Social Process

Chapter 22: Group Conflict and Modern Integration

Charles Horton Cooley

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THE process of life is an organic whole every part of which is interdependent with every other part. And it is all a struggle of some sort-with climate and soil, between persons, nations, or other groups, or among opposing ideas and institutions. In this strenuous whole, group conflict plays a great part, but it is by no means the whole process, nor can the latter be understood from this point of view alone.

There is a wide-spread doctrine, a sort of simplified and misunderstood Darwinism, which unduly exalts conflict and makes the " struggle for existence" between groups almost the sole principle of human life. In the form of what may be called state-conflict particularism this idea has had a considerable influence on recent history, through influencing, largely, the policy of the German Empire, and leading up to the Great War.

The evolution or progress of nations, according to this teaching, takes place through a struggle for existence among the contending states, in which the strongest and

(242) best survive, and impose their institutions on others. This makes for the general good of mankind, because it is the only way by which better, forms of life can supplant the inferior. Might is based on right and is the proof of it, since there is no kind of virtue that does not count in the supreme test of war.

Thus the theory singles out the conflict of states from the rest of the process, saying: " Here is the one thing needful; let us put our whole energy into this; nothing else really counts." Everything is bent toward national power in the form of armaments and of militant industry and trade institutions, literature, art, research, education, family life, the every-day thought and sentiment of the people, all are enlisted and drilled.

It follows, moreover, that all morality is secondary to that success of the state which is the supreme good. Where this is concerned scruples are but weakness, and any method is right that gets results. Weak nations cumber the earth and ought to succumb to strong ones. Their ruin is painful, but salutary, even to themselves in the long run, for the conquerors will make amends by incorporating them into their own better system.

Under this creed a formidable organism is built up which may win in war and peace, and thrive for generations, but is doomed to fail sooner or later because it is adapted to only a part of life, and not to the whole process. It neglects the dependence of nations upon one another, and upon civilization as a whole. Its trend to force and to national egoism presently alienates other states and prepares, a hostile combination. The outraged principle of moral unity reacts by imposing moral isolation, with the external antagonism and inward degeneration which that involves. The community of nations being aroused

( 243) to assert itself against the disloyal member, the theory proves misleading and action upon it disastrous.

And yet we must use special points of view, and that of group conflict has an advantage in the way it illumines the general situation. War is not the whole of the drama, but, in the past at least, it has been the crisis, the test that brought everything into action and showed what the previous development had been. Growth goes on for generations and peaceful struggles of many sorts take place -industrial rivalry, competition of classes and parties, conflict of ideas and sentiments-all having important results, which, however, remain for the most part obscure. But let a war break out between rival groups and they summon every element of power to the test, so that we soon learn where, as regards the development of total force, we have arrived. It is a partial view., but revealing, and even the moral elements are more fully displayed than at other times.

The test of war is one that from the dawn of human life down to the present hour every kind of society, from time to time, has had to meet. For untold millenniums of prehistoric development the conflict of tribal groups was a recurring condition for all types of men and forms of organization, and those which were unsuited to it tended to be destroyed or discredited. In every part of the inhabited world archaeologists find evidence that forgotten peoples have fought the ground over, and succeeded one another in its occupation.

Although we cannot reproduce the process in detail, it is instructive to ask ourselves what sort of men and of social structures might be expected to hold their own

( 244) through these millenniums, and so to emerge into recorded history. We may perceive a variety of requirements, according as we regard the conditions with reference to the individuals, considered severally, the family, or the group as a whole.

Individually man must have developed personal prowess -strength, courage, enterprise, endurance, cunning, and the like, since a tribe lacking in any of these traits would be in that degree inferior and liable to be destroyed or enslaved. And the family group must become such as to insure the fecundity of the tribe and the early care of its children; which means good mothers, at least, and perhaps also some measure of constancy and affection in the fathers.

