From Hobson's Choice
This entry deals with the concept of "social order" as a structure of society, its norms, relations, expectations, and plausible outcomes. Confusion may arise with the concept of "social order" as peace, harmony, domestic tranquility, and so on. Indeed, sometimes the two concepts are conflated.
The topic has fascinated early Classical philosophers, who speculated endlessly about ideal societies and the presumed ideal from which their own times had lapsed. Since then, the notion of a social order has become somewhat less of a tabula rasa, which could be transformed at will into something more virtuous. Today, it is understood that social order arises partly from its institutions, but also partly from prevailing economic conditions, prior history, ecology, and embedded social customs.
Types of Social Order
Classifying social orders remains an ongoing preoccupation of sociologists; there has been considerable debate and refinement of categories. However, a general breakdown seems to remain consistent.
- Aboriginal (hunter-gatherer)
- Pastoral (herding)
- Agrarian (farming)
- Urban (city-based; accumulation of capital)
While these boundaries are fairly mutable, the categories are stable. In addition, there are other considerations: the role of protection and its conflict with the goal of egalitarianism; sexual response and gender roles; migration and citizenship; and the extent of market organization of production.
Initially, discussions of the concept were metaphysical, such as Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan; Montaigne, Hobbes, Montesquieu, and Adam Smith. Such "speculative sociology" was typically motivated by political topics of the day, such as Hobbes' concept of mankind in a state of nature as a war of all against all. Hobbes' bleak image of human nature prior to the appearance of states is a conservative assumption, used to justify his preference for absolutist monarchy. So it would naturally follow that categories in social orders tended to take shape depending on the topic being argued.
Economics and the Social Order
Of all the various matters influencing the social order, economics is probably the most important. The reason this may be said is that other factors, such as climate and geography, are exogenous to the society; economics, the legal apparatus (or its pre-literate analogue), sexual mores and psychological processes that arise from them, religious customs, and so on, are endogenous to the society, but usually endogenous to the system of economic management as well. Even firm, conscious political action, such as the 14th and 15th Amendments to the US Constitution, were wholly thwarted by economic forces of the day.
This has led to fallacies on the part of the hard left of economic determinism, under which the entire social order is regarded as an artifact of the economic system. In anarchism, for example, while much is made of freedom in the future, it is assumed that no free agency whatever exists in the present; or if it does, it has no consequential impact on the formation of social institutions. This is a very serious defect, most pronounced in 19th century anarchists; experiences with Jacobinist totalitarianism in the 20th century probably tempered so that modern ideologies tend to pay somewhat better lip service to the value of society as something distinct from the social order. Social activism, where successful, has in contrast worked the embedded institutions rather than talked bloodthirstily about "smashing them."
In the late 1980's the leftwing assault on social orders virtually ceased, and became the exclusive province of market fundamentalists.
In fact, society is extremely complex, and in some respects like a Mandelbrot set; patterns repeat themselves even as one zooms in ever closer, and in ever greater miniature. For example, the concept of privilege, which ultimately endows the position of virtually every sentient being in the universe.
- ↑ A novel way of dealing with this is demonstrated by Allen Wilhite in "Protection and Social Order" , University of Alabama in Huntsville (undated draft; probably 2007). Prof. Wilhite proposes a simple world populated with two types of individuals, those who work and create wealth (peasants) and those who steal the property of others (bandits). With bandits about, peasants need to protect their output and can do so individually or collectively. But either way protection is costly; it consumes resources and interferes with an individual’s ability to create wealth. In the first part, he uses a computational model to examine the costs and benefits of dictatorially organized defense (p.14ff); later, he widens the model to allow multiple polities, migration, and voting.
The model is fairly interesting to me because the results are incompatible with historical experience, suggesting either a richer model is needed, or DGE analysis is unsatisfactory.
- ↑ Hobbes, The Leviathan, XIII: Of the Natural Condition of Mankind.
- ↑ The Mandelbrot Set is explained by Charley Parker at lines and colors, with illustrations.
- John D. Bone, "The Social Map & The Problem of Order: A Re-evaluation of Homo Sociologicus," University of Aberdeen
- Russell Hardin, "Law and Social Order" , New York University (2001).
- Vilho Harle, Ideas of Social Order in the Ancient World (complete text online), Greenwood Press (1998)
James R MacLean (23:31, 2 October 2007 (PDT))