Chapter 6 (pt.2)


The Dynamics of Dependence: Authority and Sociation

Much of what we are attempting to analyze through the consideration of the factors of dependence has been approached by previous sociological writers under the rubric of integration. Unfortunately, however, too many writers, especially within the functionalist school (or more accurately, label) have taken integration as a postulated condition of any and every society. Malinowski was perhaps the most extreme in this when he argued that integration was not only the 'function' of every factor in social life, but also that all such factors therefore necessarily worked indirectly "for the biological and mental welfare of each individual member" (1926, p. 135). Malinowski was only the most extreme and by no means the last, however, to make an assumption not a variable out of integration. Even later functionalist studies of social change which attempt to produce explanations of changing modes and different levels of integration are likely to take an overall, effective and uniform drive for integration as a postulate (cf. Smelser, 1959). Smelser's 'empty box' theory of social change is a particularly negative example. In general, functionalist sociology was careful, especially in the person of Parsons, to at least couch such assumptions in tentative terms (though they became less so with time). Merton's critique of such thinking, unfortunately, still retains a great deal of relevance as well as cogency:

It seems reasonably clear that the notion of functional unit is not a postulate beyond the reach of empirical test; quite the contrary. The degree of integration is an empirical variable, changing for the same society from time to time and differing among various societies. (1957, pp. 26-27)

As Merton mentions in a footnote to the above passage, "It is the merit of Sorokin's early review of theories of social integration that he did not lose sight of this important fact" (op. cit.; cf. Sorokin, 1936).

In his great work Social and Cultural Dynamics (published originally in 1937-41, before Parsonian functionalism was off the ground) Sorokin offers a penetrating discussion of the problem of integration as the starting point of his analysis of the history and organization of cultures (1957, pp. 2-19). He distinguishes four "main forms of the integration of culture elements": "spatial or mechanical adjacency (congeries)", "indirect association through a common external factor", "casual or functional integration", and "logico-meaningful integration". His chief diagnostic criteria' of the functional relationship between parts are

the tangible, noticeable, testifiable, direct interdependence (mutual or one-sided) of the variables or parts upon one another and upon the whole system. (1957, pp. 5-6)

The test in practice is whether the elimination or alteration of one of the elements of the cultural synthesis perceptibly influences the rest of the synthesis and whether the separate element can be transposed to another combination without either ceasing to exist or undergoing a profound modification (p. 6). Sorokin saw the variability of functional integration as quite obvious:

There is no need to stress the fact that the degree of functional unity or functional interdependence is everywhere not the same : it fluctuates from unity to unity; in some cases it is exceedingly close, in others looser, until finally it imperceptibly passes into either a mere external unity or eve a mere spatial adjacency. (1957, p. 7, original emphasis)

Further, Sorokin emphasizes that "not all the components of any culture are linked together casually, but only a part of them". There are, in addition always elements linked together spatially or by external factors. There are also the unities with which Sorokin is most interested, the 'logico-meaningful' unities.

Here the ordering factor is not their functional interdependence but their consistency in terms of some underlying idea. Sorokin points out that logico-meaningful integration presupposes the 'inner' activity of persons, and this refers, I think, to both the persons observing and the persons producing the unity. The unity is thus present in the external phenomena of a system of culture only as these are manifestations of its internal integration (cf. 1957, p. 20). It is this productive aspect of logico-meaningful integration which is so important to Sorokin and which Biersted totally misses in his very weak attempt at a critique of Sorokin when he says:

Not cultures, but only what we say about them can be logically integrated. (1974, p. 296)

The problem is, in fact, that the assessment of logico-meaningful integration may not itself be susceptible to complete logical rigour or formal statement. In any event, it is not this with which we are primarily concerned here. Sorokin's discussion leads him to two propositions: that all cultural conglomerations can be ranged on the same scale in which we listed the types above, and that although some spatial adjacency and external unification seem nearly always present, the same is not true of the functional and logical forms of synthesis. On the basis of these propositions Sorokin suggests that two widely accepted theoretical assumptions (or theories) are seen to be fallacious. These are:

(1) That every culture is an integrated unity . . .

(2) That any change in any componant of a given cultural configuration functionally or logically affects all the other components and therefore the whole of the given culture. (1957, p. 17)

Both of these should lead to the introduction of important variables, not to categorical statements. Both are also, but only partially, implicated in our present discussion of the factors of dependence. Firstly, we are considering more directly -- and specifically -- social, not cultural configurations. Secondly, the dependency of which we are speaking is closest to Sorokin's functional or casual integration but it is not that exactly. It differs primarily in its definition of the units of social organization. We do not consider all the various componants with which Sorokin is concerned, but rather only corporations, relations, social individuals an the principles which organize them formally. We also shift emphasis to the extent of social variability and the number of options presented to social actors as key aspects of the extent of social dependency.

