The dangers of editing encyclopedias are not so great these days as they used to be. When Diderot brought out the first volumes of the Encyclopédie in 1751, he was continuously persecuted by clerical and political authorities: in 1752 the first two volumes were suppressed. In 1759 the license to publish was withdrawn altogether; and during the next four years, Diderot wrote the last ten volumes almost single-handed, in conditions of semi-secrecy. Moreover, in 1875, when William Robertson Smith published the article on The Bible in the ninth edition of the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, he was so strongly attacked that he was removed from his chair of Hebrew and Old Testament Studies at Aberdeen, and he became editor-in-chief of the encyclopedia that had been instrumental in his downfall.

If editors today do not face such hazards, one reason is clear. The tradition whereby an encyclopedia should challenge the received wisdom of the age is dead; encyclopedias instead are the received wisdom age, written by conventional academics for conventional academics. As such, we are bound to suspect them and at the same time to hope that our suspicions will prove to be unjustified. The honorary editor of the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, Professor Alvin Johnson, claims that what his colleagues have produced is “an encyclopaedia that is entirely new, entirely expressive of the times.” This is a sufficiently wicked age for such a claim to deepen our suspicion and to intensify our hope.

Let me begin by praising the editors for what is a considerable achievement, even if, as I shall argue, a qualified one. Praise is deserved first for the remarkably high standard of so many articles. No teacher in the social sciences can afford not to know the articles relevant to his courses; in some cases it will be difficult for him to find elsewhere better accounts of the state of his discipline. Oskar Morgenstern’s essay on Game Theory, Edmund Leach’s on Ritual, Sidney Morgenbesser’s on Scientific Explanation, Jean Piaget’s on Developmental Psychology, R. Duncan Luce and Patrick Suppes’s on Mathematics, and Francis Haskell’s on Art and Society—these are as masterly as one would have expected from such authors, although each essay is presented in a very different way. There are many other articles of equal distinction. Indeed, if social scientists kept this book by their bedsides and read an essay on some field other than their own every night, some exciting things might begin to happen.

The editors deserve praise also for the occasional brilliant and unexpected choice of author. Eric Hobsbawm on Poverty is one example; M. I. Finley on Slavery is another. Moreover, the choice of subjects shows intelligent and original editorial judgment. “Social Science Fiction,” an admirable piece by Yole G. Sills, lies unexpectedly between the solemnities of “Social Psychology” and “Social Structure.”

Is there a dogmatic editorial view-point? The editors have obviously worked hard to give room to widely conflicting views. They have done so by allowing authors with views sharply at variance to write on different subjects. This creates an odd impression in fields in which I do know the literature—in the eclectic effect produced by the articles on psychology, for example; but I am therefore more worried about those in which I do not. Nevertheless it is difficult to see that at this level much more could have been done.

On other problematic matters the editors have been less successful. They have wisely decided to include biographies of those still alive: “however, we felt that in order to be included a person should have completed most of his scientific work. Accordingly, a rule was established that no living person could be included who was born after 1890.” This lets in Lukacs, but excludes any consideration of the development of Lévi-Strauss or of Talcott Parsons,” and since this means that we receive instead incidental discussions of their views in the course of articles on other topics, the result is highly unsatisfactory. But the embarrassment often involved for contributors in writing about still living colleagues may be a sufficient reason to justify the editorial rule.

Yet when all this has been said a large question remains. An encyclopedia of the social sciences is itself a fit object of study by the social sciences. It is a product of a particular culture and it must bear the marks of that culture and exhibit the limitations of that culture. Can we discern them? Some simple counting may help. The declared intention of the editors was to be thoroughly international both in their subject matter and in their choice of contributors. There are more than a thousand contributors from the United States; there are more than a hundred contributors from Great Britain and about the same number from Western Europe; there are four from the entire Communist world. These four contribute short biographical articles. There are two biographical articles, on Znaniecki and Ossowski, devoted to Polish sociology, and five lines in the general article on “Sociology: The Field.” Even Soviet sociology does not warrant the even more cursory treatment it receives, but the virtually scandalous treatment of Polish sociology already goes some way toward vitiating the claim to internationalism.


