Chapter 2: The Importance of Studying Institutional Behavior
Floyd Henry Allport
WESTERN civilization has been created by men and women who have lived and worked together under the formula of institutions. Their behavior, their ideology, and their modes of feeling and thinking have been largely institutional. These builders of civilization at times have even regarded their own increasing strength and wisdom as the strength and wisdom of their institutions. Their own material and moral progress they have ascribed in large measure to the high character of the institutions which human society has achieved. In government, industry, education, morals, and organized religion there has thus been a steady strengthening of the hands of institutional leaders, under the assumption that the evolving of institutions is to bring about the logical fulfillment of human destiny. In crises of every sort, in floods, in famines, in poverty, in depressions, in panics, and in war, men turn habitually toward their institutions as their chief hope of salvation. The social structure today seems so vast and our problems so complicated that we despair of much help from the insight or the capacities of individual citizens. Even when we select some leader to guide us we expect him to do so not through his personal qualities alone, but by working through the channels of our institutions. The past and present of men's endeavors in this direction have been recorded in libraries of books and documents. Record and conjecture concerning the workings of human institutions comprise, indeed, the bulk of our traditional social science.
Living as we do in this complex institutional era, the lack of awareness which many of us display concerning the nature of institutions and our own participation in them is little short of astonishing. Our hunger is satisfied through a world-wide system of habits intricately coöperating in the production, transportation, and distribution of foods. Our control over our environment is extended by collective enterprises involving extensive habits
(30) of capital, credit, and invention. Dangers are removed, diseases are prevented, and our heaviest labors lifted from us through an elaborate system of corporate action, engineering, and machine production. Our property, our civilized culture, and our very lives are protected through institutionalized habits and methods,—through laws, courts, schools, insurance systems. traffic regulations, police and fire departments, clinics, health bureaus, and housing commissions. Modern life is lived largely in and through those institutional activities which make all these collective adjustments possible. But since all these patterns of organization are a part of the cultural heritage into which each of us, by no will of his own, was born, we tend to take them for granted. Forgetting that they are, after all, only the product of human effort and that they can be changed or even abolished _if we will, we regard them as final and absolute. We accept them almost as unconsciously and uncritically as the air we breathe. Scarcely anyone has deemed it necessary to peer beneath the implicitly accepted thing we call the institution, whose purpose is regarded as the inexorable purpose of Society, in order to gain a glimpse of the acts and purposes of individuals beneath. Nor is there any considerable evidence that we are changing in this respect. Just as we have ordered our previous living through the notion of institutions, without asking ourselves what institutions are, so we are now projecting our institutional planning for the future, oblivious, meanwhile, to the meaning of institutional behavior in the lives of individuals themselves.
A realistic study of institutional behavior is sorely needed at the present time. Our preoccupation with our institutions as the only practicable realities with which we have to deal, the limiting of research and discussion to the merits of this institution as compared with that, the neglect of individuals in our impetus to satisfy the needs of Society,—these distortions of emphasis have made us short-sighted and have thrown our perspective out of line. Many observers interpret our present problems as arising from a discrepancy, or lag, between the accelerated development of our institutions in some particulars and their retardation in others. Some also assume the difficulty to lie in the gap between the rapid progress of our material culture and our slower per-
(31) -fection of those institutional habits necessary for using the new tools without friction. It is considered, in any case, that social progress is to be achieved essentially by the modification of old institutions and the creating of new ones. The details of such reconstruction have been proposed and discussed at great length; numerous defects in our institutions have been pointed out and equally numerous remedies suggested. Upon the vital question, however, of the nature o f institutions themselves almost nothing has been said.
In the rationale of our institutional leadership the emphasis has been upon the side of the purpose to be achieved, rather than upon the lives of those who are achieving it. It has been remote in its consequence, rather than immediate. The working of the institution has often been conceived as more important than the human beings to whom it is supposed to minister. We have been so intent upon utilizing the efforts of individuals, through their institutions, for the improvement of society that we have overlooked the effects of these methods upon the individuals themselves. Little attempt has been made to describe what men and women are actually doing when they coöperate to make their institutions 'work,' or how they fare in the process when all their needs and potentialities as individuals are taken into account. Our leaders have built up institutions ; but they have been oblivious to the problems of institutional behavior.
