In its most general sense, ‘society’ names the fact that there is more than one human being in the world, and that the several human beings are related to one another. Theory of value (fortunately) is under no obligation to say all that there is to be said about society in this broader sense. It is concerned only with the role of value in society, or with the extent to which social organization is describable in terms of value. In accordance with the present theory, this implies that society is to be considered in terms of the organization of interests and interested persons. All that has been laid down in earlier chapters concerning the personal and social integration of interests, the principle of reflective agreement, and that mode of organization which has been designated as ‘moral,’ is relevant to the present topic.
Society is not a mere collection, or even a conglomerate or pudding stone. Neither, on the other hand, is it an indivisible entity. Merely because there is a single name for it, it must not be hypostatized, whether as a substance or as a force. It is a complex, a one composed of many, and therefore subject to analysis. It possesses certain formal characteristics. It is a “class,” that is, an aggregate of individuals having some characteristic in common. It is a “whole”; that is, it possesses certain characteristics which are not ascribable to its several components; as an army possesses characteristics not ascribable to its personnel.
Society is also a “system,” that is, its members occupy certain interrelated places or roles, in the whole; and these roles can be abstracted from the individuals who occupy them. When a systematic whole, such as an army, loses its network of relationships, it is dissolved or disintegrated into a rabble. Any society is thus at one and the same time a class of individuals and a system of abstract relationships in which the terms can be named for the relationships, as ‘ruler,’ ‘employer,’ etc. A society is, or may be, a “compound,” that is, composed of subsocieties. And finally, a society is, or may be, “singular”; meaning that it possesses its members and their relations uniquely or exclusively. While these formal characteristics of society are by no means adequate for its description, they form an indispensable part of the conceptual apparatus for such a description.
Society, in the full sense of the term, is united by the interaction of persons. But interactive relations are built upon non-interactive relations, such as similarity. Human societies are bound by the tie of common anthropological characteristics — the characteristics of the species homo sapiens; and they may be subdivided in numerous ways, such as male and female, black, white, brown, and yellow; or brachycephalic and dolichocephalic, etc. Anthropological similarities are reflected in a similarity of interests. Thus human beings by virtue of their common reproductive mammalian characteristics, will possess the sexual and maternal interests; and by virtue of their higher capacities they will possess some degree of moral, cognitive, and aesthetic interest.
An “ethnic” society may be based on such similarities, or on consanguinity. ‘The human race’ is sometimes taken to designate the descendants of common parents, such as Adam and Eve, but the original parentage of men is now shrouded in obscurity, at the same time that it has lost its importance. In spite of the cult of “racism,” race in the sense of consanguinity is no longer a term to conjure with among social scientists. Hereditary characteristics are recognized as of less importance than acquired or “cultural” characteristics.
Consanguinity is a significant social bond only when it is associated with proximity. Blood may be thicker than water, but there are many things that are thicker than blood. Cultural similarities depend on proximity, and consanguinity itself generates similarities by close proximity. If anything were needed to show the priority of proximity both to consanguinity and to similarity, it would be proved by the fact that the highly intimate relation of co-parentage obtains, not only between individuals of dissimilar sexes, but (through exogamy and prohibition of incest) between individuals of dissimilar sexes and of different heredities.
There is another of the many non-interactive human relations which is deserving of special mention, namely, community of objects, whether of cognitions or of interests, and reflecting community of environment. All human beings, however remote in space and time, occupy the same planet, and therefore perceive, think, imagine, fear, desire, dread and hope for, the same objects or classes of objects — sun, moon and stars, the elements, food and drink, birth and death, and animals and human beings of the same or the opposite sex. This sameness of objects will be multiplied in proportion to proximity in space and time.
