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New Left Review I/8, March-April 1961

Norman Birnbaum

The Demon of the Concrete

max weber, born in 1864 and died in 1920, is generally regarded as the greatest of modern sociologists. This received opinion is piously affirmed, even by those whose command of the original texts and their sources in intellectual and social history is limited. But Weber’s work has exerted little influence on the social sciences in this country. (The situation in the USA is different.) Piety, apparently, has served as a substitute for comprehension. There is little point in re-animating those hobgobblins so familiar to all right-thinking left-wing social scientists: the lamentable (if recent) isolation of the British from Continental thought, the philistine complacency of those for whom complex ideas constitute the moral equivalent of greasy cooking, the nervous patrol mounted on academic boundaries by minds of pop-gun calibre. The reasons for the deficiency are far more profound. They affect men of honesty, talent, and vision no less than that minority of pedants whose chief activity is the celebration of their own short-sightedness as a new form of omniscence.

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Norman Birnbaum, ‘The Demon of the Concrete’, NLR I/8: £3

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