The absence of the Poles may safely be ascribed to an intellectually distorted American cultural map, in which Eastern Europe is merely a place which people left to go to America, but a politically distorted cultural map seems to have informed the editors’ extraordinary treatment of Marxism. No articles on Plekhanov, Bukharin, or Preobrazhensky, and not a single entry in the Index referring to the last. But perhaps it is not politics that is involved, but mere provincialism. In the article “Sociology: The Field” Professor A. J. Reiss Jr. discusses the question of why Marxism has had relatively so little impact on American sociology. He might have been less confident that the true answer is not just ignorance had he been able to see the whole encyclopedia before he wrote his article. To put the absence of articles on Plekhanov, Bukharin, and Preobrazhensky into further perspective I must mention that there are numerous articles on very minor figures in the history of German and American thought.

If, in the perspective of the editors, being an Eastern European or a Communist is greatly to one’s disadvantage, being a Frenchman is scarcely less of a handicap. In the article on “Social Structural Analysis” Lévi-Strauss is the only Frenchman even mentioned after Durkheim and Halbwachs. Althusser is not mentioned either here or anywhere else in the encyclopedia. Goldmann receives two lines (although no entry in the Index). Even to have died will not help if one is French. The two most astounding absences are Georges Gurvitch and Maurice Merleau-Ponty.

Nor are these the only areas in which there are striking omissions. Not only is there no contribution by the important German sociologist Jürgen Habermas, but he is nowhere even mentioned. One could go on adding names in this way for some time.

We can now characterize the editorial view. It is one from which quite small figures are visible, even in dense clusters, in certain times and places—England, Germany, and America, for example—while in others even very tall men have become invisible. This distortion may be connected with another characteristic of the encyclopedia. This is straightforward, old-fashioned political bias, both by omission and by commission. There is, for example, a quite inadequate discussion of Project Camelot. Project Camelot, a study of the prospects for counter-insurgency actions in underdeveloped countries (or how to keep pro-American governments in power), launched in 1964, was perhaps not an exceptional example of the prostitution of American social scientists on behalf of the military-industrial complex. The official description of this project, which was to have received a million and a half dollars annually for three or four years, was “a study whose objective is to determine the feasibility of developing a general social systems model which would make it possible to predict and influence politically significant aspects of social change in the developing countries of the world.” The project, when exposed, collapsed in shame. The author of the article on the ethical problems of the social sciences views this episode in a properly critical way. But even he writes from a standpoint from which Project Camelot appears as an isolated example. The encyclopedia itself provides evidence which suggests that it is not.

Consider another political gem. Mr. D. K. Fieldhouse writes in the article “Economic Aspects of Colonialism” that “if ‘neocolonialism’ exists, it is the inevitable product of an inherent imbalance between the advanced and the developing economies, irrespective of the political factors involved,” and asserts that the developing countries can choose not to be involved in such economic relationships “if they prefer to avoid contacts of these kinds in order to retain their entire freedom of action…” When in 1954 Guatemala nationalized 400,000 acres of land owned by the United Fruit Company and valued by them in their tax returns at $600,000, the U.F.C. demanded $16,000,000 compensation and supported the overthrow of the Guatemalan regime by force. When Brazil captured 14 percent of the United States market in soluble coffee, the Brazilian government was forced by the US to impose an export tax on its own powdered coffee. What choice had the Guatemalan government? What choice the Brazilian? One could go on multiplying instances. As Mr. Fieldhouse says, “Facts are in any case more important than accusations.” But about such facts Mr. Fieldhouse is silent.

I pick out this article because its tone typifies the complacency with which the encyclopedia views the Western present. The article on “Anglo-American Society” by S. M. Lipset, for example, never mentions the problems about race which recur in three out of the four Anglo-American nations he discusses. As the tone of the discussion of Project Camelot indicates, this is not just a complacency about the political scene, but also about the connections that may be and sometimes have been forged between that scene and academic social science. And it is this latter complacency about which academic social scientists ought to feel anxious. So long as it continues, the editors of such encyclopedias in the United States are unlikely to suffer the fate of either Diderot or Robertson Smith. I wonder whether they should be entirely happy about this.


This Issue

February 27, 1969