These non-interactive relationships derive their full social significance from the fact that they condition interaction. They are the static relationships which underlie social dynamics on the level of interest. Thus similarity of interests, when combined with proximity, conditions the sense of fellowship among persons engaged in the same occupations — fellow workers, fellow artists or scientists, co-religionists. Community of objects conditions communication and united action in a common cause. The significance of the family lies not so much in a common blood stream, as in the continuous and pervasive interaction between husband and wife, parents and children, brothers and sisters. The same is true to a lesser extent of neighbors and friends. Human beings, however similar as human, or as having similar interests, however numerous their common objects, and even though they might be descendants of common ancestors, would not constitute a society if they were widely dispersed in space or time. By reason of remoteness and non-interaction, men of historic times do not belong to one society with their prehistoric ancestors; and the inhabitants of earth do not belong to one society with the human inhabitants of Mars, if there be such, even if Martians are descendants of Adam and Eve. For the same reason Eskimos do not compose a society with South Sea Islanders.
A society, then, is a neighborhood of partially similar beings, having some community of environment, and to some extent related by blood. But these relations are social relations in the full sense of the term ‘social,’ because they condition, and are accompanied by, interaction.
A human society is a society of persons, united by the modes of interaction characteristic of persons. Human beings who act on one another through their bodies only, as when they jostle, elbow, push, or pull one another in a crowd, do not constitute an interpersonal society. The minimum condition of interaction on a personal level is intercognition, and the simplest form of this is the situation in which two or more persons perceive one another. In a society of any size the range of intercognition is extended beyond the narrow limits of perception by a knowledge about one another by hearsay or testimony. Community of objects, combined with intercognition, yields communication, in which two or more persons through language or more primitive signs know one another's objects, and know them to be such. For communication it is not sufficient that the sun, for example, should be known to two or more persons, but that each should know that it is known by the other. Communication is consciously shared knowledge.
There aer societies, in a limited sense of the term, in which this is the sole interpersonal bond. An audience, in which a number of persons are listening to the same speaker and are at the same time aware of one another's listening, is such a society. An eclipse of the sun witnessed together by a number of persons who at the same time witness one another's witnessing, is a very different situation from that in which the spectators are isolated. When a society is said to be united by “common memories” or a “common tradition” more is meant than a sameness of memories, or of inheritance; there is also an exchange of memories and a mutual recognition of one another's inheritance.
Language serves through written records or through oral tradition to create a set of permanent social objects. Words and other signs refer not only to objects, but to common objects known to be such. These objects remain the objects of other subjects, or of other possible subjects, when any given person ceases to perceive or think them. They constitute an environment, communicable if not actually communicated — an environment already there, and to which new individuals and generations who acquire the language are introduced. This body of common and relatively permanent meanings or ideas is sometimes known as “objective mind,” or “collective representation.”
Mutual awareness tends to create community of objects, and community of objects tends to create mutual awareness. This is seen most clearly on the perceptual level. When a person is seen looking at an object, an observer tends to follow the looking to its object. Stand on the street corner and gaze at the sky, and others will soon gather about and gaze in the same direction. And the perceiving of an object is likely to attract attention to its other perceivers. This occurs also on the level of meanings and ideas. The thinker calls the attention of others to his thought, and the thought calls attention to the thinker.
While a merely intercognitive society is not only conceivable, but is actually approximated in special situations in which discussion takes the form of an exchange of ideas, on the whole the social importance of intercognition lies in its conditioning interinterest. Persons not only know one another, but are interested in one another's interests. This is not the same thing as to be interested in another person considered merely as a physical organism, as when persons are considered as members of a “labor force,” or as “cannon fodder.” Nor is it the same thing as to be cognitively interested in another interest, as when the child psychologist seeks to describe the child's hunger. Interest in an interest is here construed to mean interest in its being fulfilled or thwarted, as exemplified by the mother's interest in the appeasing of the child's hunger or the genocide's interest in starving it.
