Social Statics and Dynamics

Just as in biology itis useful to separate anatomy from physiology, so it is desirable tomake a distinction in sociology between statics and dynamics. "Thedistinction is not between two classes of facts, but between two aspectsof theory. It corresponds with the double conception of order andprogress: for order consists . . . in a permanent harmony among theconditions of social existence, and progress consists in socialdevelopment." Order and Progress, statics and dynamics, are hencealways correlative to each other.

In order to supplement histheory of stages, Comte set out to investigate the foundations of socialstability. "The statical study of sociology consists in theinvestigation of the laws of action and reaction of the different partsof the social system--apart, for the occasion, from the fundamentalmovement which is always gradually modifying them." It studies thebalance of mutual relations of elements within a social whole. Theremust always be a "spontaneous harmony between the whole and the parts ofthe social system." When such harmony is lacking, we are confronted bya pathological case.

When Comte deals with the components of asocial system, he emphatically refuses to see individuals as elementaryparts. "The scientific spirit forbids us to regard society as composesof individuals. The true social unit is the family--reduced, ifnecessary, to the elementary couple which forms its basis. . . Familiesbecome tribes and tribes become nations." A social science that takesas its point of departure the needs and propensities of individuals isbound to fail. In particular, it is erroneous to derive man's socialtendencies, "which are now proved to be inherent in his nature," fromutilitarian considerations. In the early ages of humanity the individualadvantages of association were doubtful. "It is thus evident that thesocial state would never have existed if its rise had depended on aconviction of its individual utility."

It is within the familythat the elementary egotistical propensities are curbed and harnessed tosocial purposes. "It is by the avenue [of the family] that man comesforth from his mere personality, and learns to live in another, whileobeying his most powerful instincts." The family is the most elementarysocial unit and the prototype of all other human associations, for theseevolve from family and kinship groups. "The collective organism isessentially composed of families which are its true elements, of classesand castes which form its true tissue, and finally of cities andtownships which are its true organs."

Although Comte conceived ofsociety by analogy with a biological organism, he was aware of thedifficulties that such analogical thinking brings in its wake. Abiological organism is, so to speak, encased in a skin and hence hasmaterial boundaries. The body social, however, cannot be held togetherby physical means, but only by spiritual ties. Hence, Comte assignedcentral importance to language, and above all, religion.

Languageis the vessel in which the thought of preceding generations, the cultureof our ancestors, is stored. By participating in a linguistic universe,we are part of a linguistic community. Language binds us to our fellowsand at the same time connects us to the long chain that links a livingcommunity to its remote ancestors. Human society has more dead thanliving members. Without a common language men could never have attainedsolidarity and consensus; without this collective tool no social orderis possible.

A common language is indispensable to a humancommunity, but it is only a medium, not a positive guide, to behavior. What is needed in addition is a common religious belief. Religionfurnishes the unifying principle, the common ground without whichindividual differences would tear society apart. Religion permits mento overcome their egoistic propensities and to transcend themselves inthe love of their fellow men. It is the powerful cement that binds asociety together in a common cult and a common system of beliefs. Religion is at the root of social order. It is indispensable for makinglegitimate the commands of government. No temporal power can endurewithout the support of spiritual power. "Every government supposes areligion to consecrate and regulate commandment and obedience."

Beyondlanguage and religion, there is a third factor that links man to hisfellows: the division of labor. Men are

bound togetherby the very distribution of their occupations; and it is thisdistribution which causes the extent and growing complexity of thesocial organism.
The social organization tendsmore and more to rest on an exact estimate of individual diversities, byso distributing employments as to appoint each one to the destination heis most fit for, from his own nature . . . , from his education and hisposition, and, in short, from all his qualifications; so that allindividual organizations, even the most vicious and imperfect . . . ,may finally be made use of for the general good.

Comtebelieved in principle that the division of labor, while it fostered thedevelopment of individual gifts and capacities, also contributed tohuman solidarity by creating in each individual a sense of hisdependence on others. Yet at the same time, he was perturbed by what heconsidered certain negative aspects of the modern industrial division oflabor.

If the separation of social functions develops auseful spirit of detail, on the one hand, it tends on the other, toextinguish or to restrict what we may call the aggregate or generalspirit. In the same way, in moral relations, while each individual isin close dependence on the mass, he is drawn away from it by theexpansion of his special activity, constantly recalling him to hisprivate interest, which he but very dimly perceives to be related to thepublic. . . . The inconveniences of the division of functions increasewith its characteristic advantages.

As a result, Comteexpressed the fervent hope that in the future both temporal and spiritualpower would unite "to keep up the idea of the whole, and the feeling ofthe common interconnection."

Comte always considered socialinstitutions, whether language or religion or the division of labor, notso much in their own right as in terms of the contribution they make tothe wider social order. To this extent, he must surely be regarded asone of the earliest functional analysts of society, for he not onlyconsidered the consequences social phenomena have on social systems, buthe stressed the interconnectedness of all these phenomena. "There mustalways be a spontaneous harmony between the parts and the whole of thesocial system . . . . It is evident that not only must politicalinstitutions and social manners, on the one hand, and manners and ideason the other, be always mutually connected; but further that thisconsolidated whole must always be connected, by its nature, with thecorresponding state of the integral development of humanity."

ToComte, the study of social statics, that is, of the conditions andpreconditions of social order, was inevitably linked to the study ofsocial dynamics, which he equated with human progress and evolution. Though he failed to specify this link and to show how it operatedconcretely, he reiterated this position in programmatic form. Despitethe fact that it seemed desirable for methodological and heuristicpurposes to separate the study of statics and dynamics, in empiricalreality they were correlative. Functional and evolutionary analyses,far from contradicting each other, were in effect complementary.

From Coser, 1977:10-12.


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