This Week and Next on Freedom and Social Control

Don’t you wish you could take this class? This is what my students are reflecting on next week in Freedom and Social Control (Democracy and Justice Studies, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay):

What are Max Weber’s views on politics, the state, and violence? Why, according to Weber, is capitalism different from previous societal systems? What is the Protestant Ethic? What is its logic? According to Weber’s rationalization thesis, what is distinctive to Western society and increasingly dominating the world? What did Weber mean when he described modern bureaucratic society as an “iron cage” or a “steel casing”? What role does the Protestant Ethic play in all this?

There is a reading in this module by George Ritzer, “Ritzer McDonaldization and its Precursors” that discusses rationalization and the Holocaust. This is the reading associated with Zygmunt Bauman and his history of the Holocaust, which depends a great deal on Weber’s analysis, which I covered in the lecture on irrationality, authoritarianism, and war. Ritzer organizes his argument with four principles of rationalization: efficiency, calculability, predictability, and control. This helps to understand Frederick Taylor and scientific management.

Many social theorists posit that these irrational and freedom-suppressing developments are inherent in a capitalist system, whether its form is liberal or state capitalist. This was Weber’s position. This view is reflected in the scholars associated with the Frankfurt School discussed in lecture: Walter Benjamin, Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, Franz Neumann, and Herbert Marcuse. Be familiar with these ideas. They would make for an interesting reflection essay.

Related to the previous paragraph, what is the connection between bureaucracy, corporatism, and fascism? For instance, what is the relationship between authoritarian capitalism and war? What does Benjamin say about this? I discuss the work of Sheldon Wolin’s in his landmark work Democracy Inc. What is the difference between totalitarianism and inverted totalitarianism? Be able to recognize C. Wright Mills and his notion of The Power Elite.

One view especially emphasized in lecture is that of Erich Fromm, who distinguished between negative and positive freedom, describing the causes of and nature of the “escape from freedom” that plagues liberal societies, manifesting itself in authoritarianism and fascism. Be familiar with Fromm’s argument. A reflection essay connecting this to the first module and then discussing the various things from the previous paragraphs would make for an interesting reflection essay.

And you thought I was a crazy conspiracy theorist. But, really, I’m just a run-of-the-mill sociologist. If you didn’t learn this sort of stuff from your sociology teachers, then you were cheated.

Here’s what students are reflecting on this week: 

George Orwell wrote two novels that are widely read and serve as powerful critiques of totalitarianism. Animal Farm is a fable that works as an allegory. What group do the animals represent? What group do humans represent? Who does Old Major represent? What is his argument? How do Napoleon, Snowball, and Squealer develop his ideas into a complete system of thought? Who does Napoleon likely represent? Snowball is almost certain which historical figure? What methods do the pigs use to control the other animals? Who is mollie and what does she represent? What does it mean that, at the end, the other animals cannot tell the pigs apart from the humans?

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell tells the story of a terrifying dystopia in which the West is organized under a socialist government where thought and knowledge are centrally controlled by the Party. Although you may not have read this book, your teacher summarizes it in a video lecture. What are the four ministries that run society? Why do they carry names that represent the opposite of what they actually do? What is the significance of “2+2=5”? Why is it do important to control the telling of history? Why is it so important to control language?

Edward Bernays is famous for developing the concept the “engineering of consent.” Walter Lippmann also identified the concept, calling it “manufacturing consent.” What do they believe about democracy? According to Noam Chomsky, the actual functions of the mass media are to control of the masses through the systematic use of propaganda and persuade people to consume more goods and services sold by business. But it does more than that. What else is propaganda for? What are the “filters” in Noam Chomsky’s propaganda model? What do we mean when we say there is a “media monopoly”?

Crazy, right?

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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