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Commentary on the Debate

Author(s): Anthony Giddens


Source: Theory and Society, Vol. 11, No. 4 (Jul., 1982), pp. 527-539
Published by: Springer
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527

COMMENTARY ON THE DEBATE

ANTHONYGIDDENS

This is not an easy debate upon which to comment, for each of the articlesin
some part sidesteps the chief concerns of the others.' Jon Elster's article,
which is a substantialone, refers to "Marxism"in its title and in sections of
its discussion. But, so far as I can see, Elster's critique of functionalismand
his advocacy of game theory have no necessary relationto Marxism.He may
appeal to a range of examples drawn from Marxist thought, but there is
nothing in what he says that could not be applied across the whole rangeof
the social sciences, Marxistand non-Marxist.Cohen's "Reply," on the other
hand, which is relatively slight, is specifically located within the terms of an
interpretationof historicalmaterialism.He barelyaddressesat all the question
of methodological individualism,which is, however, basic to Elster's article.
The contribution from Berger and Offe - also brief when comparedto the
detail of Elster'sanalysis - is concerned to rebut methodological individualism, but has little to say about Marxismin a direct way.
Let me state at the outset where my sympathieslie in this rathertanglednetwork of argumentand counter-argument,and then develop my views at greater length. I agreewith most of the elements of Elster'scritiqueof functionalism, and I take as radicala stance as he does in suggestingthat functionalist
notions shouldbe excludedaltogetherfrom the social sciences. I do not think,
however, that abandoningfunctionalism (in its various versions and guises)
entails embracingmethodological individualism;and I consider the scope of
game theory in social science to be considerablymore limited than Elster
does. I do not believe that Marxwas as consistent and coherent a writer as
Cohen appearsto claim. Consequently, although the exposition of historical
materialism,as logically linked to a conception of "functionalexplanation,"
which Cohen offers is textually plausible, it is by no means the only way in
which "historicalmaterialism"can be understood.2 If, however, this is what
"historical materialism"means, then so much the worse for historical materialism- or so I shall aver. In discussingthese issues, I shall distinguishthree

Social Sciences, King's College, Cambridge University.

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528
sets of problems. First: How should the critique of functionalism be approached(a question that, as Elster and Bergerand Offe acknowledge,must
consider the various contexts in which functionalist concepts appear)?
Second: If functionalist concepts are eschewed, what sort of notions should
replace them? Third: How should we assess the validity of "historicalmaterialism"in social theory today?
Functionalismand Its Critique
One of the attractionsof Elster's article - as with his books and other analyses to which it is closely related3- is the diversityof sourcesin which he discovers the use of functional analysis. Some of his examples are of unlikely
provenance,but perhapsfor that reasonare all the more telling;E.P. Thompson, for instance, would hardly be the type of writer ordinarilyassociated
with the use of functionalistnotions. Elsterdistinguishesthree types of functionalism. The first type, the 'weak functionalist paradigm,"seems to me,
however, logically unobjectionable, and probably not worth regardingas a
form of functionalism at all. For it simply states that a pattern of behavior
may have consequenceswhich, although unintended and unforseen by those
initiating that pattern of behavior, confer some benefits for them (and/or
others). I do not think there is any logical difficulty with this idea, although
what "benefit" means might be arguedabout, and it has to be conjoined to
recognitionof "counterfinality."
What Elster labels the "strong functionalist paradigm"is also in a certain
sense a misnomer, for it is a position that few have everheld, its weaknesses
being ratherapparent.It is the view that all patternsof behaviorhave a function, this explainingwhy they exist in the first place. Accordingto Elster,the
strong functionalist paradigmis "flourishing"in areasof Marxistand radical
social science. He seems to have in mind writers such as Althusser and Poulantzas when he says this, but this is surely ratherunfair. Functionalist notions are plain to see in their writings,but each also emphasizesthat social
systems embody contradictions.If these authors - and variousof the others
mentioned by Elster - do not fit readilyinto his 'mainfunctional paradigm"
(the third type), this is because a furtherdistinction needs to be made among
the forms of functionalism. This is between those, like Althusserand Poulantzas, who make frequent recourseto functionalistconcepts while refusing
to associate themselves formally with "functionalism";and those on the
other hand who openly declare themselveseither to be "functionalists,"or
who recognize functional explanation as a legitimate procedurein the social
sciences. The difference is an important one. Elster does a valuablejob in indicating how widespread "covert functionalism"is. But this is at the same

