics. If it pleases us, we could also add that Hobbes is value-free. Yet one speaks of Hobbes as being, unquestionably, a philosopher of politics, while Machiavelli is often recognized as the foundingfather of political science. Why is that? The answer need not be far-fetched. The element which separates science from philosophy is not afforded by the models of geometryand mathematics. Descarteswas a great mathematician,and Leibnizwas even a greater one.

Mathematics is a rigorous, deductive logic; whereas the sciences are not born of logical deduction but of induction, observation, and experiment. 15 Hobbes was not an observeror, better said, he was not satisfied by observation;he deduced more geometrico, as would, a little later, the purest example of a philosopher,Spinoza(1632-1677). Hobbes’ method, then, was rigorouslydeductive (see Cassirer,1911: vol. 2, ch. 3; Gargani, 1971). With this, everything is said. He did not describeand explain the real world. No one can dispute the philosophic greatnessof Hobbes. But his “science” is not science.

It follows that the autonomyof politics which interests us is not that formulatedby Hobbes. And the fact that Hobbes is more value-freethan Machiavelli s irrelevant o the matter. i t In conclusion, if there is as yet no science to be found in Machiavelli, the scientific spirit of Hobbes does not constitute a significantencounter between science and politics. On the other hand, and in particular,the discovery of the autonomy of politics cannot be attributed to a scientific method. THE DISCO VER Y OF SOCIETY Up to this point, I havehighlightedonly a first difference:that between politics and ethics, between Caesarand God.

This is a decisivestep, but, in retrospect, the simplest and the most obvious. The most difficult-so difficult that it still encumbersus-is to underpinthe differencebetween state and society. Thus far, we have not encountered the separation between the sphereof politics and the sphere of society. 6 Whendid the idea of society free itself from its multiple associations,thereby positing social reality as an independentand self-sufficientreality? “Society” is neitherdemos nor populus As a concrete, operatingactor, [14] POLITICAL THEORY / FEBRUARY 1973 the demos died with its “democracy”-that is, with the demise of the polis.

And since the Roman republicnever was a democracy,the populus of the Romans never was the demos of the Greeks (Wirszubski,1950). After the fall of the Republic, populus became a juridical fiction and substantiallyremaineda fictio iuristhroughoutthe literatureof the Middle Ages. On the other hand, Roman and medieval thought in no way expressedan autonomous idea of society. Society was qualified-let it be remembered-as a civilis societas and a iuris societas. To these amalgams, i medieval thought added its own strong “organicist”characterization, n such a way as to reorganize society into an articulate multiplicity of “bodies”: fiefs, estates, and corporations-a tightly interwoven world regulatedby the principlethat each mn should live accordingto his status

. The breakdown of this organic, corporate network took place very slowly. It is very telling, for example,that the idea of society had no place in the sixteenth-centuryliteraturewhich upheld the right of resistanceand a rebellion againstthe tyrant. For the Monarchomachs, s well as for Calvin and Althusius,it was neither the peoplenor the society who counterposed and opposed the power of the tyrant, but individuals or specific institutions, such as a church, local assemblies,or particularmagistrates.

Similarly,the EnglishRevolutionwas not a revolutionin the name and for the sake of the rights of society. Rather, the Great Rebellion, brought back to life-that is, to concreteness-the fictio iuris of the people. It was not by chance, in fact, that the first writer to theorize about the rights of the majority and majorityrule-a rule which gives the notion of the people operational meaning and capacity-was Locke, who wrote at the end of the seventeenth century (see Kendall, 1941). Locke is also credited, to be sure, with the first formulationof the idea of society.

But this idea is more appropriatelyattributed,I believe, to the contractualist doctrine as a whole, and especiallyto the distinction that it posits between pactum subiectionis and pactum societatis, between the (vertical)agreement to obey and the (horizontal)agreementto coexist. In truth, the idea of society is not an idea that is bor and strengthenedduringrevolutionary times. Rather, it is a “peaceful” idea that arises along the contractualist development of the school of naturallaw. It is not the revolt againstthe sovereign,but the “contract”with the sovereign,which is stipulatedin the name of a contractor called society.

Nonetheless this “allbody,” this society which assertsthe “socialcontract,”still is a juridicalfiction. The truth of the matter is that the autonomy of society with respectto the state can hardly be conceived unless another, prior separationtakes place-that of the economic sphere. The separation of the social sphere Sartori / WHAT IS “POLITICS” [15] from the body politic occurs through the outgrowth of economics from politics. This is the main stream. Today sociologists in search of an t ancestor quote Montesquieu(1689-1755).

‘7 But it is more appropriateo cite Adam Smith (1723-1790), and perhaps to ascend throughSmith to Hume (see Bryson, 1945; Cropsey, 1957: esp. ch. 1). It was the economists-Smith, Ricardo, and the laissez fairetheoristsin general-who demonstratedthat social life prospers and develops when the state does not intervene,who demonstratedhow social life finds its own principleof organizationin the division of labor, thereby indicatingthat social life is largely extraneousto the state and neither regulatedby its rulesnor by the law.

Economiclaws arenot juridicallaws-they are the laws of the market. And the market is a spontaneous automatism, a mechanism which functions on its own. The economists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuriesfurnished,then, the tangible image of a social realitycapableof o self-regulation, f a society which lives and develops accordingto its own nature. And this is the route through which society becomes self-conscious, or, putting it less philosophically, comes to perceive its own identity. All this is not meant to deny that Montesquieutoo is a precursor f the o discovery of society.

But he was preceded by the inklingsof Locke; and the list of the anticipatorsis a lengthy one, for it should include liberal constitutionalismin general. All these precursorsare such, however,in an indirect and inconclusive fashion. Clearly, the more one reduces the discretion and the space of the absolute state, and the more one obtains the “limited state,” the greaterthe space and legitimacyleft for extrastate life. But political liberalism(i. e. , constitutionalism)could not and did not have the shatteringforce of economic “liberalism” on this distinction,see (

Sartori, 1965: 361-362). This is so because political liberalismwants the society to be regulatedand protected by law. Just as liberalism-classic liberalism,to be sure-concerns itself with neutralizing ure politics, in an p analogousway it sees a “pure” society as an exposed, unprotected,and defenseless society. The society of Montesquieuwas always, in its own way, a iuris societas. The laissez faire economists did not have this problem. They had the opposite problemof breakingthe bonds and fetters of medievalcorporatism.

It is only in the approachof the economists, therefore, that society is all the more authentic and more it is spontaneous-that is, the freer of political interferenceand of legal restraints. True enough, the “spontaneous society” of the economists was only the economic society-a part, not the whole. Yet the example and the model of the economic society was [16] POLITICALTHEORY / FEBRUARY 1973 easily extendableto the society in general. The premisesfor the discovery i of society as an autonomous reality did not exist, then, in Machiavelli,n or in the Encyclopedists;they were laid down in full only at Montesquieu,the start of the nineteenth century. ‘8 Withthe Industrial ystem of Saint S Simon (1770-1825), which appears in three volumes in 1821-1822, we have the first,propheticforecast of the industrialsociety of the second haf of the twentieth century. By that time, society becomes an object of an independent science, which is no longer economics, and which Comte (1798-1857) christens “sociology. ” And Comte does not restricthimself to the baptismof the new science of society: he also proclaimssociology the queen of all sciences.

Society is perceivednot only as a “socialsystem” whic