By Igor Kon, H. Campbell Creighton
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18 Spencer‘s visit to the USA in 1882 was a real triumph. S. 19 The attitude to him, however, was never unequivocal. He was seen at first mainly as a theorist of naturalistic evolutionism; he enjoyed his greatest influence among spokesmen of social Darwinism (W. G. Sumner). Proponents of a psychological orientation, on the contrary, criticised him for his naturalism. The crisis of evolutionism at the turn of the century evoked sharp criticism of Spencer. But Durkheim had already seen in him the forerunner of the functionalist trend.
Gobineau endeavoured to show that social institutions did not condition the life activity of races but, on the contrary, were determined by it. They were the consequences, not the causes, he declared. The central theme of his work was that the inequality connected with racial differences, and the struggle of races stemming from it, were the cause of the decline and death of civilisations. Being a pessimist he started from the fatal inevitability of the death of all civilisations, including the European.
The influence of this linear conception of social evolution was strengthened by the fact of Darwin‘s evolutionary ideas having long had an effect on sociology through the medium of Spencer‘s philosophical evolutionism and its universal ‗hypothesis of development‘ and principle of differentiation. Evolutionary sociology also inherited from social philosophy a metaphysical posing of the problem of the ‗prime movers‘ of history. The positivistically oriented naturalistic trends, which were united by an approach to society as a part of nature governed by its universal laws, endeavoured to make this concept to some extent empirical, and began to explain the development of society by the action of certain determinant factors understood as natural objective forces.
A History of Classical Sociology by Igor Kon, H. Campbell Creighton