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529
time rathereasy meat. For many authorswho have devoted some attention to
spelling out the logical implications of functional analysishave been alertto
the main point Elster stresses: that the unintended/unanticipatedconsequences of an item or form of social conduct do not explain its existence. This
has been recognizedboth by contributorsto the "early"functionalistdebate
of the 1950s and 1960s (such as Hempel4), as well as by those who have defended forms of functionalism in recent times (such as Sztompkas or Luhmann6 - to the latter of whom Bergerand Offe make reference).
If I may - tongue in cheek - borrow some terminologyused by Lakatosin a
different context,7 we should differentiate between "naive overt functionalism" and "sophisticated overt functionalism."In spite of his importance to
the development of functionalism, RK. Merton has to be categorized as a
"naive overt functionalist."Considerone of the illustrationshe offers in his
famous discussion of functional analysis in Social Theory and Social Structure: the Hopi Rain Dance.8 The existence (or persistence)of the Hopi Rain
Ceremonial,Merton says, at first sight seems opaque to the sociological observer. The "manifest function," or purpose, for which its exists - to bring
rain - is not achieved.The ceremonialdoes not bring rain.However,we can
explain the existence/persistenceof the Rain Dance by means of its latent
function. The latent function of the ceremonial is that "of reinforcingthe
group identity by providinga periodic occasion on which the scatteredmembers of a group assemble to engage in a common activity. As Durkheim
among others long since indicated, such ceremonials are a means by which
collective expression is afforded the sentimentswhich, in a further analysis,
are found to be a basic source of group unity."9 To indicate that the Rain
Dance is a "source of group unity" shows nothing about why it came into
existence in the first place, or why it persistsonce instituted. Elsteris entirely
right to arguethat, in such an example - as in the severalcomparableones he
cites - the postulated consequence of the activity, i.e. "group unity," does
not explain the presenceof the activity.
But sophisticated overt functionalists do not make this error. They accept
that "functional explanation" entails demonstratingsome sort of "mechanism" - or, if one prefers,set of causalconditions - whereby the consequence
of a social practice is shown to react back on that practice. "Functional explanations"then take the form of demonstratingfeedbackloops in social systems, where the characterof the feedback mechanismis specified. Elster in
fact concedes the validity of functional explanation thus conceived, calling
this "teleonomy," although he apparentlyonly recognizesone type of causal
mechanism,"a naturalselection model." The trouble with sophisticatedovert
functionalismis that it is often very difficult to specify the causalmechanism.

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530
Naive functionalism- overt or covert - is less demanding.Bergerand Offe,
and Cohen, admit this, and point to its dangers.In their replies, they each
propose ways in which the rigor of sophisticatedfunctionalismmay be approximated to, even where the causal mechanismsinvolved are not known.
Neither of their approaches,however, as expressed by them, is in my view
satisfactory.
Berger and Offe adopt Luhmann'snotion of "functional equivalence."10In
analyzing a given social phenomenon, we defer the question of what causes
that phenomenon to exist (Bergerand Offe misleadinglysay that "we are no
longer interested" in this). We ask first of all: what other circumstances
could, hypothetically, replace that phenomenon within a social system? We
can then begin to move towardsan analysisof the conditions that governthe
existence of the phenomenon in question. Their own example concerns the
following proposition:"the state . .. has the function of maintainingthe conditions of capital accumulation."This is not, they say, an explanatorystatement, as it stands at least. It is, as it were, a mode of approachto the analysis
of the interdependenciesinvolved in societies or social systems. Now there is
a sense, as I shall argue shortly, in which a view somewhat similarto theirs
can be defended. But there is no necessity, in my opinion, to couch this view
in functionalist language: indeed, it can be positively misleading to do so.
Moreover,we need to specify more clearlywhat "self-regulatingmechanisms"
are; and againwe have no need to use functionalist terminology to do this.
Cohen, like Bergerand Offe, adopts a sophisticatedovert functionalism.He
has an interestingsuggestionabout what the sophisticatedovert functionalist
should do if he or she cannot identify the causal conditions involved in the
connections between social items to be explained. If we do not know these
conditions, we need not relapseinto a vacuous naive functionalism.Instead,
we can seek to establish "consequencelaws": these aregeneralizationswhich
show that, whenevera given social item would be functional for another,the
first social item is found to exist. Subsumptionof a particularinstance under
a consequence law counts as an "unelaborated"functionalist explanation. I
think Elster is right to doubt whether such a formulationcounts as an explanation at all. Of course, this depends in some considerablepart on what "explanation" is understood to be. A "consequence law" is at best, as Cohen
agrees,a preliminaryorientation to a subject matter, an adequateanalysisof
which demands further explanatory work. Cohen's formulation thus in this
respect resembles the view of Bergerand Offe. One might say that, in each
case, their functionalist orientation indicates phenomena that call for explanation, ratherthan being explainedby the conceptions they offer.

