Essentials of Social Psychology

Chapter 15: Social Change and Progress

Emory S. Bogardus

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1. Elements in Social Change. Groups like individuals rarely remain stationary—they are either retrograding or advancing. If they are generating energy, they are going forward evolutionarily or revolutionarily.

Too much social restraint produces a social crust and social stupefaction. If there be sufficient individual vitality and initiative, unrest will ensue, revolutions will foment, and the social crust will be broken. Hence, through revolutions with all the attendant suffering, loss of life, and chaos, the group may progress. If individual enterprise be too weak, and if the body politic be too flabby, then the crust will continue to increase in thickness until group life is smothered. On the other hand, if too little or too inadequate control be employed, the centrifugal forces will gain undue power, anarchistic and bolshevistic tendencies will increase, and social disintegration will likely follow.

There are two main forms of group change and progress—the slow and the rapid, the quiet and the disturbing, the natural and the abnormal, the evolutionary and the revolutionary. If the leaders possess common sense, patience, flexibility, and asocial vision,

(277) the natural and normal evolutionary method of growth will prevail. With an educated membership and socially wise leaders, revolutions are unnecessary.

While customs afford group continuity and constitute social heredity, they must not be permitted to impinge too much or to extend their authority beyond their usefulness. Customs must not be allowed to grow too many tentacles or to grip too hard. Although traditions are vital to group unity and progress, yet they may stifle the very spirit which gave them their original power. All similar tendencies must likewise be guarded against if evolutionary processes are to swing clear of obstacles.

An evolutionary society maintains and encourages the spirit of constructive criticism. Outworn ideas often become deeply cherished in human hearts or firmly entrenched behind brusque fortifications. If a group would grow steadily, it should maintain a welcome and a fair hearing for new ideas. It is human nature to accord grudgingly an open mind to new and disturbing ideas. It has been well said that one of the greatest pains in the world is the pain of a new idea, but it is to such ideas that evolutionary societies must grant hearings. History is full of painful new ideas which have been ultimately accepted. Note these

That the earth is round ;

That slavery should be abolished;

That women should vote;

That a League of Nations should be established;

That laboring men should organize;

That everybody should work.


Migration is a leading cause of gradual social change. When an individual moves from Iowa to California he leaves behind him much of the old furniture and accumulated bric-a-brac and some of the old traditions. From the moment of his arrival he is frequently "shocked." Former methods of acting are found to be out of place in the new environment. One by one and at tremendous mental cost changes are made. Five years later, newcomers from Iowa are astounded at the changes which have occurred in the lives of their former neighbors, who have been forced to respond to the call of new life-conditions. If people migrate in the early years of life, then the new elements in the adopted home region are acquired with alacrity.

Often the newcomers bring new ideas. Sometimes immigration will awaken a stagnant community. At any rate there is usually a wholesome interstimulation between immigrant and native which gives a new spirit to the one or the other, and thus to the entire community.

Imitation is essential to evolutionary change. As pointed out in an earlier chapter, no one imitates a copy exactly. In each imitation, modification occurs. These changes small in the particular are powerful and world moving in the aggregate. Again, imitation is the process by which new ideas and inventions spread from one individual to another, and from group to group.

Invention is normally a part of evolution. New ideas are the initial centers of change. From these centers the elements of progress normally pulsate and

(279) produce irregular but continual advances.

Revolutionary change comes only and belatedly when the methods of evolution fail. If provisions in a dynamic society are not made for group changes, then the suppressed forces will foment, and gathering momentum, will burst the bonds of undue suppression. Progress may ultimately result, but the cost of the explosion in terms of human suffering and social damage will be excessive.

Individuals in positions of group authority sometimes shortsightedly find it advantageous to make the group organization static. Then they encyst themselves in this organization, and having gormandized, they nšively rest—until the social explosion comes and the "top" of society is blown off. Then comes an upsetting of the social equilibrium, a period of chaos which does not end until a new social order is obtained. While such a revolution makes some gains, it produces disrespect for law and order and thus fosters new evils.

Whenever social institutions become inflexible, the forces of revolution begin to move. In dynamic groups there are four causes of revolution. (r) Intellectual stagnation at the top holds back a whole institution, even a nation, until the mentally suppressed but alert can gain control. Sometimes a military program fails because those at the head are incompetents. Individuals in authority often lack the mental vision to encompass the changes which are brought by a new era, but remain in power—until thrust aside. Preceding the French Revolution, an intellectual and privileged class developed a "rigid organism." In

(280) order to get into this crusted aristocracy, it was necessary for an individual to have sixteen noble ancestor. This rigidity was a leading cause of the social explosion which is generally called the French Revolution.

