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Chapter Six: Community and Society

The discussion of morality which formed the theme of the last chapter provides a bridge from the individual to the social aspect of the personal. Hitherto though we have stressed the relation of persons even to the extent of making it the matrix of personal individuality we have looked at it from the standpoint of one of the related individuals. Morality is still in this sense characteristic of the individual. It is the individual in whom the demand to act morally arises so that it is experienced as a demand that he makes upon himself. Yet its reference is to him as a member of a society of agents and its function could not be fulfilled—indeed it would not be a moral demand—if it were not universal if each member of the society did not make the same demand upon himself. It is this essential character of morality which led Kant to say that the moral individual in acting morally is legislating for all members of the Kingdom of Ends; acting in a representative capacity; acting for humanity in his own person. We must now cross the bridge which morality provides and look at the relation of persons from the social standpoint.

We must stress first a truth which we have already emphasized from the point of view of the individual. Any human society is a unity of persons. This means that its unity as a society is not merely matter of fact but matter of intention. It cannot therefore be understood or even properly described in biological terms. It is not a natural phenomenon. It is not an organic unity even if it has a negative organic aspect. Its persistence and development is not ‘teleological’ not an evolutionary process. An evolutionary development moves from an original homogeneity to an increasing heterogeneity—as in the evolution of species. The history of human society on the contrary moves from an original heterogeneity to an increasing homogeneity. Its continuity is a continuity of action not of process. Any human society however primitive is maintained by the intention of its members to maintain it. Short of the extermination of its members it can be destroyed only by destroying this intention. The history of the Poles or the Czechs or above all of the Jews should be sufficient evidence of this. To seek its basis in a supposititious herd-instinct is merely puerile. Human beings have no instincts and a human society is not a herd. Any human society is a moral entity. Its basis is the universal and necessary intention to maintain the personal relation which makes the human individual a person and his life a common life. It is an instantiation of the ‘I and You’ as the unit of the personal. It is constituted and maintained by loyalty and keeping faith.

It has become a commonplace of theory that human life is essentially social. But this general agreement is highly ambiguous and means quite different things to different people. As an explicit theory it emerges in European history as the answer that Plato and following him Aristotle found to the disruptive dualism of the Sophists. ‘Should men live by nature or by custom?’ they asked. Plato answered that the dichotomy is absurd. For men to live by nature is to live by custom. Human nature is social and custom is the bond of society. The Greek doctrine is most familiar in the form given to it by Aristotle πολιτικὸν ξωόν ἄνθρωπος ‘Man is a political (i.e. a social) animal.’ The generic definition of man as an animal we must totally reject. What Aristotle may intend by the term πολιτικόν and whether it is consistent with the generic term ξωόν (living creature) or not we need not enquire. But on one easy interpretation it yields a modern version of the commonplace that ‘Man is one of the herd-animals.’ In that case the statement that man is social means that men live in groups like the ants or the bees like wolves or buffaloes and they behave as members of a group. In other words the unity that constitutes a human community is the same in principle as that which constitutes the community of a beehive. The difference is one of complexity not of type. This interpretation of the social character of human life we must reject out of hand. It is the social version of the attempt which we have already denounced to understand the personal on the analogy of the organic. This is a rather crude instance of a misinterpretation which takes subtler forms. The underlying error which vitiates all such forms is that they treat human society as mere matter of fact which can be observed and described from the standpoint of a spectator.

But surely it may be said this is quite possible. Why should it not be? There is of course a sense in which it is possible since it has been done. There is even a sense in which it is valuable and necessary to do it—provided that we know what we are doing the limits within which our results can be valid and the qualifications which require to be made. But if such theories are offered or accepted as true without qualification if they are believed to be in principle adequate accounts of the social character of human life they rest upon and propagate an illusion.

The reason for this is quite simple. If I am watching a hive of bees noting the purposiveness of their behaviour and the division of labour that characterizes their activity I may form a theory of the principles which are at work to maintain this communal activity. My theory may be true or false adequate or inadequate but in any case it makes no difference to the bees or at most only an accidental difference if they take me for a dangerous intruder. But if I form theories about human society in the same fashion this is not the case. For I am not just a spectator of human activity but a participant. Indeed this search for understanding which leads me to form my theories is itself a characteristic human activity which has no parallel among the animals. If I really believe my theory that is if I integrate it with my behaviour as part of my knowledge in action it modifies my behaviour as a member of a human society. If I refuse to act in conformity with my theory I behave as if it were not true and so provide evidence that I do not really believe it. Again if the majority of my own society accept it my theory becomes the normal conception that this society has of itself and consequently modifies the general character of its social behaviour. If most of my fellow-members however reject it and continue to behave as if it were not true then I can only insist that they are in error a prey to antiquated superstitions; that their behaviour is irrational and misguided. I can only work and pray for their enlightenment.