For the social system as a whole, the great thing is to achieve effectual team-work. It must inculcate discipline, loyalty, and industrial and social intelligence in the members, must embrace an adequate system of communication for organizing and developing the social mind, and also a body of special traditions and customs to meet the exigencies to which the tribe is liable. Stability is a prime necessity, and needs to be fortified by a conviction of the sanctity of what comes down from the past; and yet the system must not be so rigid as to be incapable of meeting new situations. The "folkways" must become such as assist, or at least do not greatly hinder, in the struggles of life. And of course the whole thing hangs together, individuals, family and social system being inseparable aspects of an integral whole.

The ideas which makeup the social order are impressed upon the member mainly by sheer suggestion; they form the environment in which he lives. In case of opposition, however, they must be reinforced by the

( 245) pressure of public opinion, by emulation, praise and blame. Mores are set up and the individual is made to feel that the great thing in life is to conform to them. Disloyalty to them is universally abhorred. Thus virtue is determined by what the mind of the group approves, which rests, in great part, upon what has been found to work in the struggles of the group, and especially in war.

In these respects the requirements of primitive conflict were not essentially different from those of to-day. Life was simpler, cruder, and on a smaller scale, but the main elements were much the same-biological and social continuity, adaptive growth, individual exertion, and institutional discipline. There was no riot of irresponsible brute force, but then as now the man fit to survive was a moral man, a "good " man in his relation to the life of the group—devoted, law-abiding, and kindly, as well as strong and bold.

The influence of group conflict, actual or anticipated, upon social development has continued in full vigor throughout history and down to the present time. The growth of states in size and internal structure, as civilization progresses, is natural on other grounds, but has been immensely stimulated and directed by military requirements. France, England, Germany-all the great modern nations, including the United States—-were consolidated largely in this way. It is a commonplace of history. And the case is much the same with internal structure. On the continent of Europe, where war has always been imminent if not present, there are few institutions which do not bear its stamp. Even general education arose for its military value as much as for any other reason.

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The German Empire went beyond other states in adopting the ideal of national power, attained through an allembracing militant organization, as the dominating conception of life. When the Great War broke out this conception was so largely justified by military results that the more "individualistic" nations-at first Great Britain and later the United States-were forced to adopt it, at least in part and for the time being, in order to hold their own; and we saw, accordingly, a growth of centralized and partly compulsory organization that would have been impossible in peace. At the same time the weak side of the state-conflict idea was revealed by Germany's moral isolation. We are still in the midst of these changes and cannot be sure of their outcome, but it is certain that war has illumined the whole situation and opened a fresh cycle of growth.

The difference between tribal society and the modern system of life lies mainly in the large-scale organic character of our whole social process. Formerly we lived in many small societies the relations among which were comparatively external and mechanical; now we live in one great society the parts of which are vitally and consciously united. The instances of this are familiar-the world-wide traffic, travel, and interchange of thought; the universal fashions, the international markets, the cooperation in science and in humanitarian movements. This is that modern solidarity, so wonderfully increased within the memory of living men, which makes the understanding of our life a new problem.

The process is still one of struggle — we have no reason to expect anything else-but the forms of struggle take on a scale commensurate with the new system of life, and

(247) are conditioned and limited by the closer interdependence that has come to exist. The competitions of trade are for world-markets; races are unloosed from their ancient seats and encounter one another in all parts of the earth; and if a war comes the solidarity of life tends to draw many nations into it, and to make it in all respects more calamitous than war could have been at an earlier period.

But along with this growth in the scale of conflict we have a complication which makes it something essentially different from a mere enlargement of the struggles of primitive tribes. Groups have become multiform and intersecting, so that the national competition which succeeds to the tribal is only one of a vast system of interactions. There are groups of every size, from two or three persons up to millions; their purposes are countless, their methods equally so. We can no longer see mankind as broken up into distinct wholes struggling for similar ends in a similar manner; we see many systems of struggle which interpenetrate one another, the same men taking part in various systems, so that the lines of alliance and opposition are inextricably entangled. Modern life, even when viewed as conflict, is an organic whole which it is impossible to break up into fragments.

