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"Ideology and Utopia" by Karl Mannheim

Author(s): Edward Shils


Source: Daedalus, Vol. 103, No. 1, Twentieth-Century Classics Revisited (Winter, 1974), pp. 8389
Published by: The MIT Press on behalf of American Academy of Arts & Sciences
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EDWARD

SHILS

Ideology and Utopia


by Karl Mannheim

was extraordinarily
Karl Mannheim
sensitive to his national and continental environ
ment and to his own time. He read widely; he had a lively curiosity and a quickly moving
imagination which enabled him to respond tomany kinds of events. From 1914 until his
death in 1947 at the age of fifty-four he had only about a decade of relative calm :1925 to
1929 inGermany and 1933 to 1939 inGreat Britain. The rest of his adult life was spent in
the midst of war, revolution, and uncivil commotion. A sociologist of such a sensitive im
could not have avoided perceiving
these unrelenting and pitiless conflicts and
a
into
them
of
central
theme
importance in his thought.
making
was
in 1929 when disorder began onoe more in the
und
Utopie1
published
Ideologie
was at its height, he published
an article
Weimar
In
when
disorder
1931,
republic.
in a German encyclopedia
entitled "Wissenssoziologie"
of sociology.2 In 1935, very
in England,
to
he wrote a long essay which attempted
shortly after his settlement
in the wider setting of the plurality of intellectual out
place the two former writings
to assimilate his new
in Europe since the Reformation,
looks which had developed
so
into his earlier Hegelian,
Marxian
and Weberian
interest in psychoanalysis
was
in which he
and
entrapped
ciology, and to find a way out of the relativism
in English
most
In 1936, all three of these writings were published
ill-at-ease.
agination

The long essay formed the introductory chapter, the three chapters of
the con
article constituted
und Utopie
followed, and the encyclopedia
and uncer
cluding chapter. The result was a book which, full of the contradictions
was
an
tainties of Mannheim's
of
his
expression
tentacularly rich
thought,
adequate
and sympathetic mind.
a
For better or for worse, Mannheim
in his intellectual
was,
disposition,
translation.3

Ideologie

thoroughgoing
sociologist. He had a profound distaste for individualism; he believed
not only that the individual was a frail reed but that he scarcely existed as a thinking
83

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EDWARD

84

SHILS

reed. Mannheim
began his intellectual career at the end of the First World War un
der the powerful
influence of the Hegelian
of the objective
conception
spirit. As a
he was also a historicist. He believed
that every society and epoch had its
Hegelian,
own intellectual culture, of which every single work produced
in itwas a part. In this
the individual mind and its works were only instances of the "ob
imposing medium
the in
jective spirit" or culture into which they were born. The individual's mind,
the individual's power of reason and observation were only
dividual's
imagination,
idealistic tradition attributed primary reality to the trans-individual
of ideas; the individual was no more than a creature of this trans-individual
reality. The properties of the individual could be derived from this reality; the in
dividual
of this cosmos of
imposed and added little or nothing to it. The movement
symbols through history bore no trace of the individual's mental powers.
Yet even this view was not wholly acceptable
to Mannheim.
it denied
Although
to the realm of the
the power of the individual it still accorded too much autonomy
an inner, self
to a realm of ideas possessing
even to the collective mind,
mind,
own.
Marxism offered Mannheim
the intellectual op
dynamic force of its
developing
to escape from idealism because
it had so much in common with idealism.
portunity
too was historicist;
Marxism
it too was holistic; it too denied the primacy of the in
fictions.

The

complex

dividual. But unlike idealism,


it denied
the primacy of the intellectual
sphere. It
an in
refused to accept the idealistic view that ideas?the
realm of symbols?have
own
ternal force of their
which presses them to develop
in a direction which
is in
to add Marxism
herent in them. It was this anti-intellectualism
which led Mannheim
to his intellectual
parentage.
was never an avowed Marxist. He was generally
I think that Mannheim
sym
himself
ideas but he never, as far as I know, associated
pathetic with socialistic
even though many of his
Party in Germany
publicly with the Social Democratic
friends and close associates did. He took pains to distinguish
himself from Marxism
never
his
it.
Whereas
he often spoke disparagingly
concealed
of
but he
appreciation
to go
Yet he wanted
of idealism, he did not speak in the same way of Marxism.
Marxism
seemed
than
of
deeper
capable
going.
never succeeded
in emancipating
himself either from
Mannheim
Nonetheless,
in his fundamental
Marxism or from idealism. The Marxian
influence was dominant
stratum of being and in the peripheral
belief in the primacy of the nonintellectual
significance of intellectual activity. The sociology of knowledge was intended to go
beyond Marxism. Although he regarded it as a mark of superiority of the sociology of
knowledge
would have
include