In either case my theory falsifies itself. For it is a description in general terms of how human beings do in fact behave in society. If they accept it their way of behaving is altered and the theory no longer describes it but only the way they used to behave. If they reject it they behave as if it were untrue. But then it is untrue for it purports to be a theory of how in fact they do behave. If it be said that they may accept it in theory without altering their practice the position is still worse. For then they must say that this doctrine of mine though true in theory would not work in practice. But it is precisely a theory of practice and if it would not work in practice it is ipso facto a false theory. We are here you may notice very close to the origins of the dualism of mind and matter. It lies in the dominance of the negative in us in the fear of the Other and the illusion that is inseparable from this negativity. For our fear of the Other generates the desire to escape from the demands of the Other upon us by withdrawing from action into another life the life of the mind in which we can exist as thinkers and realize our freedom in reflection. If this could be then we should be pure minds and spectators of a world of activity in which our actions would be determined for us by laws not of our making. In the realm of thought we should be free but our bodily life would be determined by the laws of that world of necessity from which we have escaped. The world of action would become an external world a world of phenomena; that is to say a show— a dramatic spectacle which unrolls itself upon the stage for us to watch to follow and to enjoy.

This is not indeed possible but we can make it appear possible. We can deceive ourselves and produce the illusion of a pure contemplation. We have only to suppress from consciousness the motive of our reflection by turning our attention away from it; and our fear of the Other turned back upon itself becomes an adequate motive for this suppression. Then we still speak and behave as though thought were motiveless; as if it were a self-moving activity a ghostly kind of perpetual-motion machine. Reason will seem to provide its own driving force; it will be thought in its complete detachment from emotion or desire. We shall achieve thought in its purity—completely disinterested thought. We shall identify ourselves with Pure Reason which moves by its own logical nature to the apprehension of the Truth without possibility of error. And if our thinking leads us into palpable error we can always lay the blame upon the body and its practical demands. We can tell ourselves that we have failed to detach ourselves sufficiently from the life of the body and from the prejudice that is inseparable from the effort to satisfy its desires.

All this is illusion and self-deception. Pure thought if there could be such a magic would be pure phantasy. A thinking which could not be false could not be true. For it would no longer be problematic; it would no longer be governed by any distinction between true and false and its results could not be knowledge for they could neither be believed nor disbelieved. Thinking is something we do. Thinking in terms of dualism is one way of doing it. Whatever we do and however we do it we must have a motive. And we have uncovered the motive of dualist thinking. It is the desire to know the truth without having to live by the truth. It is the secret wish to escape from moral commitment from responsibility. If all my actions are determined by the Other then the Other cannot hold me responsible. And since the Other in the last resort is personal if I yield my will to the Other and let his will command my actions then the intention of my actions is not mine but his and his therefore the responsibility for seeing that it is right action.

It may be objected that in raising the question of motive I am abandoning philosophy for psychology and falling into one of the fallacies which even a beginner should know how to avoid. To this I shall reply first that the motive of this objection is to defend the illusion by forbidding us to bring the question of motive to attention; second that philosophy does not constitute itself as a science does by isolating a field of study but by refusing all such exclusions and abstractions. A philosophy which excludes certain questions on the ground that they belong to the field of psychology is giving itself the form of science and so becoming a pseudo-science. The questions it does raise will show themselves sooner or later to be ‘nonsense questions’ till in the end it finds itself with no content at all. What I am doing is to remove the limitation which results from adopting a purely theoretical standpoint and to reassert the inclusiveness of philosophy by thinking from the standpoint of action. If thinking is one of the things we do then the question ‘What motive have we for doing it?’ becomes an essential element in any philosophical account of thought.

