Social Statics and Dynamics

Just as in biology it is useful to separate anatomy from physiology, so it is desirable to make a distinction in sociology between statics and dynamics. "The distinction is not between two classes of facts, but between two aspects of theory. It corresponds with the double conception of order and progress: for order consists . . . in a permanent harmony among the conditions of social existence, and progress consists in social development." Order and Progress, statics and dynamics, are hence always correlative to each other.

In order to supplement his theory of stages, Comte set out to investigate the foundations of social stability. "The statical study of sociology consists in the investigation of the laws of action and reaction of the different parts of the social system--apart, for the occasion, from the fundamental movement which is always gradually modifying them." It studies the balance of mutual relations of elements within a social whole. There must always be a "spontaneous harmony between the whole and the parts of the social system." When such harmony is lacking, we are confronted by a pathological case.

When Comte deals with the components of a social system, he emphatically refuses to see individuals as elementary parts. "The scientific spirit forbids us to regard society as composes of individuals. The true social unit is the family--reduced, if necessary, to the elementary couple which forms its basis. . . Families become tribes and tribes become nations." A social science that takes as its point of departure the needs and propensities of individuals is bound to fail. In particular, it is erroneous to derive man's social tendencies, "which are now proved to be inherent in his nature," from utilitarian considerations. In the early ages of humanity the individual advantages of association were doubtful. "It is thus evident that the social state would never have existed if its rise had depended on a conviction of its individual utility."

It is within the family that the elementary egotistical propensities are curbed and harnessed to social purposes. "It is by the avenue [of the family] that man comes forth from his mere personality, and learns to live in another, while obeying his most powerful instincts." The family is the most elementary social unit and the prototype of all other human associations, for these evolve from family and kinship groups. "The collective organism is essentially composed of families which are its true elements, of classes and castes which form its true tissue, and finally of cities and townships which are its true organs."

Although Comte conceived of society by analogy with a biological organism, he was aware of the difficulties that such analogical thinking brings in its wake. A biological organism is, so to speak, encased in a skin and hence has material boundaries. The body social, however, cannot be held together by physical means, but only by spiritual ties. Hence, Comte assigned central importance to language, and above all, religion.

Language is the vessel in which the thought of preceding generations, the culture of our ancestors, is stored. By participating in a linguistic universe, we are part of a linguistic community. Language binds us to our fellows and at the same time connects us to the long chain that links a living community to its remote ancestors. Human society has more dead than living members. Without a common language men could never have attained solidarity and consensus; without this collective tool no social order is possible.

A common language is indispensable to a human community, but it is only a medium, not a positive guide, to behavior. What is needed in addition is a common religious belief. Religion furnishes the unifying principle, the common ground without which individual differences would tear society apart. Religion permits men to overcome their egoistic propensities and to transcend themselves in the love of their fellow men. It is the powerful cement that binds a society together in a common cult and a common system of beliefs. Religion is at the root of social order. It is indispensable for making legitimate the commands of government. No temporal power can endure without the support of spiritual power. "Every government supposes a religion to consecrate and regulate commandment and obedience."

Beyond language and religion, there is a third factor that links man to his fellows: the division of labor. Men are

bound together by the very distribution of their occupations; and it is this distribution which causes the extent and growing complexity of the social organism.

The social organization tends more and more to rest on an exact estimate of individual diversities, by so distributing employments as to appoint each one to the destination he is most fit for, from his own nature . . . , from his education and his position, and, in short, from all his qualifications; so that all individual organizations, even the most vicious and imperfect . . . , may finally be made use of for the general good.

Comte believed in principle that the division of labor, while it fostered the development of individual gifts and capacities, also contributed to human solidarity by creating in each individual a sense of his dependence on others. Yet at the same time, he was perturbed by what he considered certain negative aspects of the modern industrial division of labor.

If the separation of social functions develops a useful spirit of detail, on the one hand, it tends on the other, to extinguish or to restrict what we may call the aggregate or general spirit. In the same way, in moral relations, while each individual is in close dependence on the mass, he is drawn away from it by the expansion of his special activity, constantly recalling him to his private interest, which he but very dimly perceives to be related to the public. . . . The inconveniences of the division of functions increase with its characteristic advantages.

As a result, Comte expressed the fervent hope that in the future both temporal and spiritual power would unite "to keep up the idea of the whole, and the feeling of the common interconnection."

Comte always considered social institutions, whether language or religion or the division of labor, not so much in their own right as in terms of the contribution they make to the wider social order. To this extent, he must surely be regarded as one of the earliest functional analysts of society, for he not only considered the consequences social phenomena have on social systems, but he stressed the interconnectedness of all these phenomena. "There must always be a spontaneous harmony between the parts and the whole of the social system . . . . It is evident that not only must political institutions and social manners, on the one hand, and manners and ideas on the other, be always mutually connected; but further that this consolidated whole must always be connected, by its nature, with the corresponding state of the integral development of humanity."

To Comte, the study of social statics, that is, of the conditions and preconditions of social order, was inevitably linked to the study of social dynamics, which he equated with human progress and evolution. Though he failed to specify this link and to show how it operated concretely, he reiterated this position in programmatic form. Despite the fact that it seemed desirable for methodological and heuristic purposes to separate the study of statics and dynamics, in empirical reality they were correlative. Functional and evolutionary analyses, far from contradicting each other, were in effect complementary.

From Coser, 1977:10-12.

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