TOWARD SOCIAL HOPE by Theodore Caplow


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Caplow's premise is that ""history can only be understood as the outcome of deliberate human projects."" This is a fruitful point of departure (though he wrongly counterposes it to a ""Marxist"" theory of ""blind forces""). The book compiles evaluations of programs, especially in and after the New Deal. In the initial overview Caplow, who heads the sociology department at the University of Virginia, bypasses the magnificent ""projects"" of the Italian Renaissance and starts with relatively narrow and anti-humanistic Britons. But the main problem is the classic flaw of pragmatism -- how does one judge ""success?"" Who defines ""social improvement?"" In appraising the U.S. efforts of the 1930's, for example, Caplow calls business regulation an ""overall success"" because it accomplished the goal of ""continuation of an established system of business minus the practices which exposed it to serious public criticism."" This raises factual problems: Caplow himself concedes that the regulators merged with the regulated. And did the agencies abolish certain practices or hide them? Mainly Caplow begs the question of the desirability of maintaining that ""established system."" The major flaw he finds in the success of industrial mediation is its inability to cut wages. Thus when he refers to a good society as one with a high convergence of private and collective interests, the reader is entitled to blink. His conclusion: ""It is quite possible to shape the social system according to our desires if the project is framed according to the elementary logic of technology and takes account of what is already known about social systems and methods of changing them."" The response comes: ""What do you mean, our desires?"" Caplow's ""we"" is suspect because of firm memories of 20th century ""projects"" which involved high technology, a studied desire for change, and wars which slaughtered millions.

Pub Date: March 21st, 1975
Publisher: Basic Books