Idea of Order


The starting point of Comte’s theory is a social state characterized by a “profound anarchy” (anarchie profonde), (3) springing from the revolutionary turmoils in the end of the 18th and in the beginning of the 19th century, and an attempt to insure a stable development of capitalism. What is needed after all is a reconciliation (synthesis) of order and progress. Order exists in society when its fundamental principles are stable and when almost all members of society are of equal opinion. According to Comte, such a state existed in the period of feudalism in places ruled by Christianity. Following Catholic counter-revolutionary thinkers, Bonald and De Maistre, Comte deals with protestantism as a “negative ideology” (De Maistre) which creates nothing but an intellectual anarchy. With the development of social science, as the spiritual framework, people will again think in the same way and thus insure social stability. It follows that a positive education is the necessary basis for the establishment of a positive order. Comte holds that the French Revolution was indispensable, since the old order was founded on the obsolete theological knowledge which, with the development of science, lost its credibility. The French Revolution did not offer a possibility of reorganizing society, as it was “negative” and “metaphysical” in its demands. Hence a need to create a new (positive) religion and new clergy which, like the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, will unite society. (4) A positive one-mindedness, which is contrary to political pluralism, is the basis of Comte’s political conception.

Starting from the changes introduced by the French Revolution, Comte tries to deal with its radicalism by curbing its original power and to use it to consolidate and develop a new order. He wants to “reconcile” the revolutionary spirit, which eliminated from the historical scene the obsolete “metaphysical” stage in the development of history, to the new “progressive” spirit of the “victorious bourgeoisie” (Enthoven) and thus ensure a stable development of capitalism and the establishment of the positive as the final stage in the development of civilization. Although Coubertin claims that the rapid industrial development, which deprived life of purpose, is the starting point for his endeavour to offer an Olympic philosophy as a new integrative spiritual force of society, the real reason is his endeavour to militarize the French bourgeoisie and urge it to embark on new colonial exploits, as well as a fear of the ever stronger working movement and the new revolutionary (communist) thought. Frightened by the Parisian Commune and the ever louder slogans of the French (and European) proletariat, Coubertin does not even think of a “reconciliation” to the revolutionary spirit that opens the possibility of overcoming the class society, but, by his reforms, seeks to destroy the germ of a novum created in modern society. In that context, his Olympic idea is at odds with the emancipatory impulses of Comte’s positivism. For Coubertin, the bourgeois is not only the advocate of capitalism, but also a privilege of the rich “elite” acquired in the periods of slavery and feudalism. Hence his political allies are the aristocracy and the Catholic Church – the sworn enemies of the French Revolution and the emancipatory heritage of the 19th century; that is why the ancient world, in which demos did not yet appear on the political scene, is the ideal world that should be sought for; that is why Coubertin sought to reduce the relations between workers and capitalists to the relation between feudal lords and serfs; that is why he concluded that with the French Revolution “only the form changed, while the essence remained the same”, and claimed that the feudal order was “more democratic”.

The fight between contradictions is excluded from both Comte’s and Coubertin’s social order. They are dominated by a “spontaneous harmony” (Gurvich) and not by the “integration of parts together with the existence of social contradictions”. (5) As a consistent social prophylactic, Coubertin has a holistic attitude to society: society becomes an organic whole that functions in harmony. Unlike Saint-Simon, Fourier and Marx, who in the conflict between social groups (classes) see the moving force of social progress, Coubertin, like Comte and Spencer, holds that political conflicts threaten the health of the social organism and slow down its (inevitable) advance, and therefore seeks to bring all (positive) social phenomena into an organic unity and remove those (negative) that threaten it. Coubertin rejected the struggle of the oppressed for freedom, equality and brotherhood – without which the history of mankind cannot be imagined. Conflict is allowed only within the context of Social Darwinist evolutionism: the fight for domination and natural selection become the basis of the “perfectioning” and “progress” of mankind. This is what gives the internal dynamics to “social statics”. The starting-point of Coubertins conception is the “fact” that the “ruling classes” (aristocracy and bourgeoisie) established an indisputable domination over the workers and thereby ended the history of class struggles. It is no accident that “reconciliation” is one of the key notions that Coubertin adopted from Comte, creating from it a universal principle of his social theory. In his positive philosophy Comte seeks to reconcile science and religion, and reconcile the ideals of the French Revolution to the counter-revolutionary doctrine of his time. Coubertin finds in “reconciliation” a magic formula that should “reconcile” the new and the old, Catholicism and modern Olympic paganism, workers and capitalists, women and pater familias, “lower races” and their colonial masters – for the sake of  social peace and the expansion of capitalism.

