Herbert Spencer: Social Types: Militant and Industrial Societies


Social Types: Militant and Industrial Societies

When attempting to classify types of societies in terms of their evolutionary stage, Spencer arranged them in a series as simple, compound, doubly compound, and trebly compound. The terminology is rather obscure, but what he seems to have in mind is a classification according to degrees of structural complexity. More specifically, he distinguished between simple societies, which were headless, those with occasional headship, those with unstable headship, and those with stable headship. Compound and doubly compound societies were likewise classified in terms of the complexity of their political organization. Similarly, various types of societies were ranked according to the evolution of their modes of settlement, whether nomadic, semisettled, or settled. Societies generally were said to evolve from simple to compound and double compound structures through necessary stages. "The stages of compounding and re-compounding have to be passed through in succession."

In addition to this classification of societies by their degree of complexity, Spencer proposed another basis for distinguishing between types of societies. In this other scheme the focus is on the type of internal regulation within societies. To distinguish between what he called militant and industrial societies, Spencer used as the basis a difference in social organization brought about through forms of social regulation. This classification, it needs to be emphasized, is at variance with that based on stages of evolution. It is rooted in a theory of society that states that types of social structure depend on the relation of a society to other societies in its significant environment. Whether this relation is peaceful or militant affects the internal structures of a society and its system of regulations. With peaceful relations come relatively weak and diffuse systems of internal regulations; with militant relations come coercive and centralized controls. Internal structure is no longer dependent, as in the first scheme, on the level of evolution, but rather on the presence or absence of conflict with neighboring societies.

The characteristic trait of militant societies is compulsion.

The trait characterizing the militant structure throughout is that its units are coerced into their various combined actions. As the soldier's will is so suspended that he becomes in everything the agent of his officer's will, so is the will of the citizen in all transactions, private and public, overruled by that of the government. The cooperation by which the life of the militant society is maintained is compulsory cooperation . . . just as in the individual organism the outer organs are completely subject to the chief nervous center.

The industrial type of society, in contrast, is based on voluntary cooperation and individual self-restrain. It is

characterized throughout by the same individual freedom which every commercial transaction implies. The cooperation by which the multiform activities of the society are carried on becomes a voluntary cooperation. And while the developed sustaining system which give to a social organism the industrial type acquires for itself, like the developed sustaining system of an animal, a regulating apparatus of a diffused and uncentralized kind, it tends also to decentralize the primary regulating apparatus by making it derive from numerous classes its disputed powers.

Spencer stressed that the degree of societal complexity is independent of the militant-industrial dichotomy. Relatively undifferentiated societies may be "industrial" in Spencer's sense (not in today's usage of "industrial society"), and modern complex societies may be militant. What determines whether a society is militant or industrial is not the level of complexity but rather the presence or absence of conflict with the outside.

The Contrast Between Militant and Industrial Societies
Characteristic Militant Society Industrial Society
Dominant function or activity Corporate defensive and offensive activity for preservation and aggrandizement Peaceful, mutual rendering of individual services
Principle of social coordination Compulsory cooperation; regimentation by enforcement of orders; both positive and negative regulation of activity Voluntary cooperation; regulation by contract and principles of justice; only negative regulation of activity
Relations between state and individual Individuals exist for benefit of state; restraints on liberty, property, and mobility State exists for benefit of individuals; freedom; few restraints on property and mobility
Relations between state and other organizations All organizations public; private organizations excluded Private organizations encourage
Structure of state Centralized Decentralized
Structure of social stratification Fixity of rank, occupation, and locality; inheritance of positions Plasticity and openness of rank, occupation, and locality; movement between positions
Type of economic activity Economic autonomy and self-sufficiency; little external trade; protectionism Loss of economic autonomy; interdependence via peaceful trade; free trade
Valued social and personal characteristics Patriotism; courage; reverence; loyalty; obedience; faith in authority; discipline Independence; respect for others; resistance to coercion; individual initiative; truthfulness; kindness

While the classification of societies in terms of increasing evolutionary complexity gave Spencer's system an optimistic cast--where he later used the term evolution, he earlier spoke of progress--the militant-industrial classification led him to less sanguine views of the future of mankind. Writing toward the turn of the century, he stated:

If we contrast the period from 1815 to 1850 with the period from 1850 to the present time, we cannot fail to see that all along with increased armaments, more frequent conflicts, and revived military sentiment, there has been a spread of compulsory regulations. . . . The freedom of individuals has been in many ways actually diminished . . . . And undeniably this is a return towards the coercive discipline which pervades the whole social life where the militant type is pre-eminent.

Spencer was by no means, as he is often depicted, the unalloyed believer in continued unilinear progress. This becomes even more evident in his general scheme of evolution.

From Coser, 1977:93-94.