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THE SOCIAL IDEAL
By the social ideal is meant the most desirable form of relationship of individuals to one another in society. It has reference to the perfection of the social organization. It would be impossible however to determine the details of the ideal social organization. Social relationships are continually changing, and the future organization of society cannot be foreseen. This ideal refers rather to the general basis upon which social relations will be established. Will they be based upon equality or inequality? Will there be class distinctions, or hierarchial gradations?
The Development of Social Relations. Assistance in the solution of this problem may be obtained by a brief survey of the past development of social relations, just as a survey of the development of the individual was used as an aid in determining the individual ideal. Among the most primitive peoples a rough equality existed on the low level of mere rudimentary development for all; but soon within the group natural inequalities caused an emergence of leaders and slight differences of social position. A wider cleavage of social classes arose later out of group conflict. War and conquest resulted in the complete subjection of one group to another; and led to the institution of the slave or the caste system. This subjection of one class to another was general among early civilizations. Sometimes differentiation was confined to two classes, and sometimes several classes arose in the same society. From this period on the history of class relationships was characterized by a gradual amelioration in the lot of slaves until finally social conditions were reached which required the abolition of this form of subjection. In many places slavery was replaced by serfdom, which was a form of partial subjection. Finally with the growth and extension of industry the wage system replaced both serfdom and slavery, and physical freedom for the lowest class was won, for the expansion of the industrial system necessitated the free movement of labor from place to place according to the requirements of production.
The attainment of physical freedom, though an important step in the emancipation of the subject classes, has not been the only gain achieved. Intellectual freedom, another indispensible requirement, has been achieved by gradual steps, the Reformation marking the beginning at least of this important struggle, - a struggle which has continued to be favorable for the majority until now in the most advanced countries individuals are generally permitted freedom of thought. The contest for political freedom began with the intellectual changes of the eighteenth century and the French Revolution, and this contest. is still being carried on over the greater part of the civilized world. These advances in the attainment of physical, intellectual, and political emancipation, together with equality before the law, and freedom in the marriage relation, have been great landmarks on the road to equality. The winning of the greatest struggle of all, - the attainment of economic freedom -alone remains to make the emancipation complete. Only after economic freedom is achieved will other forms be completely realized.
Democratic and Aristocratic Ideals. From this review of the changes in the relationship of classes, a statement of the final goal of the social relation may be formulated. From the terms used in the preceding discussion it might be supposed that complete freedom would be the social ideal. But the idea of freedom is of individual rather than social significance; and, if deserving of a place among possible ideals, it would represent a goal for the individual rather than a form of social organization. Freedom, however, is not so much a final goal even for the individual as it is an immediate aim, or preliminary condition to be achieved, in the course of man's progress towards the ideal. After a given stage of social development, individual freedom appears to be an indispensible condition for the realization of higher forms of life.
The gradual attainment of individual freedom has brought about increasing degrees of social equality. And the question is whether this movement will continue until absolute equality is realized. From the gains already made, complete equality might seem likely to become the final result; but such an end is by no means certain. Two distinct ideals have been formulated by those who recognize in a general way the trend of events, and these may conveniently be called the democratic and the aristocratic ideals. The former looks to the practical elimination of all inequalities; and the latter, holding that individual differences are natural and inevitable, maintains that society should continue to be based upon superiority and subordination of individuals if not of classes. These ideals, or points of view, may merely represent different sides of the same truth; but they are usually interpreted in too extreme a manner to be compatible. Inequalities, or variations, are a biological as well as a social phenomenon, and are a necessary condition to progress. Their elimination would be both impossible and undesirable. On the other hand existing inequalities are chiefly the result of social conditions, past and present, and are altogether too extreme to be natural or inevitable. If all members of society had the opportunity to develop their native talents solely through their own efforts without unequal assistance from external conditions, wide inequalities represented by class distinctions would to a large extent disappear. Precisely to what extent inequalities would be eliminated is impossible to say; but artificial inequalities would gradually disappear, and social differences would correspond roughly to natural variations. For this ideal social relation Ward has proposed the term "sociocracy” which, he says, “recognizes natural inequalities and aims to abolish artificial inequalities.” This situation would guarantee the maximum amount of development, would give the only true basis for competition, and at the same time would permit sufficient differentiation to ensure progress.