Cognition of interest, while it does not constitute interest in interest, does tend to create it. Awareness of a second person's fear tends to kindle the same fear in the first person, and so to reinforce it. Similarly, the emotion of rage is “contagious”; not in a chemical, but in a psychological, sense. Panic and mob violence are to be explained in these terms. But all interests, even the gentler aesthetic responses, are strengthened by mutual awareness, proportionally to the number involved. When all of the interests within the range of observation are similar and directed to the same object their influence on any given observer becomes almost irresistible. This effect occurs upon two levels. In the case of the crowd, the mob, or the audience, the other interest is immediately presented, and the effect, like the presentation is transitory. In the case of what is called “public sentiment” the more stable interests of others are objects of judgment based on report. The effect of the multiplication and extension of the media of communication has had the double effect of bringing more distant interests within the range of immediate perception (by radio or cinema), and also of extending the range of report.
Community and mutuality of interest constitute that interdependence for which intercognition and interinterest pave the way. This is a matter of degree. It may be partial and transitory, or it may be total and durable. Human societies may be of either type, or of a type intermediate between these two extremes. The members of human groups may be interdependent in respect of some fraction, great or less, of their interests. The members of a crowd attending a public spectacle are interdependent. The excitement of each is influenced by the excitement of those about him — he is aware of them, and is interested in their interest. But this interdependence lasts only during the spectacle, and leaves unaffected the main body of his familial, occupational, and ideological interests to which he returns when the spectacle is over.
Interdependence is not the ultimate social bond, nor is it a step towards “a more perfect union,” but rather a critical point at which a society may move in either of two opposite directions. From interdependence may spring either harmony or conflict, and the social interrelations thus far recognized lay the ground for both.
Hate, equally with love, springs from propinquity, and from those relationships of consanguinity and neighborhood in which men are aware of one another, and are interested in one another. Interdependence breeds quarrels as well as alliances. There are no quarrels more bitter than family quarrels, and no rivalries more implacable than those between societies which have a common frontier, or dispute a common territory, or compete with one another for the possession and use of the same natural resources. Interdependence in itself does not generate harmony; if it does generate harmony rather than conflict, it will be because of the introduction of new principles — agreement, benevolence, and cooperation. In other words interdependence creates the problem, but does not provide the solution.
The significance and gravity of this point are driven home by the present plight of mankind.1 There is unquestionably an historical trend towards interdependence, so that men and societies are now interdependent even for their independence. Conflict is no longer to be escaped through isolation and non-interaction. Mankind has been somewhat slow to recognize this fact, but it is now so inescapable that political isolationism, economic laissez-faire, and the cultural “ivory tower,” do not need to be refuted: they are obsolete.
The most spectacular evidence of this trend is to be found on the level of international relations. The modern technology of communication and transportation has brought all of the inhabitants of the globe into one neighborhood. The change is so conspicuous and so revolutionary as to mark the beginning of a new epoch. But there is still a lingering and fatuous belief that this change is automatically unifying, or that, in order to meet the troubles generated by technology, all that is needed is more technology. The bitter truth is that world-wide interaction in itself has not prevented war and destruction, but has substituted world-wide war for local war, and catastrophic destruction for limited destruction.
Conflict is not prevented or resolved by intercognition or by interinterest. It is sometimes supposed that the remedy lies in “understanding one another.” But enemies develop “intelligence” agencies in order to make their enmity more efficient; if one wishes to offend one's enemy he can then discover the weak points in his armor, and if one wishes to injure him one can learn what it is that he wants — and deprive him of it.
While the antisocial effects of interdependence are most conspicuous and most devastating on the international level they pervade all of life. Within each society individuals and subgroups are progressively more interdependent. The modern economy makes the rural areas dependent on urban, and urban on rural, and all forms of enterprise dependent on common markets, common raw materials, and the interchange of manufactured products. Labor is dependent on labor, employer on employer, and each group on the other. Mass production is interdependent with mass consumption. Even the needs of the artist or scholar are supplied from a thousand sources. But at the same time that this interpenetration of individual lives and social groups has developed each society is shaken to its foundations by internal rivalries and threatened by civil war. Even persons are divided within themselves by the interdependence of their several special interests. It is clear, then, that socialization requires further principles over and above those which create interdependence. And the first of these is agreement.
