Ratzenhofer, Gustav

views updated May 21 2018

Ratzenhofer, Gustav



Toward the end of a successful career in the Austrian army and after retirement, Gustav Ratzenhofer (1842–1904) wrote six books on political science, sociology, and philosophy. He was essentially self-taught in these fields, his formal education having ended after a brief period in secondary school. He had some experience in the family business of clockmaking, but friction with his stepfather led him to leave the business and, in 1859, to become a cadet in the army.

His service as president of the high military court in Vienna may have stimulated his interest in social science: in a biographical preface to his posthumously published Soziologie (1907), his son shows how Ratzenhofer’s ideas progressed logically toward sociology and philosophy. An early article focused on some tactical features of a particular campaign; next he wrote on military law; and from there he moved to the consideration of the political context of the law and, finally, to theoretical sociology and ontological and ethical problems. Indeed, sociology was for Ratzenhofer a part of a comprehensive philosophy, which he called positive monism.

Ratzenhofer’s political and sociological works are characterized by a preoccupation with the evolution of types of human associations. He reduced social phenomena to physical, chemical, and biological ones and located man’s fundamental drives in his biological nature. These drives are self-preservation (rivalry for food, Brotneid) and sex (hence the blood bond, Blutliebe). Every human being tends to act in terms of these and other basic interests, regardless of opposition, and therefore there exists a state of “absolute hostility” in the interaction of men. Absolute hostility was restrained within the primitive horde by the blood bond and by the felt advantages of cooperation in war and work. Among primitive hordes, the normal relationship was conflict—resulting from increasing contacts between hordes as populations grew. Such conflict often resulted in the conquest of one horde by another and the subsequent formation of a state, in which the exploitation of the defeated constituted the basis of economic and other social activity. Eventually, cultural sanctions developed for what had at first been forced labor by captives (1893, vol. 1, p. 13). Cultural contacts between states, facilitated by commerce, tended to limit the absolute control of a particular state over its subjects. In the long run these processes of limitation resulted in “civilization,” the transformation of primitive conquest and exploitation into “the equitable sharing of each individual … in the conditions of life” (1893, vol. 3, sec. 61).

Although Ratzenhofer did not acknowledge his debts specifically, his work owes much to Ludwig Gumplowicz, to Herbert Spencer, to Adolf Bastian, and perhaps something to Rudolf von Jhering. Jhering’s theory that “interests” are a fundamental factor in law may have been the source of Ratzenhofer’s emphasis on interests as the motive force in all human behavior. Ratzenhofer, in turn, had considerable influence on Albion W. Small, whose General Sociology (1905) devotes 16 chapters (over two hundred pages) to an interpretation of Ratzenhofer. There seems to be no specific heritage from Ratzenhofer in the social sciences of today; nevertheless, he was a pioneer in the use of factual realism in political science.

Floyd N. House

[For the historical context of Ratzenhofer’s work, see the biographies ofBastian; Gumplowicz; Spencer; for discussion of the subsequent development of Ratzenhofer’s ideas, seeSocial Darwinismand the biography of Small.]


1893 We sen und Zweck der Politih. 3 vols. Leipzig: Brockhaus. → Volume 1: Die sociologische Grundlage. Volume 2: Die Staatspolitik nach Aussen. Volume 3: Der Zweck der Politik im Allgemeinen.

1898Die sociologische Erkenntnis: Positive Philosophie des socialen Lebens. Leipzig: Brockhaus.

1899Der positive Monismus und das einheitliche Princip aller Erscheinungen. Leipzig: Brockhaus.

1901Positive Ethik: Die Verwirklichung des Sittlich-Seinsollenden. Leipzig: Brockhaus.

1902Die Kritik des Intellekts: Positive Erkenntnis-theorie. Leipzig: Brockhaus.

(1904) 1906 The Problems of Sociology. Volume 5, pages 815–824 in International Congress of Arts and Science, St. Louis, 1904, Congress of Arts and Science. Edited by Howard J. Rogers. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. → First published in the American Journal of Sociology, Volume 10, pages 177–188.

1907 Soziologie: Positive Lehre von den menschlichen Wechselbeziehungen. Leipzig: Brockhaus.


Bentley, Arthur F. 1926 Simmel, Durkheim, and Ratzenhofer. American Journal of Sociology 32:250–256.

Gramzow, Otto 1904 Gustav Ratzenhofer und seine Philosophie. Berlin: Schildberger.

Small, Albion W. 1905 General Sociology: An Exposition of the Main Development in Sociological Theory from Spencer to Ratzenhofer. Univ. of Chicago Press. → See Parts 4 and 5, pages 183–394, for an interpretation of Ratzenhofer’s theories.

Small, Albion W. 1908 Ratzenhofer’s Sociology. American Journal of Sociology 13:433–438.

Ratzenhofer, Gustav

views updated May 18 2018

Ratzenhofer, Gustav (1842–1904) See MILITARY AND MILITARISM.