(?) Political autocracy caused the American Revolution. The American colonists protested time and again against the traditional rules of political unfairness ,vhich England had arbitrarily imposed. But King George would not heed, and hence the Revolution was inevitable.

(3) Economic oligarchy is often a powerful adjunct of political autocracy in causing revolutions. In Russia for centuries an economic oligarchical rule had become politically enthroned. The forces of discord gained sufficient strength to attempt a revolution in egos, but failed. Their shattered hopes were reorganized, and gaining momentum, completely upset the established rule of special privilege in 1917.

(4.) Religious cant and dogmatism have been the causal elements in one bitter church schism after another. Religious dogmatism has often ruled nations, especially where the church and state have been combined in authority. The church when in positions of state control has tended to become inflexible. Witness the work of the Spanish Inquisition. The conservatism of the Church of Rome produced Lutheranism; and of the Church of England, Puritanism and Wesleyanism.

In recent years in England whenever the agencies of revolt gain sufficient strength to threaten a serious disturbance of the government, a Lloyd George appears with concessions strong enough to satisfy temporarily

(281) the liberals and yet of such character that the conservatives begrudgingly grant them. The situation then runs somewhat smoothly until another social disturbance occurs. Thus England today is advancing by skillful adjustments between the forces of evolution and revolution, and proves again the dictum of Turgot that "well-timed reform alone averts revolution."

As a method of procedure, violence breeds violence. Revolution creates more revolution—and the end may be the destruction of the virtues of civilization as well as the evils. Revolutionists, as professionals, are prone to fatten on social evils, even when these maladjustments are not fundamental. Revolutionists, after overthrowing an old order, often prosper by living upon the economic fruits of a disinherited oligarchy. But the day comes when these confiscated gains are exhausted, and the revolutionists, having failed to build up a stable order, are in a state of mutual distrust and anarchy. Then, progress must be courted over and over again by the slow processes of evolution.

A group tends to exert the greatest pressure upon its most vigorous members—without always distinguishing between its benefactors and its enemies. It viciously crushes out its conscientious objectors without observing that nearly all these persons possess the very courage which makes any group strong. By fiendish methods of suppression the group sows the seeds of discontent and revolution.

a. A Theory of Social Progress. Throughout this book definite hints have been given from the viewpoint of social psychology of a theory of social prog-

(282) -ress. In these concluding pages this theory will be summarized and stated more exactly. Social progress is determined by the amount, quality, and methods of social control, and upon the extent, quality, and persistence of individual initiative, inventiveness, and leadership. It depends upon the kind and degree of encouragement and inspiration as well as of restraint which the group exercises over its members.

Social progress is the result of a constructive conflict between individual leadership and social control. These two factors are in constant interaction. Upon the basis of the cultural development of his day, the individual comes upon accidentally or after a carefully directed search finds or invents a new idea or method. The new mode must pass the test of social criticism. If its adoption means the rejection of traditional standards, then a conflict ensues. The new is championed by enthusiastic leaders; the old, likewise, is championed by chivalrous defenders. The conflict may be long drawn out, as in the case of the fight over prohibition; or it may be short and swift, as in the debate in our Congress over conscription.

If the proposed activity is genuinely superior to the established procedure, and if the group is characterized by a fair degree of flexibility, then the new will win its way to general acceptance. Upon the basis of this new cultural advance, still better ideas and methods will be discovered and invented, and the process described in the preceding paragraph will be repeated. Thus, the individual initiates, invents, and leads; and the group adopts and supports.

Conflict is a disturbing but necessary element both in

(283) individual and in group progress. It is conflict which awakens individuals and makes them active. Conflict gives zest to life, drives away ennui, and prompts the creative expressions of personality.

Conflict must not occur between social forces that are markedly unequal, lest the weaker be destroyed and the stronger grow flabby through lack of strenuous competition. To be most advantageous, conflict must occur between nearly equal forces. Conflict should not be suppressed altogether, but socially controlled—upon the grounds of relative equality and of social productivity.

Conflict must be held within the bounds of social rules or else it will inevitably and quickly descend to the levels of prejudice and brutality. Social regulations must keep conflict upon productive planes and raise it from level to level—physical, mental, spiritual, in order.