do

not

and

intend

are

sects,

groups,

groups,

occupational

schools,

etc.,"

he

on to say:

went

to deny

is the most

stratification
from

states,

"generations,

immediately
We

it regarded "not merely


classes, as a dogmatic
type of Marxism
went
as
but
of
the
determinant
it,"
beyond Marxism to
"thought-models"
that

transformed

To his undivested

that

of all

the

above-mentioned

in the final analysis


since
significant,
as parts of the more
basic conditions

idealism

and Marxism,

he added,

social
all

groupings
the other

and
social

of production

in the early

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and

units,

class

arise
groups
domination.4

1930's,

a very

85

Ideology and Utopia


admixture

generalized
"existential
one

more

position,"

or

To the power of culture and "social"


of psychoanalysis.
unconscious"
he joined, in the early 1930s, the "collective
to

counteragent

the

autonomy

of

the

and

imagining

observing,

as

reasoning

mind.

II

The upshot of these powerful influences was the "sociology of knowledge"


and the
was
to
of
associated
The
of
intended
closely
critique
objectivity.
knowledge
sociology
be a study of the dependence
of outlooks, theories, doctrines etc. on the "social posi
tion of the knower."
It was intended to demonstrate
that whatever
human beings
on their circumstances
believe they know about the world is dependent
and fortunes in
society; their knowledge and beliefs are, according to the sociology of knowledge, over
have inherited and by the force of their
poweringly bound by the outlook which *they
'
never defined
social position" any more than he defined the
social position. Mannheim
'
existential connectedness'
of knowledge
des Wissens
(Seinsverbundenheit
)but his in
tention

was

clear:

thought

was

a creature

always

of

social

never

circumstance,

the

creator of thought or social circumstance.


Inherited outlooks were adduced to show the
limited power of the individual mind, never to show the limits of the powers of social or
class

position.

to great

to distinguish
from the
the sociology of knowledge
no
more
error
to
latter
did
than
attribute
deliberate
ideology."
in its way,
and self-blinding;
the "theory of
falsification,
deception,
masking,
intact
of
left
the
fundamental
the
individual
mind
and this was
capacities
ideology"
not reconcilable
with Mannheim's
and
environmentalist
idealistic,
historicist,
to Mannheim,
the theory of ideology left the epistemological
postulates. According
the powers to dis
foundations of empiricism
intact; it assumed that men possessed
cern the truth but failed to do so intentionally because they anticipated
advantages
He went
"theory of

The

the acknowledgment

from avoiding
the

existence

exertions

of

an

apparatus

of the truth. The

of perception

and

reasoning

theory of ideology
common

to human

postulated
beings;

to bring forth identical results in everyone was at


the failure of this apparatus
'
''
tributable to mistakes'
and to the power of passions and interests which diverted this
were there in the in
from its proper operation.
Still, the potentialities
apparatus
dividual.
to Mannheim,
The sociology of knowledge,
worked at the
however,
according
In
of
the
mind.
levels
accordance
with
the
historicist
idealistic
tradition, the
deeper
men
of
which
about
beliefs
have
their
and
the world
themselves,
societies,
diversity
or categorical apparatus which
are accounted
for by the diversity of the conceptual
on
to
the
"facts."
troubled
bear
Mannheim methodologically
(Facts
always
they bring
and he expressed his uneasiness by quotation marks.) Among various epochs, classes,
etc.,

these

conceptual

or

categorical

apparatuses

are

incomparably

and

even

un

from each other; their distinctiveness


extends to conceptions
of
assimilably
causation and time, criteria of valid evidence, models of explanation,
etc. These dis
are different from each other because of the different social
tinctive apparatuses
different

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EDWARD

86

SHILS

life situations, etc., in which the in


positions, existential conditions,
of these apparatuses
live. The discovery of these affinities between
the social situations and the derivation of the former from the latter
the sociology of knowledge.
One sees straightaway how persistent was the power of Marxism over Mannheim's
it. The weaknesses
of this sort in
thought even when he thought he had transcended
were the same as those of the Marxian
the sociology of knowledge
sociology of
were
assertion
the
without
evidence
of
correlations
between
first,
They
knowledge.
defined
and
defined
variables
vaguely
independent
equally vaguely
dependent
without
theoretical
the two to compensate
for the
any plausible
linkages between
absence of empirical evidence; and second, the reduction of intellectual activities to
situations, social
dividual carriers
the outlooks and
are the tasks of

an

epiphenomenal

status.