We must return from this digression however to our question about the social nature of man. So far we have discussed only its objective or scientific interpretation and this we have rejected in the form in which it claims to be complete and adequate. We must now consider its philosophical interpretations; and for this purpose we need only refer to the conflict between realist and idealist doctrine in modern political philosophy. We shall find here that the distinction we have drawn between the three categories of apperception provides us both with a clue and with a basis of criticism.

It is curious and suggestive that the traditional philosophical analysis of society takes the form of a philosophy of the State. For the State is at best an aspect of society and many societies are in no sense political. Quite apart from special groupings for limited purposes such as literary societies or societies for the advancement of learning there are many instances of self-supporting and self-sufficient human societies which cannot or can only with difficulty be subsumed under the concept of the State. We might instance primitive tribes the Hebrews of Old Testament times China before its modernization by revolution and so on. The idea of the State is closely linked with the idea of power and the symbolism of the State is predominantly military. We talk indeed of States as Powers—whether great Powers or smaller Powers. It seems doubtful whether what we call the city-states of ancient Greece were really States in our sense of the term. For us the State is a legal entity whose limits are defined by the territorial boundaries of its legal authority. Yet even an idealist philosopher like Bosanquet who is concerned to deny that society is based on force and to maintain that its unity is a spiritual and not a material unity entitles the work in which this thesis is so brilliantly sustained ‘The Philosophical Theory of the State’.

This modern tendency to identify society with the State or at least to define society through the aspect of political organization is strong evidence of a dominantly pragmatic apperception of the social bond. For we recognized the mode of morality which rests upon a pragmatic apperception by the central place it gives to the ideas of ‘power’ and ‘law’. The historical explanation of this identification is not far to seek. We are the heirs of the Roman tradition; and the Romans whose outlook was characteristically pragmatic invented the State as we know it. They did this by conceiving law as a technology for keeping the peace and by uniting in one society by the administration of a homogeneous law backed by force peoples and tribes who were in most other respects and especially in culture heterogeneous. As a result we tend to think that organization as a State is the criterion of a fully complete and mature society and to treat societies which lack this character either as dependent groups within a State or as immature and undeveloped societies which must like minors be educated into statehood under the tutelage of their adult neighbours.

Thomas Hobbes the father of modern political theory provides an almost perfect example of an analysis of society in the pragmatic mode of apperception. His account though he has given it a genetic form must be understood as he himself admits as a logical analysis of the nature of the State and not as a historical account of its origin. The analysis reveals that the persons who compose society are by nature isolated units afraid of one another and continuously on the defensive. This means that the motivation of each in relation to the others is wholly negative. Further the mode of their negative relation is the aggressive mode. For each isolated individual uses all his powers to secure his own satisfaction and to preserve his own life; and in consequence the state of Nature is a war of every man against every man. Under these conditions a human life is impossible; what life is possible must be ‘poor nasty solitary brutish and short’.

But these aggressively egocentric individuals are rational beings that is to say persons. Consequently they know that they can only be themselves and live a rational life if they are united in a society. As rational creatures—and Hobbes realizes this—they must intend to escape from the fear and hostility of the state of Nature. This is to recognize what we referred to in the last Chapter as the universal and necessary intention of all personal activity. But again Hobbes's conception of reason is characteristically pragmatic. It is a technological reason a capacity to adapt means to ends. So reason is the source of the laws of Nature of which Hobbes provides a long list. Now as laws of Nature these are moral laws inherent in the rational nature of all men universally. And since reason is conceived pragmatically they are the laws of a pragmatic morality. What Hobbes means is this: that since Man is rational he recognizes the universal and necessary means for realizing his own interests for living a rational life; and a rational life is one in which ends are long-term ends to be secured only by foresight and planning ahead in contrast with a mere animal life of impulse which must be lived from hand to mouth. Thus the effect of reason is to turn fact into right. Not merely does a man use all his powers to further his own interest he is right in doing so and under obligation to a moral law in so acting. But also reason shows him that it is his interest to sacrifice momentary satisfaction for a greater long-term satisfaction and he is under an obligation to use his power rationally and so to limit its expenditure in obedience to a technological principle. To act rationally is to use the right means to secure his ends and the right means are those which will in fact secure them and secure them with the least expenditure of energy. Now there is a general condition of this which is of universal application. Action involves co-operation with the Other and it is impossible to live rationally unless this co-operation is forthcoming. There must be a general agreement to limit the general aggressiveness in accordance with an agreed plan and we must all keep the agreement. Making and keeping agreements is therefore a law of nature and so a moral obligation on every rational being.