In order that two persons shall agree in opinion they must both say “yes” or “no” to the same question. They must both expect affirmatively or negatively of the same object. Or, the same event must confirm or surprise the expectations of both. When two persons are said to agree with one another in opinion there is a further requirement: each must be aware of the opinion of the other. When this occurs each finds his opinion doubly proved or disproved.
Transferred to the relation of interests, the analysis is more complicated; but essentially the same. Both interests must be for or against the same object. The same event must fulfill or defeat them both: the same news will be “good news” or “bad news” for them both. Furthermore, their proposed dealings with the common occasion — their expectations and its uses — while they need not be the same or even similar, must be compatible. Thus two persons were in favor of the election of Eisenhower; one because he hoped to be appointed to office, the other because he sought to profit by the state ownership of tidelands oil. The one dealing, it may be supposed, was not incompatible with the other. Under these conditions, being aware of one another's attitudes, they could come to agreement. Not only were their interests allied but they could regard one another as allies. They were mutually sensible of their mutual support; and having reached this point, the election of their common candidate, they wished one another well. Each desired the other's interest to succeed whether as a condition of his own, or for its own sake. In other words, agreement implies dependent benevolence, or on a higher moral level, independent benevolence.
On a more extensive social plane, the members of the “class” of labor, for example, take the same positive interest in an increase of the wage scale; their uses of the increased wages are compatible; they are aware of their common cause and possess a sense of partnership; each desires the success of the others’ endeavors as a means to his own; and may (though he need not) develop a favorable interest in his partner's interests regardless of his own.
Agreement on a large scale, such as characterizes a social class, or a total society, requires representative agreement. One must be entitled to speak for others. The meaning is best understood by reëxamining the situation in which it is permissible for an individual to use the first person pronoun in the plural and not merely in the singular.
The small word ‘we’ has weighty implications both in its use and in its abuse. Except when (as is sometimes the case with the “editorial we”) the term is used merely as a symbol of anonymity, he who commences a sentence with the word ‘we’ embraces in the grammatical subject persons other than himself. They need not be named, for their identity is usually understood from the context. The other persons may be an audience; or the fellow-members of some recognized class, such as a family, locality, or nation. To be explicit one should say “we who are here today,” or “my wife and I,” “we of New England,” or “we Americans.” The term is sometimes used, however, with an unlimited denotation, as when one says “we don't like to see the strong exploit the weak,” meaning a class larger than any specifiable class. ‘We’ is thus carelessly used — sometimes with a studied carelessness.
The range or definiteness of the group, however, is not the important point. Compare the two statements: ‘We are friends of freedom,’ and ‘Americans are friends of freedom.’ These statements are sometimes equivalent, in which case the first can be reduced to the second, the personal pronoun being eliminated. This second statement, ‘Americans are friends of freedom,’ must, like any statement, be made by some person, but it can be made by any person; the fact that I make it is accidental. When, on the other hand, the first statement is distinguished from the second by the use of the pronoun ‘we,’ the meaning of the statement embraces a relation between the person who makes the statement and the persons concerning whom it is made: the first is claiming to represent the second. This claim is eliminated when everyone is allowed to speak for himself. If all Americans were gathered in one place, and those friendly to freedom were instructed to say “aye,” a unanimous response would involve no use of the pronoun ‘we.’ Every “aye” would mean “I.” There would be no claim on the part of any person to speak for any one other than himself.
