WE have seen that personality is an expression not only of innate structure but also of environment. In the case of human personality the environment is very largely social. In some sense human personality is through and through an expression of present and past social environments. But precisely in what sense? We must now face this problem, which is one of the two main problems of social philosophy. On the one hand lie theories according to which individuals alone are "real," and society is merely the system of related individuals. On the other hand lie theories according to which society alone is "real," or "fully real," and individuals are mere abstractions from the concrete social whole. Between lie theories which compromise by suggesting that both society and individuals are abstractions, and that neither should be hypostatised, or regarded as an independent self-complete entity; but that, taken in their actual relation, both may be called "real."
From these various types of social theory emerge various types of social ideal, ranging from extreme individualism to the apotheosis of the State.
When we have discussed these traditional problems, we shall examine in more detail the nature of community, and its pre-requisites. We shall consider also its prospects in the world to-day.
In the next chapter we shall turn to the other great problem of. social philosophy, namely the search for the underlying principles which determine social change and social evolution. This will involve us in a discussion of the Marxian theory of economic determinism.
(a) Individualism — The philosophical individualism of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was a system of ideas appropriate to a commercial class that was rising into dominance through individual enterprise in industry and commerce. The triumph of the doctrine is a good example of the determination of thought by economic influences.
According to the theory, individual men and women are self-complete realities or substances, and "society" is the mass of them in relation to one another; or (in another sense of the word "society") the abstract system of relations which holds between them. In this sense, "society" as a whole, including every one of its multifarious institutions from fashion to marriage, from the club to the State, is simply a very complex system of manners in which individuals behave toward one another. According to the individualistic theory, individuals are to be thought of as "atoms," entering into, but not constituted by, their relations with one another.
Each individual, according to the theory, is regarded as a centre of experience and rational behaviour. Apart from aberrations due to ignorance, stupidity, or distorting passion, each seeks to preserve and advance his own person. When he behaves altruistically he does so because, through one cause or another, and indeed most mysteriously, his self-interest has been extended to include the self-interest of others.
The theory is associated with the doctrine of Utilitarianism, according to which, as we have seen, pleasure is the sole good, and the ideal is the greatest happiness of the greatest number. This ideal sets the true direction of all social activity. Nothing is to be sought but the pleasure of individuals, and one individual is as good as another, save that some may be capable of more pleasure than others, and some may be more useful to their fellows. The function of the State is to interfere with the free behaviour of individuals only so far as this is necessary in order to prevent them from hurting one another.
Hence the doctrine of Laissez Faire. It was confidently believed that, the uncontrolled economic activity of individuals seeking private gain by competing to satisfy the demand for goods would ensure the greatest possible production, and also the just distribution of goods, and therefore the greatest possible happiness of the greatest number of individuals. It was assumed that on the whole people would demand the kind of goods which would most benefit themselves, and therefore society, and that production would be guided solely by the spontaneous demand of the masses of freely demanding individuals.
As we know, events did not justify the theory. Our concern is philosophy, not history; but it is impossible to see Individualism in its true light without noting how it worked out in practice. Those who had economic advantages were soon able to dominate society. Those who lacked advantages sank to the status of wage-slaves, to drag out their lives often in incredible misery and brutishness. Their distress was generally regarded as a necessary though regrettable consequence of the triumph of the system. Combination of the workers to wrest better conditions from the masters was condemned as a wicked interference with sacred economic laws. Little by little, however, the workers themselves, aided by a few generous individuals in the employing class, did compel the State to interfere more and more (by means of Factory Acts, etc.) to protect wage-slaves against wage-masters. Always such interference was regarded by individualists as a very dangerous practice, to be adopted only in urgent cases.
The faith that people would demand the kinds, of goods which would most benefit them was falsified by three facts that the advocates of Laissez Faire overlooked. First, people did not really know what was good for them in the long run. Second, even when they did know, they were led astray by primitive cravings which were exaggerated to the pitch of obsession by the nerve-strain caused by unfavourable conditions. Third, capitalist propaganda and advertisement tended to stimulate these cravings rather than the desire for "the good life." The result was the tragic futility and vulgarity of our civilisation.
Along with economic individualism there grew up a morality which was individualistic not merely in the sense of being convenient to selfish individuals, but also in the sense that it was a social doctrine based on the importance of individual rights, individual responsibility, and individual intelligence and conscience. Individual rights were, of course, the only rights, and they were to be curtailed only to safeguard the rights of the majority of individuals. Freedom of action and of speech became basic political values to be safeguarded and increased. This was admirable, but it was overlooked that to the wage-slaves political freedom was useless without economic freedom. Complementary to individual right was individual responsibility. Since the individual was real, and society an abstraction, the individual must think for himself, and must will according to his own lights, never surrendering his intelligence or his conscience to the care of other individuals. In the sphere of religion the rise of the "Nonconformist Conscience" was an expression of the general reeling for individualism. In our day, when individualism has become an unfashionable doctrine, we tend to forget that it was not merely the glorification of selfishness, and that it contained much of permanent value.
Unfortunately the worse elements of the theory tended to be put in practice more than the better. Selfishness ran riot; individual responsibility was too often evaded; liberty was not preserved. Freedom of action and of speech did not include freedom on the part of the wage-slaves to act and speak against their oppressors.