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531
I think it is possible to disabuseourselvesof functionalist concepts while recognizing that sophisticated functionalism does not fall prey to the critique
Elster offers. There are three types of circumstancein which functionalist
languageis commonly used: each formsa legitimatepartor aspect of the methodological apparatusof social science, but each is also expressedmore unambiguouslyby strippingaway functionalist terminology. I shall use as an illustration the statement of Bergerand Offe: "the state ... has the function
of maintainingthe conditions of capital accumulation."1) Such a proposition
is acceptableif understood as an implicit counterfactual.Many functionalist
"assertions"or "generalizations"can in fact be readin this way. They call for
explanations,they do not provide them. Let me expressthis statementin another way (which does not use the term "function"). We can say: "in order
for capital accumulationto be maintained,the state has to intervenein definite ways in economic life." The force of "has to" here is counterfactual:it
involves identifying conditions that must be met if certain consequences are
to follow. It supplies us with a preliminaryorientationto a problem, and the
posing of such questions can perfectly legitimatelybe defended as an integral
part of the social sciences. But it is best to avoid usingthe term "function,"
because of its misleadingimplications in such a context. For it suggeststhat
the "has to" in the above sentence refersto some sort of need that is a property of the social system - in which case we have an example of naive overt
functionalism.2) Suppose we specify a "mechanism,"or set of causalconditions relevantto showinghow it comes about that the state intervenesin economic life in such a way as to sustaincapital accumulation.Here there is still
another ambiguity that the concept of "function" helps to create. To say
"the state has the function of maintainingthe conditions of capital accumulation" fudges over the difference between intended and unintended circumstances of system reproduction.Most functionalistauthors,naive or sophisticated, give short shrift to intentional or purposiveaction-for reasons I shall
discuss shortly. They identify functional analysis with the discerning of
"latent functions." When sophisticated overt functionalists talk of "causal
conditions," or of "mechanisms,"they often have in mind processes that
happen "mechanically"- like events in nature. Now feedback loops can be
identified that can be treated more or less in such terms: in other words, that
are the outcome of unintended consequencesof action. For example, as a result of certain policies designed by state officials to avoid traumaticfluctuations in the business cycle, an unintended consequence might be to promote
capitalaccumulation.Thereare no logical difficulties involvedin conceptualizing such "self-regulatingmechanisms." 3) But we should also recognize the
significance of "reflexive self-regulation.""1This refers to circumstancesin
which, to use the words of Bergerand Offe, "the function has been anticipated by strategic actors who at the same time have reasons and means" to

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532
create the conditions for its realization.There are obviously a complex range
of shadingsbetween homeostatic loops of type 2 and feedbackinfluencedby
reflexive self-regulation.But it is hardly possible to deny that reflexive selfregulationbecomes an increasinglyimportant phenomenon in contemporary
societies. It is also a phenomenonthat concernsan issue that none of the articles mentions:the involvementof socialscience with its own "subjectmatter,"
human societies. Functionalism, and more particularlysystems theory, has
become increasinglyincorporatedinto the conditions of societal reproduction
and transformation.
GameTheory, Structure,Action
Having rejected functionalism, Elster makes a strong case for making game
theory central to social science, coupling this to methodological individualism. Methodologicalindividualismis "the doctrine that all social phenomena
- their structureand their change - are in principleexplicableonly in terms
of individuals - their properties, goals and beliefs." Because functionalist
concepts have no place in the social sciences, the properarenaof concern for
social science is "a mixed causal-intentionalexplanation- intentional understanding of the individual actions and causal explanation of their interaction." Elster'senthusiasmfor gametheory is infectious;his article and recent
books come as a refreshingchange from the stodgy diet of naive covert functionalism that has tended of late to be prominentlyrepresentedin the literature of the social sciences. I imaginethat he would not claim there is anything
particularlynew in the game-theoreticalexampleshe discusses;but it certainly is unusualto insert them into the traditionalarenasof Marxism.And surely his discussion is provocative,especially for those who have swallowedtoo
much of the aforementioneddiet, and whose conceptual digestions have become blocked up as a result. Game theory offers the following advantages
compared to functionalism in all its forms. It places an emphasisupon purposive, rational action; human beings do not appearas the playthingsof forces beyond their control. It allows for the recognition that the unintended
consequencesof action may stand in diverserelationsto the intentions of individual actors. And it allows for theoretical models of some elegance when
comparedto many other forms of approachin the social sciences.
These things havingbeen said, I am puzzled by the scope Elsterattributesto
gametheory in social science, and by his insistenceon methodologicalindividualism which, in the context of his article at least, appearsmerely dogmatic.
Surely some of the main difficulties with, and limitationsof, gametheory are
well known. Its formal elegance is often a bit specious, because the assumptions game-theoreticalmodelsimply (usually, that some sort of conscious eval-