The pronoun ‘we’ derives its peculiar meaning from a specific situation in which the user of the pronoun is a member of a group — such as “those present,” family, fellow-partisans, fellow-nationals, or “all concerned” — the other members of which have the same opinion as his own, and consent to his expressing it for them. A man's interest or other attitude is his to take; it ceases to be his when he changes it. What is his to take or change, is also his to delegate. This means that whether the interest which I express for you is or is not yours is for you to say. If you recognize your interest in my expression of it and acknowledge it as yours, then it is your interest which I express. You certify to its authenticity; so that I am then, if mine is the same, justified in referring to it as “ours.” There is thus a mode of relationship between the several persons of a group such that the interest of one vicariously represents the interest of the rest, and may legitimately express itself in the first person plural.
The idea of representative agreement is a philosophical commonplace, but many atrocities have been committed in its name. There is, for example, the notion of an “overindividual” subject, or super-person, of which the several individuals are dependent and inseparable parts, and which is therefore entitled to voice their interests. Such a notion is not only fictitious, but it fails to serve the purpose, since it has no organ of expression except individual human persons. It leads, therefore, to a second notion, the notion, namely, of an individual human person intrinsically qualified to be the spokesman of the group.
The qualified representative may be one who speaks with an inner sense of authority, convinced that he taps a subterranean spiritual level which underlies the superficial desires and judgments of less “inspired” men. But this qualification leads to a conflict of claimants. Instead of expressing actual agreement it creates a more passionate and tragic disagreement, each man imputing a universal vicariousness to his own private attitude. To meet this difficulty the qualified individual may be assumed to be the ruler, who speaks for all ex-officio, being the organ of that greater being, the State. Actual agreement may now be obtained by force, and this forced agreement may then be interpreted as a submission of each person's empirical or apparent will to his more “real” will, the will, namely, of that superbeing of which he is a part. This solution rests on three fictions: first, the fiction of a greater being with a will of its own; second, the fiction that the acts of the ruler necessarily express such a will; third, the fiction that forced obedience is the same thing as agreement.
These fictions being rejected there remains a representative agreement — an interest having the weight of many — when a person presents his own interest as the interest of others who acknowledge it as their own. Consent may be “silent,” when the persons represented are aware, and make no protest. Or they may not even be aware. The legitimacy of the pronoun ‘we’ would then consist in the truth of the proposition that if I should consult those in whose behalf I speak they would consent. In using the pronoun ‘we,’ one counts on consent which one does not obtain, just as in one's perceptual beliefs one counts upon sensible verification which one does not obtain. One must be prepared to withdraw or modify a perceptual belief should a contrary sensible datum appear, and the belief therefore enjoys a more or less precarious security. Similarly, when one claims representative agreement, that agreement can be disproved by any person for whom one presumes to speak. His dissent is decisive.
Social unity culminates in coöperation — the last step in a series of successively conditioning relationships. Coöperation is organized agreement, or agreement supplemented by the coördination of means to a common end. Coöperation is not, as is sometimes supposed, the only alternative to competition and rivalry; it is quite possible that two or more persons should avoid striving against one another, and yet not strive together. Society is full of such peaceful and yet non-coöperative relations.
In international organization it is recognized that coöperation for security or prosperity is a step beyond the sheer elimination of war.
Nor is coöperation the same thing as mutual aid. The dancing bear and its owner aid one another: the bear obtains food, and the owner obtains money from the onlookers. It is quite conceivable (though this may be to underrate their intelligence) that they should have no common goal at all. Or (to give them the benefit of the doubt), it is possible that both should be interested in “putting on a good show,” and that the owner should provide the music and pull of the chain, and the bear the steps, as means concerted to the same artistic end or financial profit. They would then be said to coöperate.
The mother satisfies the infant's craving for food and at the same time obtains the satisfaction of her own maternal instinct. They aid one another, and their activities are, through the wisdom of nature, nicely adjusted. But they do not coöperate, because they seek no common end. The mother is not hungry and the infant does not feel maternal. They may begin to coöperate at some later time when they are governed by the common end of a happy life together, in which they recognize one another as collaborators.
