Ludwig Gumplowicz

All Sources -
Updated Media sources (1) About content Print Topic Share Topic
views updated

Gumplowicz, Ludwig



Ludwig Gumplowicz (1838–1909), of PolishJewish parentage, was professor of public law at the University of Graz, Austria, from 1875 until his death. He is best known for his pioneer work in establishing sociology as a social science. His contributions to political science and jurisprudence were also important, but they consisted mainly of applications of his sociological generalizations to government and law. A clear and vigorous writer, he was much given to controversy in all three fields.

The sociological system of Gumplowicz was based on a number of fundamental dogmas or principles: (1) social phenomena are governed by universal laws that operate in a completely secular manner, unrelated to religious or moral considerations, and they must be studied by using a thoroughly scientific method; (2) sociology rejects all value judgments; and (3) sociology is the science of the interaction of groups.

Applying these principles to the evolution of society and states, Gumplowicz held that the earliest forms of group life were small, natural, ethnic or blood-kin hordes. These groups were unified by consanguinity and common, rudimentary economic interests; their members lived in sexual promiscuity and relative equality of social position. Solidarity developed in a group through a process of “syngenism,” which gradually produces unity in any social group. Out of this earliest form of group life arose, in succession, the matriarchate and the patriarchate, the first types of organized control.

Since the appearance of the matriarchate and the patriarchate, social and political evolution has been a never-ending process of external conflict between groups, in the form of wars, and of internal conflict of interests within groups. The motive in all conquests has been the desire for the material gain that may be obtained by exploiting the labor of the conquered. Material interests, therefore, have furnished the dynamic impulse in social evolution. “So conquest and the satisfaction of needs through the labor of the conquered, essentially the same though differing in form, is the great theme of human history from prehistoric times to the latest plan for a Congo state. … It cannot be otherwise since man’s material need is the prime motive of his conduct” ([1885] 1963, pp. 203-205).

When the process of conquest and subjugation becomes well developed, the principle of amalgamation supplements syngenism in producing unity in the state, which, as the highest form of social grouping, is the culmination of a long process of conquest and of many adjustments subsequent to conquest. Gumplowicz believed that there is no such thing as indefinite social progress; the historic process is the record of the rise and fall of states and follows an inevitable cyclical course of growth and decline.

In the initial stage of conquest, there were only two social classes, the conquerors and thesubjugated. Foreign merchants who moved in produced a third class—the middle class or bourgeoisie. With the development of social and political institutions, the activities of the primary classes of rulers, merchants, and exploited masses created a need for secondary or derived classes, such as priests, professional men, and artisans. These social classes were based on a division of labor which was created and maintained by coercion.

The rise of social classes produced a complex and unending struggle among them to control the policy of the state in order to promote their various special interests. These interests were best advanced through participation in legislation, and social classes found that political parties were the most effective agencies for controlling the legislative process. Whatever form the struggle of classes within the state has taken, it has provided the dynamic core of history ([1877] 1907, pp. 33 ff.).

Paralleling political and economic developments there were various processes of assimilation, such as the adoption of the language, religion, and manners and customs of the conquerors, which tended to produce cultural unity. Finally, through intermarriage, an ethnic unity was achieved. The homogeneous society thus created is the “folk-state” or nation, which is the ultimate outcome of social and political evolution. The tendency throughout history has been for such a folk-state or nation to seek to conquer a neighboring nation, and when it is successful the whole process of subjugation, assimilation, and amalgamation is repeated.

Gumplowicz’ sociological system is not simply an application of Darwinian biology to the operation of human society. He was indebted to Darwin for the general idea of a struggle for existence, but he was also indebted to others: to Comte for the determination to analyze social phenomena with scientific rigor, and to Spencer for the idea of uni versal evolution and the application of the laws of universal evolution to society. His conception of the primordial and ceaseless conflict of races and social groups came from the writings of Count Joseph Arthur de Gobineau and from his own life long contact with the intense struggles among races and groups in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He had participated in the Polish revolt of 1863 and had absorbed much of the socialist and anar chist literature of the first half of the nineteenth century: his dogma that the basis of conflict is always the promotion of material self-interest was based chiefly on the stress laid in this literature on the exploitation and expropriation of the masses by the property owners, and to a lesser extent on Marxist writings.