The fact that Individualism as a practical political and social policy has had regrettable results constitutes in itself no condemnation of Individualism as a theory of the nature of society. But it not unreasonably arouses suspicion and an inclination to seek some theory in which society appears as more real than its individuals and as imposing a special obligation upon them. Of course the advocate of Individualism may reasonably argue that, if effective provision were made to ensure that all individuals should have an equal chance, the policy would. work. To this it may be replied that even if a society of individualists were to be put in this state of very unstable equilibrium it would very soon generate a dominant class which would use its advantage to fortify its own position.
(b) The Apotheosis of Society — At the other extreme from Philosophical Individualism lies the political theory associated with Philosophical Idealism. For Kant and his followers, particularly Hegel, the whole was necessarily more real than the parts. This theory, as we have seen, is derived from the theory that all finite things, including finite minds, are constituted by their relations with other things. So far as human knowledge is concerned each thing simply is the system of its relations with the rest of the universe. Of the things in themselves which have those relations nothing can be known. It is merely postulated as the one, universal, Absolute Reality. Of finite things (we are told) it may with human and partial truth be said that the more comprehensive a thing, the more real it is, since it approximates more to the Whole which alone is fully real.
The application of this theory to the nature of society was very striking. In a very important sense an individual is an expression of the society in which he occurs. His every act is determined by his biological inheritance, his own past experience, and his present environment. There is nothing whatever in him (according to the theory) that is not social or racial through and through. The form of his whole life and every moment in it is, so to speak, an expression of society's willing and thinking in and through him. The only thing about him which is not determined from without is the abstract and completely featureless capacity for experiencing in some manner and acting in some manner. What manner depends wholly on his social, historical, and biological "location" so to speak.
The Idealist philosophers were not greatly concerned with biology, but we may significantly give their theory a biological interpretation to bring it in line with contemporary thought. Biologically the individual inherits the dispositions for the special modes of behaviour characteristic of his species and his unique individuality. These dispositions are themselves determined by the pressure of past environments working on the indeterminate potentiality of his ancestors, selecting some biological strains rather than others. Even if, as we are told, natural selection cannot account for the occurrence of the variations themselves, nevertheless, whatever their source, it must be a source beyond the finite individual that manifests the variation. It is a social and a racial source. In fact, according to the theory, it is the Absolute Reality, of which all particular things are merely particular aspects.
Apart from biological inheritance, the individual mind is determined by the social tradition in which it is nurtured. As we have seen, all a man's experience is limited by the categories which traditional culture imposes on him. Or rather, he can only transcend his traditional culture in so far as contemporary social circumstances or the special conditions of his life compel him to do so. The creative originality of the individual need not be denied, but it may be thought of as the "spirit of the whole" possessing him and acting through him. His originality consists in some special sensitivity or insight into the nature of his experienced world, and a consequent imaginative leap to new modes of behaviour more appropriate than the old modes. But this special sensitivity itself is the product of past social and racial factors.
Some philosophers, bearing in mind all these considerations, have been led to a sort of deification of society or the race. An extreme case is the theory of the "group mind." It is well known that in a crowd or mob individuals may behave quite otherwise than they would in isolation. Seemingly the "spirit of the crowd" possesses them and imposes on them its own forms of feeling and of thought. Each individual is carried away by the enthusiasm or passion of the crowd, so that he willingly participates in acts that may be either more brutal or more generous than he or any average individual in the crowd could have performed without the support of the crowd. Lynching mobs, patriotic assemblies, revivalistic religious congregations, afford evidence of these statements. Less dramatic, but to some minds equally impressive, is the spread of fashionable ideas in a national community. Like the wind on a cornfield, some mysterious force seems to sway all minds together in unison, with spreading waves of thought and feeling. Should we not, then, say the advocates of the "group mind" theory, think of society as a great brain made up of individual cells? Must we not believe 'that all individuals, though they seem to themselves to be living their own mental life in isolation from one another, are in fact possessed by a common, unitary social consciousness?
Many Idealist philosophers who did not accept the theory of the "group mind" in this extreme form adopted a theory very much like it in effect. In their view a mind was essentially a system of ideas and valuations, a system of "mental content." The whole of the individual's "mental content" was merely a minute excerpt from the total system of ideas which constituted the whole cultural life of society. This mental content of society as a whole they regarded as real independently of the individual minds that participate in it; and indeed as more real than the individual minds, since it was vastly more comprehensive.
Just as Individualism triumphed because it was congenial to a rising commercial class, so theories which hypostatised the State or the race flourished because they were congenial to a class that had secured power and regarded its political and social institutions as essential to the life of the community. Just as Individualism produced its characteristic morality, so did the theory that we are now discussing. We have already seen that in Idealist ethics the moral claim is the logical claim of the individual's "real" will over his actual and merely partial will, and that his "real" will is the completely rational and good will, which is said to be identical in all individuals, and is the will for the greatest possible fulfilment of society as a whole. In this theory, what is really best for the individual himself is that he, with his particular capacities, should be used to the best advantage by society for the social good. It followed that the right course for the individual was not, as the individualists declared, to seek his own interest, in the faith that in this manner he would best serve society; on the contrary he must serve society, in the faith that in this manner he would fulfil his better, his "real" self.
Further, since he as an isolated individual had no reality, since he was a mere abstraction from the concrete whole of society, he must not presume to set himself up as a judge of society's morals. Since his thought was but a fragmentary abstraction from the whole culture of society it would be folly for him to judge that culture in the light of his private intelligence. Since his conscience was but an imperfect mode of the public conscience, it would be wicked for him to judge the accepted morality in the light of his own moral intuitions. For him the sum of righteousness must be to conform to the precept, "My station and its duties."
