Page images

this intimate blending of inorganic and organic factors into structures which are necessarily larger and more complex than organisms properly speaking, permits us to confer upon even the smallest and simplest societies the name superorganisms. Yet this appellation need not imply, a priori, any absolute identity, either quantitative or qualitative, with organisms. The question of resemblances and differences is answered by direct observation of social facts, and by their comparison with organisms. It would be a capital error to proceed by simple assimilation and to seek thereby to deduce the laws of sociology from those of biology and psychology; sociology has its own characteristics and its own laws. It is only by making an abstraction of these special characteristics that sociology can perhaps be correlated gradually with the simpler and more general laws of the antecedent sciences. This operation is not within the proper domain of sociology, but belongs to that of the general philosophy of the sciences; the single philosophic ambition of sociology should be to reduce its own laws to a single sociological law, if it is possible to do so. Nevertheless, this most general sociological law, by its very nature, will be in direct contact with those of the antecedent sciences, and therefore with the most general law of philosophy as a whole.

We have recognized that the combination of the two elementary factors constitutive of every society (land and population) reveals itself, upon analysis, in phenomena, or, if one prefers, in properties or in forces, sui generis. We have classified these phenomena on the basis of their common and distinctive characteristics, and we have drawn up this classification in a serial and hierarchic order, according to the increasing complexity and speciality of the phenomena, just as Comte classified the phenomena relative to the antecedent sciences.

In conformity with this methodical classification of social phenomena, which is at once logical and dogmatic, natural and historical, we have constructed a hierarchic series of the special social sciences, concrete as well as abstract, of which sociology represents the general philosophy:

[blocks in formation]

The natural character of this classification appears especially in social embryology and in organography, in which we treated of the formation of societies and of their organs or institutions by means of differentiations. All the phenomena relating to the social sciences enter into this classification. Not only are they superior in mass, complexity, and plasticity to the analogous phenomena which we may encounter even in the most advanced antecedent sciences, such as biology and psychology, but they manifest a superiority which we may call qualitative, in contrast with the differences enumerated by Herbert Spencer, which are mainly quantitative. This characteristic peculiar to sociological phenomena, especially in its clearly conscious and well-developed forms, is encountered nowhere excepting in social bodies, although it appears in germ in certain animal societies. It is this quality which enables societies to organize collectively and to function according to contractual modes, with the result that contractualism becomes a special and superior form of social adaptation, a true method of common structure and common life. Although these forms and modes of social activity are met with in all societies, even in the simplest and most primitive, they are naturally to be observed mainly in the higher social types of humanity. They are transformed continually into an unconscious organization and activity, which in turn become the point of departure of new contractual relations. Neither in general psychology nor in biology do we find contractual phenomena, but only spontaneous cellular associations and combinations. Nowhere except in societies are aggregates, organs, groups of organs, systems of groups, associations or colonies made, unmade, dissolved, and transformed according to contractual modes, until it seems, when the more and more regular relations which are established between the divers particular societies tend to the establishment of a vast, world-wide internationality, that contractualism becomes at a certain point the principal connective bond between the divers members of the humanitarian superorganism. Not only is contractualism the basis of the system of political federations and confederations, but it will be especially prominent in the economic federations and confederations of the future.

It is the process par excellence of collective co-operation, which is the positive aspect of the division of social labor. In fact, this division of labor is applicable, not only to individuals, but also to the social forms in which they are incorporated.

Auguste Comte and Herbert Spencer have observed in an imperfect manner the essential characteristic of societies. According to the former, this characteristic is that they are conscious. Herbert Spencer explained this fact by saying that they are conscious because the units composing social bodies — that is to say, men

-are conscious. But these are only analogies with organisms rather than differences; at most, they are only quantitative differences. Societies are more conscious than organisms, but by what property, by what new force, does this superior degree of consciousness manifest itself ?

Our response is : By the contractual force or property.

Accordingly, by virtue of the principle that the distinctive characteristics of divers orders of phenomena are clearly apparent, especially in the highest forms of the phenomena, although they appear in the lowest, we can proclaim that contractualism constitutes the distinguishing characteristic of society, both from the structural and the functional point of view; it is their superior and special mode of adaptation and life. In brief, it is the original characteristic which alone justifies the formation of the social sciences into distinct sciences and the organization of sociology into a general philosophy of these sciences.

This contractualism appears in all the stages of social history; it first manifested itself in the phenomena relating to representation, deliberation, and the execution of the collective will in political affairs; today it tends to predominate even in economics. Moreover, this organic contractualism has absolutely nothing in common with Jean Jacques Rousseau's theory of the social contract; it is also the antipode of the contractualism of Yves Guiot and of radical liberalism in general; in implies the constant intervention of the collective body in its own organization and reorganization; it is a social, and not an individualistic, contractualism.

Societies in general are distinguished from individual organisms by their greater mass and their superior complexity; every society, even the simplest, is larger and more complicated than a zoological organism.

This double difference in the quantity of the social mass and in the variety of its combinations corresponds to this general phenomena of nature, that the more a substance is extended the more it is subject to variations ; it being impossible for the environment to act in the same manner upon each of the parts of the mass because of their different situations.

We may say also that the quantitative differences are the profound source of the distinctive qualitative characteristics of social bodies and of their successive differentiations, as will become more apparent in the chapter devoted to social aggregates.

The variations of the social body are also favored by the fact that it is more discrete or diffuse than individual organisms; its constituent units are less intimately bound together. Its structure is less symmetrical than zoological structure, and inorganic or intermediary structures, and than organisms such as crystals. These characteristics imply the greater plasticity of society, and this plasticity has in turn the corollary of modifiability.

From the point of view of the interpretation of the natural structure and functioning of societies, a capital phenomenon here appears. Social bodies are not merely the result of the combination of inorganic bodies and of inferior organisms; another factor enters into their organization: the human species, population. This second factor, by virtue of its own constitution and its action and reaction upon the first, consists of sensible units. All societies are superorganisms, endowed not only with a general sensibility, as are all other organisms, or a special sensibility, as are some other organisms, but they advance from the simplest forms of the latter to the highest, to a reasonable and even methodical collective life. Therefore, as societies are plastic and modifiable par excellence, they are able to interfere methodically in their own constitution, in their own government. On the one hand, the social organs become so much the more sensible, so much the more reasonable in each category of organs, as they assume superior forms. Thus in the economic system, the boards of conciliation, the councils of labor, of industry, and of agriculture are superior forms of sensibility and adaptation; on the other hand, the highest social functions are also the most sensible; they are so much more intelligent than the primary functions that the sociologists have wrongly divided social facts into two classes, material and ideological. Thus, the juridic sensibility, especially the political, is more intense than the economic sensibility. The superior social forms are the most conscious, the most rational. This superior sensibility is especially the accompaniment of new forms. Moreover, it is a relative superiority, for the earlier forms have lost, in part, their conscious characteristic only because of their ancientness itself; they also were superior and conscious at the time of their development. The service of posts and railways has lost its conscious contractual characteristic and has become automatic.

Social contractualism is, then, the distinctive and most important sociological phenomenon, from the qualitative point of view. It is anterior to the division of labor and appears as soon as there is homogeneous co-operation. It is the conscious method par excellence of the collective life, although it may manifest itself unconsciously, and although it may be transformed into unconscious and automatic modes of activity; that is to say, the organization and activity of societies are not merely the spontaneous products of their constitutive elements, but they may be likewise the results of their conscious action upon themselves.

It is precisely by their methodical activity

« PreviousContinue »