Albert Schaffle

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In existographies, Albert Schaffle (124-52 BE) (1831-1903 ACM) (LH:#) was a German sociologist and political economist, aka “pioneer of scientism in sociology” (Stark, 1962), noted for []


In 1878, Schaffle, in his four-volume The Structure of Life and the Social Body, attempted to outline a model of society based on physiology, anatomy, and organ or organism models; the following is the abstract:

“An encyclopedic sketch of a real anatomy, physiology, and psychology of human society, with special reference to the national economy and considered as the social process of digestion.”
— Albert Schaffle (1878), The Structure of Life and the Social Body (title page)[1]

Schaffle, of note, equated chemical affinity, loosely, to “mental forces”. The following is one example:

“The coherence of social tissues is not of the same kind as that of organic tissues. No uninterrupted occupancy of ‘space’ is observable so far as the personal and property substance [of society] is concerned; while in the organic body, cells and intercellular parts form a solid object. In society, it is not forces like cohesion, adhesion, or chemical affinity which effect coherence and coordination in the body social, but ‘mental forces’ which are capable come up by dint of the physical powers of their instrumental apparatus, to establish a far reaching spiritual and bodily connection and cooperation between spatially separated elements.”
— Albert Schaffle (1878), The Structure of Life and the Social Body (pg. 286); cited by Werner Stark (1962) in: The Fundamental Forms of Social Thought (pgs. 63-64)


“All this does not amount to an essential difference between social and organic tissues. Even in organic and inorganic nature we do not find a unitary link that would hold the bodies together, but the proper forces of the innumerable elements, which attract and bind each other mechanically and chemically in characteristic and constant types of cohesion, act as innumerable ties. The social tissues are in exactly the same case.”
— Albert Schaffle (1878), The Structure of Life and the Social Body (pg. 286); cited by Werner Stark (1962) in: The Fundamental Forms of Social Thought (pgs. 63-64)

In commentary on this, Werner Stark cites the parallel example of Thomas Aquinas, whom he says made similar comparisons between cooperation of physical organs and that of men considered as social functionaries. Stark then says that where Schaffle goes astray or wrong is in his argument that physical organs are “forced” to cooperate for the benefit of the whole, whereas people are “free” to choose to place their own interest first, above that of the community.

Stark rule

The following, where we see “egotistic liver”, “scheming spleen”, and “self-seeking kidney” mentioned Stark’s anthropomorphic-based humorous take on Schaffle’s model:

“The real contrast between the two forms of life lies somewhere else. It lies in the fact that physical organs are ‘forced’ to operate for the benefit of the whole, while social functionaries are ‘free’ to place their own interest above that of the community and very often, not to say regularly, do it. Differently expressed: while ‘men’, insofar as they fulfill social functions, may be compared to ‘cells’, in so far as they fulfill organic functions, the cell is restricted to that role, whereas man is not: he can play his own game! A comparison, in order to be sound, must, like a true question, makes sense if you read it from the other side. But this is precisely what we cannot do here without drifting into absurdity. It may be possible to equate a ‘working’ member of society with a ‘working’ limb of the physical body, but it is impossible to create a normal, i.e. normal ‘working’, organ with a normal, i.e. normally ‘working’, person. What nonsense it would be to speak of: a ‘self-seeking kidney’ or a ‘scheming spleen’ or an ‘egotistic liver’!”
Werner Stark (1962), The Fundamental Forms of Social Thought (pg. 64)

Here, we seek Stark holding fast, in his Christian mental anchor, to the following five anthropisms:

Yet, he attempts to hold onto the possibility that we my employ the term “work” (or working). Stark wants his cake and to eat it too.

Spiritual connections?

Schaffle, according to Fritz Mann (1937), attempted to show a unity between human social behavior and the biological processes observed by natural science, while retaining a ‘spiritual’ aspect in the tradition of German idealist philosophy.[2]

The Catholic sociologist Werner Stark (1962), however, argues that Schaffle’s use of the term “spiritual” is not done in the divine or religious sense, but rather an “extreme materialism” definitional sense of things. Stark cites the following to exemplify:

“The collective motions of the body social, are middle resultants of much more complex and varied partial motions. Even to these results applies the law of movement in the direction of least resistance. The lines which legislation (das recht) prescribes for the movement of society are in the last analysis merely the lines of direction (der richtung) of least resistance in which the contradictory individual movements, which have met, have merged themselves. Politics can in a certain sense be regarded as the great art of daily finding of those directions of least resistance in which numerous antagonistic special forces fuse. The conscious social movements tend and exactly the same way in the direction in which nature and art, soil and society offer least resistance as do unconscious mechanical movements of organic and inorganic nature. Nothing prevents us from explaining the course of social history according to the laws of mechanics and to recognize in human society hey much more complicated play of the same tendencies and forces which unfold themselves with inorganic and inorganic reality.”

— Albert Schaffle (1878), The Structure of Life and the Social Body (pg. 23, seq.); cited by Werner Stark (1962) in: The Fundamental Forms of Social Thought (pgs. 65)

Stark summarizes this as follows:

“These sentences allow us to look deeply into Schaffle’s mind. They show that his repeated insistence on the ‘spiritual nature’ of the ties which bind men to each other in society means nothing, nothing at all. The social pattern coincides, in the full sense of the word, with the physical patterns of nature, animate and even inanimate, as if it were not man-made.”
— Werner Stark (1962), The Fundamental Forms of Social Thought (pg. 65)

Stark, in short, says that the use of the term “spiritual” or “spiritual nature” in the context of the laws of mechanics, means “nothing, nothing at all”. This is a good point to note.

End matter


  1. (a) Schaffle, Albert. (1878). The Structure of Life and the Social Body (Bau und Leben des sozialen Körpers). Publisher.
    (b) Stark, Werner. (1962). The Fundamental Forms of Social Thought. Routledge.
  2. Mann, Fritz K. (1937). “Albert Eberhard Friedrich Schaffle”, in: Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences: Volume 13 (editor: Edwin Seilgman) (pgs. 562-63). Macmillan.

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