This blindness to one-half of the problem of human adjustment has affected not only our social practice but our social theory as well. Inasmuch as the attention of leaders has been devoted so largely to institutions (as though these were the only possible agencies through which to work) many teachers and scholars have been led into believing that institutions are explicitly denoted, independent realities, existing in the same category with biological organisms and with the objects studied by the physical scientists. Finding no method of putting this assumption to a test, and no way of explicitly encountering an institution, yet feeling constrained, both in their teaching and by their reputation as social scientists, to give a clear and objective definition, some of these students have resorted to the long discredited method of the 'armchair.' It is this attempt to substitute 'pure
(32) reason' regarding institutions for the contacts of explicit experience which explains that sorry output of abstractions, tautologies, and metaphors to which I have previously referred. Challenging as these failures should have been, they have been quickly passed over; and their authors have slipped quietly back into the more comfortable approach where definitions are accepted 'implicitly,' and explicit contact with one's materials is not required. Having paid their respects to the duty of defining one's terms, they have hastened to cross over into the other pathway, that in which we accomplish things through institutions and do not trouble ourselves about what institutions are. With this gesture the whole problem has been side-stepped; the institutional behavior of individuals has been ignored. Brought back to 'institutions' as the all-absorbing and sufficient reality, we are prevented from regarding them in their relation to the world of our more explicit experience, or from appraising their value to those human beings of whose behavior they are a part.
Unfortunate indeed have been the consequences of this one-sided approach. The ideology of government, industry, and education which we have set up has made it peculiarly difficult to view social questions from the standpoint of individuals. Since there is no provision for the latter approach, any improvement or solution which is proposed must be directed first towards the objective of making our institutions operate more smoothly, and only indirectly, if at all, to the welfare or self-expression of individuals. The whole scene of responsibility and human values seems to have shifted from men and women in the concrete to Society in the large. We are tending to drive from our lives our former face to face relations with our fellows, and to envisage human living as the processes of the great society. And in keeping with the outward practices, there has grown up a philosophy in which our values are centered in institutions as super-human realities, agencies which we accept uncritically as controlling and directing our human existence.
I am well aware of the argument that society is today so vast and so complicated that we cannot work in any other, terms
(33) except those of institutions. But I hold, nevertheless, that it has been a mistake to ignore, so completely as we have done, the view of our social problems as the crucial needs of individuals, and to attempt their envisagement entirely in terms of institutional agencies and adjustments. The fact that our manner of living has become so complicated that we can see men and women only in the mass does not justify us in dealing with them only in the mass. It does not excuse us for tying our own hands and narrowing our gaze so that we can provide only for segments of individuals' interests rather than the needs of their whole personalities. Such a condition is, rather, an argument for trying to reduce our treatment of 'society' from these mass aggregates back once more into a treatment of individuals. Instead of accepting 'society' fatalistically and trying to adjust ourselves to it, it lies within our power to keep our own values as individuals and adjust society to ourselves. For after all, we really care nothing about society, or the mass, as such, but only about the individuals who compose it. They alone, so far as human knowledge goes, have life and hope ; only in them can be found the values which seem to make life worth living.