The place which the common end occupies in each hierarchy of goods is independent of the fact of coöperation. Two or more persons bent on different destinations find themselves obstructed by a barrier; they both desire to remove the barrier, and work together to remove it. The removal of the barrier may be “a matter of life and death” to one, and a matter of trivial importance to the others. It may be an end in itself to one (who is governed by the love of freedom), and merely a means, or a means to a means, for the others. The common end may be the over ruling end for all participants, as when men subordinate all of their individual interests to the defense of their country against an invader.
It is because of the common end that “division of labor” is a unifying and not a divisive relationship. The efforts of persons united in a common cause, and by a common cause, are not merely added together, but are complementary. They collaborate by their differences of choice, skill, or aptitude.
In coöperation, as in all agreement, community and mutuality of interest so act and react upon one another as to increase them both. The creation of what is called “morale” relies largely upon these effects. Awareness that another person is collaborating in the pursuit of the same end creates an interest in that person, which is likely to be a favorable interest. There is a sense of comradeship which springs from being devoted to a common cause, and which is heightened by its symbols; and comradeship is independently, as well as dependently benevolent — partnership develops into friendship. At the same time whatever promotes friendly relations and mutual good will among the participants intensifies their devotion to the common cause and to that which each contributes to its realization.
A person is not a society, and a society is not a person. It would not be necessary to reaffirm this thesis were it not for the perpetual confusion which arises from the important fact that both persons and societies are organizations of interests.
The analogy between persons and societies is an ancient habit of mind, reflected in habits of speech. It is customary to describe the personal life in terms drawn from social organization, and to speak of a man as “enslaved by passion,” or as “keeping order in his own house,” or as “living under the rule of reason.” This analogy is instructive and affords the basis of the comparison between personal and social morality, both being species of the same moral genus. But analogy means partial similarity, and analogies are always dangerous because of the tendency to suppose that similarity in some respects implies similarity in all respects.
The similarity between persons and societies embraces relationships which lie at the root of morality. The several interests of the same person, like the interests of different persons, may be conflicting; and by organization they may be rendered harmonious. Thus a man's hunger which moves him to eat his cake may contend with his avarice which moves him to have it; or his play and his work may dispute the use of the same hours. He may solve his problem by developing an over-all interest in his own interests, and by uniting them in the pursuit of a common end which provides for both eating and having and for both work and play. These types of relationship and organization occur also as between the hunger or play of one man and the avarice or work of another.
But, as has been pointed out, there are certain operations and relationships which are exclusively internal to a person, and whose exclusive internality affords the best description of what a person is. Among these are verification, learning by experience, inference, the mediation of interest; the relation between independent and dependent interest; and between the overruling and subordinate interests. These are forces which operate only among the parts of that dynamic system which coincides physically with the neurally centered organism, and on that high level of complexity which characterizes the individual person.2
It follows that insofar as a society derives its unity from thought, from the control of action by ideas, from the relation of means to ends, and from the control of higher interests, it borrows these unifying principles from its members. They unify the interests of different persons only when through sympathy, imagination, representation, and benevolence these are brought together vicariously within one person. This holds of any society, however extensive, however small and intimate, however infused the members may be with devotion to common ends, or by participation in coöperative endeavor.
A society, such as a corporation, may be said to have a “legal personality,” in the sense that it possesses one of the characteristics of personality, namely, liability; but it is not implied that it possesses the other and crucial characteristics. It is appropriately described as “soulless.” Although no society is a real person it is permissible to use the term to symbolize its unity, or to evoke attitudes of loyalty and obedience. The “Leviathan” of Hobbes is such a symbol. Similarly, when Milton said that “a commonwealth ought to be a huge Christian personage, one mighty growth of stature of an honest man, as compact of virtue as of body”3 he used language appropriate to civic reform, but not to psychology. The state or nation may be referred to by a personal pronoun, and represented by a human figure, for the sake of endearment. Christ, according to St. Paul, represented the Church as his bride “that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.”4 Such statements are permissible by poetic license, but they are not descriptions of fact.