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533
uation between alternativesis made by actors;that they apply certaincriteria
of rationalityin pursuingcourses of action; that they have ratherclear goals
in undertakingsuch courses of action; and that they evaluate and "decide"
about which among several alternativestrategiesto pursue in reachingtheir
ends) are not all that commonly fulfilled in actual circumstancesof social life.
Moreover,the examplesor applicationsof game theory Elster offers occasionally seem a roundabout way of reaching conclusions that are well known.
That "more harm than good sometimes ensues from heroic acts of revolt or
disobedience, if others are not willing to follow suit" is hardly news to most
political activists. A far richer discussion of its implications that anything
game theory is likely to yield is to be found in Weber'sanalysisof the "politics of responsibility,"versusa "politics of ultimate ends."
Consider the illustration Elster discusses in some detail, and for which he
makes his strongest claims: the model of "double-timedependence" of bargaining derived from Lancaster.After severalpages of analysis, it turns out
that the empiricalderivationsof the model, as they are explicatedby Lancaster at least, "depend too heavily on the specific assumptionsof the model to
be of great interest." The model is chiefly importantfor its conceptualimplications. In fact, Elster says, it represents "an important conceptual breakthrough for the way in which we think about exploitation, power and capitalism." What does this "conceptual breakthrough"consist in? It consists in
the demonstration that the exploitation of the working class is to be found
not just in the appropriationof surplusvalueby employers,but in the exclusion of the workers from investment policy decisions. But this conclusion
does not seem at all novel, let alone a breakthrough.Elster then goes on to
add the observationthat we can therefore accept Dahrendorfs thesis that, in
the liberal democratic capitalist countries, "power rather than wealth is the
crux of the class struggle."This is a strangeendorsementto make, however,
for one who is supposedlyelaboratinga Marxistclasstheory. For Dahrendorf
specificallybreakswith Marx,and with Marxismmoregenerally,in his reformulation of the concept of class; he holds that "capitalism"was a transitory
phase in the developmentof the Europeansocieties in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, supersededtoday; and he expresslydenies that a radical socialist transformationof "post-capitalist"societies is feasible for the
future.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating. A diet of game theory might be
tasty at first sitting, but might also turn out to be as unwholesome,as a staple
Food,as the various types of functionalismreferredto previously.We shall
have to wait and see what concrete use Elster or others are able to make of
game theory. Providinga rangeof examplesof the applicationof game theory

