Social order

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The state hierarchy of the Holy Roman Empire, 15th c.

The term social order can be used in two senses. In the first sense, it refers to a particular set or system of linked social structures, institutions, relations, customs, values and practices, which conserve, maintain and enforce certain patterns of relating and behaving.


  • Big industry, and the limitless expansion of production which it makes possible, bring within the range of feasibility a social order in which so much is produced that every member of society will be in a position to exercise and develop all his powers and faculties in complete freedom. It thus appears that the very qualities of big industry which, in our present-day society, produce misery and crises are those which, in a different form of society, will abolish this misery and these catastrophic depressions.
    We see with the greatest clarity: (i) That all these evils are from now on to be ascribed solely to a social order which no longer corresponds to the requirements of the real situation; and (ii) That it is possible, through a new social order, to do away with these evils altogether.
  • The abolition of private property is, doubtless, the shortest and most significant way to characterize the revolution in the whole social order which has been made necessary by the development of industry – and for this reason it is rightly advanced by communists as their main demand.
  • Every change in the social order, every revolution in property relations, is the necessary consequence of the creation of new forces of production which no longer fit into the old property relations. Private property has not always existed. When, towards the end of the Middle Ages, there arose a new mode of production which could not be carried on under the then existing feudal and guild forms of property, this manufacture, which had outgrown the old property relations, created a new property form, private property. And for manufacture and the earliest stage of development of big industry, private property was the only possible property form; the social order based on it was the only possible social order.
  • The criterion of mental health is not one of individual adjustment to a given social order, but a universal one, valid for all men, of giving a satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence.
  • The stereotyped style of cultic representations was well known as early as the Neolithic age, but the stiffly ceremonial forms of courtly art are absolutely new and come into prominence here for the first time in the history of human culture. They reflect the rule of a higher, superindividual social order, of a world which owes its greatness and splendour to the favour of the king. They are anti-individualistic, static and conventional... All the good things and the charms of life are connected, for the privileged members of this society, with their separation from the other classes, and all the maxims which they follow assume more or less the character of rules of decorum and etiquette. This decorum and etiquette, the whole self-stylization of the upper class, demand among other things that one does not allow oneself to be portrayed as one really is, but according to how one must appear to conform with certain hallowed conventions, remote from reality and the present time. Etiquette is the highest law not merely for the ordinary mortal, but also for the king, and in the imagination of this society even the gods accept the forms of courtly ceremonial.
    • Arnold Hauser. The Social History of Art, Volume I. From Prehistoric Times to the Middle Ages, 1999
  • The great change which produced an order of society which became increasingly incomprehensible to man, and for the preservation of which he had to submit to learnt rules which were often contrary to his innate instincts, was the transition from the face-to-face society, or at least of groups consisting of known and recognizable members, to the open abstract society that was no longer held together by common concrete ends but only by the obedience to the same abstract rules.
  • A free society is as much a threat to the intellectual's sense of worth as an automated economy is to the workingman's sense of worth. Any social order that can function with a minimum of leadership will be anathema to the intellectual.
  • The intellectual craves a social order in which uncommon people perform uncommon tasks every day. He wants a society throbbing with dedication, reverence, and worship. He sees it as scandalous that the discoveries of science and the feats of heroes should have as their denouement the comfort and affluence of common folk. A social order run by and for the people is to him a mindless organism motivated by sheer physiologism.
  • Regarding social order, Fukuyama writes, "The systematic study of how order, and thus social capital, can emerge in spontaneous and decentralized fashion is one of the most important intellectual developments of the late twentieth century." He correctly attributes the modern origins of this argument to F.A. Hayek, whose pioneering contributions to cognitive science, the study of cultural evolution, and the dynamics of social change put him in the forefront of the most creative scholars of the 20th century. But Hayek's views about the "spontaneity" of social order remain controversial. In their extreme form, they imply that all deliberate efforts to manipulate social order — social engineering — are doomed to failure because the complex nature of our cultural heritage makes a complete understanding of the human condition impossible.
    Hayek was certainly correct that we have, at best, a very imperfect understanding of the human landscape, but "spontaneous" it is not. What distinguishes human evolution from the Darwinian model is the intentionality of the players. The mechanism of variation in evolutionary theory (mutation) is not informed by beliefs about eventual consequences. In contrast, human evolution is guided by the perceptions of the players; their choices (decisions) are made in the light of the theories the actors have, which provide expectations about outcomes.

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