On the other hand, though for the average individual the right course was simply to fulfil his social function in the office to which fate had assigned him, some individuals there must be who were gifted with special powers of insight into the needs of society and the potentialities of cultural growth. These were the natural interpreters of the General Will, the true brain of the social organism. Without their mediation and guidance the masses would blunder into all kinds of folly and conflict. Obviously this doctrine was well suited to an established oligarchy which regarded itself as the rightful rulers of society.
Oddly enough the same kind of doctrine is also suited to a revolutionary party that claims to have a mission to remake society, and needs for its heroic task strict intellectual and moral discipline, and conformity to the dictates of the party. Marx turned Hegel back to front not only, as we shall later observe, in converting his form of idealism into a corresponding form of materialism, but also in restating for the purpose of revolution a moral doctrine that was originally well adapted to an established oligarchy.
Doctrines which hypostatise society have a special advantage which individualism has not. They can give a quasi-religious satisfaction, a sense of participation in and service of a supernatural being whose purposes are of a higher order than the purposes of individuals. This is their strength and their danger. For dangerous they are. They breed a fatal tendency toward a vague mysticism of State or race. They tempt self-assertive individuals to regard themselves as semi-divine leaders of society, and to mistake their own private advancement, and their own private prejudices, for the sacred will of society. They also afford to these self-styled interpreters of the general will an excuse for every kind of tyranny and ruthlessness. On the other hand, they encourage the average mentally lazy individual to shirk his intellectual and moral responsibility, to accept ideas and values uncritically, either from popular "leaders of thought," or from a vague and illusive public opinion, or from the official propaganda of the class that controls the great modern organs of propaganda. The ordinary citizen thankfully surrenders his intelligence and his conscience into the hands of others, and becomes a blind instrument.
But the fact that these doctrines are dangerous does not necessarily mean that they are false. Let us now try to judge both the social theories that I have been describing, both Individualism and the Idealist political philosophy, in order to discover, if possible, what is good in each.
(c) Synthesis — The Idealists' criticism of Individualism is in the main true, but their positive assertions go much too far. There is indeed good reason to hold that the individual's will is an expression of his biological inheritance and his social environment. Biologically the only qualification is that at every stage of his ancestry, no matter how remote, there must always have been something internal, something upon which the environment worked. Without that initial something, even though it was probably from the physical point of view just a very complex and unstable molecule, there could have been no biological evolution. And the offspring of that initial something, made more and more complex by generations of evolution and of intercourse with the environment, is man, with his highly-developed subjectivity.
Socially also a qualification must be made. Though the individual is through and through an expression of past and present society, yet, whatever his causes, he actually now is what he is, namely a particular and determinate individual, a centre of experience and action. To call him a mere abstraction would be false, if by "abstraction" is meant something non-existent. To "abstract" is to attend to a particular character while ignoring others. Though the character attended to is an "attraction," it is not less objective than the whole of which it is a member. Of course, the human individual without a social environment would be a very different creature; but though the social environment profoundly influences his mind it is not essential to his mind's existence as a mind. Moreover, however he was made, there he is, a real centre of mental and physical activity.
Society itself is simply the individuals that compose it. The individuals, of course, are organised in complex social relations, and are infused by their society's tradition and culture; but there is nothing that is society or the State over and above the individuals, with their present relations, and their traditions. Their relations are ordinary physical and mental relations between individuals. Their tradition is embodied in a huge mass of verbal and other symbolism, created by past generations of individuals, and interpreted by the present generation. Nowhere is there any evidence for a supra-individual self. Even the striking facts of crowd-behaviour can be fully explained without any such hypostatisation of the group. The individual in the crowd may be regarded as indulging in a particular sort of instinctive response to the special stimulus of the presence of his fellows. His reaction is what the psychologists call "primitive passive sympathy." He tends to manifest emotions and actions similar to those manifested by his fellows.
We must reject also the less extreme view which, though it does not postulate a group mind as an actual conscious process embracing all individual minds, yet regards the individual as a mere excerpt from the objective tissue of ideas which is the life of society. This view depends on the theory that a mind is simply a system of mental "content," of thoughts and values which can be identical in different minds. It ignores the individual mental activity which has this content, which thinks and feels it. If a mind is simply a system of "content," and a minute excerpt from the whole mental "content" of society, it follows that society is actually a mind of the same order as the individual's mind, though far greater. Against this view we must insist that the individual mind is of a different order from the tissue of ideas which constitutes culture, just as a tree is of a different order from a forest. From the Idealists' theory it follows that, since the whole is more real than the part, the social mind is more real than the individuals that compose it. But this view we have rejected. The parts even of an organic whole are not less real than the whole. A hand is not less real than the man, though it is less complete, and cannot exist in isolation, and is instrumental to the whole man.
Society, of course, the whole system of individuals, is more important than any individual or group of individuals, simply because it is all the individuals. It is always possible, no doubt, that, from the point of view of the welfare of the whole, a particular individual or group of individuals may be supremely important, or at any rate more important than others. But their enhanced value is instrumental to the whole.
We must admit that in a society composed of individuals of very different mental rank, say men and animals, or supermen and submen, the welfare of the men (or supermen) should count for more than the welfare of the animals (or submen), simply because they would be capable of activities and fulfilments of higher order. But actually the individuals of human societies do not differ in rank in this extreme manner. It is quite impossible to grade them in a mental hierarchy which will be demonstrably and objectively correct. Consequently, for political and social purposes, however much they may vary in social usefulness, they should be treated as though all were equally capable of mental fulfilment, as having equal claims to the consideration of society, and equal rights to express their will about the conduct of society, and, in the last resort, to determine its policy.