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534
is different from pursuing substantive sociological or historical problems in
depth. In this respectI feel stronglyin accordwith Bergerand Offe's observation that "methodologicaldebates remain unsound as long as they remain
strictly methodological."In my opinion, this comment is relevantto Cohen's
reply (and his book), too, as I shall indicate in the third section of my discussion. Elster consistently opposes game theory in particular,and methodological individualismmore generally, on the one side to functionalism and to
structuralismon the other. One of his claims is that the formertwo of these
can provide an analysis of the "microfoundationsof Marxist [why only Marxist?] social theory," providing"knowledgeabout the mechanismsthat operate at the individuallevel." He also consistently opposes "action" (by which
he seems to mean only "strategic"activity, conformingto the assumptionsof
game theory I noted above) to "structuralconstraint.""Structure"seems to
be understoodby him solely as sources of constraintor limitation on action
thus defined. Muchthe same antinomy appearsto be acceptedby Cohen, save
that he takes sides differently. "Marxism,"Cohen says, "is fundamentally
concerned not with behavior [action?], but with the forces and relationsconstrainingand directingit." Neither Elster's view, nor that of Cohen, seems to
me acceptablehere. Each recapitulatesa methodologicaldualism - between
action and structure - that has hampered social theory for a long while.
Severalobjections can be made againstmethodologicalindividualismsuch as
Elster formulatesit. These in some part center on the notion of "structure."
Elster only considers one criticism of methodological individualism,that
made by CharlesTaylor. Taylorholds that "commonmeanings"or "intersubjective meanings"cannot be satisfactorilyconceptualizedby anyone adopting
the standpoint of methodologicalindividualism.I think this is right, although
it is not expressedin the most felicitous way; and Taylordoes his own cause a
disserviceby mergingthe point with the claim that methodologicalindividualists cannot cope with "a subject who can be a 'we' as well as an 'I'." Elster is
able to rebut the latter claim rather easily. But the strongerpart of Taylor's
argument concerns "common/intersubjectivemeanings." "Meaning"is not
really the appropriateterm to use here. I should preferinstead to speak of the
structural properties of languages, communities, or social systems, where
"structure"is understoodas rules and resourcesin the mode I have elucidated
in detail elsewhere.'2 The structuralpropertiesof linguisticor social systems
cannot be expressed as qualities or descriptionsof the conduct of either individual or collective agents. Syntactical rules, for example, are not attributes
of individualspeakers,speech acts, or of texts. They are instantiatedin, and
reproduced through, speech and writing, but that is something different.

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535
"Structure"here admittedly is used in a divergentsense from that characteristically employed in the social sciences. But I consider this a highly important conceptual move, for it is the condition of escapingthe dualism I have
referredto. All of the contributorsto the currentdebate are apparentlycontent to equate structure,or the structuralpropertiesof social systems, with
constraint. The action of individuals can then only be conceptualized as
occurringin whateverspace is left over from the operationof such constraint.
The shortcomingsof such a standpointsurely do not have to be spelled out at
any length. Those who favor the sort of stance Elstertakes find greatdifficulty in recognizingthe point stressedby Bergerand Offe: in game theory, "the
game starts only after the actors have been constituted, and their order of
preferenceshas been formed as a result of processes that cannot themselves
be consideredas being part of the game."Those who take a position like that
of Cohen find it hardto see human actors as anythingmore than the dupes of
influences they neither understandnor control. Cohen acknowledgesthat "as
it were, action is needed to bring things about," but his developmentof this
proposition is a distinctly odd one. Functionalism,he seems to imply, in
which human activity is regardedas determinedby structuralforces, works in
circumstancesof relative social stability; but when the objective conditions
for revolutionarychangehave come about, a space for action appears.
Such dubious conceptions can be avoided if we see that structureis both enabling and constraining. This entails elaborating some such notion as that
which I call the duality of structure. By the duality of structure,I mean that
structureis recursivelyimplicated in conduct, the medium, and the outcome
of the mix of intended and unintendedoutcomes that humanbeings createin
their interactionwith one another.13Structureis to be conceivednot merely
as an impediment to action, but as involvedin a complex way with what "action" is.
Formulatinga theory of action in the social sciences demandstheorizingthe
human agent. This is the basis of a furtherobjection I would make againstElster's methodologicalindividualism.The "individual,"he seems to hold, can
be treated in social theory as the rational, calculativeactor posited in game
theory. Such a conception of the "individual,"and his or her modes of "action," are as limited as are the contexts of social activity in which game-theoretical models have some relevance.As I have indicatedearlier,these contexts
are mostly ones in which courses of action are consciously weighed and strategic choices made between them. Game theory is not at all well equippedto
deal with the duree of day-to-daysocial activity as a whole, in which such circumstances pertain only sporadically.The dure'eof human action does presuppose intentionality, but for the most part this operates on the level of

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536
"practicalconsciousness"- which is not a matterof deliberatedprocessesof
decision-making,but rather a routine "monitoring"of the grounds of conduct in the everydayenactment of social life.14