This review of Sorokin's categories has been necessary because of the close relation of our own approach to his, particularly on a general level. We shall now proceed to look at some of the theoretical background of each of the major variables of social order which will enter into our model in Chapter 8. Just as on the general level our approach was seen to be related to discussions of integration, so here our specific variables of 'incorporation' or dependency will evidently draw much from earlier treatments of 'intermediate associations' and social theories of authority. We shall be unable to treat any single theoretical position in depth here, but must limit our discussion to an explication of each of our variables and the way it fits into earlier work. We shall discuss a number of often broader conceptions or sets of conceptions, identifying our variables as we go along.

Authority: Authority refers to recognized a priori right to determine the nature and outcome of social situations. It is of interest primarily in its source, vesture, range and extent. In other words, we are concerned with the way in which authority is established, who wields it and how, the group of common subjects which it defines and the extent to (or intensity with) which its right obtains. Thus among the Tallensi authority is traditional, vested in ancestors, and wielded when these are dead through divination and through devolution onto living fathers and elders; all descendants are subject to their ancestor's authority, and it is complete in the case of dead ancestors. In particular it should be noted that this usage puts three matters in the forefront of discussion: the existence and acceptance of traditional authority, the ways in which authority vested in ancestors can be manifested in the world of social action, and the way in which subjection to common authority defines a group, including the common responsibility of the members of that group. Before treating each of these issues, a brief elaboration of what is meant by authority is needed.

In referring to authority as 'right' I distinguish it from power, which latter is a matter of force. Where the operation of power is seen in its effects, authority exists in its recognition, not in the direct successes of those in whom it is vested. Authority always deserves obedience, whether or not it receives it; power is always obeyed, whether or not it has right behind it. Power may thus be as capricious as the actor that wields it and may move quickly among actors. Authority is essentially collective and consistent in nature (although the capricious vicissitudes of life may be explained by actors through reference to a figure of authority). This is an important distinction made by Hegel, although he used it in a less justified political philosophy:

If inclination, caprice, and the sentiments of the heart are set up in opposition to positive right and the laws, philosophy at least cannot recognize authorities of that sort. that force and tyranny may be an element in law is accidental to law and has nothing to do with its nature. (1812, p. 16)

Authority and group solidarity are the key concepts treated in this cluster of factors tending towards dependence. Power and mass alienation will take a similar place in considering those factors tending toward independence.

As Nisbet has observed, the modern concept of authority (and distinction between authority and power) came into prominence in the late 18th and 19th centuries in reflections on the French and industrial revolutions (1966, pp. 107-73). Authority was not only a catch word in the conservative defense of the old aristocratic powers (as in Comte's later work) but was in general counterposed to anarchy. It referred not simply to the rule of people directly and materially, but to the extent of extra-personal determination of their thoughts, beliefs, sentiments and actions. Authority meant that society would be predictable, for each would not turn wholly unto himself to make rationalistic decisions, especially those motivated by short-term self-interest. Thus Toqueville, in a consideration of the effect of democracy on kindred, opposes the relation of father and son under traditional authority to its counterpart (or lack thereof) in a situation of individual rationalism:

When men live more for the remembrance of what has been than for the care of what is, and when they are more given to attend to what their ancestors thought than to think themselves, the father is the natural and necessary tie between the past and the present . . . When the condition of society becomes democratic, and men adopt as their general principle that it is good and lawful to judge of all things for oneself, using former points of belief not as a rule of faith but simply as a means of information, the power which the opinions of a father exercise over those of his sons diminishes as well as his legal power. (1840, p. 232)

This is a profound passage. It reveals Toqueville's ambivalence toward democracy -- his scorn for this unthinkingly attached to the old order combined with his worry over the illiberal tendencies of the undifferentiated mass. The loss of the social tie to the past which the relation of son to father manifested led to the more general loss of social stability.

Durkheim saw some of the same tendencies reflected in the weakening of the influence of religion with the growth of egoism. The authority of religion is inextricably linked to its ability to 'socialize', that is, to collectively determine the individual natures of its members. Religious institutions can only protect us from egoistic suicide, thus,

insofar as we are socialized; but religions can socialize us only insofar as they refuse us the right of free examination. They no longer have, and probably never will have again, enough authority to wring such a sacrifice from us. (1897, p. 376)

We may question Durkheim's assessment of the extent and permanence of the destruction which the processes of rationalization brought to religion, but the central point is clear. Authority requires unquestioned acceptance. Even a bureaucracy must founder if authority is constantly questioned and changing (cf. Weber, 1921, p. 196). We thus see that a key variable in any consideration of authority must be social stability. The two are not identical, but they reciprocally influence each other. Stability allows for greater extent, range and duration of authority under certain circumstances (although not always) and authority tends to produce stability (see Chapter 8). This relationship is strongest for traditional authority (as opposed to, say, the authority of an ideological principal or a charismatic leader in a jihad).