The outstanding contribution of Gumplowicz to sociology was his naturalistic and secular approach to society and social evolution and his conception of social evolution as a process of conflict. The con cept of “social process” appeared in the writings of such European sociologists as Franz Oppenheimer and Gustav Ratzenhofer; in America, the works of Gumplowicz and Ratzenhofer were read and di gested by Albion Small, founder of the so-called Chicago school of sociology. Small and his disci ples, such as Park and Burgess, and other American sociologists, notably Ross and Cooley, carried further the development of the concept of the “social process.”

Gumplowicz’ contributions to realistic political science were notable. He assembled and developed in a well-integrated and systematic fashion the previously scattered suggestions relative to the social conditioning of political phenomena: that society is a group held together by material interests; that the state is a society organized and controlled by coercion; and that political legislation is a product and reflection of the social process at any given time ([1877] 1907, pp. 33 ff.; [1892] 1902, pp. 49-66). Gumplowicz’ well-documented argument that the state has always been founded through wars and conflict cleared away pietistic, idealistic, and metaphysical misconceptions. His argument has won general acceptance, although some sociologists, notably Jacques Novicow, have charged that he neglected the role of pacific and cooperative factors in the origins of states. Gumplowicz’ conception of political parties as interest groups has become, perhaps, the most useful truism of dynamic political science and has been adopted and developed by Durkheim, Duguit, Laski, and A. F. Bentley, among others.

Gumplowicz’ fundamental assumptions led him to reject the possibility that man can plan his social future and promote his happiness by such social inventions as the welfare state. He even suggested that the practical value of sociology may be to save mankind from wasting time and energy on futile schemes of Utopian reform. There is some evidence, however, that Lester Ward was able to convince Gumplowicz to a certain extent that the social sciences may enable man to plan a better future (1905).

Gumplowicz spent most of his professional life as a professor of law. His legal theories were a direct outgrowth of his sociological doctrines, and he is generally regarded as one of the founders of the sociological school of jurisprudence. He saw laws as invariably growing out of the conflict of classes and interests within the state, as social products rather than divine revelations, or as wise and rational human creations, or as derived in some mysterious manner from nature. He believed that there are no natural laws, except in the sense that laws are a result of the nature of man and of the social processes. This precludes the validity of classifying laws as good or bad: laws are not passed to promote justice in any abstract sense but rather to enable the dominant social class or classes to carry out their exploitation ([1892] 1902, pp. 55 ff.). Justice does not determine political and legal rights; rather, these rights are the product of the conflict of interests among social classes:

The premise of “inalienable human rights” rests upon the most unreasonable self-deification of man and overestimation of the value of human life, and upon complete misconception of the only possible basis of the existence of the State…. Rights are not founded upon justice. On the contrary, justice is created only by the actual rights as they exist in the state. … It is the simple abstraction of political rights, and it stands or falls with them. ([1885], pp. 180-181, 263 in 1899 edition)

Harry Elmer Barnes

[For the historical context of Gumplowicz’ work, seeLegal systems;and the biographies ofComte; Darwin; Gobineau; Spencer.For discussion of the subsequent development of his ideas, seeConflict; Constitutional law,article onCivil rights; Law,article onthe legal systemand the biographies ofBentley; Duguit; Durkheim; Laski; Oppen heimer; Ratzenhofer; Small.]


(1877) 1907 Allgemeines Staatsrecht. 3d ed. Innsbruck (Austria): Wagner. → First published as Philosoph-isches Staatsrecht.

1881 Rechtsstaat und Socialismus. Innsbruck (Austria): Wagner.

1882 Verwaltungslehre mit besonderer Beriicksichtigung des osterreichischen Verwaltungsrechts. Innsbruck (Austria): Wagner.

(1883–1905) 1926-1928 Ausgewahlte Werke. Edited by F. Oppenheimer, F. Savorgnan, M. Adler, G. Salomon. 4 vols. Innsbruck (Austria): Wagner. → Volume 1: Geschichte der Staatsthcorien, (1905) 1926. Vol ume 2: Grundriss der Soziologie, (1885) 1926. Vol ume 3: Der Rassenkampf, (1883) 1928. Volume 4: Soziologische Essays (1899), Soziologie und Politik, (1892) 1928.

(1885) 1963 The Outlines of Sociology. Edited with an introduction and notes by Irving L. Horowitz. 2d ed. New York: Paine-Whitman. → First published in German.

1887 System socyologii. Warsaw: Orgelbrand.

(1892) 1902 Die soziologische Staatsidee. 2d ed. Inns bruck (Austria): Wagner.