Meanwhile the institutionalists' effort to envisage the mass, an effort which has all but deified institutions and has cajoled us into thinking that they are entities like rocks and trees has , landed us in the most inextricable confusion. This is a result wholly to be expected. For when we ignore individuals by assuming that their interests are identical with the alleged purposes of institutions, we are likely to be startled by finding that carefully planned institutions may exist in the same society with some very misguided and wretched men and women. And so, at the present moment, we find that while our 'societal' experts are dallying with institutions and telling us how to coöperate through them so that they will solve our problems, the individuals of society are faced with harassing and well-nigh insoluble dilemmas. Citizens, for example, are implored to solve their problems by voting, through the institution of an enlightened, democratic government; yet regardless of whether they go to the polls or not, they find that voting is no longer an effective instrument for controlling social and economic conditions, that in the complexity
(34) of modern institutional practices they cannot foresee even the consequences of their own vote, and that the whole notion of popular government as the self-expression of a free people has become practically a fiction. The heads of various governments, to take another example, have called together assemblies of nations and disarmament conferences. This is the noble challenge of our 'institutions.' But we still have wars and threats of wars; because, while our institutional leaders cry for peace as between Nations, we, as individuals profiting through national sovereignty, have never allowed ourselves seriously to contemplate the price of peace. In our economic difficulties the same dilemmas and contradictions are manifest. Technological leaders, working through the institutions of capital and industry, promise an abundant leisure for society; but they have provided for individuals, in their perfect machine age, little opportunity or incentive to do anything useful with their leisure when they have it. Though assured by these institutional experts that machine industry will reduce the toil of workers and will give them life more abundantly, we actually find that it is robbing workers of their security and making it difficult for them to maintain life at all. The doctrine of 'rugged individualism' and 'economic law,' the gospel of our economic institutions, has directed business men to compete, to forge ahead, to widen their markets, to enlarge their organization and to induce people through advertising to consume more and more. Yet instead of reaping the prosperity which was promised from this enhancement of business institutions, we now find ourselves in the throes of a colossal depression. And again we see that leaders working under the spell of institutions as modes of progress have led us into a morass from which we are left as individuals to flounder as best we may. In vain do our country's leaders now call upon men and women to 'support their institutions' and to carry us through by their 'noble characters' as individuals. Business men are afraid to strike out for 'normal' trade, credit, and investment; yet are almost certainly doomed if they do not. Institutional experts prescribe one course, and the psychology of men and women demands another. People are urged to buy 'normally' and release money for circulation; yet normal caution tells each citizen to cease mortgaging his future with
(35) installment purchases, to relieve himself from financial pressure, and even to hoard his little savings against impending disaster. Without spending, say our institutionalists, we cannot recover ; but if we do spend, we may, as individuals, end in bankruptcy and starvation.
Wherever we turn we are faced by such baffling paradoxes as these. And yet we go on pinning our faith upon the belief that institutions have the same kind of reality as men and women, and that, being far wiser than we, they can direct us all to safety if we but trust them and let them alone. When these assumptions fail, we try again under the spell of the same illusion. For the wreckage of our old organizations we substitute, not a restored confidence and a deeper insight toward individuals, but the same old institutional structure rebuilt. Rearing themselves in the background through calm and through storm, are "Our Country's Institutions'; and our faith in their foundations cannot be shaken, no matter how ominously their walls may totter. But institutions, alas, have never proved themselves to be either fortresses, guardians, or protective Beings of any sort, but only implicitly formulated systems of organization which are known to us only in terms of the purpose they are designed to fulfill, and which, in their failure to satisfy that purpose, become as real and intelligible as myths. And like myths, if taken as guides to action, they will lead us only to further futility and chaos.
In so far as these institutional fictions have been accepted by the people, the prestige of institutional leaders has been correspondingly enhanced. Citizens may know their own individual desires, but only the experts, they feel, and the official leaders, can understand the complex problems of the country's institutions. These leaders must therefore be given a free hand and supported by the unquestioning acquiescence of individual citizens. Through this process the head of an institution of government, business, education, or religion often becomes invested with an authority which as an individual personality he could scarcely have hoped to gain. The incompetence, pettiness, bias, and even tyranny of many such leaders have been overlooked, or even re-
(36) -garded as virtues, so long as the leaders draped themselves in the robes of institutional symbolism and purported to speak not as individuals, but as mouthpieces of institutions.