To conceive a society as a person literally and in all seriousness, is doubly disastrous. It leads to idolatry, that is, the transfer to non-persons of the attitudes appropriate only to persons. It invests non-persons with a specious dignity,5 and leads to such distortions as ecclesiasticism and statism. In the second place, to conceive society as a person stands in the way of understanding either personality or society. By resorting to metaphor and loose analogy it diverts attention away from the internal structure and dynamics of personal integration; away from the real locus of social integration, which derives interpersonal structure from the intrapersonal structures of its members.
All of the interpersonal bonds which constitute a society provide at the same time for a plurality of societies — for societies within societies, and for societies among societies. A singular society is distinguished by the singularity of its members, and this in turn consists in their unique locus and orientation in space and time. It consists of human individuals who coexist within a certain area, or succeed one another during a certain lapse of time. This spatial contiguity and temporal continuity is the condition of the interactive relations between the members. It gives to the individual members of society their living-together, and their tradition and common memories. Within such a spatial and temporal frame-work individuals may be replaced and superseded like the cells in a body, without loss of historic identity; the spatio-temporal locus of its members makes a society this society, not to be duplicated, however much it may be resembled, by other societies. In this sense of singularity America is the society composed of Americans, that is, of persons residing throughout the Western Hemisphere between the thirtieth and fortyninth parallels, between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, continuously from the seventeenth and to the twentieth centuries. No other society, however American in its characteristics, could constitute America.
Such a territorial-historical classification is legitimate and fundamental but it falls far short of exhausting the full concreteness of a singular society. There are other bonds which are either presupposed or superimposed. It is presupposed that all members of a singular society are of the human race, and of one or more ethnic species. They will be distinguished by their common environment, and in some degree, at least, by common descent. Because of their spatial and temporal proximity they will interact among themselves, and from this interaction will emerge those close bonds of agreement and coöperation which create a society in the full sense of the term.
In other words, a singular society will be a spatio-temporal sub-class of mankind which coincides with sub-classes otherwise defined. All societies are exclusive in some respect: there must be some bond which unites the members with one another, but which unites none of them with non-members. But the extent to which a historic society is also exclusive in other respects, will vary. In short, singularity is a matter of degree.
The limiting case of a society having the maximum degree of singularity is approximated by human societies remote in space or time, such as Eskimos, Australian aborigines, or prehistoric man, before their discovery by voyagers or archaeologists. Few of the internal bonds of such a society were, it may be supposed, shared with persons outside the society. Its relations of ethnic characteristics, community of environment, consanguinity, proximity, interaction, interdependence, agreement, and coöperation were confined to its own circle. The opposite extreme, possessing the minimum of singularity, would be represented by a section of mankind having no exclusive bond save place and time. This is said to have been the case when North and South Korea were divided by the thirty-eighth parallel. Otherwise the North Koreans and South Koreans shared the same internal relations. This situation was changed at the moment when the two sections acquired separate governments and ideologies; and it would not have existed at all if, as is sometimes held, the peoples of these areas already possessed different economies.
Between these two extremes there is room for indefinitely many degrees. It would be contrary to sociological usage to consider a merely spatio-temporal section of mankind as a society at all; but precisely what, and how many, further peculiarities or exclusive bonds are required is a matter of arbitrary definition. One might insist on a peculiar language or a peculiar descent, or peculiar marriage customs, or a peculiar economic organization, or a peculiar art or science, or a peculiar government. Using the term ‘culture’ to embrace any acquired peculiarity, it is assumed that a singular society must possess some cultural idiosyncracy.
It is to be noted that when one looks for examples of extreme singularity one finds them in primitive societies. This suggests that the characteristics of an advanced society tend to be shared with other societies, or that in proportion as a society advances it tends to lose its singularity. That is one reason why sociologists are fascinated by primitive societies. When a society advances — becomes more mobile, more enlightened, more efficient, more progressive — it is faced with a dilemma: either it loses its singularity and is merged into a larger society; or it struggles against this tendency, and attempts to give a unique flavor to all of its cultural achievements. Hence there arise the cults of nationalism and totalitarianism, which were not necessary in earlier stages of development.