The Status of HistoricalMaterialism


Most of these considerationsso far do not have a greatdeal to do intrinsically
with Marxismor with "historicalmaterialism."The use of game theory to interpret Marxist concepts may very well be fruitful, within the limitations I
have just indicated. However, I certainly agreewith Cohen that game theory
is unlikely to lead us radicallyto recastMarxistthought; and it is Cohen'sdiscussion of historical materialism,or aspects of it, with which I shallbe primarily concerned in this closing section. Cohen says that he comes not just to
explicate historicalmaterialism,but to defend it: indeed, the title of the book
from which his paperis drawnis KarlMarx'sTheoryof History, a Defence.15
Cohen's defense of Marxis based on three main ideas - each of which I think
to be in fact either questionable or mistaken.These ideas are: 1) "history"is
above all to be understood in terms of the expansionof the materialproductive forces; 2) types of society come into being and are supersededaccording
to the ways in which they foster or impedethat expansion;3) functionalanalysis, appropriatelyexplicated, is logically necessary to the interpretation of
points 1 and 3 in historical materialism.The most famous few lines in Marx,
from the 1859 Preface to a Contributionto the Critiqueof PoliticalEconomy,
are used in the reply by Cohen to seek to demonstratethese points. Cohen is
a sophisticatedovert functionalist. He did not, however, start off as one. He
began as a sophisticatedovert Marxist,and this led him to functionalism,because in his view, functional analysisis the only way of makinghistoricalmaterialismconsistent. "Historicalmaterialism"here, however, has to be distinguished from Marx's own writings. I am not at all persuadedthat Cohen's
formulation of historical materialismis the only coherent one that can be
given. Certainlyforms of naive functionalism can be readily found in Marx's
writings, as some of the texts by Elsterattest. I do not think that these observations are irrelevantto Cohen's analysis,because (as againsthis searchfor a
single, consistent conception of historical materialismthat Marxists"must"
be committed to) it could be arguedthat the inconsistencies,ambiguities,and
only partly formed theories in Marx'swritings are the source of the renewed
inspiration that different generationshave found therein. A variety of contrastingconceptions can be developedfrom them.

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537
Be that as it may, Cohen insists there is only one way of (coherently) interpreting historical materialism,so I shall mention some of the main reservations I have about his particularaccount. I have already commented on aspects of his version of functionalism.I do not think his "consequencelaws"
have the logical force he attributesto them. But he also has anotherstrandto
his argument.Historicalmaterialismtoday, he says, can usefully be compared
to the position of evolutionarytheory before Darwincame along. Before Darwin, there was a large amount of accumulatedevidenceindicatingthat evolutionary adaptation is the basis of the differentiation of the species. Writers
before Darwinwere justified in believing that "the useful charactersof organisms are there because they are useful." This formed an "unelaboratedfunctionalist explanation,"which Darwinwas able to complete throughhis discovery of the mechanismof naturalselection. One might cavil at the historical
accuracy of such a characterization:after all, Darwindevoted enormouslabor
to categorizingthe species on an evolutionaryscale, and this was a fundamental part of his achievement.However, the main point is the analogywith the
social sciences, or with historical materialism.Historical materialismis, "at
best," Cohen says, in a similarsituation to evolutionarybiology before the
advent of Darwin. Whenproddedby Elster,he retiresa little further:perhaps
historical materialismhas not even got to a stage comparableto pre-Darwinian naturalhistory. Historicalmaterialismstill awaits its Linnaeus,let alone
its Darwin!
Cohen might feel driven to such a position by the logic of his arguments,but
it is a peculiarlyunsatisfactoryone. Marxism,after all, is as old as Darwinian
evolutionism;Marx and Engels consideredthat they had produced a parallel
transformationof history to that accomplishedby Darwinin biology. In this
assessment,as Cohen would have to say, they might have been quite wrong.
But there is actually a wealth of historical evidence relevantto the claimsof
historical materialismas posited by Cohen. He does not considersuch evidence at all, either in his paperor in his book. His "defense"is a wholly internalist one: the demonstration that a consistent and logically sound interpretation can be put together from Marx'soutline of his materialistconception of
history. But just as his "consequencelaws" are only a preliminaryto functionalist explanation, so a logical articulationof historicalmaterialismis no more
than a preliminaryto a defense of it. For historical materialismamounts to
nothing if it does not provide a plausible ordering of historical materials.
We have today a much greaterrangeof historicaland anthropologicalsources
to draw on than Marx had at his disposal. I have discussed some of these
sources in my book, A ContemporaryCritique of HistoricalMaterialism.16
My conclusionsare that neither 1 nor 2 of the ideas linked by Cohen to histo-