On the other hand, we must not fall into the errors of individualism and the cruder sort of democracy. We must recognise that the mass of individuals in a society, nurtured in unfavourable conditions, doomed to crippling activities, and educated not for responsibility and integrity, but for mechanical efficiency and docility, may be quite unable to recognise what is really best for them as individuals capable of mental development, and quite incapable of judging public policy. We must recognise, in fact, that a policy based on the expressed demands of the majority of individuals may lamentably fail to satisfy the deeper needs of those individuals themselves.
This fact must not be made an excuse for authoritarianism on the part of an enlightened minority. We have to-day plenty of evidence of the tyranny to which this inevitably leads. Instead, the enlightened minority must work by reasonable persuasion and the example of its own personal integrity and responsibility, till the masses recognise them as appropriate leaders. Unfortunately it is always easier to gain recognition and power by deceitful and emotional propaganda, and to secure it by coercion.
(a) Degrees of Social Awareness — Having considered the problem of the status of the individual and of society, we will discuss the different manners in which individuals are aware of society. The reader must be warned, however, that in this section I shall not be summarising well-established philosophical theories, but tentatively putting forward ideas which academic philosophers might regard as outside the province of philosophy. It will be obvious that in formulating these ideas I have been influenced by the writings of Mr. Gerald Heard, but I have also, for my own purposes, modified his theories in some very important respects. Mr. Heard speaks of the "evolution of consciousness" from the pre-individual type, through the individual type, to the fully social type; but I cannot determine whether he is describing different kinds of attitudes taken up by the individual toward society or different forms of a communal consciousness or group mind. In what follows I shall discuss merely the attitudes taken up by the individual to his social environment.
There seem to be three different kinds of mental attitude or three kinds of mentality which the individual may manifest toward the group of which he is a member. For brevity I shall call them the herd-mentality, the individualistic mentality, and the mentality of genuine community. All three attitudes are actually manifested by all extant human beings, at one time or another, or all together; but since some individuals are on the whole more prone to one attitude than the others, we may perhaps very roughly classify individuals according to their habitual attitude to society. And since we may with some confidence arrange the attitudes in order of mental development, we may similarly grade the individuals in respect of development of social consciousness.
I cannot believe, as Mr. Heard does, that it is possible to trace in history a gradual evolution from a condition when the herd mentality, the most primitive social attitude, was overwhelmingly dominant to a condition in which the most developed will for true community is intermittently occurring. Instead I incline to believe that the three attitudes have been common ever since our species emerged from the sub-human, and that throughout the historical period the individualistic attitude has been commonest. On the other hand, it may well be that in the highest sub-human mammals, and even in the earliest, most primitive human races, the herd-mentality dominates. It may be that in a biological type higher than our own the dominant mentality would be that of genuine community. But again it is not inconceivable that even in the case of Homo Sapiens more favourable social and economic conditions and better education may in the long run immensely strengthen the rudimentary community-will in each generation, and that in time even the imperfect nature of our species may be conditioned to genuine community.
However this may be, there are to-day three distinct ways of feeling about social groups; and if we wish to understand the nature and potentialities of human society we must form clear ideas on this subject. I shall now try to describe these social attitudes and I shall argue that the more developed cannot be described simply in terms of the less. Individualism contains a factor not reducible to herd-mindedness; and genuine community-will contains something not reducible to individualism.
(b) Herd-mindedness — The most primitive social mentality is illustrated most strikingly in typical mob-behaviour. The individual is intensely conscious of the presence of the crowd as a vague surrounding mass, but much less aware of distinct individuals, save as focal points in the crowd. His attention is directed to individuals only when they become in any way significant of the mental life of the crowd, for instance by assuming leadership over him, or by being singled out as aliens, recalcitrant to the common mood. Even leaders and aliens fail to impinge on the mind of the crowd-member as real individuals. They are merely stimuli evoking in him a stereotyped response. He tends to be oblivious also of his own individuality. So far as he is self-conscious at all, his desire is to conform to the behaviour of the crowd. He is almost literally hypnotised by the crowd's presence.
Not every member is reduced to this state. On the contrary a few may react with heightened self-consciousness and self-assertion. But all tend toward herd-mindedness, even if some resist the tendency, and react in a contrary manner. Under the influence of a crowd-leader who senses the disposition of the crowd, and can express it, and within limits control it, the members eagerly conform to the prevailing temper. They allow their individual intelligence and moral sensibility to fall into abeyance. They accept uncritically such simple thoughts and feelings as can be communicated in the atmosphere of the crowd. Relatively simple, primitive, and emotional ideas can be communicated much more easily than ideas that are more subtle and less emotional. It follows that under the influence of the crowd each individual tends to be reduced to a mental level lower than his normal level, and is capable of actions which in the normal state he would dismiss as foolish or barbarous or base.
It would be unjust to say that in crowd-behaviour the individual always tends to be less moral than normally, for skilful leaders can sometimes rouse a crowd to a high level of moral enthusiasm. But always this enthusiasm is evoked by some relatively simple and vivid moral experience, such as the saving of a life, or a protest on behalf of those who are oppressed. And such moral behaviour is far less common in crowds than a decline of moral consciousness.