Let us consider the example of a university president who forces the resignation of a teacher known to possess radical views, upon the ground that such an action is 'for the best interest of the institution.' It is possible, of course, that the professor in question, through some peculiarity not related to the unconventionality of his views, may have become a genuine hindrance to those who are concerned in the work of teaching and learning at that particular place. The asking of such an individual to leave would be an act which would scarcely merit our censure. Nevertheless we must discriminate carefully; for a maze of bigotry and selfishness may be hidden beneath that alluring symbol, 'the interest of the institution.' In some cases it may be a disguise to conceal the hand of certain powerful trustees or the effort of the administrator to curry favor with wealthy patrons or influential alumni. Or again, this formula may be merely a rationalization for a personal bias, or perhaps a sincere conviction on the part of the president himself by virtue of which he finds himself in disagreement with the professor in question.
But aside from all questions of motive, what, in strict logic, is the meaning of such a phrase as 'the best interest of the institution'? Shall we not put ourselves in the place of the young instructor who met this statement by inquiring naïvely what the institution is? The experienced reality of a university mainly consists, as we have already shown, of the common and reciprocal habits of teachers, students, and administrative officials. From the standpoint of an administrator, to act for the good of the institution would probably mean to control academic conditions in such a manner that these habits of teaching and studying would not be interfered with, but would continue to function at that particular place and in association with that particular name and symbol of a 'university.' To this end there must be fostered not only cooperation among teachers and students, but the favorable regard of the people of the community. The good will of present and prospective financial donors must be cultivated, as well as the confidence of parents who, in the future, may send
(38) their sons or daughters to that place of learning. Now any expression of views which runs sharply counter to conventional beliefs is bound to arouse in the administrator the disquieting fear that the settled, cooperative habits of all these supporters may be disrupted. Should that misfortune occur, the educational activity which is now going on at that place might have to cease. An honored tradition would lapse; professors would lose their present livelihood; and alumni, as graduates of a defunct school, might suffer in their social status and self-esteem. And, most important of all, the opportunity for young men and women to receive a higher education at that particular place and under the symbol of that university would be at an end.
But does all this really justify an administrator who dismisses a colleague on no other ground than his unconventional opinions, and defends his action as for 'the institution's good?' Does not the force of this excuse rest upon the assumption that the interest of all concerned can best be served only if capital, equipment, teachers, and students can be made to flow continually towards this particular spot and can be assembled under the name of this particular university? And may not this emphasis upon tradition and locale become unwisely exaggerated? For, after all, the donors, the students, the professors, and even the president himself might 'disband' and go elsewhere to carry forward their purpose of education. Professors might even meet students in small informal groups, as in Plato's day, and carry on the work of instruction with no recognizable university at all. The habits which make up the routine at a particular college, as well as its buildings and the prestige of its name, are essentially tools. They are not ends but only means; they are the formal aspect of the educational process which can never become its content. Though conceding, as we must, a certain value to these formal aspects, we cannot help but feel that the content of what is taught, the personalities whom the student encounters, and the ideas exchanged are things of more vital and lasting significance. In a conflict between these interests of content and that of preserving institutional patterns, should not the latter rather than the former be sacrificed.
The exaggerated emphasis upon the institutional approach is,
(38) of course, no more pronounced in education than in other fields. The same error has contributed toward making our system of political representation the ineffective thing it is today. In the nominating of candidates for our highest offices, the first consideration of convention leaders seems to be their potentialities for pulling together the various discordant factions of the party. In political meetings one hears not so much of individuals as of the noble ideals and illustrious record of the Party, a most elastic symbol which is made to cover the achievements of its great leaders as its own achievements, while excluding the deeds of its scoundrels as the vagaries of certain perverse and wanton individuals who have turned traitor to the cause. If the present practice of subordinating individual leadership to the preservation of the institution should prevail, all the positions of high influence in our country, whether they be political, economic, educational, or moral may become filled by opportunists and men of meaner parts, who conceal their lack of ability or courage beneath the sheltering banner of their institution. Real builders, artists, scientists, and philosophers, will be ruled out. Our entire policy will be directed toward the suppression of excellence and the enforcement of mediocrity in public and private life.