Group struggle has, on the whole, tended to rise to higher levels of intelligence and moral control in accordance with the increasing mental and moral unification of life. History shows a general growth of rational organization; and this means, for one thing, a general situation in which intelligence and the control of the part in the interest of the whole more and more condition every kind of success. International struggles are affected by this trend, as are all other kinds. Special associations which

( 248) cross national lines, such as those of commerce, labor, science and philanthropy, increase, and so also do the informal bonds of literature, art and public sentiment. It is more and more apparent that the national bond is only one, though in some respects the most important one, in a growing network of relations.

It is the nature of solidarity to react upon and control destructive forms of activity. In so far as life is organic a harm done to the part comes to be a harm done to the whole, and to be felt as such. If it is true that common interests of some kind unite every sort of men with every other, then it is no longer possible to divide man into separate and merely hostile wholes. There was never before so much to lose by an outbreak of violence, and we have seen how a modern war can become a world calamity, arousing a universal determination to prevent its repetition. And although this may prove ineffectual and war may recur, it must be true, if man has power over his own destiny, that it is, on the whole, obsolescent. The principle applies also to international or interracial bad faith or ill will. It is not too much to say that the whole world is becoming one body, so that evil appearing in one part is felt as a menace to all the others.

Intimately bound up with the growth of rational control is the trend toward democracy, in the sense of an active participation of the common people in the social process. Our modem communication with its implications of popular discussion and education, is essentially democratic; it means that the people are in reality participating, whether formally so or not. I cannot affirm with any confidence that all peoples are to have deliberative self-government, as that is understood in England or

( 249) America; democracy will be different for different races and traditions. But everywhere, I conceive, there is coming to be a public mind, a vital psychic whole, and the government, whatever its precise methods, will be essentially the expression of this.

This emergence of the popular mind involves also a tendency to humanism, in the sense of bringing all forms of life under the control of humane ideals springing from the family and community groups in which the people are nurtured. These primary ideals have been kept under in the past by the need of harsh forms of control, the prevalence of war, the domination of classes and the severity of economic conditions; but all signs indicate that they are to have an increasing part in the future.

This modern enlargement and complication imply a kind of differentiation of the person from the group. In primitive society membership is intimate and inclusive, the individual putting his whole personality into it. But as groups become numerous and complex there comes to be a kind of parcelling out of personal activities into somewhat impersonal functions, with special associates in each function. A person, while as much dependent as ever upon the group system as a whole, grows less and less identified with any one group. His relations become selective, each man working out for himself a system of life different from that of any other man, and not embraced in any one set of connections. Personality becomes more and more an organization by itself, distinct from that of any group, and forming itself by a special choice of influences. You cannot sum up the social environment and mental outlook of a man of to-day by saying that he is a farmer, or an artisan, or a priest, as you

( 250) might have done in the Middle Ages. He may be a farmer and also many other things; a member of learned societies, an investor in remote enterprises, a socialist, a poet; in short, a complex and unique personality.

We are coming more and more to base our social order upon this selective association. In accordance with the ideal of "equal opportunity," we try to facilitate special personal development in every possible way, holding that it not only does the most for the individual, but enables him to do the most for society. In this way modern society recognizes and fosters individuality as the earlier epochs never thought of doing.

These conditions involve another of great practical interest, namely, that the division of groups in modern life is, for the most part, not a division of persons. I mean that although you may classify the population, for example, as Republicans, Democrats, Progressives, and Socialists, there are no separate groups of whole persons corresponding to these distinctions. Although A may be a Republican and B a Democrat, and their differences in this field may be quite irreconcilable, they may yet belong to the same church, club, stock company, even to the same family. Only a small part of them is separable on the political line, and so with any other group line. To put it otherwise, there is no such specialization of life into narrow classes as you might infer from the large number of special groups, since these are not groups of whole persons, but of interests, activities, opinions, or what-not, many of which meet in a single person. The whole system is more intricately unified, as well as more intricately specialized, than was formerly the case.

