Development and Underdevelopment in the History of Economic Thought

Fundamental paradigms in economics: Peter Struve on "universalism" versus "singularism"

Chaloupek Guenther, Austrian Chamber of Labour (retired), independemt scholar

Peter (Pjotr Bernhardovich) Struve (1870-1944), Russian economist, politician, journalist, is little known among social scientists of the West. Born into a family of German origin, he started as an intellectual leader of socialism in tsarist Russia. Having changed his political orientation to liberal and, later, to conservative, he had to emigrate after the revolution. He held a variety of different posts and occupations. Struve died in Paris in 1944. This contribution will focus on Struve’s German and French writings on the epistemological and methodological foundations of economics.. Struve’s departure from Marxism is foreshadowed by his critical account of Marx’s theory of evolution in 1899.Therein Struve posed the question whether the “conceptual-logical framework was consistent with the whole of our actual experience”. In an essay published 1909 Struve argued that it was important to pose the question which theoretical propositions are fundamental for certain social ideals (such as socialism, liberalism, ethical orientation of the Historical School) and practical-political postulates. He introduced the dichotomy between “universalism” and “singularism” for a critical analysis of the two opposite world views socialism and liberalism. Economic universalism means that the economy is a priori considered as a whole, whereas singularism the will of the individual agent is the starting point. With respect to epistemology, there is a corresponding dichotomy between “realism” and “nominalism”. Struve introduces a third dichotomy between rationality and irrationality. Socialism assumes that a complete rational understanding of the economic process is possible, but liberalism also pays tribute to universalist rationality by postulating spontaneous harmony. The contribution will compare Struve’s approach with similar approaches proposed by Karl Pribram and Othmar Spann before World World War I, and also discuss Struve’s concept of “laws of nature”.


Keywords: Peter Struve, economic methodology, paradigms of economics, socialism, liberalism, Historical School

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