Comte departs from Aristotle’s’ thesis that man is zoon politikon. Unlike Rousseau’s “social contract”, according to which society is the result of people’s mutual agreement, for Comte, the “sociability of social order rests on people’s spontaneous instinct” – “sociability results spontaneously from human nature”. (6) Coubertin rejects Aristotle’s conception of man as zoon politikon, Rousseau’s contrat social and Comte’s theory. Man is a greedy animal, and society is the result of natural evolution and thus represents the highest form of the organization of the animal world, while the principle “might is right” is the chief integrative force of society. The social structure corresponds to the structure of the animal world: on the one hand, there are beasts (“master race”), on the other – ruminants (working “masses”). The “relations” between “master race” and working “masses” correspond to the relations between vultures and ruminants, which are conditioned by the way in which beasts ensure their survival: the “natural right” of beasts to devour herbivorous animals becomes the “natural right” of the strong to plunder and to kill the workers and members of the “lower races”. Coubertin creates the impression of a genetic predestination of the white race, embodied in the West-European bourgeoisie, to rule the world and speaks of a “master race”, and not of a “master class”, which in the course of evolution (fight for survival) acquired certain qualities that make it “superior” to other races. It is interesting that even Comte, in his later work “The System of Positive Policy”, refers to a “natural order”: “The material interests themselves, which the moral power should mix with the political power, are guided by two universal principles that spring from an accurate estimate of the natural order. On the one hand, men should feed women; on the other hand, the active class should feed the contemplative class.” (7)

According to Comte, the “industrial revolution” represents the “main necessary basis of the great movement of elementary development that thus far characterized modern society”. (8) He acknowledges the “direct influence of the industrial revolution on the changing of social phenomena and on the formulation of a new philosophical mode of thought”, (9) and “recognizes the significance of the division of labour for cooperation between people”. (10) “Although Comte”, claims Ante Fiamengo, “did not devote much attention to the element of the division of labour in his work, nor did he analyze the social division of labour, the association of the notions of cooperation, social solidarity and sociability, which he distinguishes from the family as a union based on the elements of compassion and sympathy, and his recognition of the significance of the division of labour in comprising the whole of the human kind in a single social organism, represents, to be sure, a bold participation of the ideas that were to some extent common to the theorists of his epoch, and especially to Marx and Engels.” (11) Coubertin relies on the industrial development, but seeks to instrumentalize it and thus prevent a direct influence of the industrial revolution on social affairs, which means the realization of the emancipatory possibilities created by industrialization. He completely devalued labour, not only as a means for creating social goods and insuring existence, and as a means for gaining control over natural laws and for developing man’s productivistic power, but also as a factor conditioning social structuring. Unlike Comte, who saw the significance of the division of labour for “comprising the whole of the human kind in a single social organism” and who associates with the social division of labour the notions such as “cooperation, social solidarity and sociability”, (12) Coubertin reduces society to a biological whole in which the tyrannical power of the rich “elite” is an indisputable integrative force.

Comte’s project of creating a positive one-mindedness by way of an absolutized and systematized positive scientific knowledge was a failure. For the new thought was not only meant to spiritually integrate the members of the ruling class but, in order to achieve “social peace”, it ought to have been “acceptable” for the working ”masses” that are the main “disturbing factor” in society. Coubertin’s Olympism in its original sense also seeks to become the integrative spiritual force of the bourgeoisie. However, it can acquire its true value only when it becomes one of the chief forms of integrating the oppressed into the spiritual orbit of capitalism. By turning sport, as the embodiment of the basic principles of capitalism in their pure form, into the fundamental and “cheapest spiritual food for the masses”, Coubertin created a possibility of realizing the basic intention of Comte’s positivism in establishing a positive one-mindedness that by its nature resembles the medieval Christianity (Catholicism). At the same time, instead of an absolutized and systematized positive knowledge, the activation of the ”masses” according to the principle bellum omnium contra omnes and the elimination of reason become the basic ways of dealing with a critical attitude to the present world. Instead of Comte’s attempt to create a positive one-mindedness by way of an absolutized positive knowledge, Coubertin gives priority to the creation of a positive character: sport, as a mindless agonal physical activism which embodies the dominant Social Darwinist and progressistic spirit, represents the basis of the creation of a positive character from which the corresponding positive conscious “spontaneously” develops. Comte created positive philosophy; Coubertin found a way to revive it.

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