1905 An Austrian Appreciation of Lester F. Ward. American Journal of Sociology 10:643–653.

1910 Sozialphilosophie im Vmriss. Innsbruck (Austria): Wagner.


Barnes, Harry E. 1919 The Struggle of Races and So cial Groups as a Factor in the Development of Political and Social Institutions: An Exposition and Critique of the Sociological System of Ludwig Gumplowicz. Jour nal of Race Development 9:394–419.

Berolzheimer, Fritz (1905) 1912 The World’s Legal Philosophies. Boston: Boston Book. → First published as Die Kulturstufen der Rechts- und Wirtschaftsphilo-sophie.

Kochanowski, I. 1909 Ludwig Gumplowicz. American Journal of Sociology 15:405–409.

Posner, Stanislaw 1911 Ludwik Gumplowicz 1838-1909: Zarys zycia i pracy. Warsaw: Orgelbrand.

Ward, Lester F. 1909 Ludwig Gumplowicz. American Journal of Sociology 15:410–413.

Zebrowski, Bernhard 1926 Ludwig Gumplowicz: Eine Bio-Bibliographic Berlin: Prager.

views updated


GUMPLOWICZ, LUDWIG (1838–1909), Austrian jurist and sociologist. He was born in Cracow, in Austrian Galicia (now Poland), and studied law at the University of Vienna. An ardent Polish patriot, he participated in the Polish insurrection against Russia in 1863, and as a consequence of the failure both of the rebellion and of subsequent nationalistic activities Gumplowicz had to leave Cracow and availed himself of an opportunity to become a Privatdozent in political science at the University of Graz. In 1862 he was appointed adjunct professor in political science, and 11 years later, in 1893, he received his full professorship. Gumplowicz was baptized, but retained a lively interest in Jewish affairs. Gumplowicz was a proponent of Jewish assimilation. He thought that the Jews, having no territorial basis and no common language, were lacking the prerequisite of a nationality. In a letter directed to Theodor Herzl and dated Dec. 12, 1899, he expressed this view in highly emotional language.

Academically, Gumplowicz remained isolated at a provincial university, but he had brilliant students, such as Franco Savorgnan and Franz Oppenheimer, and found himself recognized by early American sociologists. Gumplowicz was one of the first to achieve full emancipation for sociology from the nonsocial sciences by insisting that social phenomena and evolution are distinctive and can be understood only by reference to social causes. That which is unique about social phenomena arises from human groups in interaction rather than from the behavior of individuals abstracted from the influence of association and dissociation. According to Gumplowicz, social and cultural evolution is a product of the struggle between social groups. This struggle replaces individual struggle in his theory of evolution. Gumplowicz offers two basic hypotheses. One, the polygenetic hypothesis, asserting that the species man evolved from various older types at many different times and in many different places, so that between the races there is no blood bond; and two, the hypothesis that an unsurmountable antagonism exists between different groups and races. For Gumplowicz society was the sum total of conflicting ethnic groups, each group being centered around one or more common interests. Thus the struggle between these ethnic groups, which he called races, is relentless. Gumplowicz was pessimistic about progress. His polygenetic view precluded the possibility of unitary evolution. In every society and state partial evolution and progress have taken place; but in every society and state there have also been destruction and setbacks. Therefore, Gumplowicz holds that progress can be observed only in particular periods and particular countries.

Another important aspect of Gumplowicz's work includes the distinction he made between simple, limited groupings organized on the basis of consanguinity and community of culture, on the one hand, and compound groupings, such as the state, formed in the process of amalgamation of originally separate groups, such as masters and slaves or ethnic groups. In the state, ethnic groups merge into social classes, a common body of rights and obligations is developed, and internal conflict is toned down and possibly even composed. External conflict between states takes then the place of internal ethnic and class conflicts. Therefore, although Gumplowicz is classified often as a social Darwinist, he was actually one of the first social determinists. In his system, the individual and his motives were useless abstractions. The individual was the product of group experiences; his morals derived from his relations in the particular groups to whom he belonged, whereas his notions of rights could be traced to the accommodative norms developed by the struggle of interest groups in his society.

Gumplowicz's most important works include Rasse und Staat (1875), Der Rassenkampf (1893), and Grundriss der Sociologie (1885); the latter is his only work that has been translated into English by Frederick W. Moore, as Outlines of Sociology (1889) and reissued by Irving L. Horowitz (1962). An edition of all of Gumplowicz's writings, under the title Ausgewaehlte Werke, appeared in 1926. An evaluation of Gumplowicz as a Jew is contained in "Scholar and Visionary: the correspondence between Herzl and Ludwig Gumplowicz" (Herzl Yearbook, 1 (1958), 165–80).


