Werner Sombart

Werner Sombart

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Werner Sombart was a German
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 economist
Economics
Economics is the social science that analyzes the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. The term economics comes from the Ancient Greek from + , hence "rules of the house"...

 and sociologist
Sociology
Sociology is the study of society. It is a social science—a term with which it is sometimes synonymous—which uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about human social activity...

, the head of the “Youngest Historical School
Historical school of economics
The Historical school of economics was an approach to academic economics and to public administration that emerged in 19th century in Germany, and held sway there until well into the 20th century....

” and one of the leading Continental European social scientists during the first quarter of the 20th century.

Early career, socialism and economics


He was born in Ermsleben, Harz, as the son of a wealthy liberal politician, industrialist, and estate-owner, Anton Ludwig Sombart, and studied at the universities of Pisa
Pisa
Pisa is a city in Tuscany, Central Italy, on the right bank of the mouth of the River Arno on the Tyrrhenian Sea. It is the capital city of the Province of Pisa...

, Berlin
Berlin
Berlin is the capital city of Germany and is one of the 16 states of Germany. With a population of 3.45 million people, Berlin is Germany's largest city. It is the second most populous city proper and the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union...

, and Rome
Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

, both law
Law
Law is a system of rules and guidelines which are enforced through social institutions to govern behavior, wherever possible. It shapes politics, economics and society in numerous ways and serves as a social mediator of relations between people. Contract law regulates everything from buying a bus...

 and economics
Economics
Economics is the social science that analyzes the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. The term economics comes from the Ancient Greek from + , hence "rules of the house"...

. In 1888, he received his Ph.D.
Doctor of Philosophy
Doctor of Philosophy, abbreviated as Ph.D., PhD, D.Phil., or DPhil , in English-speaking countries, is a postgraduate academic degree awarded by universities...

 from Berlin under the direction of Gustav von Schmoller
Gustav von Schmoller
Gustav von Schmoller was the leader of the "younger" German historical school of economics.-Life:Schmoller was born in Heilbronn. His father was a Württemberg civil servant. Young Schmoller studied Staatswissenschaften at the University of Tübingen...

 and Adolph Wagner
Adolph Wagner
Adolph Wagner was a German economist and politician, a leading Kathedersozialist and public finance scholar and advocate of Agrarianism...

, then the most eminent German economists.
One of his daughters, Clara was married to Hans Gerhard Creutzfeldt
Hans Gerhard Creutzfeldt
Hans Gerhard Creutzfeldt was a German neuropathologist, who first described the Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. He was born in Harburg upon Elbe and died in Munich.-Biography:...

, who first described the Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease or CJD is a degenerative neurological disorder that is incurable and invariably fatal. CJD is at times called a human form of mad cow disease, given that bovine spongiform encephalopathy is believed to be the cause of variant Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease in humans.CJD...

.

As an economist and especially as a social activist, Sombart was then seen as radically left-wing, and so only received—after some practical work as head lawyer of the Bremen Chamber of Commerce
Chamber of commerce
A chamber of commerce is a form of business network, e.g., a local organization of businesses whose goal is to further the interests of businesses. Business owners in towns and cities form these local societies to advocate on behalf of the business community...

—a junior professorship at the out-of-the-way University of Breslau. Although faculties at such eminent universities as Heidelberg
Heidelberg
-Early history:Between 600,000 and 200,000 years ago, "Heidelberg Man" died at nearby Mauer. His jaw bone was discovered in 1907; with scientific dating, his remains were determined to be the earliest evidence of human life in Europe. In the 5th century BC, a Celtic fortress of refuge and place of...

 and Freiburg
Freiburg
Freiburg im Breisgau is a city in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. In the extreme south-west of the country, it straddles the Dreisam river, at the foot of the Schlossberg. Historically, the city has acted as the hub of the Breisgau region on the western edge of the Black Forest in the Upper Rhine Plain...

 called him on chairs, the respective governments always vetoed this. Sombart, at that time, was an important Marxian, someone who used and interpreted Karl Marx
Karl Marx
Karl Heinrich Marx was a German philosopher, economist, sociologist, historian, journalist, and revolutionary socialist. His ideas played a significant role in the development of social science and the socialist political movement...

