See study by M. J. Plotnik (1937).
He was born in Ermsleben, Harz, as the son of a wealthy liberal politician, industrialist, and estate-owner, Anton Ludwig Sombart, and studied at the universities of Pisa, Berlin, and Rome, both law and economics. In 1888, he received his Ph.D. from Berlin under the direction of Gustav von Schmoller and Adolph Wagner, then the most eminent German economists.
As an economist and especially social activist, Sombart was then seen as radically left-wing, and so only received — after some practical work as head lawyer of the Bremen Chamber of Commerce — a junior professorship at the out-of-the-way University of Breslau. Although faculties at such eminent universities as Heidelberg and Freiburg called him on chairs, the respective governments always vetoed this. Sombart, at that time, was an important Marxian, someone who used and interpreted Karl Marx — to the point that Friedrich Engels called him the only German professor who understood Das Kapital. Sombart called himself a "convinced Marxist".
Sombart was the first sociologist to devote a whole book to the concept of social movement in his 1896 published Sozialismus und soziale Bewegung. His understanding of social movements is inspired by Lorenz von Stein and Marx. For him, the raising worker’s movement was a result of the inherent contradictions of capitalism. The proletarian situation created a “love for the mass”, which together with the tendency “to a communistic way of life” in social production were the prime features of the social movement.
In 1902, his magnum opus, Der moderne Kapitalismus, appeared in six volumes. It is a systematic history of economics and economic development through the centuries and very much a work of the Historical School. Although later much disparaged by neo-classical economists, and much criticized in specific points, it is still today a standard work with important ramifications for, e.g., the Annales school (Fernand Braudel).
In 1906, Sombart accepted a call to a full professorship at the Berlin School of Commerce, an inferior institution to Breslau but closer to political “action” than Breslau. Here, i.a., companion volumes to Modern Capitalism dealing with luxury, fashion, and war as economic paradigms appeared; especially the former two are the key works on the subject until today. In 1906 his Why is there no Socialism in the United States? also appeared, which, while naturally having been questioned since then, is a classical work on American exceptionalism in this respect.
Finally, in 1917, Sombart became professor at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität, then the pre-eminent university in Europe if not in the world, succeeding his mentor Adolph Wagner. He remained on the chair until 1931 but continued teaching until 1940. During that period, he was also one of the leading sociologists around, much more prominent than his friend Max Weber, who later of course eclipsed him to the point that Sombart is virtually forgotten in that field by now. Sombart's insistence on Sociology as a part of the Humanities (Geisteswissenschaften), necessarily so because it dealt with human beings and therefore required inside, empathic "Verstehen" rather than the outside, objectivizing "Begreifen" (both German words translate as "understanding" into English), became extremely unpopular already during his lifetime, because it was the opposite of the "scientification" of the social sciences (jocularly referred to as "physics envy"), in the tradition of Auguste Comte, Émile Durkheim and Weber (although this is a misunderstanding; Weber largely shared Sombart's views in these matters), which became fashionable during this time and has more or less remained so until today. However, because Sombart's approach has much in common with Hans-Georg Gadamer's Hermeneutics, which likewise is a Verstehen-based approach to understanding the world, he is coming back in some sociological and even philosophical circles that are sympathetic to that approach and critical towards the scientification of the world. Sombart's key sociological essays are collected in his posthumous 1956 work, Noo-Soziologie.
In 1934 he published Deutscher Sozialismus where he claimed a "new spirit" was beginning to "rule mankind". The age of capitalism and proletarian socialism was over and with "German socialism" (National-Socialism) taking over. This German socialism puts the "welfare of the whole above the welfare of the individual". German socialism must effect a "total ordering of life" with a "planned economy in accordance with state regulations". The new legal system will confer on individuals "no rights but only duties" and that "the state should never evaluate individual persons as such, but only the group which represents these persons". German socialism is accompanied by the Volksgeist (national spirit) which is not racial in the biological sense but metaphysical: "the German spirit in a Negro is quite as much within the realm of possibility as the Negro spirit in a German". The antithesis of the German spirit is the Jewish spirit, which is not a matter of being born Jewish or believing in Judaism but is a capitalistic spirit. The English people possess the Jewish spirit and the "chief task" of the German people and National Socialism is to destroy the Jewish spirit.
Sombart's legacy today is difficult to ascertain, because the alleged Nazi affiliations have made an objective reevaluation difficult (while his earlier Socialist ones harmed him with the more bourgeois circles), especially in Germany. As has been stated, in economic history, his "Modern Capitalism" is regarded as a milestone and inspiration, although many details have been questioned. Key insights from his economic work concern the - recently again validated - discovery of the emergence of double-entry accounting as a key precondition for Capitalism and the interdisciplinary study of the City in the sense of urban studies. He also coined the term and concept of creative destruction which is a key ingredient of Joseph Schumpeter's theory of innovation (Schumpeter actually borrowed much from Sombart, not always with proper reference). In Sociology, mainstream proponents still regard Sombart as a 'minor figure' and his sociological theory an oddity; today it is more philosophical sociologists and culturologists who, together with heterodox economists, use his work. Sombart has always been very popular in Japan. One of the reasons of a lack of reception in the United States is that most of his works were for a long time not translated into English - in spite of, and excluding as far as the reception is concerned, the classic study on Why there is no Socialism in America.
The Jews and Modern Capitalism. http://mailstar.net/sombart-jews-capitalism.pdf