In church and denominational procedure, the leaders' purposes of organization are frequently placed ahead of the religious interests of individuals at large. In many churches today the minister has been selected not so much because of his character or the clearness, force, and originality of his convictions, as because of the fact that he is 'safe' and 'moderate,' or that he can be counted upon to hold dissenting factions of the congregation together and to 'build up the church' into a flourishing institution. The success of such a minister's labors is often measured by the number of members he adds to the church rolls, the regularity of their attendance, the size of their subscriptions, and the power which he, in the name of his church, is able to wield in the community. Church committeemen, on the other hand, who choose a man purely for his intellectual and moral qualities, ignoring his ability as an institution-builder, are sometimes repaid by a smaller enrollment, greater consequent financial burdens, diminished 'church' prestige, and the lack of solidarity or ‘church con-
(40) -sciousness' within the congregation. Yet in spite of all these dangers to 'the institution,' the members of such a church may secure a greater help and satisfaction than would be possible under a leader of the other type. For those who place content ahead of form, and individual values ahead of institutionalized purpose, the church as such may disappear, for the very reason that it has become interwoven and indissolubly united with the lives of those who are its members.
Institutional idolatry not only pervades much of the outer form of living; it strikes deeply into human sentiment as well. The names by which organized groups and institutions are denoted are symbols capable of stimulating powerful emotions. With these symbols many of us have identified our own ideals and our aspirations. When they are praised we feel a personal elation; when they are attacked or dishonored we experience anger or humiliation. Upon them our self-esteem and our moral well-being are felt largely to depend. Now this projection of the self-evaluation of individuals upon their institutions has perils which are perhaps as menacing as the ideology of institutional leaders, with which, indeed, they are closely connected. In the first place, there is encouraged by this process a fictitious and unworkable conception of human values. We neglect the sounder training which we might receive in the expression of our ideals through the actual give-and-take of family and community life, and gaze upon the virtues with which, in imagination, we drape our institutions. We think of morals not in terms of the daily conduct of individuals, but in terms of collective abstractions: It is Our Country which is regarded as liberal, high-minded, and peace-loving; we do not feel so keenly the need to prove these qualities in ourselves. It is Our Church which is endowed with a divine character of which we, by our mere membership, may partake. Institutionally projected virtues are also considered as absolute. We think of them as established in some ideal realm, immune from human contamination, and unchangeable for all time. For a code of ethics bearing upon the facts of life, such an idolatry of institutional virtues is indeed a poor substitute. We are evading the test of ourselves as individuals by lip-service to our collective symbols.
Though admitting the dangers of our preoccupation with institutions to the disregard of individuals, those who think mainly in terms of the former will remonstrate that the cure lies not in a return to the individual, but in envisaging the needs of the individual and society in one indissoluble unity. For life today, they will argue, is lived in this highly institutional fashion. Not all of us may like this situation; but it is a fact, nevertheless,
7 which all of us will have to accept. Societal realities are for us as genuine, sure, and as permanent as the hills. One cannot separate the individual from society; for he is the product no less of his cultural inheritance than of his biological ancestry. It will not do, these critics protest, to employ the notion of social institutions merely as a map through which to locate the individuals whose behavior we are to study, and thereafter throw the map aside. When we have found these individuals, we still must keep in mind the purpose of the institution in which they function; otherwise their behavior, even as individuals, becomes meaningless. For modern men and women live and act, not as isolated creatures, but collectively and institutionally.
Advocates of this view may revert to my own illustration of the electric circuit, and may point out that unless we understand and keep before us the purpose of the battery-system as a whole, the action of the parts of the battery, and indeed the parts themselves, will be quite unintelligible to us. These parts would never have been put together in such a combination, they would never be brought to function together as they do, were it not for that purpose of generating a current which is implicit in the construction of the battery as a whole. Similarly with the individuals in society; we cannot understand or account for what they are collectively doing—nor would they, indeed, be functioning coöperatively as at present—were it not for the organization of society itself and the purpose embodied in its institutions.
