The theory of autopoietic social systems (Luhmann) is used as an explanatory framework for such historico‐sociological puzzles as the origins of social crisis, totalitarianism, the appearance of the crowd, the mass extermination of internal enemies (scapegoats), and the modern emergence of sociology itself. All of these seemingly incompatible phenomena have a connection with one particular emotion, namely, alienation, which is utilized as an integrative concept. On the basis of an elaboration of the concept of systems medium, social crisis is analysed as being solicited by a reduced availability of whatever systemic medium is most important in a given society.
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