As a result of the first weakness,


never became es
the sociology of knowledge
tablished as a productive part of sociology. The subject was doomed to remain at the
but it produced no results. There were of course
point of programs and prolegomena
other reasons. Most
of
the generation
after Mannheim
sociologists
immediately
lacked the sophisticated
of
to undertake
intellectual
needed
history
knowledge
in
work
the
if
field
had
such
the un
and,
satisfactory
possessed
sophistication,
they
a
in
time
to
would
is
have
it
unfeasible
them.
Since
denial
of the
appeared
dertaking
of intellectual
activity to regard such activity as having no character
in it, serious
than that imposed on it by the social situation of those engaged
seen
in
it
faith
would
have
it.
who
How could
surely
good
sociologists
began
through
one study any object and try to discover
the truth about it if, from the very begin
that one's conclusions were inevitably determined
not by
ning, one was convinced
constitution

other

the application of criteria of truth to carefully observed evidence but rather by one's
own social circumstances,
In its Mannheimian
form the
such as class position?
was
even to
to
of
doomed
discredit
but
failure
Mannheim's
sociology
knowledge
never
meant
it
the
models
of
the
theoretical
that
reached
provide
stage of
linkage
revision
which
the
research
have
systematic
saving
provided. The
undergoing
might
result was therefore a stillbirth.
and imagination,
observational
and reasoning power,
Curiosity
learning and
erudition, or experiment had no place in
systematic study in the form of observation,
new could be said by the performers
Mannheim's
sociology of knowledge. Nothing
of intellectual activities studied by the sociology of knowledge. All they could do was
to respond to their life situations in ways which did not call upon their individual in
in an intellectual work was
tellectual
of individuality
powers. Any appearance
a
a
or
more
variation
of the social position or
result
of
than
idiosyncrasy
nothing
actor.
of the intellectual
to protect
action had no
So eager was Mannheim
the view that intellectual
autonomous
power that itwas sufficient for him to find one trait which he could assert
on the social position of the intellectual
to be dependent
actor for him to assume
was equally dependent
rest
of
actor's
work
all
the
the
intellectual
that
triumphantly
on that situation. If it could be shown, or at least asserted with a show of plausibility,
in response to a newly emergent and practically
that a problem had been formulated
situation

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Ideology and Utopia

87

that the entire in


significant situation, then Mannheim
regarded that as evidence
to
the hypothesis
tellectual undertaking?the
formulated
analysis of the problem,
render it, the mode of gathering evidence,
and the conclusion?was
determined
by
the "existential
condition of the knower."
in what Mannheim
said but it was much
There was something
less and much
His
insistent dislike of idealism made it impossible
different from what he thought.
in principle
that intellectual
traditions are significant,
for him to acknowledge
no
means
of
intellectual
action; itwas his dislike
exclusive, determinants
although by
of
called
intellectual works?nowadays
of the immanent interpretation of the history
He
drew him into the sociological?or
"internalist"?which
"externalist"?camp.
remained there until he ceased to concern himself with the sociology of knowledge;
the appearance of the English version, Ideology and Utopia, marked his departure from
the subject.
His espousal

of a historicist Marxian variant of a sociological approach, his desire to


an in
from idealism, and his dislike of individualism were, in combination,
to the development
of Mannheim's
of
superable hindrance
sociology
knowledge.
in principle
These commitments
him from admitting
that the cognitive
prevented
cases an
in some historically
of human
have
powers
very important
beings
escape

autonomous
set of properties which operate
motivation
and a constitutive
in all
societies and in all epochs; he provided no place for the fact that human beings
possess curiosity and imagination and reasoning and observational
powers, and that
the results of these are precipitated
into works which are then crystallized
into
in his theory that intellectual
traditions. He failed to acknowledge
traditions have
real influence on subsequent
in his own explanations
intellectual works?although
he repeatedly
invoked intellectual
traditions as ad hoc explanations?and
that in
tellectual traditions change and grow, and that they do so when the human beings
who come under their influence are impelled by practical desire or intellectual
to deal with problems which have not been adequately dealt with by the
propensity
tradition in its hitherto accepted form.
His sociology of knowledge
remained more Marxist than it need have and than was
not
it.
It
is
Marxian
view of the determination
for
the
of intellectual actions
that
good
and works by class position is wholly wrong or utterly irrelevant. But it covers only a
and it does that very crudely. Although
very small part of the phenomenon
in
structures and roles
sometimes
that institutional
Mannheim
passing
suggested
other than class were of importance, he regarded them as really secondary or in
He had little sense for the social institutional processes which are
consequential.
in the transmission, establishment,
and acceptance
of knowledge.
involved
directly
an
on
wrote
in
role
the
of
he
intellectual
the
essay
competition
interesting
Although
for the competition
of ideas and the processes of
sphere, he had little understanding
selection through which some find acceptance
and others are relegated to obscurity
or oblivion.
was for him "a representative
case in which
extra
Competition
and the direction of the development
theoretical processes affect the emergence
of
mean
to
but
he
that
that
of
"diverse
the
interpreted
interpretations
knowledge,"
. . .when their social
is uncovered,
world.
reveal themselves as the in
background

