Sociology and Classical Liberalism

Estefanía Campos  | 08 de julio de 2019  | Vistas: 551

Charlotta Stern, who makes research on social networks and defines herself as an empirical sociologist, gives an introduction to some of the most important classical liberal sociologists: Herbert Spencer, Harriet Martineau y William Graham Sumner and explains the current situation of classical liberal sociology ideas

Stern talks about the situation today of sociology, and shows how Marxist sociology, critical theory and public sociology are well represented in academic digital sources, in comparison to liberal tradition of sociology, that in her opinion is forgotten because there is not enough information available.

It’s slightly more common that people talk and write about marxist sociology than classical liberal sociology”.

Herbert Spencer on one side, wrote three volumes of the Principles of Sociology (1874 - 75) and also The Man versus the State (1884), explains Charlotta. He wrote about sociology as an evolutionary process and contrasted it to industrial society. Harriet Martineau in her books explained why slavery is unsustainable and spells out a classic case against government regulation as a threat to rule of law. Finally she talks about William Graham Sumner who wrote A Study of the Sociological Importance of Usages, Manners, Customs, Mores and Morals (1906).

Three examples, al sociologists, all classical liberals, all seldom covered in textbooks”.

Afterwards the sociologists argues that liberal ideas are presented as a historical tradition or step on the evolution to social democracy; the only liberal who has survived is Max Weber, but his liberal ideas are ignored. Stern goes into Weber’s ideas on historical school of economics and hermeneutical tradition and explains the other reasons why liberal ideas had been left behind.

One idea that I think is worth re exploring is evolutionary thinking; we should go back to Spencer and Sumner and study what they were thinking when they were talking about societies evolving”.

Charlotta then talks about Shils’ concept of civility, Adam Smith’s Social Distance Theory of Sympathy, individualism and social cohesion and social instincts of human kind. Finally concludes that all liberal sociologists were defenders of individualism and they would study virtues, tradition and culture. Also describes some of the benefits of classical liberalism.


Sociology professor, Stockholm University


Nuestra misión es la enseñanza y difusión de los principios éticos, jurídicos y económicos de una sociedad de personas libres y responsables.

Universidad Francisco Marroquín