Robert Morrison MacIver

Robert Morrison MacIver (1882-1970) was a Scottish-American sociologist, political philosopher, and educator. He was a leading theorist of the interaction between the operation of society and the political institution.

Robert M. MacIver was born in Stornoway, Scotland, on April 17, 1882. His education was in classics at the University of Edinburgh and at Oxford University. He lectured in political science and sociology at Aberdeen University (1907-1915). At the University of Toronto (1915-1927) he was professor and head of the department of political science and served as vice-chairman of the Canadian War Labor Board (1917-1919). After heading the department of economics and sociology at Barnard College (1927-1929), he was Lieber professor of political philosophy and sociology at Columbia University (1929-1950).

During the next decade MacIver was successively director of research for the Jewish Defense Agencies, the Assault on Academic Freedom, the United Nations, and the Juvenile Delinquency Evaluation Project for New York City. He was president of the American Sociological Society (1940) and president and then chancellor of the New School for Social Research (1963-1966).

Beginning as a political philosopher with broad social interests, MacIver viewed the state as a social institution that is necessarily interdependent with other institutions and the prevailing class system. These themes formed the basis of his Community (1917) and The Modern State (1926). But in several editions of his Society (particularly the 1937 edition), he came to regard society as a network of acquired interests expressed in groups or associations and in legitimate value systems called institutions. Interests differ sociologically by emphasis either on goals (culture or myth) or on means and techniques (civilizational interests). The Web of Government (1947) analyzed the two forms of interest in promoting social change and gave special attention to the critical role of government in facilitating or moderating varied effects of innovations. In a related work, Social Causation (1942), he analyzed social change as a complex process of social causation in which a key aspect is the shared evaluation of cultural and technical innovation.

MacIver also had a continuing and judicious interest in many public issues. In The More Perfect Union (1949) he warned about the vicious circle of discrimination, deprivation, and accentuated racial prejudice. In Academic Freedom in Our Time (1955) he exposed contemporary assaults on academic freedom and convincingly demonstrated the importance of such freedom for a viable society. He directed a thorough investigation of delinquency programs in New York City which was summarized in one of his last books, The Prevention and Control of Delinquency (1966). He died on June 15, 1970.


Further Reading on Robert Morrison MacIver

MacIver's autobiography, As a Tale That Is Told (1968), is informative. Morroe Berger and others, Freedom and Control in Modern Society (1954), contains discussions of some aspects of MacIver's work by former students.