—to the point that Friedrich Engels
Friedrich Engels
Friedrich Engels was a German industrialist, social scientist, author, political theorist, philosopher, and father of Marxist theory, alongside Karl Marx. In 1845 he published The Condition of the Working Class in England, based on personal observations and research...

 called him the only German professor who understood Das Kapital
Das Kapital
Das Kapital, Kritik der politischen Ökonomie , by Karl Marx, is a critical analysis of capitalism as political economy, meant to reveal the economic laws of the capitalist mode of production, and how it was the precursor of the socialist mode of production.- Themes :In Capital: Critique of...

. Sombart called himself a "convinced Marxist".

Sombart was not the first sociologist to devote a whole book to the concept of social movement
Social movement
Social movements are a type of group action. They are large informal groupings of individuals or organizations focused on specific political or social issues, in other words, on carrying out, resisting or undoing a social change....

 in his 1896 published Sozialismus und soziale Bewegung. His understanding of social movements is inspired by a book on social movements by Lorenz von Stein
Lorenz von Stein
Lorenz von Stein was a German economist, sociologist, and public administration scholar from Eckernförde. As an advisor to Meiji period Japan, his conservative political views influenced the wording of the Constitution of the Empire of Japan.- Biography :Stein was born in the seaside town of Borby...

 and Marx. For him, the raising worker’s movement was a result of the inherent contradictions of capitalism
Capitalism
Capitalism is an economic system that became dominant in the Western world following the demise of feudalism. There is no consensus on the precise definition nor on how the term should be used as a historical category...

. The proletarian situation created a “love for the mass”, which together with the tendency “to a communistic way of life” in social production were the prime features of the social movement.

In 1902, his magnum opus, Der moderne Kapitalismus, appeared in two volumes (he expanded the work in 1916, and added a third volume in 1927, all three volumes where then split into semi-volumes for a total of six books). It is a systematic history of economics and economic development through the centuries and very much a work of the Historical School. Although later much disparaged by neo-classical
Neoclassical economics
Neoclassical economics is a term variously used for approaches to economics focusing on the determination of prices, outputs, and income distributions in markets through supply and demand, often mediated through a hypothesized maximization of utility by income-constrained individuals and of profits...

 economists, and much criticized in specific points, it is still today a standard work with important ramifications for, e.g., the Annales school
Annales School
The Annales School is a group of historians associated with a style of historiography developed by French historians in the 20th century. It is named after its scholarly journal Annales d'histoire économique et sociale, which remains the main source of scholarship, along with many books and...

(Fernand Braudel
Fernand Braudel
Fernand Braudel was a French historian and a leader of the Annales School. His scholarship focused on three main projects, each representing several decades of intense study: The Mediterranean , Civilization and Capitalism , and the unfinished Identity of France...

).

In 1906, Sombart accepted a call to a full professorship at the Berlin School of Commerce, an inferior institution to Breslau but closer to political “action” than Breslau. Here, inter alia, companion volumes to Modern Capitalism dealing with luxury, fashion, and war as economic paradigms appeared; especially the former two are the key works on the subject until today. In 1906 his Why is there no Socialism in the United States? also appeared. The book is a famous work on American exceptionalism
Exceptionalism
Exceptionalism is the perception that a country, society, institution, movement, or time period is "exceptional" in some way and thus does not need to conform to normal rules or general principles...

 in this respect to this day.

Sombart's 1911 book, Die Juden und das Wirtschaftsleben (The Jews and Modern Capitalism), is an addition to Max Weber
Max Weber
Karl Emil Maximilian "Max" Weber was a German sociologist and political economist who profoundly influenced social theory, social research, and the discipline of sociology itself...