This ingenious argument, which one finds throughout much of our current social teaching, is supported by observations which, in their literal sense, are true. It is fraught, however, with deeper implications which are profoundly false and misleading. Unable
(41) to see any reality except our institutional structure, its proponents have overlooked the entire approach which the physical and biological scientists represent. It will be argued of course that men's behavior, at least at present, must be seen in relation to society and institutions in order to be understood; and that we are therefore obliged to consider individuals and society as t inseparably bound together. But this, I would reply, is so not by any necessity known to human knowledge. What is the true reason why, in any program of amelioration or of future development, we seem forced to think always in terms of society and institutions? Is it because men are institution builders by 'instinct,' hence no other manner of progress is possible? Is it because human nature and conditions can be modified only through institutional channels,—because institutions are implicit in the logic of the universe? Or is it, perhaps, only because we now have institutions, and have them on such a profuse and elaborate scale? Is it because we are, as individuals, so controlled by our own habits of institutional organization that we can scarcely think in any other terms?
But let us examine the institutionalists' argument upon its own ground. Was their inference from the analogy of the battery a logical one? While it is true that without a comprehension of the battery as a whole we cannot understand the rôle played by its parts, such a statement applies only to the practical function of these parts in generating a current for human use. The materials of the parts themselves and the physical laws of their action can certainly be investigated, and we can learn a great deal about them, without any previous knowledge of the battery whatsoever. It would be presumptuous, because men had fabricated, for a cultural purpose, the invention we call a battery, to deny the entire approach of the physical sciences in the realm of electrical phenomena. Whether one knew how to use the battery as a battery or not, and even though one failed to comprehend the use of a single one of its parts, the parts themselves would still remain. They could, as natural, physical, objects, be handled, investigated, generalized about, and predicted from, quite as readily as before.
The case is similar with human beings, who function as ‘parts’
(42) in the institutional pattern of society. Even though the observer neglects the institution entirely and loses all comprehension of its structure and purpose, the individuals will still remain; and there will remain, moreover, an important approach from which these individuals can be studied, and studied even as they are performing their institutional activities. There will remain to be noted, for example, the physiological and bio-chemical laws of their bodily functions, as well as important aspects of their behavior and their life histories as biological organisms. The effects of the institutional behavior itself upon the vital economy and behavior of an organism can be investigated quite apart from any comprehension of the purpose of the institution as such. This would be true in exactly the way that physical changes in the materials of a battery produced through prolonged use 'as a battery' would exist and could be investigated in relation to the parts themselves, even though the investigator had not the slightest knowledge of what a 'battery' is.
To take a simple illustration, let us consider the salute of the hand which a private soldier in the army gives to his superior officer. It is true that we cannot know the full meaning of this gesture unless we understand the institutions of government and army discipline and the purpose of instilling in subordinates the deference and obedience which are necessary to their functioning. It is also true that this gesture would probably not be made by soldiers today were it not for the particular historical development through which 'military institutions' have passed. Nevertheless, even though the observer understands nothing whatsoever about government, discipline, or armies, even though he be entirely ignorant of the social purposes, customs, or history explaining why the soldier's hand is raised to his hat, the fact remains that the hand is raised. Energy is expended and tissue changes are produced in the soldier's body. If moreover, the act occurs repeatedly, with too short an interval between repetitions, boredom, fatigue, or emotional irritation may follow, events which have their reactions upon the soldier's bodily condition and general behavior. When repeated a certain number of times the act may serve as a wholesome form of exercise; when carried to extreme limits it may not only produce exhaustion, but may in-
(43) -terfere with other activities which are necessary in order for the soldier to maintain his usefulness or even his life. All these changes can be noted, and valid and useful inferences can be drawn, even though the observer should be totally ignorant of the custom or etiquette of saluting, or of political and military institutions, or even of institutions and society altogether.