There is however a final step in the analysis. The law of nature which is the law of reason or the moral law would be ineffective if the conditions of acting in accordance with it were absent. ‘Ought’ as Kant said ‘implies can.’ ‘The laws of Nature’ said Hobbes ‘bind only in foro interno’ that is they bind every man to the wish to live in accordance with them. This amounts to the same thing as Kant's principle. It only seems to be different if we take it to refer to an actual state of affairs and not to an imaginary situation produced by analytical abstraction. Hobbes does not mean as has been sometimes said that I am under no obligation to keep an agreement if I think it would pay me better to break it. He means that I cannot keep an agreement unless the other party does so too. For an agreement which one of the parties does not intend to keep is not an agreement at all but a stratagem in the war of every man against his neighbour. If the inward law is to be an effective obligation I must have a guarantee that all the others intend to obey it. Even if my fear of the Other is illusory so long as it exists I cannot keep the law but must defend myself. Now since all men are motived by fear of the others the only guarantee I can have is to know that the others will be more afraid to break the agreement than to keep it; and this can only be so if there is a power external to all of us which can compel all of us to keep the law. This is the power of the sovereign State and the existence of this power makes society possible. It does this by equating self-interest and rational obligation. It is a pragmatic device which ensures that it should be in the interest of each of us to act in accordance with the law of reason. This alone can provide the sense of security which suppresses the fear of the Other and removes the necessity for self-defence. The power of government defends each individual against the self-interest of his neighbour. Given this situation the moral law of reason becomes automatically binding in foro externo; becomes an obligation to act in accordance with it. For the power of the sovereign provides the conditions which make this possible.

It has been necessary to restate the logic of Hobbes's analysis at some length because it has been consistently misrepresented by its idealist critics. The liberal democratic tradition finds it a revolting theory immoral and cynical. This emotional prejudice blinds us to the truth that it contains. It comes far closer to the normal ideal of our social practice than we are prepared to admit. Though Hobbesism has been violently and triumphantly exposed and disproved by most modern social theorists it seems to possess a vitality which refuses to succumb. The reason is that it dares to provide a rational defence of the practice of a competitive society which in theory we find it emotionally necessary to disown. For a dualism of theory and practice is characteristic of Western society and necessary to maintain it. We must therefore defend ourselves against any theory which expresses consciously and in a rational form the immanent ideal of our social practice.

Instead then of criticizing Hobbes in the familiar way we must seek to relate his account of the social nexus to our account of the nexus of personal relationship. We can do this by saying that so far as the normal mode of moral apperception in an actual society is pragmatic so far as its members are negatively motived in their relations and aggressive or ‘practical’ in their behaviour the necessary unity of society can only be achieved by law backed by force. Its members are negatively charged particles which mutually repel one another. To hold them together an ‘impressed force’ is required strong enough to overcome their centrifugal tendencies. Hobbesism therefore is the logical formulation of one of the three possible type forms of human society—the pragmatic type. Actual societies will approximate to this type in proportion as the motivation of their members is negative in relation to one another and their intentional activity is practical rather than reflective. Under such conditions the unity of society must be based upon enlightened self-interest.

The pragmatic mode of society then is society maintained by power and it identifies society with the State since the power of government is a necessary condition for the existence of such a society. It conceives the structure of society in terms of law—whether moral or civil law—and its maintenance as achieved by power. This yields a mechanical concept of society. Its components are atomic units inherently isolated or unrelated and ideally equal. The units are dynamic; they are units of energy. There is nothing in them to hold them together. They are united in a whole by an external force which counteracts the tendency of their individual energies to repel one another. But as rational individuals who need one another they themselves establish the power which unites them. Even Hobbes founds the absolute power of Leviathan upon the Will of the People. Law backed by force is the technical solution of the problem of a society of persons and the creation of the State is the highest achievement of technological reason of our human capacity to devise efficient means to achieve our natural ends.