Within any given historic society there will be relationships, of any type, non-interactive and interactive, which unite some but not all of its members. In proportion as the society has a high degree of singularity these sub-societies will share its singularity; that is, their bonds will obtain only between members of the society. But when the society possesses a low degree of singularity the bonds which unite members of the subsociety may also relate them to members of other societies. This is the case, for example, with the Catholic Church and with the Communist Party. In other words, societies can overlap and interpenetrate through having sub-societies in common.
Implicit in the above analysis is the fact that a sub-society may consist either of a fraction of the members of the total society, or of a fraction of their interests. Organized amateur sports, for example, embrace some Americans in respect of one of their interests, and this is ordinarily the case with organized science, art, or religion. It is conceivable that a highly “decentralized” society should consist of sub-societies whose exclusive bonds embraced the greater part of their interests. They could not embrace all their interests, for they would then no longer be parts of one society. Local autonomy carried beyond a certain point, as in the extreme Southern sectionalism at the time of the American Civil War, would dissolve the Union. There is a similar crucial point at which nationalism would prevent the creation of a world society. The more familiar case is that in which the members of a sub-society are united by a special interest, but are left free to be united with other persons in their other interests.
There are “special purpose” organizations, and there are “all-purpose” organizations. The latter would be illustrated by a marriage bond embracing not only the purpose of procreation but the total lives of both partners. A similar situation exists when the interest which binds the members is their only independent interest. The common interest then indirectly motivates all of the interests of each. This is approximated when the members are governed by the same political, economic, tribal, or religious, piety and the society becomes a statist, communist, capitalist, racist, theocratic, totalitarianism.
Finally, it is necessary to reaffirm and emphasize the idea of system, by which the social relationships can be abstracted from the particular individuals whom they unite. A society is then conceived as a system of systems; as when America is taken to be divisible into characteristic political and economic structures, and a characteristic relation between the two. Such systems can be duplicated in other societies where they are embodied in other singular members. Thus the United States and the United Kingdom can both be said to be capitalistic democracies.
The distinction between the social system in abstracto and the class of its members explains the difference between the idea that all societies should be democracies, and the idea that all societies should be brought into a single world democracy. The failure to make this distinction is a frequent source of confusion in the area of international thinking.
When a society is taken as a system of systems the individual member may be characterized in terms of the multiple roles which he assumes: the same individual may be citizen or ruler in the political system; judge or defendant in the legal system; teacher or pupil in the educational system; producer or consumer in the economic system; priest or layman in the religious system.
These, then, are some of the ideas which it is necessary to have in mind for the understanding of social institutions. At the same time they discredit views of human history which liken societies, in other than the loosest sense, to physical organisms. There is no equivalent of a central nervous system which controls all of the functions of a society and terminates at its periphery. There is no unambiguous boundary corresponding to the skin, which separates a society from its surroundings and enables it to move. But while human life, socially speaking, is fluid and infinitely complex, there are within this fluidity and complexity certain configurations of interests and persons, which serve to describe its more salient features. The most important of these are called “institutions.”
Cf. the Author's One World in the Making, 1945.
This analysis does not in principle exclude the possibility of two personalities associated with a single body. Insofar as a “split personality” is wholly split, it Illustrates, and does not contradict, the conception of personality here set forth.
Of Reformation Touching Church-Discipline in England, Works, 1931, Vol. III (Part One), p. 38.
It has been said that the nearest analogue in the animal kingdom to a society is not a man, still less an angel or deity, but the formaniferous rhizopod, which closely resembles the ant-colony, and which is classified among the lowly protozoa. The society of ants stands upon a lower level of organization than the individual ant. Cf. the Author's General Theory of Value, 1926, 1950, pp. 451–2.