How Society Makes Itself, by Howard J. Sherman. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, Inc. 2006. Paper: ISBN 0 7656 1652 1, $24.95. 236 pages. Cloth: ISBN 0 7656 1651 3, $64.95. 248 pages.
The basic conundrum addressed in this excellent book resides in the fact that "[t]he theory of evolution is still mostly absent from economics, where the main theories continue to be static and eternal in their assumptions" (p. 219). Consequently, there is a need to make introductory courses in the social sciences in general, and to economics in particular, permeable to knowledge dealing with the history and dynamics of social evolution. "How and why did human society change and evolve into new types of institutions? ... this book covers all issues that arise in social evolution" (p. ix). The methodology is interdisciplinary and embraces all the social sciences and history. Consequently, the implicit focus appears directed toward the provisioning of a supplementary textbook relevant for students taking introductory courses in the social sciences, especially economics. The book is also amenable to an educated lay public at large.
Sherman accepts this daunting challenge that is especially made more difficult given a limited size of 236 pages. To this challenge, in dealing with the dynamics of social evolution, Sherman offers a liberal perspective, hard-nosed integrity, and scholarship, manifest in his more than seventeen published books (note 1995, pp. xiii-xv). His tenacity and integrity, demonstrated during the McCarthy era, in the promotion of what is right and just has even been vindicated by the Supreme Court (pp.155-56; 1995, p. xiv). What then is the story of social evolution that unfolds as presented by Sherman? There are no laws of social evolution such as one might find in physics. Sherman also avoids technological reductionism or a unilinear advance directed toward an inevitable teleological end leading toward social progress for all societies. Nonetheless, "In spite of all the qualifications listed above, it is still correct to speak of a process of social change through the stages of evolution" (Sherman 1995, p. 66). If one seeks an evolutionary analysis, there is the need to explain structural transformation provided for by the application of a stage's methodology.
Starting with a primitive stage of a communal life, dealing with small groups, the evolution to the Neolithic stage nurtured surpluses and from which gave rise to the institution of slavery. The...