Essay on Types of Society – Classification and Comparison

1. Simple Society,

2. Compound Society,

3. Doubly Compound Society,

4. Trebly Compound Society.

Classification Based on the Method of constructing priests:

“Models” or “Types” of Society:

According to Ronald Fletcher, Spencer also classified societies into (i) Military Society, and (ii) Industrial Society, on the basis of the relative preponderance of one or the other of the “Regulating”, “Sustaining” and “Distributive” systems.

Military Society and Industrial Society:

Spencer thought of constructing two extremely dissimilar “types” or “models” to classify socie­ties into two categories. He called the types as “militant societies” and “industrial societies.” The first was a type in which the “Regulating System” was dominant over all the other aspects of society.

The second was one in which the “Sustaining System” was emphasised, and all the other aspects of society were subordinated to its service. Spencer developed the construction of “two polar types” mainly for the sake of a clear understanding of societies which possessed a relative preponderance of one or other of the two systems.

Spencer described his “two types” of society as follows:

A. The Militant [Military] Society:

Military Society is any form of society in which the military exerts a dominant or pervasive role. Its main characteristics may be noted below:

1. Organisation for Offensive and Defensive Military Action:

The militant society is a type in which organisation for offensive and defensive military action is predominant. It is the society in which the army is the nation mobilised and the whole nation is regarded as a silent army. Here, the entire structure of society is moulded into military structure. It reflects a military organisation.

2. Centralised Pattern of Authority and Social Control:

Here the military head is also the political head. He has a despotic control over life and property of all his subjects. Absolute control of the ruler makes necessary a clear, precise and rigid hierarchy of power throughout society. The officials at each level are completely subservient to that above. Spencer wrote: “All are slaves to those above and despots to those below.

3. Rigid Social Classes:

This rigid hierarchy of power necessarily involves a rigid grading of social statuses. Hence it gives rise to rigid social classes in economic life. The distribution of property, and the distribution of material rewards in society, is meticulously linked with the order of social ranks.

4. Religious Beliefs and Doctrines relating to the Hierarchical Power of Gods:

This authoritar­ian and hierarchical nature of the society is also reflected in the prevailing system of ideas and beliefs. There exists a set of doctrines, myths, and rituals which portray a supernatural authority and government. The gods are also pictured in terms of a hierarchy of power.

The religion itself is a hierarchical organisation, and the Ecclesiastical Head himself possesses supreme, despotic authority. In such a society, the despotic head is, at the same time, not only the military and political head, but also the Ecclesiastical one. His central power over government, army, and all civil and economic affairs, is sanctified and given justification by religion.

Here, the societies are normally in antagonism with other societies. Thus Spencer said: “Ever in antagonism with other societies the life is a life of enmity and the religion a religion of enemity.”

Life is Subject to Rigorous Discipline:

The whole tenor of life in a military society is characterised by rigorous discipline. Virtually there is no difference between the public life and the private life. No element of the private life of the citizen is closed to the state. The state can invade and interfere in the private lives of citizens whenever it is felt necessary or desirable to do so.

There is the lack of individual rights in the relationship between individual and the state. Thus the prevailing belief is – “that its members exist for the benefit of the whole and not the whole for the benefit of its members. The loyalty of the individual to the state has to be unquestioning.

Human Relationship Based on Compulsory Co-operation: Human relationships are charac­terised in this kind of society by a state of “compulsory co-operation.” Spencer, however, has not elaborated this point much.

It is clear from the above description that Spencer’s “Militant type” of society could be used as a basis of interpretation not only to the despotic societies of the ancient world, but also to the totalitarian societies in the contemporary world. As Ronald Fletcher says, as a “type”, the “militant society” could be seen to be of wide use for the purpose of comparative societies. It is relevant to the societies of both the past and the present.

B. The Industrial Society:

The concept of “Industrial society” refers to “that form of society or any particular society, in which industrialisation and modernisation have occurred.

The general term “industrial society” originates from Saint Simon who chose it to reflect the emerging central role of manufacturing industry in 18th century Europe, in contrast with the previous pre-industrial society and agrarian society.

Spencer’s “Industrial Society” is one in which military activity and organisation exists but it is carried on at a distance. It takes place in the periphery of the society and the greater part of the social organisation is peaceful. It concentrates upon the increase and improvement of all aspects

The characteristics of “industrial society” in this way contrast strongly with those of the “mili­tant type.” They are briefed below.

1. Recognition of Personal Rights:

In the industrial society the members hold “personal rights” as citizens of the community. There is also an active concern on the part of the members for the maintenance of these rights. Hence they insist upon an effective means of representative government. Any dispute or mutual claims and counter-claims relating to the rights are to be resolved here through an impartial procedure or institutional arrangement.

2. “Sustaining System” Possessing a Large Degree of Freedom:

In this society, the “sustaining system” possesses a large degree of freedom from the “regulatory system.” Here the control and governance of the economic affairs is deliberately separated from the political government.