This illustration, though of slight importance in itself, can be repeated for every field where human beings are engaged in institutional activities. It is true that a large part (though by no means the whole) of human behavior is institutional in character. It is also conceded that the purpose of such behavior in its societal import cannot be understood apart from the institutions of which it forms a part. But such a concession, after all, is merely a tautology. It is equivalent to saying that the institutional significance of human behavior cannot be understood without a knowledge of institutions. The fact that there are important noninstitutional forms of behavior and important ways of regarding institutional behavior other than from the societal viewpoint, is overlooked. And it is not until we have, for a time, entirely forgotten the institutional meaning and purpose of behavior, and turned our attention to the thing which individuals are doing as biological organisms, that is, as creatures having their individual characteristics, desires, and purposes, that we can gain a full view of the potentialities and problems of collective life.
To say, therefore, that individuals cannot be understood or studied separately from institutional society is a pretension which
(44) confuses the realm of our subjective, implicit experience with the world with which we have explicitly to deal. In consequence of this confusion explicitly encountered individuals tend to be minimized or hidden from view, and the more intangible, implicit, experience through which institutions are conceived is substituted in their place. Although we probably cannot study institutions, in an explicit sense, as apart from individuals; we can (and, if we are to get anywhere, we must) study individuals as apart from institutions. And we must so study them even while they are performing those activities which, from another standpoint, we would characterize as institutional. I cannot share the conviction, therefore, of those who classify individuals (as whole, organic beings) in the same category with those segmental habits of individuals which make up institutions. I cannot join those whose gaze is fixed upon a closed circle of the individual and society. Though conceding that every individual is profoundly affected by the habits he learns from those about him, some of which may be traced back for many generations, though granting that these 'societal' habits can be understood neither historically nor as methods of purposive social adjustment without reference to an institutional pattern, I deny, nevertheless, that individuals are completely absorbed into this societal circle, or that they are fully described and accounted for by their relation to the cultural and institutional pattern in which they live.
A human being and an institution cannot form a closed circle, for they are not of the same type of reality. An individual can be encountered 'explicitly, directly observed, experimented with, and studied. An institution is capable only of being implicitly experienced. It cannot be defined as a result of encountering it; it must be postulated by some abstract or analogical definition. It cannot be observed, analyzed, or experimented with except inferentially, that is, by interpreting the things we do to individuals as though they were being done to institutions. The study of an individual leads us into the field of personality and unique behavior, and into the elementary sciences of physiology, chemistry, and physics, realms where we are firmly and explicitly rooted at all points in the world about us. The consideration of institutions leads us into metaphysical postulate, social teleology, customs,
(45) rules, relationships, and patterns. It takes us upon a quest, not to discover things as they are, but to find ways in which things may be made to work together for ulterior ends.
These contrasts do not exhaust the differences which set the reality of individuals off from that of institutions. An important difference exists upon the side of teleology, or purpose, itself. When we say, for example, that an individual has a purpose, this statement is likely to be acceptable at its face value. It is self evident ; or it may be readily tested by observing or dealing with the individual concerned. When we refer, however, to the purpose of an institution or to the purpose of Society as realized through institutions, such a purpose can be only inferentially or metaphorically understood. We must mean either the purposes of the specific individuals spoken of as operating collectively through the institutional pattern, or else the purpose of some imaginary Being, the 'institution' personified. In either instance there is slight possibility of checking the truth of the inference by a resort to facts; and in both cases we are in danger of being misled into accepting, as the purpose of an 'institution,' a purpose which either does not exist at all, or else exists in a disguised manner as the motive of a few individuals who are in power.
In the face of these differences, how can it be seriously maintained that individuals and institutions form together a closed circle in which the behavior of the former can be witnessed only from the societal standpoint? It seems clear that, no matter how closely the two realms are related, the circle is definitely broken through upon the side of individuals. Through individuals we are led back, as by bridges, from implicit philosophizing about) society to the world of explicit contact with plants, stones, animals, and men. And when we study individuals in their own light we enter deeply into such explicit experience with our world. We experience a directness also of individuals' purposes, a unique ness of temperaments and of personalities, and a personal value in the realms of art, philosophy, religion, and science. Were we to confine ourselves to the closed circle in which individuals are perceived only as aspects of society, all these distinctions would be unappreciated, if not, indeed, unseen.
