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University of New South Wales Faculty of Law Research Series

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Krygier, Martin --- "Selznick's Hobbesian Idealism: Its Nature and its Origins" [2012] UNSWLRS 55

Last Updated: 3 December 2012

Selznick’s Hobbesian Idealism: Its Nature and Origins

Martin Krygier, University of New South Wales

This paper is available for download at Available at


This paper will be published in Sociology of Organizations, vol. 38, 2013 special issue: Institutions and Ideals: Phillip elznick’s Lasting Legacy for Organizational Scholarship (forthcoming). This paper may also be referenced as [2012] UNSWLRS 55.


Philip Selznick died in 2010, at the age of ninety one. His writings spanned some seventy years, only the first fifteen of which were occupied directly and primarily with organizational sociology. Though organizational issues didn’t vanish from his work, and were central in one later book, he moved to other fields, notably sociology of law, but also industrial sociology and social and public philosophy. Moreover, his view of sociology was, as he put it, “ecumenical”, and his subjects were many. Selznick’s intellectual character and sensibility deserve attention in themselves. Many of these elements were apparent from the beginning, and so, anyone interested in Selznick’s cast of mind, over and above the particular works it generated, must start early. And so I will.

In this article, I draw primarily on some of Philip Selznick’s earliest and hardly known political writings, as well as upon a few, and particularly one, of his better known organizational works. My discussion is framed by one significant critique that focused primarily on the most influential of those works, Alvin Gouldner on TVA. My aim here is less to rehash old debates than to identify in germ, incipient as Selznick might say, one pervasive aspect of Selznick’s intellectual character, what I have called his Hobbesian idealism. There are others, but this one is important and it is also related to, reflects and illuminates, many of the others. So it is not a bad place to start.

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