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The problems of social structure we find in a rather confused state at the present moment. In an earlier stage of sociological thinking considerable expectations were attached to the interpretation of social phenomena by means of biological analogies, or what was called the organic theory of society. These expectations may now be said to have been disappointed. The organic theory has almost universally been abandoned. Yet even its severest critics are likely to admit that there is some truth in or behind it, although they seem to be at a loss to explain properly what kind of truth it is.
By a curious coincidence, the three most notable representatives of that doctrine -- the Russian, Paul von Lilienfeld, a man of high social standing; the German, Albert Schäffle, with a reputation as a political economist; and the Englishman, Herbert Spencer, whose fame needs not to be emphasized — all departed from life in the year 1903, the two latter in the month of December; all in advanced old age. To these three men sociology owes a debt of gratitude, because, after Comte, they were the firstat least in Europe — to formulate a theory of social life in large outline. From all, but especially from Schäffle and Spencer, we receive, and shall continue to receive, constant and fertile impulses or suggestions. But I feel safe in predicting that it will soon be universally acknowledged that the foundations of their theories were not laid firmly enough for permanently supporting those boldly planned structures of thought.
1 A paper read at the Congress of Arts and Science, Department of Sociology, St. Louis, September, 1904.
For a long time past I have cherished the opinion that these authors, as well as nearly all their successors and critics, are hampered by a fundamental lack of clearness as to the subject of their inquiries — a subject which they are in the habit of designating by the very indefinite name of "a society," or, as Schäffle puts it, “the social body.” Confusion of ideas invariably proceeds from a defect of analytical reasoning; that is to say, of proper distinction.
I believe and assert that three distinct conceptions, the common object of which is social life in its broadest sense, are not sufficiently, or not at all, kept apart nor even recognized as being distinct, viz., the biological, the psychological, and the sociological in what I call the exclusive sense, the subject of this third conception only being entirely new, as compared with the subjects of other sciences or departments of philosophy. It seems to me to be our fundamental task as philosophical sociologists to deduce from this last conception, and others implied in it, a system of social structure which shall contain the different notions of collective entities in their mutual dependence and connection; and I firmly trust that out of such a system will be gained a better and more profound insight into the evolution of society at large, and into its historical phases, as the life of these collective entities. It is therefore in the struggles, first, between any of these groups and the individuals composing it; second, between their different forms and kinds — for instance, the struggles between church and empire; between church and cities; between church and state; between cities and other corporations; between the sovereign state and feudal communities, and consequently established orders or estates; between single states and a federal state - it is in these and similar struggles, presupposing the existence of those collective entities, that the growth and decay of higher civilizations exhibit themselves most markedly.
When we speak of a house, a village, or a city, the idea immediately arising in our minds is that of a visible building, or of larger or smaller groups of buildings; but soon we also recollect the visible contents of these buildings, such as rooms and cellars and their furniture; or, when groups of buildings are concerned, the roads and streets between them. The words “house, village," and "city" are, however, used in a different sense when we have in mind the particular contents of buildings which we call their inhabitants, especially their human occupants. Very often, at least in many languages, people are not only conceived of as the inhabitants of, but as identical with, the buildings. We say, for instance," the entire house,” “the whole village" meaning a lot of people the idea of whom is closely connected with the idea of their usual dwelling-place. We think of them as being one with their common habitation. Nevertheless it is still a visible union of individuals which we have in mind. This visible union, however, changes into an invisible one, when it is conceived of as lasting through several generations. Now the house will become identified with a family or perhaps with a clan. In the
a same manner a village community or a township will be imagined as a collective being, which — although not in all, yet in certain important respects — remains the same in essence, notwithstanding a shifting of matter; that is to say, an incessant elimination of waste portions -- men who die- and a constant accretion of fresh elements — born children. Here the analogy with the essential characteristics of an organism is obvious. Vegetable and animal organisms likewise are only represented by such elements as are visible at any time, and the law of life consists in this, that the remaining portions always predominate over the eliminated and the reproduced ones, and that the latter by and by move and fill up the vacant spaces, while the relations of parts - e. g., the co-operation of cells as tissues, or of tissues as organs - do not undergo a substantial change. Thus such an application of biological notions to the social life of mankind — as the organicist theories or methods set out to do— is not to be rejected on principle. We may, in fact, look upon any community of this
kind—maintaining itself by receiving its parts—as being a living whole or unity. This view is the more plausible if the renewal itself is merely biological, as indeed is the case in the human family, and, as we think, to a still greater extent — because a family soon disperses itself — in certain larger groups: a tribe, a nation, or a race; although there is involved in this view the question whether there is a sameness of nature
or, as we usually say, of blood -- guaranteed, as it should be, by an in-and-in breeding of parents (German, Inzucht). Indeed, this selfconservation of a group is the less to be expected, the smaller the group; and it is well known among breeders that it is necessary for the life of a herd not to continue too long selecting sires of the same breed, but from time to time to refresh the blood by going beyond the limits of a narrow parentage, and crossing the race by mixtures with a different stock.
At any rate, this is what I should call a purely biological aspect of collective human life, in so far as their conception is restricted to the mere existence of a human group, which, so to speak, is self-active in its maintenance of life.
This aspect, however, does not suffice when we consider social units of a local character, which also continue their existence, partly in the same, but partly in a different manner. With reference to them we do not think exclusively of a natural Stoffwechsel, as it is effected by births and deaths of the individuals composing the body, but we also consider the moving to and fro of living men, women, and children, the ratio of which, like the ratio of births and deaths, may cause an increase or a decrease of the whole mass, and must cause one or the other if they do not balance. In consequence of this, we also have less reason to expect a biological identity of the stock of inhabitants at different times, than a lasting connection between a part of space (the place), or rather a piece of the soil, and a certain group of men who dwell in that place and liave intercourse with each other, although the place itself grows with the number of its inhabitants, and although even among these inhabitants there be, for instance, not one direct descendant of those who occupied the place, say, a hundred years ago. We may, it is true, take it to be the rule
that at least a certain nucleus of direct descendants keeps alive through many generations — a rule so much more certain if it is
a a large place, a whole region, or even a country that we have in mind. Still we shall not hold this to be a conditio sine qua non for acknowledging the village or the city to be the same; it being in this respect much more relevant that the nucleus of the place, of the "settlement,” has endured and has preserved itself through the ages. Now, since place and region, air and climate, have a very considerable effect upon the intelligence and sentiment of the inhabitants, and seeing that a considerable change may not justly be expected with respect to this, except when the minds as well as the external conditions of the newcomers are totally different from those of the older strata, we may consider the identity of a place, in so far as it is founded upon the social connection of men with a part of the soil, as a psychological identity, and call this aspect of social life a psychological aspect. There can be no doubt that this psychological aspect is in great part dependent upon the biological aspect, and is, as a rule, closely interwoven with it. Yet it needs but little reflection to recognize that both are also to a certain extent separate and independent of each other. The subject-matter of a social psychology is different from the subject
a matter of a social biology, though there exist a great many points of contact between them, and though both, apart from the foundations here given to theni, may be applied to animal as well as to human societies.
II Neither of the above-mentioned conceptions of a continuous unity or whole implies that the essential characteristic of the unity is perceived and recognized by those who belong to it, much less that it is perceived by others, by outsiders. And this is the third idea, by far the most important one for the present consideration — the idea of what I purpose to designate by the name of a corporation, including under it all social units whatever, in so far as they have this trait in common, that the mode of existence of the unity or whole itself is founded upon the consciousness of its existence, and consequently that it perpetuates itself by the conception of its reality being transmitted from one generation to