Leaving, therefore, the closed circle of individual and society to those to whom it seems important, I shall endeavor, while dealing still with the immediate scene of institutional behavior, to portray it from the standpoint of individuals alone. Instead of picturing a Society trying to solve, through its institutions, the problems of mankind, we shall attempt here to see specific men and women trying to solve their own problems through the behavior which they call their institutions. Instead of describing the work which institutions are supposed to do and the scheme of coöperation through which individuals work, our attention will be upon the movements, feelings, and desires of the individuals themselves, and upon the consequences of these reactions in all the fullness and variety of their individual lives. While others are proposing changes which should be made in the functioning of particular institutions, we shall question the serviceability of institutions themselves as a method of adjustment. Instead of suggesting a new system of politics or new form of international polity, this book will deal with the political behavior of men and women, and the motives which they are expressing in their present political and national alignments. Leaving to others the use of our institutions for 'social and economic planning,' we shall attempt only an analysis of what individuals are doing when the 'plan,' the 'institutions,' or the 'laws of economics,' are said to work. We shall present no institutional substitutes for our disappearing family life, but only a picture of the acts and purposes of individuals under the old familial relationships as contrasted with the new. The question of how schools and colleges should be run will not concern us, nor even the efficiency of the various methods of teaching; but we shall give thought to the behavior of the students as they are being educated, the behavior of teachers as they instruct, and the significance of these behaviors in the lives of the individuals concerned. Though saying little about churches, creeds, or religions as such, we shall ask what personal religion and institutional worship can mean in attitudes of individuals toward life as a whole. In all these queries, following the method previously described, we shall use the familiar
(47) institutional concepts, such as state, government, nation, law, business, industry, family, school, and church, solely for the purpose of maps or sign-posts to orient us toward the fields of human action concerned. Once these fields have been identified we shall ignore the institution and turn our attention at once upon the individuals before us. Their dilemmas, not those of their institutions, will be our chief concern; we shall seek the significance of their behavior not in fulfilling the institutional purpose or in making the institution work, but in living their lives as human beings in the fullest sense of the term.
In treading these unfamiliar pathways my claim to the reader's confidence lies not in the rôle of an experienced guide, but merely in that of a fellow-explorer who has sought tentatively to mark out a little of the road ahead. The accurate, comprehensive study of institutional behavior is manifestly a task for the future. In these feeble beginnings I have fallen far short of the ideal of an objective, thorough, and scientific description. Meager, fragmentary, and occasional is the evidence upon which my analyses are based; nor do I claim that its appraisal is wholly free from bias. If I have made any contribution, it is probably merely that of a new approach, an opening up of new territory for further exploration.
It may seem to the reader that some of the essays following lack even the character of objective, scientific description. I speak frequently in terms of values, ideals, and purposes, quite after the manner of those whose approach to institutions I am challenging. This criticism I admit. My account is fully as normative, didactic, and persuasive as it is descriptive. In extenuation, only this can be said: the purposes and ideals to which I refer are never, so far as I am aware, those purely of institutions or of society; they are always values of individuals. They are in terms of the many rather than the one; they are relative rather than absolute, dynamic rather than static. They are not embodied in some societal matrix from which the individual is scarcely differentiated; they are, on the contrary, purposes of unique personalities, of individuals, who, unlike institutions, can respond and be responded to, who can yield us proof that the purpose of which we are speaking is truly theirs. And if I exhort, it is not with the aim that men
(48) shall pursue a particular virtue or a stated program, but only that these purposes, the unique interests, traits, and potentialities of individuals may have freedom for their expression. I have tried to urge the attainment not of the Absolute Good or the Perfect Society, but of as many different good lives as there are human beings to live them, each expressing those values toward which a particular individual aspires. In so far as I have succeeded there need be no apology for what follows.