We have not the space to look further at authority in general or at specific types other than traditional authority. It may be taken, at least as an hypothesis, that much of the present argument could be extended to deal with other manifestations of authority. This would then become a complex variable, with its extent a compound of a number of somewhat discrete dimensions. Thus, duration and stability have more direct effect in determining the extent of traditional authority than they do charismatic authority. The overall variable cannot be effectively considered without some differentiation and accounting for the specific conjunctions of the multiple dimensions. Again, here we take traditional authority both as specific interest and paradigmatic case.

One conception of traditional authority which has been widely influential in social theory despite being largely incorrect in empirical reference is Weber's:

Domination that rests upon this basis,that is, upon piety for what actually, allegedly, or presumably has always existed, will be called 'traditionalist authority.' Patriarchalism is by far the most important type of domination the legitimacy of which rests upon tradition . . . It is a characteristic of patriarchal and patrimonial authority, which represents a variety of the former, that the system of inviolable norms is considered sacred; an infraction of them would result in magical or religious evils. (1915, p. 296)

Weber goes on to assert that this is accompanied by arbitrariness of rule and argues that "traditional authority is irrational". In fact, traditional authority leads to narrowly limited personal power. One reason for this error is that Weber's consideration is based primarily on the dying remains of European feudalism, hardly the archetype (or a very close approximation to any 'ideal type') of traditional authority. His assertions clearly do not apply to the Tallensi, precisely because authority among them is more traditional in basis than that in early 18th century Europe -- France, let's say. As the 19th century conservatives and numerous others have pointed out, however, even 'absolute monarchy' is seldom so absolute as it sounds, being rather highly constricted by the plurality of authority in feudal and aristocratic systems and the force of the church (cf. Comte, 1896, II, p. 161; Hegel, 1821, p. 292; Toqueville, 1840, p. 358-60). Weber's approach to traditional authority is shaped by his dominant concern with patterns of authority becoming apparent in the 'modern' world and his tendency to characterize other types in terms of their specific contrasts with this 'rational-legal' authority (cf. Parsons, 1947, p. 51). One of the characteristics of rational-legal authority which Weber is most concerned to develop is its impersonality. He thus tends to overemphasize the extent to which traditional authority is related to individual persons wielding arbitrary power (and indeed overestimates the connection between traditional and charismatic forms of authority. The latter is much more likely to develop as a counterpart -- and contemporary -- to rationalization or other upheavals than to tradition.) In fact, the issue of impersonality as applied to traditional authority is complex.

As Fortes points out, the authority of parents and ancestors is not as much a matter of their personal characteristics as of their purely formal status as parents of living offspring.

Ancestorhood is conferred on persons of the parental generation who have jural authority in living social relations, not on those who imprint their personalities on their offspring by virtue of their part in bringing them up. (Fortes, 1965a, p. 130; see also Chapter 3)

The relations of offspring to ancestors (and parents) then are obligatory, not simply a matter of the enforcement of the super-ordinate or the choice of the subordinate. In this sense, the Tale situation may be seen to fall within Weber's essential definition of 'legal' authority.

The following characteristic must be considered decisive for our terminology . . . submission under legal authority is based upon an impersonal bond to the generally defined and functional 'duty of office'. (Weber, 1915, p. 299)

The idealization of ancestors contributes even further to this fit (see Chapter 9). On the other hand, moral values are not matters of abstract principles but of specific relationships among the Tallensi. In this they are similar not to Weber's vision of impersonalized authority in rationalized society, but to, for example, Toqueville's notion of the operation of morality in European feudal society (in Nisbet's paraphrase):

In feudal times moral values had an immediacy and a clarity in day to day life that were the result of the concreteness and relative stability of the human relationships within which they were set. (1966, p. 282)

Toqueville was concerned to establish this characteristic of feudal society particularly in opposition and contrast to his observations of American democracy:

This can never be the case in America, where all men are in constant motion and where society, transformed daily by its own operations, changes its opinions together with its wants. (1840, p. 285)


The Dynamics of Dependence - Authority - The Dynamics of Independence

Previous chapter - Return to Contents - Next chapter- Return to Ancestors Page- Go to The Virtual Institute of Mambila Studies -online