Herd-mindedness does not occur only in crowds in which the members are physically present to one another. In every group which is regarded as an object of value there is a tendency to herd-mindedness. Tribes, families, cities, colleges, schools, aristocracies, class-conscious plutocracies, class-conscious proletariats, trade-unions, religious bodies, and above all nations may exercise this hypnotic power. We must, however, distinguish between the group's emotional dominance over its members as an object of veneration, as in the nation infected by patriotism, and the state of affairs in which, though there is no sentiment for the group, the individual is constantly drenched by the group's ideology and insulated from the ideology of other groups. Even the most independent-spirited individual may be gravely led astray by the sheer weight and detail of the social tradition in which he is drenched.
(c) The Individualistic Mentality — The attitude which I have called herd-mindedness is obviously the psychological aspect of instinctive gregariousness. The individualistic attitude, on the other hand, is not simply the psychological aspect of instinctive self-assertion, though this instinctive reaction does, of course, fortify it. The individualistic attitude is more developed than any purely instinctive response. It involves not only instinctive self-assertion but also a fairly high degree of self-consciousness. The individualist, of course, is aware both of himself and of others as individuals. But whereas his self-consciousness is relatively persistent, his other-consciousness, his awareness of his neighbours as centres of knowing-feeling-striving, is intermittent and vague. Of course he may have impulses of affection for those who are psychologically nearest to him, just as he may on the plane of herd-mentality. He may even have enduring sentiments for particular individuals; and these sentiments may sometimes be genuine love-sentiments in which the other is valued not merely as a physical object is valued but as a person, whose well-being is desired for its own sake. But his dominant attitude toward his fellows is that of concentrated self-regard, and even his love-sentiments are apt to have a strong aspect of sheer self-regarding possessiveness. Indeed, in so far as his loves really are loves, in so far as they are genuine other-regard for a more or less clearly conceived person, he has passed beyond the limitations of individualism. As an individualist, though he is vaguely conscious of others as individuals, he is not impressed with a sense of their vivid reality. His dominant motive is the advancement of himself as a person among other persons. It does not follow that he is particularly "selfish." Indeed he may be ostentatiously generous. If he has been brought up to admire altruism, he may take as his ideal of personal advancement a pattern of Christian kindliness. None the less his mentality is essentially individualistic, in the sense that subconsciously he does what he does not for love but for personal salvation. Of course his beatitude may not be conceived as beatitude in life after death. It may consist wholly of gratification here and now for his need for self-respect.
The individualistic mentality is probably the dominant social attitude in all races, though all of us are at all times faintly herd-minded, and some are sometimes predominantly so. The genuine community-mentality is in most of us very precarious and rarely dominant. The influence of the primitive herd-mentality is generally unconscious, in the sense that the individual himself is unable to recognise that he is being swayed by an obscure craving to conform, and to enforce conformity on others. On occasions of heightened social consciousness, such as political crises, economic crises, crises of class-strife, war scares, and so on, herd-mentality may become dominant, though still in the main unconscious. The individual will accept arguments and valuations simply because they bear the sanction of public opinion, or of the particular group-opinion to which he is loyal; yet he will believe that he has accepted them for reasons of self-interest or for genuinely social reasons.
This picture of the individual's social feeling and behaviour is not complete till we have added a few slight but very important touches of a very different nature, already mentioned in the chapter on Personality. Most individuals do, as we have seen, at times rise to genuine love of some other individual. Most are capable also, to some slight extent, of genuine community behaviour. Important as this is, we must not forget that in the main, however much they conform to the social tradition of altruism, they are at heart individualists, With this qualification always in mind, let us proceed to discuss in more detail the nature of genuine community.
(d) Genuine Community: Personal Intercourse — The word "community" is ambiguous. In the first place it sometimes means a group of individuals, as in the phrase "the Jewish community," and sometimes it means the abstraction or universal character which characterises all concrete communities. In the second place, whether it is used in the concrete or the abstract sense, the word may have either a very general or a more restricted meaning. In the general sense a community is any group of individuals having any kind of social relation to one another. In this sense even the prisoners in a gaol may be said to form a community. But in the more restricted sense, the sense with which we are here concerned, a community is a group of persons who willingly co-operate, who are not merely economically but mentally a source of enrichment to one another, and who prize their social relationship.
Community in this sense must be experienced in the first instance through actual personal intercourse with other individuals in some small group. Larger and yet genuine communities, in which the bond of personal intercourse is absent or fragmentary, may occur; but in these some other kind of bond must form an adequate substitute for personal contact. We will begin by considering only communities based on contact.
The simplest example is a happily married couple. By a happily married couple I mean, not the romantic idealisation of marriage as "two souls in unison," but a partnership in which the very diversity of the members, even if it leads to considerable strain, is on the whole a source of enrichment to both. Larger groups may also in varying degrees fulfil the definition. A family, a school, a college, a religious congregation, a committee, a body of research workers or of any other workers in personal conflict, a military unit, a revolutionary "cell," a social club — these and many other kinds of small group may be genuine communities. To deserve the name they need not be immune from internal conflict. Indeed the internal conflicts of a community may be one of the main modes by which the members mutually enrich one another. But for the community to be a genuine community, conflict must be subordinate to the common purpose, and must be so regarded by all the members of the community.