B. Zebowski, Ludwig Gumplowicz: eine Bio-Bibliographie (1926); The Times (London, Aug. 20, 1909), 10a.

[Werner J. Cahnman and

Alvin Boskoff]

views updated

Ludwig Gumplowicz

The Polish-Austrian sociologist and political theorist Ludwig Gumplowicz (1838-1909) is considered one of the more significant "conflict" theorists in sociology.

Ludwig Gumplowicz was born on March 9, 1838, the son of prominent Polish Jews living in Cracow. His early career was as a journalist, but in 1875 he began his university career as a teacher of law at Graz, where he remained until shortly before his death.

Gumplowicz viewed sociology as the study of groups in conflict. Sociology was dominated by the social Darwinists, who crudely applied Charles Darwin's theories of "the survival of the fittest" and "the struggle for existence" to the development of human societies. Gumplowicz and others refined the application of these theories to society into a sociological system known as conflict theory. The theory, now considered to be somewhat dated, exercised an extraordinary influence in political, social, and legal studies, an influence which continues to this day.

Gumplowicz's theories played a major role in reorienting American political science away from the study of public law and the structure of government and toward the process of politics by focusing on interest groups.

Gumplowicz minimized the importance of the autonomous individual, viewing him in a Marxist deterministic manner. The individual never functions as individual but only as a member of a group, the influence of which determines his behavior. Thus social change and the development of history are entirely the products of social groups, their conflicts being analogous to the biological struggle for existence, with the result being growth. Human history, however, does not develop linearly but—as in all nature— cyclically, from birth, to growth, to maturation, to decline, to death, and then begins a new cycle.

According to Gumplowicz, the state originates in the conflict among races, which in turn are simply primitive groups. At the outset of his Outlines of Sociology he describes the foundation of the state:"Every political organization and hence every developing organization, begins when one group permanently subjects another. Subjection of some to the others is the source of political organization, is the condition essential to social growth." According to Lester Ward, this principle constitutes the cornerstone of Gumplowicz's theory.

Gumplowicz argued that there are no natural rights antecedent to the state, all rights being of the civil type only, that is, existing to the extent that they happen to be guaranteed by a particular state. The history of every nation is one of class conflict in which the fittest necessarily survive and dominate the less fit. Each group strives to become the controlling group within the state, the only motive being self-interest.

The same principles are applied to the behavior of states as to groups. Their most natural tendency is incessant increase of power, and territorial expansion is the expression of the very being of a state and is so inevitable that rulers and people are powerless to resist it. Gumplowicz also gave currency to the terms "syngenism" and "ethnocentrism."

Ironically, since Gumplowicz was Jewish, his work Race Struggle (1883) is regarded by some scholars as having been an important influence on the development of Nazi theories. Early in 1909 Gumplowicz left the University of Graz, and shortly thereafter he and his wife committed suicide.

Further Reading

Gumplowicz's influence on racism is discussed in William M. McGovern, From Luther to Hitler (1941). His contributions to the development of sociology are assessed in Lester F. Ward, Outlines of Sociology (1898), and Harry Elmer Barnes, Historical Sociology:Its Origins and Development (1948). A recent evaluation of Gumplowicz's significance is in the second English-language edition of his Outlines of Sociology (1963), edited and with an introduction and notes by Irving Horowitz. □

views updated

Gumplowicz, Ludwig (1838–1909) A Polish sociologist, Social Darwinist, and materialist, who argued that social evolution represented a struggle for economic resources resulting in the survival of the fittest. Because of ethnocentricism, this struggle is characterized by conflict between (in an evolutionary sequence) racial groups, nation-states, and classes. Little of his work has been translated into English (the notable exception being his Grundriss der Soziologie, 1885) and his writing is popularly discredited by its authoritarian and racist overtones, although theorists of global processes have recognized his contribution in drawing attention to large-scale social conflicts such as conquests and wars. See also military and militarism.

views updated

Ludwig Gumplowicz (lōōt´vĬkh gŏŏm´plōvĬch), 1838–1909, Austrian sociologist, political scientist, and jurist. From 1897 to 1909 he was a professor at Graz. He held that social development rose out of conflict, first among races, then among states, then among other social groups. His theories are expressed chiefly in Der Rassenkampf [race conflict] (1883) and Grundriss der Soziologie (1885, tr. The Outlines of Sociology, 1899).