Social Types: Militant and Industrial Societies

When attempting toclassify types of societies in terms of their evolutionary stage,Spencer arranged them in a series as simple, compound, doubly compound,and trebly compound. The terminology is rather obscure, but what heseems to have in mind is a classification according to degrees ofstructural complexity. More specifically, he distinguished betweensimple societies, which were headless, those with occasional headship,those with unstable headship, and those with stable headship. Compoundand doubly compound societies were likewise classified in terms of thecomplexity of their political organization. Similarly, various types ofsocieties were ranked according to the evolution of their modes ofsettlement, whether nomadic, semisettled, or settled. Societiesgenerally were said to evolve from simple to compound and doublecompound structures through necessary stages. "The stages ofcompounding and re-compounding have to be passed through in succession."

In addition to this classification of societies by their degree ofcomplexity, Spencer proposed another basis for distinguishing betweentypes of societies. In this other scheme the focus is on the type ofinternal regulation within societies. To distinguish between what hecalled militant and industrial societies, Spencer used as the basis adifference in social organization brought about through forms of socialregulation. This classification, it needs to be emphasized, is atvariance with that based on stages of evolution. It is rooted in atheory of society that states that types of social structure depend onthe relation of a society to other societies in its significantenvironment. Whether this relation is peaceful or militant affects theinternal structures of a society and its system of regulations. Withpeaceful relations come relatively weak and diffuse systems of internalregulations; with militant relations come coercive and centralizedcontrols. Internal structure is no longer dependent, as in the firstscheme, on the level of evolution, but rather on the presence or absenceof conflict with neighboring societies.

The characteristic traitof militant societies is compulsion.

The traitcharacterizing the militant structure throughout is that its units arecoerced into their various combined actions. As the soldier's will isso suspended that he becomes in everything the agent of his officer'swill, so is the will of the citizen in all transactions, private andpublic, overruled by that of the government. The cooperation by whichthe life of the militant society is maintained is compulsorycooperation . . . just as in the individual organism the outer organsare completely subject to the chief nervous center.

Theindustrial type of society, in contrast, is based on voluntarycooperation and individual self-restrain. It is

characterizedthroughout by the same individual freedom which every commercialtransaction implies. The cooperation by which the multiform activitiesof the society are carried on becomes a voluntary cooperation. Andwhile the developed sustaining system which give to a social organismthe industrial type acquires for itself, like the developed sustainingsystem of an animal, a regulating apparatus of a diffused anduncentralized kind, it tends also to decentralize the primary regulatingapparatus by making it derive from numerous classes its disputed powers.

Spencer stressed that the degree of societal complexity is independentof the militant-industrial dichotomy. Relatively undifferentiatedsocieties may be "industrial" in Spencer's sense (not in today's usageof "industrial society"), and modern complex societies may be militant. What determines whether a society is militant or industrial is not thelevel of complexity but rather the presence or absence of conflict withthe outside.

Peaceful, mutual rendering of individual servicesCompulsory cooperation; regimentation by enforcement of orders; both positiveand negative regulation of activityIndividuals exist for benefit of state; restraints on liberty, property, andmobilityAll organizations public; private organizations excludedPrivate organizations encourageDecentralizedLoss of economic autonomy; interdependence via peaceful trade; free tradePatriotism; courage; reverence; loyalty; obedience; faith in authority;discipline
The Contrast Between Militant and IndustrialSocieties
CharacteristicMilitantSocietyIndustrial Society
Dominant function or activityCorporatedefensive and offensive activity for preservation and aggrandizement
Principle of social coordinationVoluntary cooperation; regulationby contract and principles of justice; only negative regulation of activity
Relations between state and individualState exists for benefit of individuals; freedom; fewrestraints on property and mobility
Relations between state and other organizations
Structure of stateCentralized
Structure of social stratificationFixity ofrank, occupation, and locality; inheritance of positionsPlasticity andopenness of rank, occupation, and locality; movement between positions
Type of economic activityEconomicautonomy and self-sufficiency; little external trade; protectionism
Valued social and personal characteristicsIndependence; respect for others; resistance to coercion;individual initiative; truthfulness; kindness

While the classification of societies in terms ofincreasing evolutionary complexity gave Spencer's system an optimisticcast--where he later used the term evolution, he earlier spoke ofprogress--the militant-industrial classification led him to less sanguineviews of the future of mankind. Writing toward the turn of the century,he stated:

If we contrast the period from 1815 to 1850with the period from 1850 to the present time, we cannot fail to seethat all along with increased armaments, more frequent conflicts, andrevived military sentiment, there has been a spread of compulsoryregulations. . . . The freedom of individuals has been in many waysactually diminished . . . . And undeniably this is a return towards thecoercive discipline which pervades the whole social life where themilitant type is pre-eminent.

Spencer was by no means,as he is often depicted, the unalloyed believer in continued unilinearprogress. This becomes even more evident in his general scheme ofevolution.

From Coser, 1977:93-94.


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