Within groups, conflicts must be kept alive between the official and the unofficial forces. Private associations must be free to compete with the public, or governmental organizations. The political party in power needs continuously to face the honest criticism of parties not in power. Governmental and private ownership of economic enterprise are both essential. Neither in itself alone contains all the elements of sustained progress. One works for the public interest and the other fosters private initiative. But with all the economic resources owned and operated by the government a powerful class control would result and individual initiative would decrease. With all economic resources owned by a few gigantic interlocking

(284) monopolies, the government would be shackled economically and public welfare would be rendered subservient to the caprices of the privileged few. Under either set of circumstances group retrogression would sooner or later take place. The dual existence of public and private economic organizations must be maintained. Neither complete socialism nor complete individualism alone will guarantee progress; neither by itself allows for that degree of conflict and widespread stimulation which is essential to prolonged group advancement.

In all fields of human endeavor private association are needed to experiment with new ideas, to initiate new movements, and to prod up the public agents, keeping them upon levels of efficiency. The public, or official, organizations are needed to represent all factions and to carry forward activities which all agree upon. The competition between these two types of social structures will be widely beneficial and mutually helpful if socially harnessed and directed.

In a similar way the progress of the world depends upon a balanced co-operation between large, or national units, and the international group, or mankind. Any world order is clearly unstable that rests upon fifty sovereign groups, each deciding what is right, honorable, and just for the other forty-nine, and each regulated in its actions by no inclusive authority. The nature of human progress during the past millennium indicates the need for a set of generally accepted planetary values, a thriving world opinion, an organization of the friendship of the world, and a smoothly functioning League of Nations. A telic program

(285) along democratic lines for world harmony, justice, and progress is imperative. If it is necessary and wise to form judicious plans for the individual, the industrial corporation, the church, the nation-state, how much greater is the need and the wisdom of consciously making provision for world progress?

National conflicts must not continue upon the destructive levels of physical combat, secret alliances, balances of power, competitive consumption, but upon the slowly ascending inclines of productive competition and social benefit. The national units must each give a portion of its power to a world-inclusive organization, which shall make the rules for all conflicts and competitions. Each shall then play according to the rules of the world society and within the bounds determined by economically productive and socially meritorious standards.

Any group of individuals must determine, if it would wisely progress, the direction which its development may best take. It must decide upon the types of control it shall use for different individual members. It must stress positive control, putting liberal premiums upon individual initiative, new ideas, methods, and inventions along its chosen paths of development. The highest lines of telic advance for any group lie in the direction of world-wide human welfare.

Such a trend involves the rise of "sociocratic" thinking, according to which all processes, even the most intellectual, must be subordinated to the socialized needs of human beings. Sociocratic thinking results in a willingness to recognize and encourage ability wherever found—under any color of skin or on any

(286) social level. Sociocratic thinking leads to active democracy. Sociocratic thinking and acting produce rich and well-balanced personalities.


1. Are the needs of the individual always in line with group advancement?

2. Are the needs of the nation always in the direction of world progress?

3. Explain: "When everybody thinks alike, nobody thinks at all."

4. Why is it unwise to be either an "individualist" or a "socialist" in matters involving human progress ?

5. Does life in the United States today stifle one's opportunities for believing and judging, and increase one's opportunities for doing and enjoying?

6. Illustrate natural social progress.

7. Illustrate telic social progress.

8. What is the chief cause of social revolution?

9. What is the greatest danger in revolution?

10. What is the main advantage of social evolution?


Bogardus, E. S., Introduction to Sociology, Ch. XVI.

Bosanquet, Helen, "The Psychology of Social Progress," Intern. Jour. of Ethics, VII: 265-81.


Dewe, J. A., Psychology of Politics and History, Ch. I.

Dewey, John, "Progress," Intern. Jour. of Ethics, 26: iii-az.

Drummond, Henry, The Ascent of Man.

Ellwood, C. A., An Introduction to Social Psychology, Chs. IV, VIII, XIII.

Giddings, F. H., Democracy and Empire, Ch. V.

Hayes, E. C., Introduction to the Study of Sociology, Part III.

Keller, A. G., Societal Evolution.

Kelsey, Carl, The Physical Basis of Society, Ch. XI.

Kidd, Benjamin, Social Evolution.

MacIver, R. M., Community, Bk. III.

Patrick G. T. W., "The Psychology of Social Reconstruction," Scientific Mon., 6:496-508.

Tarde, Gabriel, Social Laws, Ch. III.

Urwick, E. J., A Philosophy of Social Progress, Chs. IX, X.

Ward, L. F., Dynamic Sociology, Vol. II, Ch. X.
——, Pure Sociology, Ch. XX.

Yarros V. S., "Human Progress; The Idea and the Reality," Amen Jour. of Sociol., XXI: 15-29.


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