's historic study of the connection between Protestantism
Protestantism
Protestantism is one of the three major groupings within Christianity. It is a movement that began in Germany in the early 16th century as a reaction against medieval Roman Catholic doctrines and practices, especially in regards to salvation, justification, and ecclesiology.The doctrines of the...

 (especially Calvinism
Calvinism
Calvinism is a Protestant theological system and an approach to the Christian life...

) and Capitalism
Capitalism
Capitalism is an economic system that became dominant in the Western world following the demise of feudalism. There is no consensus on the precise definition nor on how the term should be used as a historical category...

, with Sombart documenting Jewish involvement in historic capitalist development. He argued that Jewish traders and manufacturers, excluded from the guilds, developed a distinctive antipathy to the fundamentals of medieval commerce. These were primitive and unprogressive: the desire for 'just' (and fixed) wages and prices, for an equitable system in which shares of the market were agreed and unchanging, profits and livelihoods modest but guaranteed, and limits placed on production. Excluded from the system, Sombart argued, the Jews broke it up and replaced it with modern capitalism, in which competition was unlimited and pleasing the customer was the only law. Paul Johnson, who considers the work "a remarkable book", notes that Sombart left out some inconvenient truths, and ignored the powerful mystical elements of Judaism. He refused to recognize, as Weber did, that wherever these religious systems, including Judaism, were at their most powerful and authoritarian, commerce did not flourish. Jewish businessmen, like Calvinist ones, tended to operate most successfully when they had left their traditional religious environment and moved on to fresher pastures. When it first appeared, the book was seen as philosemitic
Philo-Semitism
Philo-Semitism or Judeophilia is an interest in, respect for, and appreciation of the Jewish people, their historical significance and the positive impacts of Judaism in the history of the western world, in particular, generally on the part of a gentile...

 in presentation, but several more recent Jewish scholars have described it as antisemitic
Anti-Semitism
Antisemitism is suspicion of, hatred toward, or discrimination against Jews for reasons connected to their Jewish heritage. According to a 2005 U.S...

, at least in its effect.

Middle career and sociology


Finally, in 1917, Sombart became professor at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität, then the pre-eminent university in Europe if not in the world, succeeding his mentor Adolph Wagner
Adolph Wagner
Adolph Wagner was a German economist and politician, a leading Kathedersozialist and public finance scholar and advocate of Agrarianism...

. He remained on the chair until 1931 but continued teaching until 1940. During that period, he was also one of the leading sociologists around, much more prominent than his friend Max Weber
Max Weber
Karl Emil Maximilian "Max" Weber was a German sociologist and political economist who profoundly influenced social theory, social research, and the discipline of sociology itself...

, who later of course eclipsed him to the point that Sombart is virtually forgotten in that field by now. Sombart's insistence on Sociology as a part of the Humanities
Humanities
The humanities are academic disciplines that study the human condition, using methods that are primarily analytical, critical, or speculative, as distinguished from the mainly empirical approaches of the natural sciences....

 (Geisteswissenschaften), necessarily so because it dealt with human beings and therefore required inside, empathic "Verstehen" rather than the outside, objectivizing "Begreifen" (both German words translate as "understanding" into English), became extremely unpopular already during his lifetime, because it was the opposite of the "scientification" of the social sciences, in the tradition of Auguste Comte
Auguste Comte
Isidore Auguste Marie François Xavier Comte , better known as Auguste Comte , was a French philosopher, a founder of the discipline of sociology and of the doctrine of positivism...

, Émile Durkheim
Émile Durkheim
David Émile Durkheim was a French sociologist. He formally established the academic discipline and, with Karl Marx and Max Weber, is commonly cited as the principal architect of modern social science and father of sociology.Much of Durkheim's work was concerned with how societies could maintain...

 and Weber
Max Weber
Karl Emil Maximilian "Max" Weber was a German sociologist and political economist who profoundly influenced social theory, social research, and the discipline of sociology itself...

