A Seance with Philip Rieff
Sociology Warwick University coventry, UK
Philip Rieff's three volume magnum opus, Sacred Order/Social Order, started to appear just before his death in 2006. It was accompanied by a fourth volume, Charisma: the gift of grace (2007) An almost forgotten man - his last important work was The Triumph of the Therapeutic in 1966 - Rieff died without being able to witness the reception of his last works. Despite the fact that his is a faith based critique of modernity, Rieff continued to hold a title of professor of sociology and always called himself a social theorist. Concerned as they are with the aesthetics of authority and with the relationship between social order and belief, Sacred Order/Social Order and Charisma also deploy terminology taken from outside the social sciences, and thus raise questions about the limits of social theory. In particular they recall the challenge of Freudian approaches to those of Weber on authority and Durkheim on order. In this paper I will deploy arguments from the philosophy of the social sciences in order to assess the relationship between a hermeneutics of culture and cultural diagnosis that pervades Rieff?s writings. I conclude that they are a failure, but a heroic failure that raises questions about social order that social theory has for a long time failed to address.