Eisenstadt, Shmuel Noah

Eisenstadt, Shmuel Noah

(1923-) Israeli comparative sociologist and comparative historian known for his work on immigrant groups and on MODERNIZATION. The work which has attracted most attention is his The Political System of Empires (1967), a highly systematic attempt to compare historical, non-tribal, preindustrial political systems and to frame generalizations about the factors influencing the effectiveness, or otherwise, of this general type of political system. The volume contains nearly 100 pages of tabular comparisons of particular states, in which several metrics are employed to rank systems comparatively on a number of dimensions. The general hypothesis advanced is that to be effective, non-tribal, preindustrial political systems must be able to mobilize, and also generate, new, ‘free-floating’ material and cultural resources, prising these from traditional control, and must also mobilize the support of at least some leaders of local LINEAGES. Nevertheless, like most political systems (and in contrast with suggestions made about ORIENTAL DESPOTISM), such systems always contain contradictory elements and are inherently unstable.

Eisenstadt is known for his wide interest and academic productivity, ranging from the effects of immigration to the stabilizing effect of age stratification on society (see AGEING). In his pioneering study ofIsraeli Society (1967), and in The Transformation of Israeli Society (1985), he not only analysed an historically and sociologically unique case of nation building (the attempt to reconstruct a sovereign, national life that had ceased in AD 70), he also added a theoretically significant new dimension to the understanding of post-revolutionary societies.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000