The form of society antithetical to this pragmatic mode can be best realized by considering the form of criticism which historically has been brought against it. This criticism admits the logical brilliance of Hobbes's argument but denies the premise on which it is based. This premise is the Hobbesian conception of human nature. The criticism may be put most stringently by saying that Hobbes is wrong in thinking that there is nothing in human nature to act as a bond of unity between man and man. The historical form of the argument against Hobbesism is that benevolence is as natural to man as self-love. But we must interpret this contention in the light of our own conclusions about human motivation. We must therefore notice the dualism in Hobbes's conception—a dualism which we will expect to find associated with all negative apperception. It takes the form of a contrast between human nature and human reason. Human nature is the nature of man if we leave reason out of account—his ‘animal’ nature. This contains all the motives of human behaviour: reason as the capacity to think does not determine the ends of action but only the means to these ends. This dualism is in fact the Stoic dualism between Reason and the Passions in one of its modern incarnations. The criticism of Hobbes is concerned then with his view of human motivation with man's ‘animal’ nature and not with his rational nature. We might restate the usual criticism in the following form. Hobbes takes too low a view of human motives and too high a view of human reason. Because his conception of human motives is completely negative and egocentric he is compelled to throw on human reason a task which it is too weak to undertake. Unless the natural tendencies of human behaviour themselves provided a bond of society reason itself could never construct the State. Consequently one has only to show that man's animal nature provides already a bond of unity between man and man to refute Hobbesism.

Now even the behaviour of animals cannot be explained by reference to mere individual self-preservation. We note a tendency to behaviour which promotes the welfare of the species; and a mother bird may even sacrifice her life for her brood. The same tendency—quite apart from any reasoning—is even more obvious among human beings. It is quite natural for a man to go out of his way to help a stranger in difficulties and even the report of the sufferings of people whom we do not know tends to distress us. People enjoy being together and working together quite apart from any calculation of self-interest and even at times against their private interests. The war of all against all is at best an abnormal state of affairs and a man with no interests whatever in the fortunes of his fellows is a freak of nature and hardly human.

These facts are not disputable and instances can be multiplied at will. Their philosophical interpretation however is another matter. For firstly we have learned to distrust biological analogies. From the observed facts of animal behaviour nothing follows for personal relations. Secondly the question is whether the motive for such ‘benevolent’ activities whatever it may be is sufficiently constant permanent and general to serve as a normal support for a life of corporate activity. Could it bear the strain of situations in which self-interest has patently and persistently to be set aside? Thirdly not even Hobbes denies that men need one another and have an interest in maintaining society. On the contrary he asserts that the need for society is so fundamental in all of us that we will go to almost any lengths to escape from the state of Nature and suffer any injustice short of a threat to life itself rather than return to it. What Hobbes maintains is that society is grounded wholly in our rationality and not at all in our animal impulses. Finally the fear that underlies the war of every man against every man is not a particular fear arising from a particular apprehension of danger but a pervasive anxiety. Living as we do in an established society this fear remains unconscious being counterbalanced by the effectiveness of the law of the State. It is a mistake to think that Hobbesism implies absolute monarchy although in the circumstances of his time Hobbes used it so. It demands a government with sovereign authority established by the will of the people possessing power commensurate with its authority which is likewise derived from the people. Hobbes's argument that to change the government would involve a relapse into the state of Nature overlooks the part played by habit in human behaviour. The habit of social life is enough to sustain society during a change of government provided the process is itself a habit and does not take too long to accomplish. We might add that Hobbes's estimate of human nature is far closer to the Hebrew-Christian tradition than that of his optimistic liberal opponents. It might be a sermon on the text which reads ‘The heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.’

The antithesis to Hobbes is Rousseau; and to the persistent Hobbesism which runs through modern society the antithesis is the liberal humanism which derives from Rousseau and the Romantic movement and which finds its theoretical expression in the idealist theory of the State. Formally this anti-Hobbesism rests upon the same dualism between rationality and human nature but inverts their relation. Human nature is inherently good; if its expressions are perverted the reason lies in the artificiality of existing social structures which prevent it from expressing itself freely. Now in principle what is artificial is the product of artifice—that is to say of reason conceived practically as the capacity for constructing artifacts. Consequently Rousseauism finds the bond of society in man's ‘animal’ nature and the source of hostility and conflict in reason. The way of salvation lies in getting back to ‘Nature’ and allowing the natural goodness of human impulses to determine the form of society. Reason then has a negative function—to hinder hindrances to the good life: to hold the ring for the free play of natural impulses ‘taking men as they are’ as Rousseau says ‘and States as they ought to be’.