I have several times used the phrases "mutual enrichment" and "mental enrichment." Each member of the community is a centre of activity, and in particular of conscious activity, of knowing-feeling-striving. He has his characteristic capacities and needs. The community should enrich him in two manners. In the first place, his intercourse with the other members should enable him the better to fulfil his own personal capacities and satisfy his personal needs. In the second place, friendship with or love of individuals whose character is different from his own should enrich him with experience of the diversity of minds, and should (metaphorically) enlarge his self to embrace other selves of alien type. It is essential to community as a source of mutual enrichment that the members should be different from one another in psychological make-up. A community composed of identical twins living in identical conditions (if this were possible) would be a sterile community. The greater the psychological differences the better, so long as the underlying identity of interest or purpose is strong enough to hold the members together.
In the community of personal contact each member prizes not only the other members as individuals but also the social relationship. In the simplest of all cases the lover loves the beloved, but also he prizes love itself, the reciprocal relationship between himself and the other. Further, while the experience of love affords him a deep sense of personal fulfilment, he will gladly (up to a point) forgo personal fulfilment if thereby he can give greater fulfilment to the other. In the larger community of personal contact a member may sacrifice himself (up to a point) either for the sake of the other members or to preserve the communal relationship.
The common interest or purpose which unites the members of the community may have as its object either the maintenance of the community itself or some goal external to the community. The common purpose of the married couple is chiefly the maintenance of the community itself; though the raising and equipment of children is a purpose which comes under both categories. The common purpose of the revolutionary "cell" is external to itself.
In any actual community, even the most intimate and harmonious, there will be conflicts of personal interests. In so far as the community really is a community these conflicts will be willingly subordinated to the common interest. But also, of course, in the best actual human communities, even those based on personal contact, there will be a great deal of sheer individualism. Personal interests, that is, will not always be willingly subordinated, but will sometimes be pursued even to the detriment of the community.
Indeed, genuine community, even by personal contact, is rare and precarious. Some psychologists have claimed that there is no such thing, that the only social behaviour is some combination of individualism and instinctive gregariousness, sex and parenthood, conditioned to the stimuli of civilised society. To these psychologists the reply must be that they have overlooked a kind of behaviour which does occur and is essentially different from the other kinds. Rare and precarious as community is, probably most human beings have some slight experience of it. When it has become firmly established in a small group of individuals of fairly high mental calibre it may very thoroughly dominate the behaviour of the whole group.
(e) Genuine Community: Social Will — If it is difficult to achieve community in a small group in personal contact, it is far more difficult, if not impossible, to establish it in a large group, where personal contact cannot bind every member to every other. In the small group the community-mentality is grounded in the fact that the members can realise one another as persons and can respect one another's differences because of the underlying sense of community. In the large community there is no universal mutual awareness.
Something else, however, can in a manner take its place, namely, a firm will for community.
Though the members of a large community may know only a very small minority of their fellows, all are .held together in a mesh of social relationships. Directly or indirectly every life is related with every other. Moreover they may have common economic and political interests, common modes of behaviour, common cultural ideals. Up to a point it is possible for each member to realise at least something of the psychological pattern common to all typical members.
This alone would be no sufficient basis for the will for community. But individuals who have also concrete experience of genuine community through personal contact may form an established disposition to behave on the principle that all members of the large group, even though personally unknown to them, are real individuals, with social rights.
This principle is, of course, consciously accepted by the great majority in civilised countries; but unfortunately the fact that it is consciously accepted does not mean that it is necessarily an effective motive in determining conduct. Probably in most acts which seem to spring from the genuine social will the effective though unacknowledged motive is either individualism or herd-mindedness. Most human acts have complex motives. It is often impossible to discover which motive is the decisive motive in forming a decision. Only when there is a clear conflict between the dictates of self-regard and the social will, and the issue is an act of social service, can we be sure that social will really is the effective motive. But such clear conflicts seldom occur. Even the martyr for a social cause may be sacrificing himself for the sake of self-esteem. We are entitled, however, to ask how it came about that self-esteem demanded the supreme self-sacrifice. And the answer must be that his ideal of himself was largely determined in the first instance by his recognition of the intrinsic good of community.
(f) Civilisation — If the foregoing analysis is correct, any human society must be thought of as consisting mostly of individuals who are in the main individualistic, though they are constantly and sometimes violently swayed by herd-mindedness, and are to some, extent capable of genuine community by personal contact, and to a much slighter extent moved by the abstract social will.
Recognising that this is true of all normal individuals, we may nevertheless classify normal individuals into three grades, namely, those that are on the whole more herd-minded than others, those that are most individualistic, and those that are on the whole more capable of community than others. But we must not forget that every normal individual, no matter what his normal state, may sometimes sink to the lowest or rise to the highest grade of social behaviour.
In addition to the vast majority of normal human beings, who are in the main individualists, we must recognise a smaller class of approximately subnormal or approximately moron rank, whose social behaviour, and indeed all their behaviour, is almost entirely impulsive. They fluctuate between the spasmodic self-assertion of the sub-human animal, spasmodic affection for particular individuals, and spasmodic herd-mindedness.
At the other extreme comes the very small company of supernormals or saints who have brought their whole lives more or less effectively under the control of their will for community. These are so few and so difficult to discover that they should perhaps be omitted from the classification. But on the whole it seems probable that genuine social saints do occur, and that they have sometimes had a great influence.
If society depended solely on the strength of the genuine social will in men it would be impossible. But in the main it depends on their self-regarding motives. It is in the main a system of interdependent self-seekings. No doubt, so long as we are comfortable, we keep the rules of society largely through sheer easy-going conformity to tradition, and to some extent through a very tepid though genuine social will. For, on the whole, and provided that the cost to himself is slight, a man would rather behave socially than antisocially. But when serious individualistic interests are at stake he tends either to evade the rules or to keep them merely for fear of condemnation, while persuading himself that he is really acting from the best motives.
