|Top: a 2002 social mechanics symbol, by Savio Alphanso (Ѻ), signifying the two cultures nature of social mechanics, the cross bridging interdisciplinary study of the nature of the passions of humans and human society and the mechanistic explanations used to explain the operation of those passions. Right: Eduard Sacher's 1881 Outline of a Mechanics of Society, wherein he gives a Mayer-Clausius based semblance of a social mechanics presentation. |
“[The checks and balances between Congress, the President, and the Supreme Court are] a sort of unconscious copy of the Newtonian theory of the universe [in which] every free body in the space of the heavens … is kept in its place … by the attraction of bodies that swing with equal order and precision about it.”— Woodrow Wilson (1908), writings on the Constitution 
“Man, the molecule of society, is the subject of social science.”
“'Mecanique sociale' may one day take her place along with 'mecanique celeste,' throned each upon the double-sided height of one maximum principle [principles of Lagrange], the supreme pinnacle of moral as of physical science. As the movements of each particle, constrained or loose, in a material cosmos are continually subordinated to one maximum sum-total of accumulated energy, so the movements of each soul, whether selfishly isolated or linked sympathetically, may continually be realising the maximum energy of pleasure. Mecanique sociale, in comparison with her elder sister, is less attractive to the vulgar worshipper in that she is discernible by the eye of faith alone. The statuesque beauty of the one is manifest; but the fairylike features of the other and her fluent form are veiled. But mathematics has long walked by the evidence of things not seen in the world of atoms (the methods whereof, it may incidentally be remarked, statistical and rough, may illustrate the possibility of social mathematics). The invisible energy of electricity is grasped by the marvellous methods of Lagrange; the invisible energy of pleasure may admit of a similar handling.”
|Polish sociologist Leon Winiarski's 1898 Essay on Social Mechanics, the first textbook on social mechanics. |
“We arrived, he said, to design the equilibrium theory can be extended economic phenomena at all social phenomena: political, legal, moral, aesthetic, religious and scientific. Extending the results obtained by pure economics to social science, we have come to the realization that the fundamental equations of Walras can be deduced from the general equations of motion of Lagrange and we have shown analytically how this deduction may be made. Having provided the equations of the social balance, we established the foundations of the social mechanics, in its static part, on the principle of Lagrange, that of minimum effort and maximum energy, that is to say on the principle that forms the basis of cosmic mechanics. Turning to the dynamic part of the problem, we gave a definition of social energy and biological energy. This brings us to the principles of thermodynamics, the third, that of Clausius, also explains the gradual spiritualization any aggregate and closed down its potential. This dissipation of entropy that occurs in the social world, as in the physical world. Finally, we showed how the principle of least effort and accelerating the speed differentiation and explains the gradual integration of social aggregates by increasing their perfect adaptation to natural and artificial.”
“There is therefore a true science of social mechanics, and as social energy is only a special mode of manifestation of the universal energy, social mechanics is only a kind of mechanics which deals with this form of energy. The fundamental classification of mechanics, as we saw, is into statics and dynamics, and social statics and social dynamics are as legitimate branches of mechanics as are hydrostatics and hydrodynamics, the principles of which are commonly included in text-books of mechanics. In fact, Winiarsky has made a direct application of thermodynamics to social mechanics as essential to its full treatment. I shall deal with social statics and social dynamics in that order, which is the same as that in which mechanics is always treated, the advantage of which is even greater here than in other departments, as will be clearly apparent as we proceed.”Ward also devotes an entire section to ‘social energy’ discussing the conservation of energy and how energy and force are nearly equivalent, citing the work of James Joule and Hermann Helmholtz, also discussing ideas on ‘social forces’.
|Russian-born American sociologist Pitirim Sorokin's 1928 classification of the first main branch (of eleven) of "contemporary sociology", that of the “mechanistic school of social thermodynamics”, all based on the thermodynamics of Rudolf Clausius, with social mechanics listed as the first main branch. |
(a) Social mechanicsRepresentatives: Antonio Portuondo, Spiru Haret, Alfred Lotka(b) Social physicsRepresentatives: Henry Carey(c) Social energetics (or social thermodynamics)Representatives: Ernest Solvay, W. Bechtereff, Wilhelm Ostwald, Thomas Carver, and Leon Winiarski(d) Mathematical sociologyRepresentatives: Vilfredo Pareto and F. Carli
“Winiarski’s mechanistic interpretation posits society as a system of points, individuals in perpetual movement, with attraction as the primary cause of movement. This attraction is like chemical affinity which mechanical bases but with psychic force not present in the physical world, which, however, in turn is nothing more than a form of physico-chemical energy which in turn, in the form of life, may be transferred from potential to kinetic energy, and this transformation is primarily through the processes of alimentation and reproduction. Human masses transmute energies of hunger and sex into various social, economic, aesthetic or intellectual forms, the transformation proceeding entirely according to the laws of thermodynamics. Society and human beings will ultimately reach an equilibrium in some way as the physical world has reached its equilibrium and social science must devise objective units of studying this energistic system of humans in relation to their world.”