 (although this is a misunderstanding; Weber largely shared Sombart's views in these matters), which became fashionable during this time and has more or less remained so until today. However, because Sombart's approach has much in common with Hans-Georg Gadamer
Hans-Georg Gadamer
Hans-Georg Gadamer was a German philosopher of the continental tradition, best known for his 1960 magnum opus, Truth and Method .-Life:...

's Hermeneutics, which likewise is a Verstehen-based approach to understanding the world, he is coming back in some sociological and even philosophical circles that are sympathetic to that approach and critical towards the scientification of the world. Sombart's key sociological essays are collected in his posthumous 1956 work, Noo-Soziologie.

Late career and National Socialism


During the Weimar Republic
Weimar Republic
The Weimar Republic is the name given by historians to the parliamentary republic established in 1919 in Germany to replace the imperial form of government...

, Sombart moved toward nationalism
Nationalism
Nationalism is a political ideology that involves a strong identification of a group of individuals with a political entity defined in national terms, i.e. a nation. In the 'modernist' image of the nation, it is nationalism that creates national identity. There are various definitions for what...

, and his relation to Nazism
Nazism
Nazism, the common short form name of National Socialism was the ideology and practice of the Nazi Party and of Nazi Germany...

 is still debated today.

In 1934 he published Deutscher Sozialismus where he claimed a "new spirit" was beginning to "rule mankind". The age of capitalism and proletarian socialism was over and with "German socialism" (National-Socialism
Nazism
Nazism, the common short form name of National Socialism was the ideology and practice of the Nazi Party and of Nazi Germany...

) taking over. This German socialism puts the "welfare of the whole above the welfare of the individual". German socialism must effect a "total ordering of life" with a "planned economy
Planned economy
A planned economy is an economic system in which decisions regarding production and investment are embodied in a plan formulated by a central authority, usually by a government agency...

 in accordance with state regulations". The new legal system will confer on individuals "no rights but only duties" and that "the state should never evaluate individual persons as such, but only the group which represents these persons". German socialism is accompanied by the Volksgeist (national spirit) which is not racial in the biological sense but metaphysical
Metaphysics
Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world, although the term is not easily defined. Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms:...

: "the German spirit in a Negro
Negro
The word Negro is used in the English-speaking world to refer to a person of black ancestry or appearance, whether of African descent or not...

 is quite as much within the realm of possibility as the Negro spirit in a German". The antithesis of the German spirit is the Jewish spirit, which is not a matter of being born Jewish or believing in Judaism
Judaism
Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

 but is a capitalistic spirit. The English people
English people
The English are a nation and ethnic group native to England, who speak English. The English identity is of early mediaeval origin, when they were known in Old English as the Anglecynn. England is now a country of the United Kingdom, and the majority of English people in England are British Citizens...

 possess the Jewish spirit and the "chief task" of the German people and National Socialism is to destroy the Jewish spirit.

However, his 1938 anthropology
Anthropology
Anthropology is the study of humanity. It has origins in the humanities, the natural sciences, and the social sciences. The term "anthropology" is from the Greek anthrōpos , "man", understood to mean mankind or humanity, and -logia , "discourse" or "study", and was first used in 1501 by German...

 book, Vom Menschen, is clearly anti-Nazi, and was indeed hindered in publication and distribution by the Nazis. In his attitude towards the Nazis, he is often likened to Martin Heidegger
Martin Heidegger
Martin Heidegger was a German philosopher known for his existential and phenomenological explorations of the "question of Being."...

 as well as his younger friend and colleague Carl Schmitt
Carl Schmitt
Carl Schmitt was a German jurist, philosopher, political theorist, and professor of law.Schmitt published several essays, influential in the 20th century and beyond, on the mentalities that surround the effective wielding of political power...

