and "Social Darwinism"
Some short takes:
In contrast to Comte, Spencer's evolutionary scheme begins
with material conditions rather than ideas. . . Like Comte, Spencer is
greatly underestimated by many contemporary sociologists. . . .I particularly
like Spencer's insights on the growth of administration as a consequence
of the increasing division of labor, and the centralization of authority
when the system is threatened. . . . His evolutionary theory (which was
not merely derived from Darwin) is very subtle, it is not unilinear as
many critics claim. . . .Spencer advocated functional analysis as well
as an evolutionary focus. . . .You do not have to subscribe to his political
position of "non-interventionism" to appreciate his social analysis.
In his own words:
"What is Comte's professed aim? To give a coherent
account of the progress of human conceptions. What is my aim?
To give a coherent account of the progress of the external world.
Comte proposes to describe the necessary and the actual, filiation of ideas.
I propose to describe the necessary, and the actual, filiation of things.
Comte professes to interpret the genesis of our knowledge of nature.
My aim is to interpret . . . the genesis of the phenomena which constitute
nature. The one is subjective. The other is objective"
"The average opinion in every age and country is a function
of the social structure in that age and country" (1891, p. 390).
"There can be no complete acceptance of sociology as a
science, so long as the belief in a social order not conforming to natural
law survives" (1891, p. 394).
On the division of labor:
"While rudimentary, a society is all warrior, all hunter,
all hut-builder, all tool-maker: every part fulfills for itself all
needs" (1967, pp. 4-5).
"As [society] grows, its parts become unlike: it
exhibits increase of structure. The unlike parts simultaneously assume
activities of unlike kinds. These activities are not simply different,
but the differences are so related as to make one another possible.
The reciprocal aid thus given causes mutual dependence of the parts.
And the mutually dependent parts, living by and for another, form an aggregate
constituted on the same general principle as is an individual organism"
(1967, p. 8).
"At first the unlikeness among its groups of units is
inconspicuous in number and degree, but as population augments, divisions
and subdivisions become more numerous and more decided" (1967, p.
"This division of labor, first dwelt on by political economists
as a social phenomenon, and thereupon recognized by biologists as a phenomenon
of living bodies, which they called the 'physiological division of labor,'
is that which in the society, as in the animal, makes it a living whole"
(1967, p. 5).
"The consensus of functions becomes closer as evolution
advances. In low aggregates, both individual and social, the actions
of the parts are but little dependent on one another, whereas in developed
aggregates of both kinds that combination of actions which constitutes
the life of the whole makes possible the component actions which constitutes
the lives of the parts" (1967, p. 25).
"...where parts are little differentiated they can readily
perform one another's functions, but where much differentiated they can
perform one another's functions very imperfectly on not at all" (1967,
"It inevitably happens that in the body politic, as in
the living body, there arises a regulating system . . . .As compound aggregates
are formed . . .there arise supreme regulating centers and subordinate
ones and the supreme centers begin to enlarge and complicate" (1967, p.
On social evolution:
"The change from the homogenous to the heterogeneous is
displayed in the progress of civilization as a whole, as well as in the
progress of every nation; and it is still going on with increasing rapidity"
(1892, vol. I, p. 19).
"We must recognize the truth that the struggles for existence
between societies have been instrumental to their evolution" (1896,
vol 2, p. 241).
"Though taking the entire assemblage of societies, evolution
may be held inevitable . . . yet it cannot be held inevitable in each particular
society, or even probable" (1896, vol. I, p. 96).
"While the current degradation theory is untenable, the
theory of progression, in its ordinary form, seems to me untenable also.
. . .It is possible and, I believe, probable, that retrogression has been
as frequent as progression" (1896, vol. I, p. 95).
A social organism, like an individual organism, undergoes
modifications until it comes into equilibrium with environing conditions;
and thereupon continues without further change of structure" (1896,
vol. I, p. 96).
"Like other kinds of progress, social progress is not
linear but divergent and re-divergent. . . . While spreading over the earth
mankind have found environments of various characters, and in each case
the social life fallen into, partly determined by the social life previously
led, has been partly determined by the influences of the new environment;
so that the multiplying groups have tended ever to acquire differences,
now major and now minor: there have arisen genera and species of
societies" (1896, vol. III, p. 331).
"To understand how an organization originated and developed,
it is requisite to understand the need subserved at the outset and afterwards"
(1896, vol III, p. 3).
"That what, relative to our thoughts and sentiments, were
arrangements of extreme badness had fitness to conditions which made better
arrangements impracticable" (1891, p. 339).
Instead of passing over as of no account or else regarding
as purely mischievous, the superstitions of primitive man, we must inquire
what part they play in social evolution" (1891, p. 339).
"In no other case has the inquirer to investigate the
properties of an aggregate in which he is himself included. . . . Here,
then, is a difficulty to which no other science presents anything analogous.
To cut himself short from all his relationships of race, and country, and
citizenship--to rid himself of all those interests, prejudices, likings,
superstitions generated in him by the life of his own society and his own
time--to look at all the changes societies have undergone and are undergoing,
without reference to nationality, or creed, or personal welfare, is what
the average man cannot do at all, and what the exceptional man can do very
imperfectly" (1891, p. 74).
"The well-being of existing humanity and the unfolding
of it into this ultimate perfection are both secured by that same beneficent,
though severe, discipline to which animate creation at large is subject:
a discipline which is pitiless in the working out of good: a felicity-pursuing
law which never swerves for the avoidance of partial and temporary suffering.
the poverty of the incapable, the distresses that come upon the imprudent,
the starvation of the idle, and those shoulderings aside of the weak by
the strong, which leaves so many 'in shallows and in miseries,' are the
decrees of a large, far-seeing benevolence" (1850/1954, pp. 288-289)
"For a government to take from a citizen more property
than is needful for the efficient defense of that citizen's rights is to
infringe his rights" (1850/1954, p. 333).
Spencer, Herbert. 1904. An Autobiography,
2 vols. New York: Appleton.
Spencer, Herbert. 1891. The Study of Sociology.
New York: Appleton.
Spencer, Herbert. 1967. The Evolution of
Society: Selections from Herbert Spencer's Principles of Sociology.
(edited by Robert Carneiro). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Spencer, Herbert. 1892. Essays, Scientific,
Political and Speculative, 2 vols., New York: Appleton.
Spencer, Herbert. 1896. The Principles
of Sociology, 3 vols., New York: Appleton.
Spencer, Herbert. 1850 (1954). Social Statics.
New York: robert Schalkenbach Foundation.
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