The inclusive, essentially personal, groups persist to

( 251) some extent, the chief example being the family. But I need hardly point out that even the family is far less an inclusive group than it used to be; that it no longer absorbs the individual's political status in its own, that it does not control the marriages of its children or transmit occupations, that it has abandoned many of its economic and educational functions, and has become, in short, a comparatively specialized group whose main functions are sociability and the nurture of young children. Nowhere more clearly than in the family can we see the disintegrating effect of the modern order upon any form of association which conflicts with selective personal development.

In view of all this we see that the group struggles of modern life must be more and more impersonal, conflicts of ideas rather than of people. Perhaps the way to test the matter is to ask ourselves how many of the group struggles in which we are concerned are of a nature to make us feel that the men in the opposing groups are our enemies. Even in war we do not always have this feeling: we have become conscious of too many bonds of sympathy with the people of other countries. And in every-day life we contend a great deal, but for the most part impersonally. If we hate anybody it is more likely to be a matter of natural antipathy than of social opposition.

And yet personality must be put into special enterprises in some way, or they will fail. They require for success a kind of interest and devotion that can come only from persons who do identify themselves with the group. I may buy stock in a company and draw dividends without putting myself into the work, but I could not do this unless others did put themselves into it.

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The result of this requirement, working alongside of the depersonalizing tendency just mentioned. has been to make the characteristic form of modern organization what I may call the nucleated group, a group, that is, composed of a large number of members who put very little of themselves into it, along with a few, or perhaps only one, who enlist the main part of their personality. This gives a happy union of breadth and concentration, and if one will reflect upon the associations to which he belongs he will find, I imagine, that nearly all are conducted in this way. It is the only way to meet the demand for multifarious co-operation and specialization which modern life makes.

It is worth noting that the individual is nucleated as well as the group. That is, he spreads his life out over many groups, but yet concentrates his central personality upon two or three. A teacher, for example, may own stock in several companies and belong to a number of scientific, philanthropic and recreative associations, but after all he lives mainly in his teaching and his family.

This concentration is agreeable to human nature, which craves devotion to a cause. Life is energized by men throwing themselves into some one of its innumerable purposes, making themselves the blazing head of that particular comet while the rest of us gleam palely in the tail. In this way scientific theories, educational reforms, and business "propositions" are promoted with a personal ardor which reacts with antagonism to whatever opposes its object.

It might seem that patriotism must play a diminishing part in modern life, under the principle that personality is less and less embraced in any one group, even though

(253) that group be the nation. There is reason to think, however, that the need of devotion to a whole and of self-abandonment, at times, to some sort of mass enthusiasm, is a trait of human nature too strong to be overcome by the growing complexity of life. Like the love of the sexes, it is something elemental, without which life is felt to be baffled and incomplete. There is a deep need to merge the " I " in a " We, " some vast " We, " on which one may float as on a flood of larger life. The ordinary ambitions and specialties do not satisfy this need, which is certainly a large, part of the real religion of mankind.

Collective emotion of this sort is always smouldering within us, and may at any time break forth and melt into some kind of a whole the differentiations of which our life appears to consist. It evidently does so in times of warlike excitement, and may well give rise to other forms of enthusiasm which we cannot now foresee. It produced the Crusades in the past, and may produce future movements equally remote from our recent experience.

The modern world makes distracting claims upon us. Shall we go with our family and class, or break away in pursuit of a larger humanitarian ideal? Is it better to "mind our own business" and go in for technical excellence, or to try for culture? Shall we follow the morals of our church or those of our profession ? Shall we be national patriots or international socialists?

There is no way out but to strive for a synthesis of these ideas in an organic whole, in some supreme and inclusive allegiance, perhaps in some conception of a God to whom one may look for leadership above the divisions

( 254) of nation, race, and sect. So long as we are conscious only of our country, our family, our class, or our business, we may make a kind of god of that, but conflicting ideals force us to seek a larger unity. In the heat of war we may be all one flame of patriotism; but after a while the rest of life asserts itself, and we ask what we are fighting for, demanding that it be something for the good of all mankind.


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