, but it is clear that, while the latter two tried to be the vanguard thinkers for the Third Reich in their field and only became critical when they were too individualistic and elbowed out from their power positions, Sombart was always much more ambivalent. Sombart had many, indeed more than the typical proportion, of Jewish students, most of whom felt moderately positive about him after the war, although he clearly was no hero nor resistance fighter.

Sombart today


Sombart's legacy today is difficult to ascertain, because the alleged Nazi affiliations have made an objective reevaluation difficult (while his earlier Socialist ones harmed him with the more bourgeois circles), especially in Germany
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

. As has been stated, in economic history
Economic history
Economic history is the study of economies or economic phenomena in the past. Analysis in economic history is undertaken using a combination of historical methods, statistical methods and by applying economic theory to historical situations and institutions...

, his "Modern Capitalism" is regarded as a milestone and inspiration, although many details have been questioned. Key insights from his economic work concern the - recently again validated - discovery of the emergence of double-entry accounting as a key precondition for Capitalism
Capitalism
Capitalism is an economic system that became dominant in the Western world following the demise of feudalism. There is no consensus on the precise definition nor on how the term should be used as a historical category...

 and the interdisciplinary study of the City
City
A city is a relatively large and permanent settlement. Although there is no agreement on how a city is distinguished from a town within general English language meanings, many cities have a particular administrative, legal, or historical status based on local law.For example, in the U.S...

 in the sense of urban studies. Like Weber, Sombart makes double-entry bookkeeping an important component of modern capitalism. He wrote in "Medieval and Modern Commercial Enterprise" that "The very concept of capital
Capital (economics)
In economics, capital, capital goods, or real capital refers to already-produced durable goods used in production of goods or services. The capital goods are not significantly consumed, though they may depreciate in the production process...

 is derived from this way of looking at things; one can say that capital, as a category, did not exist before double-entry bookkeeping. Capital can be defined as that amount of wealth which is used in making profits and which enters into the accounts." He also coined the term and concept of creative destruction
Creative destruction
Creative destruction is a term originally derived from Marxist economic theory which refers to the linked processes of the accumulation and annihilation of wealth under capitalism. These processes were first described in The Communist Manifesto and were expanded in Marx's Grundrisse and "Volume...

 which is a key ingredient of Joseph Schumpeter
Joseph Schumpeter
Joseph Alois Schumpeter was an Austrian-Hungarian-American economist and political scientist. He popularized the term "creative destruction" in economics.-Life:...

's theory of innovation
Innovation
Innovation is the creation of better or more effective products, processes, technologies, or ideas that are accepted by markets, governments, and society...

 (Schumpeter actually borrowed much from Sombart, not always with proper reference). In Sociology, mainstream proponents still regard Sombart as a 'minor figure' and his sociological theory an oddity; today it is more philosophical sociologists and culturologists who, together with heterodox economists, use his work. Sombart has always been very popular in Japan
Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

.

One of the reasons of a lack of reception in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 is that most of his works were for a long time not translated into English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 - in spite of, and excluding, as far as the reception is concerned, the classic study on Why there is no Socialism in America.

However, in recent years sociologists have shown renewed interest in Sombart's work.