The scope of the genuinely social will is probably much less than it is generally thought to be; but it is not wholly negligible. Both in a comfortable society and in one that is felt to be in danger of destruction it does play some part, though in very different manners in the two cases. In the comfortable and fairly secure society, in which most of the members are not too frantically struggling to preserve themselves, the social will does restrain individuals from petty anti-social acts. It does enable society to function smoothly without continuous compulsion and espionage. In the hard-pressed society; for instance in times of revolution, it may for a while, and precariously, become the effective motive not merely in a few supernormal individuals but in large numbers. When this happens, mere herd-feeling may be drawn in to support it; for those in whom the social will is but feeble will be induced by mere herd-feeling to subordinate their self-interest to the common enterprise of saving or remaking society. But herd-feeling, or herd-mindedness, is a dangerous reinforcement. In times of crisis and of violence it tends to become dominant; while the community-mentality can establish itself firmly only in times of security and peace.
In what we call "civilised society," there is very little that deserves the name. For civilisation, after all, is not a matter of mechanical power and modern conveniences. It is the process of advancing from a less to a more civil mode of behaviour. By this I understand the process by which people come to treat one another more civilly, more as persons, both in immediate social contacts and in social organisation.
Is man capable of no more truly civilised society than that of our day? Must the limitations of human nature permanently prevent men from creating a society in which the will for community dominates the herd-mentality and the individualistic mentality, as in our day individualism dominates the others? Before hastily answering, "No, for human nature cannot be changed," we should remember that, though the will for community is dependent on innate capacities for intelligence and imagination, it is the product of these capacities in relation to the social environment. It is not simply an innate faculty. In general we must recognise that human nature is so fluid that in each generation it can be changed beyond recognition by the impact of the environment. In an appropriate environment, then, there might occur a very much higher degree of the will for community. Let us therefore now try to record the sort of conditions that are required for the existence of genuine community.
Genuine community, as defined above, entails the distinctively human degree of sensibility toward other individuals and the distinctively human degree of intelligence and imagination. These are presumably rooted in innate capacity, but to repeat, they can be greatly strengthened or weakened by environmental influence.
Genuine community entails also "unity-in-diversity." The greater the mental diversity of the members the better, so long as each can recognise that others, however alien, are sincerely loyal to the common enterprise.
Genuine community entails that the members of the community shall be bound together in mutual enrichment and mutual obligation either by direct personal contact or by the established will for community. It is impossible to have genuine community without a resolute will that all members of the community shall be treated with the respect and kindliness which every individual desires to receive from his neighbours. Personal intercourse and the abstract will for community may be regarded as the two kinds of cement which consolidate communities.
That the members may realise one another's modes. of life and thought, their means of communication must be well developed. In the community of contact they must meet and converse and engage in common enterprises. In large communities they must have transport, postal services, journals, radio, and so on, in order that the special needs and characters of particular sub-communities may be to some extent known to all.
On the other hand, the members must not be so cramped by one another's presence that none can properly develop his individuality, assimilate his experience, and retain his personal distinction of character.
That the members may be able to understand and cherish one another they must be nurtured in a common tradition of thought and feeling.
The common culture must be such as to afford a sense that all are united in a common purpose more important than private advancement. The common purpose, as we have seen, may be either intrinsic or extrinsic to the community.
Grave personal frustration is inimical to community. No doubt some degree of struggle and even of defeat is necessary for the health of the individual. The mind that has no difficulties to overcome is likely to be flabby and sterile. The man who knows only personal success lacks depth of experience, and when trouble does arrive is likely to be overwhelmed. Further, the community-will needs to express itself in unselfish devotion to the common task. But sacrifice must be voluntarily incurred, and it must not be such as to lower the individual's mental and moral calibre. Clearly the occurrence of serious and widespread frustration is in itself a violation of community, since the goal of community is the fulfilment of individual capacity. But in another sense also frustration is inimical to community. Individuals of lowly calibre are incapable of true community if they are themselves gravely, continuously and compulsorily frustrated. Exceptional individuals may retain the community mentality in spite of grave personal frustration; but in average individuals frustration soon breeds exasperation, intolerance, vindictiveness, and incapacity for objective thought. In a society in which these mental defects are common, even the unfrustrated members are liable to be infected by the general decay of community. The secret sense of their own unmerited good fortune may drive them to irrational fear and hate of the frustrated.
For practical purposes we may say that there are three main kinds of frustration which tend to make genuine community impossible. They are often closely related. They are: frustration due to untoward personal relationships, economic frustration, and frustration due to the danger of the destruction of the community, for instance in war.
In spite of the important pioneering work of the psychoanalysts, the effects of frustration due to personal relationship are as yet little understood. We are, however, beginning to realise that the relations of children and adolescents to adults and to others of their own age may have grave effects on the development of character. The same is true, though in a less degree, of the relations of adults to one another. Not only sexual disasters, but disastrous relations between master or leader and subordinates may destroy the precarious capacity for community.
But serious economic frustration is at least as harmful as any other force inimical to community. Not merely actual hunger but bad home conditions and conditions of work, the constant sense of economic insecurity, the spectacle of the luxury of the more fortunate, the servility exacted from the wage-slave, mass-produced education, the sense that one's labour is being controlled for the profit of a class rather than for society as a whole, the sense of the futility of the whole economic order of society, the sense that the precious gift of mechanical power is being prostituted for false ends, and above all the sense of personal dereliction and uselessness — all these effects of economic frustration tend to engender in the average individual a state of mind inimical to community.