The paradox that this involves runs through all idealist theory and shows itself most evidently in a continuous effort which cannot be successful to identify what is with what ought to be. The mechanism of this effort is a dialectical logic. Society is organic. If it is not actually so it ought to be; and this means that it necessarily will be. For being organic it grows and its present tensions and conflicts only appear to contradict this. They are its growing pains: the conflict of opposites is indeed the force which keeps society on the move and compels it to develop towards its full organic maturity. Progress is then inevitable; it is a natural process and the conservative effort to stabilize the status quo is only the negative phase of the tension by which society progresses. The evils we deplore are both necessary and yet unreal. They are necessary as phases in a development. They are unreal because they are transitory. The full manifestation of the reality of human society lies at the end of the process of development. This is not yet actual but it is the ideal. We can know it in idea; and the ideal is the real.

Now since we are society at its present stage of development and since reason can reveal the meaning of the process and enable us to grasp the reality to which the whole process inevitably moves what we really want as members of society is the realization of this end. Our frantic efforts to resist the actual and to escape from its tensions and conflicts arise from the desire to have the future harmony here and now. So we confuse the present appearance with the reality to be manifested. We are like children who want to be grown up before their time and who demand the right to behave here and now as if they were already adults. If we will only identify ourselves with the ideal end which is the reality to which the progress of society tends; if we identify our individual wills with the general will of society then we will find our present satisfaction in performing our own function in the social whole and seek to do our duty in our own station. We will be able in Rousseau's vivid phrase to ‘live in one generation and enjoy in the next’. We will act from our general will as members of society willing the general good not from our particular wills as individuals seeking vainly to secure their immediate individual interests. And since our being is really a social being and our existence as independent individuals is an illusion the general will is our real will and our will for private self-interest is only a distorted appearance.

Now it is transparently clear that this conception of society is based on a contemplative apperception just as the Hobbesian is based on a pragmatic apperception. Here is the child in the negative phase of the relation with the mother who submits to the mother's will does what is expected of him and compensates for giving up his own self-will in a world of phantasy. The idealist conception of society is rational of course while the child's phantasy world is mere imagination. But the mode of apperception is the same. In the dualism between the world of action and the world of idea it is the ideal world that is the real and the actual world that is appearance. Its rationality lies in the reference of the ideal to the actual; and this reference is achieved by taking the ideal world as the anticipation of the end to which the actual world automatically tends. So the world of practice is the means to the world of ideals. The only rational behaviour in practice is to submit to the Other because whether I submit or resist makes no difference in the end. The Other is stronger than I and will achieve its purpose in either case. It is therefore irrational to resist both in the theoretical and in the practical sense. It is both stupid and wicked. For if I struggle against the Other I shall only make a lot of unpleasantness for myself and for other people and I shall gain nothing by it.

The self that apperceives life in this fashion is an isolated and therefore a divided self. He is at once a spectator-self and a participant-self. But his real life—his own private life—is as a spectator. Social history is a drama which unrolls itself before him and which he watches and understands. But he also has a part to play upon the stage. In his public capacity a role is assigned to him and it is his task to play his role properly; and he can only do this by suppressing his own self-expression and acting in the way that the author of the drama intended the part to be played. He must identify himself with his role—his station and its duties—and suppress his impulse to be himself. He can be himself only as a spectator not as an actor.

In the contemplative mode of apperception as in the pragmatic mode the conception of society remains fundamentally negative. Its members are isolated individuals whose real life is private and separate; yet for each of them the protection of society is necessary. How can they be united in a life of association without each losing his identity? Rousseau's formulation of the problem cannot be bettered. ‘The problem is’ he says ‘to find a form of association which will defend… the person and goods of all the associates and in which each while uniting himself with all will remain as free as before and obey only himself.’1 The answer to this problem in all its many disguises remains essentially the same. It is possible to have such a society by a mystical self-identification with the whole of which I form part. This is the clue to the mystery of self-government. I use the term ‘mystical’ advisedly and not in any derogatory sense. Mysticism is an essential element in all reflective experience though it is not usually recognized as such because its role is normally subordinate. It is however essentially contemplative and in form at least aesthetic. Self-identification with the whole with the Other that includes oneself is mysticism. The dramatist identifies himself with characters in his drama; so do the actors on the stage as they play their parts in the drama and the spectators as they watch the spectacle each remaining himself the while. But this is only theoretically possible—only in a play. If it is made the basis of society and so of life as a whole it creates illusion. For then there is no other life than the life of the stage. We cannot leave the theatre and resume the serious business of real life where we must bear our own identities. The drama whether comedy or tragedy may be meaningful. It may comment upon life with the insight of genius. But if life itself is only a performance tragic or comic as we please to take it there is nothing for it to illumine. It can hardly be—for the members of the troupe at least—a commentary upon itself. It becomes inherently meaningless and pointless.