Works by Sombart

  • Sombart, Werner (1905) [1896]: Sozialismus und soziale Bewegung. Jena: Verlag von Gustav Fischer. English translation: Socialism and the Social Movement in the 19th Century, New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1898.
  • Sombart, Werner (1906): Das Proletariat. Bilder und Studien. Die Gesellschaft, vol. 1. Berlin: Rütten & Loening.
  • Sombart, Werner (1906): Warum gibt es in den Vereinigten Staaten keinen Sozialismus? Tübingen: Mohr. Several English translations, incl. (1976): Why is there No Socialism in the United States. New York: Sharpe.
  • Sombart, Werner (1911): Die Juden und das Wirtschaftsleben. Leipzig: Duncker. Translated into English: The Jews and Modern Capitalism., Batoche Books, Kitchener, 2001.
  • Sombart, Werner: Der moderne Kapitalismus. Historisch-systematische Darstellung des gesamteuropäischen Wirtschaftslebens von seinen Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart. Final edn. 1928, repr. 1969, paperback edn. (3 vols. in 6): 1987 Munich: dtv. (Also in Spanish; no English translation yet.)
  • Sombart, Werner (1913): Krieg und Kapitalismus. München: Duncker & Humblot, 1913.
  • Sombart, Werner (1913): Der Bourgeois. München und Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot, 1913.
  • Sombart, Werner (1913): Luxus und Kapitalismus. München: Duncker & Humblot, 1922. English translation: Luxury and capitalism. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
  • Sombart, Werner (1934): Deutscher Sozialismus. Charlottenburg: Buchholz & Weisswange. English translation (1937, 1969): A New Social Philosophy. New York: Greenwood.
  • Sombart, Werner (1938): Vom Menschen. Versuch einer geisteswissenschaftlichen Anthropologie. Berlin: Duncker & Humblot.
  • Sombart, Werner (1956): Noo-Soziologie. Berlin: Duncker & Humblot.
  • Sombart, Werner (2001): Economic Life in the Modern Age. Reiner Grundmann, eds. New Brunswick: Transaction. (New English translations of key articles and chapters by Sombart, including (1906) in full and the segment defining Capitalism from (1916))

Works about Sombart

  • Appel, Michael (1992): Werner Sombart: Historiker und Theoretiker des modernen Kapitalismus. Marburg: Metropolis.
  • Backhaus, Jürgen G. (1996), ed. Werner Sombart (1863-1941): Social Scientist. 3 vols. Marburg: Metropolis. (The standard, all-encompassing work on Sombart in English.)
  • Backhaus, Jürgen G. (2000), ed. Werner Sombart (1863-1941): Klassiker der Sozialwissenschaft. Eine kritische Bestandsaufnahme. Marburg: Metropolis.
  • Brocke, Bernhard vom (1987), ed.: Sombarts Moderner Kapitalismus. Materialien zur Kritik und Rezeption. München: dtv
  • Drechsler, W. "Zu Werner Sombarts Theorie der Soziologie und zu seiner Biographie", in Werner Sombart: Klassiker der Sozialwissenschaft. Eine kritische Bestandsaufnahme, Marburg: Metropolis, 2000, pp. 83–100.
  • Lenger, Friedrich (1994): Werner Sombart, 1863-1941. Eine Biographie. München: Beck.
  • Muller, Jerry Z., 2002. The Mind and the Market: Capitalism in Western Thought. Anchor Books.
  • Nussbaum, Frederick Louis (1933): A History of the Economic Institutions of Modern Europe: An Introduction of 'Der Moderne Kapitalismus' of Werner Sombart. New York: Crofts.
  • Sombart, Nicolaus
    Nicolaus Sombart
    Nicolaus Sombart was a German cultural sociologist, historian and writer.The son of Werner Sombart and his Romanian wife Corina Leon. Sombart was known, in particular, as an analyst of Wilhelmine Germany and a critique of Carl Schmitt...

     (1991): Jugend in Berlin, 1933-1943. Ein Bericht. Frankfurt/Main: Fischer.
  • Sombart, Nicolaus
    Nicolaus Sombart
    Nicolaus Sombart was a German cultural sociologist, historian and writer.The son of Werner Sombart and his Romanian wife Corina Leon. Sombart was known, in particular, as an analyst of Wilhelmine Germany and a critique of Carl Schmitt...

      (1991): Die deutschen Männer und ihre Feinde. Carl Schmitt
    Carl Schmitt
    Carl Schmitt was a German jurist, philosopher, political theorist, and professor of law.Schmitt published several essays, influential in the 20th century and beyond, on the mentalities that surround the effective wielding of political power...

     - ein deutsches Schicksal zwischen Männerbund und Matriachatsmythos.
    Munich: Hanser.

External links