During the years between the publication of the first of his two major works, The Structure of Social Action (1937), and the writing of his second, The Social System (1951), Talcott Parsons was primarily engaged in political activity through the Office of Strategic Services in its efforts to bring about the defeat of the Third Reich and to set the stage for a democratic reconstruction of postwar Germany. Beyond Parsons' analytic skills the essays reveal a dedicated liberal scholar, far removed from the stereotypes with which he came to be pilloried by later critics.
The essays in this collection are the by-products of that special period of intense commitment. They reflect a single dominant theme: National Socialist Germany is seen as a tragically flawed social system but one requiring the same rigorous analysis Parsons brought to more normal and normative systems. Since virulent authoritarianism and even more virulent anti-Semitism were the dominant traits of that system as he saw it, Parsons dedicated many pages to each aspect. While he did not know the full horror of the Nazi "war against the Jews" he was able to develop a theoretical framework that continues to be a foundation stone for the analysis of national socialism.
Gerhardt's editorial labors in the Parsons archive at Harvard have yielded nothing less than a "new book" by the foremost American sociological theorist of his time. This collection of both published and unpublished writings conveys Parsons' cohesive intent. To these otherwise fugitive and neglected essays Gerhardt contributes an introductory essay of her own: in part biography, in part intellectual and social history. She discovered Parsons work on National Socialism while studying his sociology of the professions and his use of medical practice to demonstrate how social science could become an antidote for fascism and authoritarianism.
Uta Gerhardt is director of the Medical Sociology Unit at Justus Liebig University, Giessen. She has taught sociology at the Free University of Berlin, the University of Konstanz, the University of California at Berkeley, the San Francisco Medical School, the University of London, and the University of Wisconsin at Madison. The present volume comes out of her sabbatical year as Research Affiliate of the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, of Harvard University.