It is assumed here that the intelligent individuals concerned with their own economic activities are more capable of making their own decisions than the administrative officials. They are not only allowed, they are actively encouraged, to do so.

3. Opportunity for the Growth of Free Associations and Institutions:

The growth of agriculture, commerce and industrial manufacture within a fixed geographic territory is given military security. The peaceful atmosphere leads to the growth of free associations and institutions. In all such associations, forming committees, laying down rules and procedures, conducting elections, etc. become a common practice.

4. A Less Rigid Class Structure:

“These factors bring about a much less rigid and less tyrannical class structure……….” [Ronald Fletcher – 285]. In this type of class structure human relationships become contractual and free. Further, the gradations of status and rank are less precisely marked. As Spencer puts it “There is a growth…………..of “combinations of workmen and employers “to resolve, particular disputes, quite separately from central authority of law.”

5. In the Industrial Society, Religious Organisations and Religious Beliefs Lose their Hier­archical Structure and Power:

Individual faith and sectarian discrimination, enters into religion. Religion instead of working as a means of social control remains only as a matter of individual faith and commitment. Religious institutions and practices become more and more secular in nature.

6. Here the Members of the Society do not exist for the Good of the State; but the Well-being of the Individuals becomes the Supreme Objective of the Government:

The doctrine that the members of the society exist for the good of the state slowly disappearing. The idea that the will and the well- being of the individual citizens which is of supreme importance in the society, prevails upon the previous one. Hence all forms of governmental control exist merely to manifest their wishes and to serve them.

7. Awareness of the Duty to Resist Irresponsible Government:

In such a society the despotic government is considered to be irrelevant and wrong. It becomes a positive duty on the part of the citizens to resist the irresponsible government. “There is always a tendency to disobedience amongst minorities and individuals, and such a critical tendency is positively encouraged.”

8. Dominance of Free and Contractual Type of Human Relationships:

It is clear from the above explanation that the “Human relationships in the industrial society are, therefore, wholly different from those in the militant society. Free, responsible, contractual relationships be­tween individuals require voluntary co-operation, not the compulsory co-operation which characterises relationships in the militant type.

Characteristics of Military and Industrial Societies: A Contrast

Concluding Remarks:

It must be noted that “Spencer did not believe that societies actually existed in the world with the sharp clarity of distinction that he described in drawing these “models.” [Ronald Fletcher – 286].

Spencer was aware that he was presenting those two “models” to help comparison of societies. Spencer was of the opinion that this mode of classification would help to interpret and understand some of the crucially important trends of social evolution. These trends, according to him were of great importance as the traditional societies get radically transformed by the process of industrialisation.

This mode of classifying societies helped Spencer in undertaking a very detailed comparative study of each major social institution within each “type” of society. “This gave him a picture of what, in the whole field of social institutions had actually occurred in the past, and what was happening in the present.”

In this classification of societies, it appears that Spencer was too optimistic about the industrial society. Bogardus thus points out: “In the coming industrial order Spencer foresaw an era in which the main business of society will be to defend the rights of “Individuals.” Spencer forecast an epoch of industrial states which have abolished war. Experience would tell us that the wars have not yet become the things of the past.

Bogardus further writes: “Spencer’s industrialism, however, had fundamental weaknesses. It implies that social organisation is more important than social process. It neglects to provide sufficiently for inherent psychical changes. It assumes that an industrial society, as such, will be peaceful. It underestimates the importance of socialising motives” [Bogardus]

A Word about Spencer’s Contributions:

1. Spencer’s contributions to social thought are not negligible, but recognisable. Unlike those of Comte, Spencer’s views were widely accepted during his lifetime. They dominated the minds of many scholars and others from 1865 to 1895. During the three decades the leading thinkers and philosophers of the West had come under the influence of Spencer.

2. Spencer’s theories had a special appeal because they catered to the two needs of the day, (a) the desire for unifying knowledge, and (b) the need for scientific justification for the “laissez-faire” principle.

3. Spencer emphasised the laws of evolution and natural causation. He described social evolu­tion as a phase of natural evolution.

4. He strongly supported the principle of “individualism “, for he himself was individualistic. He attacked the idea that the State is a master machine to which all the citizens must submit automatically.

5. Spencer formulated an integral theory of all reality. “His law of evolution is a cosmic law. His theory is, therefore, essentially philosophical not sociological. Strictly speaking, philosophers should check its validity” – L.A. Coser.

6. Spencer’s organismic theory highly influenced the later sociologists like Paul Von Lilienfeld, Jacques Novicow, Ward, Sumner and Giddings.

7. Spencer in his organic analogy suggested likenesses and differences between biological organisms and human society.

8. He made the role of social structures, or institutions stand out distinctly.

In conclusion, it could be said that “…… Spencer spoke in his writings to the needs of his time.

Times have changed, but once again his work seems to commend itself to our age as it searches for answers to age-old questions about how to live in community while maintaining individuality.