Fate and Utopia in German Sociology provides a lucid introduction to a major sociological tradition in Western thought. It is an intellectual history of five scholars—Ferdinand Tönnies, Ernst Troeltsch, Max Weber, Georg Simmel, and Georg Lukács—who created modern German sociology over the course of fifty years, from 1870 to 1923.
Liebersohn portrays his subjects as thinkers who were deeply immersed in the politics and poetry of their time, and whose sociology benefited in unexpected ways from sources as diverse as medieval mysticism and Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy. He maps out their shared sociological discourse, shaped in response to the fragmentation they perceived in public life, in education and the arts, and in Protestant religious life.
German sociology has generally been interpreted as having a tragic perspective on modern society (as implied by the pervasive idiom of "fate"); Liebersohn argues that this sense of fate was matched by an underlying utopian hope for an end to fragmentation, rooted for all of his subjects in the Lutheran idea of community.The book's five biographical chapters are structured to discuss ideas of community, society, and personality in the work of the individual discussed, while there is a general movement among the chapters from community to society to socialism. Many specific texts are discussed, and the overall orientation is one of intellectual history rather than sociological analysis.