Democracy as the Ideal. Inasmuch as the term sociocracy has not met with general acceptance and as democracy is frequently used in the same sense, it may be best to continue to employ the latter term provided its meaning is not mis
1 Outlines of Sociology, p. 45.
understood. Accordingly the social ideal may be said to be democracy, in the sense of equality of opportunity, rather than of a dead level of uniformity. Democracy does not necessarily mean, however, that all individuals will develop to the highest degree the abilities which they possess. In fact it has just been argued in the preceding chapter that such a condition might be inconsistent with the attainment of the maximum of life. The different parts of society are closely interrelated, and the subordination and sacrifice of some may be necessary for the good of the whole; but unavoidable sacrifices should be individual in character rather than such as to necessitate the permanent subjection of whole classes. In an earlier period of development progress may have been most easily achieved under a system of class distinctions; but such a relationship seems to have served its purpose, and society is now gradually passing from the stage of inherited social differences and class distinctions to the higher stage of equal opportunity and division of labor.
The Organic Concept of Society. A group of early sociologists devoted themselves to an analysis of the points of similarity between society and an organism. Herbert Spencer, while rejecting the analogy as a valuable concept, reviewed the points of similarity between the two as follows: 1 — Society resembles an organism in that it grows; it undergoes progressive differentiation of structure; and at the same time it shows progressive differentiation of function and mutual dependence of parts; and usually the life of the aggregate is much longer than the lives of the units. Society differs from an organism in that it forms a discrete rather than a concrete whole; it is asymmetrical rather than symmetrical; and it is sensitive in all its parts instead of having a single sensitive center. This last difference would alone make it impossible to compare society to a high grade organism. In fact it does not closely resemble any known organism, though the suggestion has been made that it may resemble a polyp. In addition to the contrasts which Spencer notes, the term organism implies a rigidity of organization which is not applicable to society. The cells of a member of an organism die and are replaced by other cells which carry on exactly the same functions. In society on the contrary variations are so common that it is never certain that children will do the same work as their parents. They may be fitted for a higher or a lower position in the social order; and social conditions should be so plastic that individuals may easily be adjusted to the positions for which they are best fitted. The suggestion of an organism therefore does not seem to be very helpful to the student of society, and it may even prove to be quite misleading. The term “plastic organization " seems to express more accurately the social relationship than does the term organism.
1 Spencer, H., Principles of Sociology, Vol. I, Pt. 2, Ch. 2. Ward, L. F., Outlines of Sociology, Ch. 3.
Fraternity as the Ideal. Mackenzie in his discussion of the social ideal comes to the conclusion that it may best be expressed by the word fraternity; and there may be no inconsistency between the idea implied in this term and democracy. Fraternity seems, however, rather to emphasize the spirit of the relationship than to indicate any particular form of social organization. Still it does seem evident that complete brotherhood could never be realized in any society where there was any degree of enforced subjection of individuals or classes.
Conclusion. To recapitulate, it appears that there are two great movements to be distinguished in the social life of the present time, represented by the individual ideal and by the social ideal, - the development of higher forms of life and the attainment of more democratic social relations. Furthermore these are the only movements which are taking place. All changes in society which are desirable contribute to one or the other of these ends. And all changes which do not contribute to the one or the other are either undesirable or superfluous. Mackenzie 2 in his final analysis of social progress does give three instead of two great processes: — (1) individual culture, (2) the conquest of nature, (3) right social relations. But it is not clear that the conquest of nature is really a separate end in itself. It is desirable only to the extent that it assists individual development. And, although it is extremely important
1 An Introduction to Social Philosophy, p. 297.