Unlike the pragmatic society the contemplative society is not a State. It is not grounded in power but in the voluntary submission of its members to the general will. Its inherent ideal is anarchism—an automatic harmony of wills produced by the suppression of self-interest in favour of the moral will for the general good. In its modern form it is the Greek society plus the idea of progress as a law of nature. Both Aristotle and Rousseau recognize its limitation. It must be small enough for all its members to know one another and to meet together to take corporate decisions which express the general will. Otherwise the mystical identification becomes too tenuous to sustain the stresses of practical life. In a larger association the device of representative government may appear to enlarge the scope of such a society by an extension of the mystique of self-identification. The people choose representatives who do for it what it would do for itself if it were small enough. The chosen representative will identify himself with the constituency he represents and speak with its voice. The fiction of self-government is thus still maintained. What emerges from the conflict of debate is the Will of the People and that each of us in obeying the law remains free and governs himself. The struggle of parties is not a struggle for power—it only appears to be. It is only a struggle of opinions; for all parties are equally seeking the common good and the conflict of opinions is the dialectical method by which what is here and now the common good is brought to light. And when it is so revealed it is loyally accepted by all as the will of the people with which they identify themselves.

Government or the State is still necessary but it is not society but merely a function of society serving the general will for certain limited and defined purposes. It is needed for external defence; to judge between competing claims in accordance with the law that expresses the common will for the common good; and to administer the common services in the co-operative life. There is of course tension. There is struggle of course in every aspect of life. But the struggle is not real. There is no hostility in it. It has the character of a game. And it retains this character so long as all the players play the game and don't really play to win; so long as they are equally satisfied whether they win or lose. Of course if any member of the society refuses to identify himself with the whole and plays for his own hand he must be taught the rules of good form and if necessary forced to toe the line. But even this is only apparently a violation of his freedom. In reality he is being ‘forced to be free’.

But here is the rub. This kind of society depends on the great majority of the members not taking the practical life seriously but treating it as a means merely to the private life the life of the spirit. And in fact whatever view they take action is primary. To act as if this were not so is to live in an illusion. And the illusion is only possible by keeping theory and practice apart. It involves a belief that what is true in theory would not work in practice. The identification is itself merely ideal: and it can produce only the appearance of unity not the reality. The practice of such a society may be worse or better than its theory but it cannot be the expression of it. For the theory is really a compensation for the unsatisfactory situation which exists in practice. The contemplative mode of apperception produces an ideal which it identifies with the actual. It hopes for the ideal but does not intend it in practice. Instead it asserts that the ideal is the necessary outcome of the conflict of the actual world. To try to improve it by planning would be a dangerous interference with the natural laws which in their own good time will inevitably bring the improvement about.

These two modes of society like the two forms of apperception which sustain them are ambivalent expressions of the same negative motivation. Consequently the one can transform itself into the other with ease. If the ‘organic’ society idealizing its actuality is compelled to take its practical life seriously if the self-deception cannot be maintained any longer then the struggle becomes real and is waged in earnest. When this happens the unity of the society can only be maintained by the power of the State. The necessity of social unity makes it certain that it will be so maintained. Rousseau gives place to Hobbes; idealism to realism; modern democracy to the totalitarian state.

Since both these types of society depend upon negative motivation so that the bonds of relation between individuals which constitute them are impersonal I have called them both societies and not communities. Because our own social tradition is on the whole based upon a negative apperception in one or other of the ambivalent modes or a mixture of them we identify society and community. Even so there are overtones of difference. Since we must proceed by contrasting these negative type-forms with the positive it may serve us well if we distinguish between society and community reserving the term community for such personal unities of persons as are based on a positive personal motivation. The members of a community are in communion with one another and their association is a fellowship. And since such an association exhibits the form of the personal in its fully positive personal character it will necessarily contain within it and be constituted by its own negative which is society. Every community is then a society; but not every society is a community.

  • 1. Rousseau, The Social Contract, Book 1, Chap VI.
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