The third grave source of frustration is the dread of the destruction or serious damage of society, whether by revolt from within or attack from without. Danger is more apt to foster the herd-mentality than the community-mentality. As we have seen, the herd-mentality is essentially a reaction to danger by means of biologically-imposed discipline; while the community-mentality cannot thrive for long without freedom and security. It demands, not uniformity, but diversity, and the realisation of other individuals as intrinsically worthy of regard in spite' of their differences from oneself. But in order to resist social danger, from within or without, it is necessary to suppress all those developed activities which are the true purpose of community, so as to concentrate on the single task of defence. The society must therefore be regimented. Personal freedom must be gravely restricted. Eccentricity must be condemned. Criticism of the official policy of defence must be silenced. Free intelligence in general must be bridled or suppressed. Kindliness toward enemies and even toward unfortunate fellow-members is identified with weakness or with treason.
Up to a point all these reactions may be rationally justified as a means of coping with the perilous situation. But instinctive fear and herd-mindedness in response to social danger turn a reasonable tightening up of discipline into an extravagant orgy of repression which tends to blot out all understanding of what community should be.
Two other essential pre-requisites of genuine community remain to be stated. Education must be consciously and unfalteringly directed to evoke fully in all members whatever capacity they have for development in knowing-feeling-striving. Above all, they must be encouraged to trust their own intelligence, to criticise even the most sacred beliefs and customs of the community, and to judge all moral issues in the light of their own well-criticised consciences. Intellectual and moral integrity must be the supreme goal of education.
The other essential pre-requisite of genuine community is freedom of expression. Communists sometimes argue that complete freedom of expression is impossible and undesirable. No society, they say, will tolerate or should tolerate the advocacy of policies that threaten to undermine the basic structure of the society. To this the answer is simple. Though in societies which have not attained genuine community some degree of restriction may be necessary, the fact that restriction is necessary proves that community has not been attained. Indeed, the degree of restriction of expression may be taken as a rough measure of a society's approximation to community. In no existing society is there complete freedom of expression for all classes. The Western democracies, bad as they are, are very superior to some other states in this respect.
What are the prospects of the development of community in the world as it is in our day? In some respects they are better than ever before, but in some they are exceptionally bad.
The outstanding increase of the means of communication provides for the first time one essential pre-requisite of world-wide community. Apart from contrary influences, peoples of alien culture can now begin to realise one another as never before. And for good or ill the spread of ideas throughout the world has begun to create a real cosmopolitan culture. If this were to mean the complete standardisation of the cultures. of all local societies, it would be a disaster; for community involves diversity. But there is at least a chance that from the present chaos a cultural unity-in-diversity may ultimately arise.
Of common purpose there is as yet but little, since the will for community seldom operates beyond the boundaries of nation or of social class. But the idea of creating an orderly world-community in which national sovereign states shall become mere local governments is at any rate far more familiar than it was before the last European War.
To these favourable influences must be added the fact that unprecedented scientific invention and mechanical power make it possible to organise the world in such a way that every human being might have the opportunity of developing to the full such innate capacity for community as he has.
Unfortunately, these favourable factors are counterbalanced by unfavourable ones. Though there has probably been no considerable change in the incidence of innate social capacity, the new barbarism, now spreading from country to country, the tendency to persecute the free intelligence and the individual conscience, may seriously reduce the proportion of more sensitive and integrated individuals in the world-population. For the present, however, this is not an urgent danger save in the regions controlled by dictators. Even in the small society united by direct personal contact the modern taboo on tenderness has probably rendered genuine community more precarious. By casting doubt on man's capacity for altruism it has tended to weaken the will for community in every sphere.
Frustration of all three kinds mentioned in the preceding section seriously undermines men's social capacity in every country. Frustration from untoward personal relationships may be no commoner than in earlier days; but it is present. And its damaging effect is probably increased by the strain of modern industrial life. The evil effect of economic frustration is increased by the increasing sense that it might be avoided. The sense of danger from attack has increased beyond ail expectation.
Unless economic frustration and danger from attack can be removed, the prospects of community, even in the relatively narrow sphere of the national State, are very poor. Of world-community there seems at present little prospect.
Psychologically the national State depends very largely on appeals to herd-mindedness. It is also supported by the community-will of some sections of the population. But in the modern world the community-will cannot logically confine itself within the boundaries of the national State. It must seek world-community or degenerate into herd-mentality in response to danger.
Apart from the grave practical difficulties of organising a world-society, and apart from the formidable pressure of purely individualistic vested interests in the established order, two psychological forces resist the incipient movement toward world-community. The herd-mentality of the nation tends to preserve enmities. The herd-mentality of economic classes, caused of course by real conflicts of economic interest, tends to preserve class-enmities. Until these two great sources of emotional prejudice are overcome there is no hope of genuine world-community.
On the other hand, nothing short of a world-community can satisfy the community-will or afford peace and prosperity to the human race in modern conditions.
Many declare that the ideal of world-community is quite unrealisable. They point out that even on the national scale there is no real community, but only a more or less successful system of interdependent self-seekings, liable at any moment to be swept by waves of herd passion.
True! Yet if the causes of frustration are abolished, and full use is made of modern communications, and education is consciously, constantly, and whole-heartedly directed toward the creation of responsible world-citizens, even our imperfect human nature might prove capable of world-community. But shall we ever, in our present warped and savage state, even begin to remove the causes of frustration?
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:54