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538

rical materialismis defensible. "History"- if this means the long-termhistory of the variety of human culturesabout which we have some reliabledocumentation - cannot be comprisedwithin any evolutionaryscheme,let alone
one that invokes as its primary basis the expansion of productive forces.
About point 2 it has to be accepted that no "single factor" theory of major
processes of transitionbetween types of society can be justified. The accumulation of "surplus,"or growth of productiveforces more generally,are among
the least persuasiveof such single factor theories. Point 1 is simply an inaccurate portrayalof humanhistory. It has been demonstratedbeyond any reasonable doubt, by both archaeologistsand anthropologists,that many hunting
and gathering societies - the societies in which humankindhas lived for all
but a smallfraction of its existence - have been well able to "expandthe forces of production." But they have not been interested in or concerned with
doing so.
These considerationsstrongly imply that historical materialism,in anything
close to the form in which Cohen describesit, should be abandoned.Such is
my opinion, at any rate. But this does not mean discardingMarx'swritingsin
toto. Marx's conception of the economic conditions of capitalist enterprise,
and of the class relations of capitalist societies, are of enduringimportance.
But these can be drawnon to support a discontinuistinterpretationof history
ratherthan an evolutionaryone. By a "discontinuistinterpretation,"I mean
one that focuseson the radicalsocial transformationswhich capitalism,particularly industrial capitalism,has produced as comparedto pre-existingforms
of society.'7 Abandoning historical materialismalready has major implications for Marxisttheory, and I think there are severalother quite fundamental respects in which Left political theory has to be recastin the contemporary era. I doubt whether game theory will be a greatdeal of help in such an endeavor,but it does seem to me that Elster seeks to use Marxistthought in a
creativeway, without bothering too much about old dogmas.Other considerations apart, this leads me to have a strongersympathy with his work than
with Cohen'smore scholasticapproach.

NOTES
1. This exchangeis a continuationof an interchangebetweenElsterand Cohenreferred to in fn. 5 of Elster'sarticle(PoliticalStudies,28 (1980)).
2. See my CentralProblemsin Social Theory (London: Macmillan,1979), Chap.4.
3. Jon Elster, Logic and Society (Chichester:Wiley, 1978); Ulysses and the Sirens
(Cambridge:CambridgeUniversityPress,1979); andthe interchangesreferredto in
fn. 5 of his article.
4. Carl.G. Hempel, "The Logic of FunctionalAnalysis,"in Aspects of ScientificExplanation(New York:Free Press,1965).
5. Piotr Sztompka, System and Function (New York: Academic Press, 1974).

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All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

539
6. Niklas Luhmann,"Funktion und Kausalitat,"in SoziologischeAufklirung (Opladen: WestdeutscherVerlag,1972).
7. Imre Lakatos,"Falsificationand the Methodologyof ScientificResearchProgrammes," in Imre Lakatosand Alan Musgrave,Criticismand the Growthof Knowledge
(Cambridge:CambridgeUniversityPress,1970).
8. Robert K. Merton,"Manifestand Latent Functions,"in Social Theoryand Social
Structure (Glencoe:The Free Press, 1963). I have discussedthis examplein more
detailedfashion in CentralProblems,10-16. Cohen also refersto it in KarlMarx's
Theoryof History,a Defence (Oxford:ClarendonPress,1978), Chap.9.
9. Merton,64-65.
10. Althoughtheir argumentoversimplifiesLuhmann'sposition. Cf. Luhmann.
11. Cf. CentralProblems,78, where I made a rathermore complicateddifferentiation
of types of system reproduction.Cohen makes some brief relevantremarksin his
book, 287-9.
12. CentralProblems.
13. Cf. Roy Bhaskar,ThePossibilityof Naturalism(Brighton:Harvest,1979).
14. See my New Rules of SociologicalMethod (London: Hutchinson,1976), 81-86
and passim.
15. In an addition to the second impressionof the book (1979) he excepts certain
chaptersfromthis claim.
16. Anthony Giddens,A ContemporaryCritiqueof HistoricalMaterialism(London:
Macmillan,1981).
17. Ibid., Chap.3.

Editors'note: TheVanParijsandRoemerarticleswere not availableto professorGiddens


when he wrote this commentary.

Theoryand Society 11 (1982) 527-539


0304-2421/82/0000-0000/$02.75 ? 1982 ElsevierScientificPublishingCompany

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