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EDWARD

88

SHILS

"6
He did not mean
tellectual expressions of conflicting groups struggling for power.
or
intellectuals
for
the
of
their
ideas
works; he meant non
acceptance
struggling
over
never
intellectuals
for
He
tried to disclose
the
power
society.
struggling
are
which
economic
mechanisms
these
and
conflicts
into
transferred
the
political
by
of interpretations of the world. Had he tried, he might have discovered
competition
that he was on the wrong track.6 Alternatively,
had he worked backwards from the
of
competition
the development

in specific instances,
of knowledge which

he might have contributed


to
showed a realistic awareness of
is an independent value and possesses a type of reality which
the fact that knowledge
in
its
the Marxian
usual form could not accommodate.
theory
In this connection
it may be noted that although Mannheim
often used the
or
in
"a
with
which
idiom
accordance
instrumentalist
theory is wrong if
pragmatist
in a given practical situation it uses concepts and categories which, if taken seriously,
would prevent man from adjusting himself at that historical stage,"7 he found no
in action or of the in
place for the investigation of the role of the cognitive element
fluence of natural and social science in society. He did not do so because, having to
his own

interpretations
of a sociology

got rid of his idealistic old man of the sea, he went to the op
posite extreme of denying the dignity and partial autonomy of the sphere of cultural
of the
and the other symbolic constructions
things, including scientific knowledge
and rational powers of the human mind.
imaginative
satisfaction

Ill
This
Mannheim's

attitude

derogatory
relativism.

Now,

toward
whereas

knowledge
moral

relativism

found

seems

fitting

expression

in

utterly

self-evident

to

the intellectual stratum in its present state of mind, although itsmembers are not at all
to the whole human race, cognitive
reluctant to act as dogmatic moral preachers
relativism is another matter. Those who shirk the acquisition of knowledge might find a
in cognitive
relativism, but not those who seek to acquire
self-justification
congenial
was an honest and serious man and he wanted his assertions to
knowledge. Mannheim
be believed because of their truthfulness and not because they were connected with his
existential position and that of his audience. He was in fact profoundly embarrassed by
the difficulty into which he was brought by his relativism. He tried to find various ways
'
"
out. One was through the conception of a freely floating intelligentsia'
which by virtue
of its detachment
from partisanship could construct a synthesis of the partial views at
tained from partisan positions. He did not follow this up although it had possibilities of
I surmise that he did not do so because itwas contradictory
to his dominant
fruitfulness;
beliefs about the ineluctible pervasiveness
of the extra-intellectual
of
determinants
was
a
The
other
he
alternative
which
he
"relationism,"
proposition
sought
knowledge.
left extremely ambiguous
and hence compatible both with the relativism of which he
"
saw the defects and with the "objectivism"
which his sociologistic"
prej
unwillingly
to him.
udice rendered unacceptable

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89

Ideology and Utopia


IV

in print
All this notwithstanding,
Ideology and Utopia has remained continuously
in the United Sates and Great Britain for nearly forty years. In recent years, it has
and there is no doubt that in
found admirers among the newer breed of misologists,
declarations
there can be found authority, couched in the
his vague and portentious
the whole enter
intellectual of his time, for disparaging
somber tones of a German
science
of
and
prise
learning.
Yet that alone does not quite exhaust the grounds of his persistent appeal. Perhaps
and in the impres
they lie in the gravity of his mood, in his large epochal perspective,
sion which he always gave in his personal bearing and in the overtones of his writings
the quest for
that, despite the repeated assertions to the contrary in those writings,
is one of the grandest and worthiest activities inwhich human
truthful understanding
a
beings can engage in this life. It is great pity that he spent a substantial part of his
too short life arguing for a hopelessly wrong position which his own demeanor
refuted.

References
1. Karl Mannheim,
2. Mannheim,
Enke,

Ideologie

(Bonn: F. C. Cohen,

und Utopie

"Wissenssoziologie,"

Handw?rterbuch

1929).

der Soziologie,

ed. Alfred

Vierkandt

(Stuttgart:

F.

1931).

3. Mannheim,
Routledge

and Utopia:
Ideology
& Kegan
Paul, 1936).

4.

Ibid.,

pp. 247-248.

5.

Ibid.,

p. 241.

An

Introduction

to

the

Sociology

of Knowledge

6. Then? was a dogmatic

(London:

like the following:


beliefs which
led him to make assertions
streak inMannheim's
. . .
to which
differences
differences"
fundamental
[may] be
"pure theoretical
philosophical
concrete
and competition
between
reduced"
"are . . . invisibly guided by the antagonism
conflicting
to render visible
he simply posited
and
felt no obligation
the "invisible";
Mannheim
groups."
its existence.
accepted
"...

7. Mannheim,

Ideology,

p. 85.

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