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On the Marxian Theory of Social Control: A Reply to Horwitz Author(s): Steven Spitzer Source:
On the Marxian Theory of Social Control: A Reply to Horwitz Author(s): Steven Spitzer Source:

On the Marxian Theory of Social Control: A Reply to Horwitz Author(s): Steven Spitzer Source: Social Problems, Vol. 24, No. 3 (Feb., 1977), pp. 364-366 Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for the Study of Social

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University of Pennsylvania

Alan Horwitz's criticismof my essay restson a partial, andthereforedistortedcharacteri-

zation of the causalstructure underlying the "theory."' Specifically, he chooses to isolate

one component

controllers) and argue as if that component comprised the whole of the theoretical system. By truncating and telescoping the theory, Horwitz not only removes the decisive causal element from the explanation(the historically-baseddevelopment of contradictionsin class society), he also createsan impression of tautology wherenone exists. Thereis a functional proposition within the theory: within class societies the system of social control will tend to take the form which best insuresthe maintenanceandextension of class rule. But to analyze this proposition in a vacuumand ignore its contingent character is to do serious violence to the Marxianmodel. Becausecontrol arrangements are ultimately a response to structurallygenerated and historicallycontingentproblems of class society, the essentialcause of deviance processingsystems cannot be discoveredin eitherthe interaction between the rulersand the ruled, or the specific "needs" of the ruling class. It must be found in the distinctive forms of socio-economic organization(e.g. slavery, feudalism,

capitalism, state socialism) that call into being specific forms of social control at particular

points in

system is

(Horwitz, 1977), would be to deny the foundationsof Marx'shistorical materialism.It would rip the relationship between the problems of class society and control from the his- torical context in which it is imbedded and, in so doing,posit an empty, ahistoricalandself-

replicatingprocess. It is precisely the historicalnature of the theory that enables us to distinguish which

forms of control are likely to be used at a given point in the development of a system of class rule. If we limit ourselvesto the "needs"of the ruling class to explain, for example, why capital punishment was favored in 18th century England and whipping in the slave- owners' South, and why community-treatment is popular in contemporaryAmerica, we would removefrom considerationthe conditions basic to Marxian interpretation. It is only when these historical conditions are ignored that the theory becomes "untestable" or "unfalsifiable."According to Hemple (1966:31) "a scientific hypothesis normally yields test implications only when combined with suitable auxillary assumptions." When these assumptions (in this case the assumption of dialectical development) are suspended, the impression that a theory cannotbe tested may be erroneously sustained.

in the process of deviance production (the self-generated "needs"of the

their development. To infer from Marxian theory that "whicheversocial control actually adopted becomes the one which best stabilizes ruling class dominance"

In deciphering the causesof control it

is clearthat ruling classesdo not simply "choose"


i thought I made clear in the original article, my intention

was only to offer a prolegomena

to a theory, not a theory in the strict sense of the word. The presumption that a theory of deviance could be developed and presented within the space of a journal article reveals important differences between Positivist and Marxist conceptions of what theory is and how it is created. For anyone work- ing with the Marxian tradition it would be foolish to call a few interrelated propositions a theory, or to expect that theories can be developed simply by first grinding out "testable" propositions like pre-

packaged sausage and then playing erector games with those propositions in the task of "theory construc- tion." Although I disagree with the assumptions underlying his reasoning and definitions of what theory

is, I fully agree

intended or pretended to do so.

with Horwitz's observation that I have not proffered a "true" theory of deviance: I never

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whatever works, "they choose from standpoints, views and propensities that do not form

anotherset of

ter, 1962:12).

to be most consistent with their historically-defined classintersts.2Not only are they some-

times ill-advisedor clumsy in their selection and application of control measures: they may

actually behave "irrationally" in that their attempts to achievecontrol produce an opposite

effect. Of

any given

itself. Given the significance of this type of "irrationality" for Marx's conception of social

change, it is ironic that Horwitz imputes a "rationality" to the ruling class-a rationality which not only anthropomorphizes the control system, but alsocontradictsthe basic premises of Marxian theory. In contrast to Parsonsiantheories of law, with which my analysis was compared, thereis no equilibrium assumption within the Marxianmodel. Instead, the theory assumes an

essential disequilibrium and instability, a continuous movementof systems of

toward their own dissolution. To follow Horwitz'sadviceand "predict in advancethat one

deviance processingsystem from a range of possibilities will be adopted because it most effectively stabilizes the rule of the capitalist class," we would have to assume that the characteristicsof these systems are exclusively determined by the imperatives of control, and that changes in these systems are only a reflection of tendenciestoward equilibrium. Wewould have, in other words, a theory muchcloserto the formulationsof Michels (1962) and Pareto (1967) than those of Marx.

independent data but arethemselvesmolded by the objective set" (Schumpe-

Rulersthus select or countenancemodalitiesof control which appear to them

course, this irrationality is

not a measureof the ineffectivenessor ineptitude of

of the contradictionsinherentin the class system

set of rulers; it is a reflection


I regret that my essay did not distinguish more clearly between Marxian, functionaland

is clear that theoretical

insights are not always renderedmore intelligible when they are reduced to the slender proportions of a causal formula.Whiletheories should always be stated in termsthat make them susceptible of proof, the development of "true" theory willsufferwheneverwe become

preoccupied with the

elite theories. But whateverthe merits of my originalargument, it

formof a relationship to the exclusion of its substance.

Hemple, CarlG.


1966 Philosophy of Natural Science. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.

Horwitz, Allan

1977 "Marxist theories of deviance and teleology: A critique of Spitzer." Social Problems, This issue.

Michels, Robert

1962 Political Parties. New York: Collier Books.

those of empiricist leanings because

"empiricism has always been hostile to the notion of a purpose or tendency which can supposedly be

from the conscious desires of the being concerned" (Taylor, 1966:241). The crucial

identified separately

distinction is that

notes, "in talking of the structural events

of history, such as the rise of classes, as though they fell in the realm of human action, even though they

did not represent the goal

(the Marxists) seem to be setting alongside the

ordinary explanation through individual agents

one which makes appeal to entities with wills distinct

from that of their members. For Marxism of course, the will of, say, the bourgeoisie is nothing mysterious,

This will

not be perhaps



therefore, is without meaning, then, indeed,

history, as it were, from the outside. The theory appears to be an odd kind of supernatural holism."

the will of a class becomes something mysterious added on to

that it is conscious of having, that this type of 'interpretation,'

distorted 'ideological' form. If, however, one wishes to maintain

the will of the bourgeois as they would recognize it. But this is not surprising, for they are

but is simply the commonly accepted aims of the bourgeois

2 The causal structure of Marxian theory is easily misconstrued by

for Marxian theory individuals can be influenced by social structure without having a

clear conception of what is at stake. As Taylor (1966:241-242

of any individual agent, they

aware of

the ends they seek in a

a will can only have the content

as seen in the historical context

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Pareto, Vilfredo


1967 Sociological Writings. S. E. Finer (ed.). New York: Praeger.

Schumpeter, Joseph A.

1962 Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. New York: Harper Torchbooks.

Taylor, Charles

1966 "Marxism and empiricism." in Bernard Williams and Alan Montefiore (eds.), British Analytical

Philosophy. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

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