|From circa 1945 to 1955, at the Princeton University physics department, American astrophysicist and engineer John Q. Stewart, ran a Rockefeller Foundation grant-funded social physics/social mechanics applied research group. |
See main: Princeton University Department of Social PhysicsFrom circa 1945 to 1955, at the Princeton University, American astrophysicist John Q. Stewart, with grant funding from the Rockerfeller Foundation, headed a project on the development of social physics or social mechanics, depending on namesake, at the University of Princeton. In circa 1953, for example, he presented a paper before the American Physical Society, wherein he discussed how three of the first three of the main six main forms of physical energy (kinetic, elastic, gravitational, thermal, electromagnetic, and chemical), namely: kinetic, elastic, and gravitational have been showing up in the form of a subject classified as “social mechanics”, which is said to deal with time, space, and mass of material as social controls, albeit classified as a “rather neglected” branch of general social study.  In 1957, American science journalist John Lear, in his New Scientist newsletter “The Laws of Social Relationship”, summarized Stewart's work as follows: 
“With the help of a small grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, a handful of scholars at Princeton University have been working for some time past in what most people would call a new science: social physics. As the name implies, this science is based on the proposition that physical laws governing the behavior of atoms and planets are applicable as well to social relationships among humans. Distance and time spate one mass of people (a city, say, or a nation) from another and affect interactions accordingly: the number of people and their psychological temper and desire also help to decide what turns are taken in world’s affiars. Stewart, associate professor of astronomical physics at Princeton, equates these half dozen social quantities with six fundamental categories of physical science—distance, time, mass, number of molecules, temperature, and electric charge. And he says that it is most unfortunate that the parallels are ignored by politicians and statesmen, for the laws of science have a way of making themselves felt even when the existence is disputed. “Statesmen of this and other nations … have embarked upon grandiose undertakings where on physical grounds failure was predictable,” Stewart observes, “and … failure meant that … people perished in vain.”
“From the beginning sociology has been haunted by the dream of explaining social phenomena by the mathematical and quantitative methods of the physical sciences and thus creating a science of society which will be completely mechanistic and determinist. The path of sociology is strewn with the corpses of defunct systems of “social physics,” “social energetics,” and “social mechanics,” and their failure does little to discourage fresh adventures. Such systems have little use for history or for social reality; they content themselves with generalizations that have significance and with “laws” which are nothing but false analogies … nothing but an apparatus for the transformation of solar energy into human energy (Carver and Ostwald), while Winiarsky argued that social change proceeds according to the laws of thermodynamics. Such extravagances explain the distrust shown towards sociology by historians, for the experience of the complexities of the complex reality of the social process makes them naturally hostile to the crude simplicity of pseudoscientific generalizations.”
“Some modes of mechanism (Chapter 10), such as Simmel’s, are tolerated; others, such as Lundberg’s, are not. Simmel is deemed a moderate even though he leans toward nominalism, just as Durkheim is favorably contrasted with Simmel as a moderate who leans toward realism. Lundberg is criticized for aping physics—for using motion, energy, and force as social mechanism and defining societal groups as ‘electron-proton configurations’—thereby being enslaved by ‘mechanistic modes of thought’ (pgs. 153-54).
The work of Henry Charles Carey (which is discussed in Chapters 10 and 11) and that of S.C. Haret is characterized as extreme mechanicism. Both apply physical principles to society (e.g. force, attraction, motion, constrains, space, equilibrium, energy, and electricity) and both see individuals in mechanistic-atomistic terms (e.g. as particles and or molecules) as inert elements caused from without. Stark criticizes extreme mechanicism for its inability to deal with social fact (pg. 163) and as inclined to be a- or anti-historical (pg. 159).
Some ‘empiricism’ is evident here in Stark’s criticisms of the various types of mechanicism he posits. His argument is an angry one: that Carey, Pareto, and Lundberg have all ‘imported’ models from elsewhere (e.g. from physics and astronomy), and have ‘imposed’ them on social phenomena (which Stark knows to have an idealistic character) under a ‘unity of nature’ positivist ideal, which is really a sociology unified under physics (pg. 155).”