Review of Social Organization by Charles Horton Cooley

James Hayden Tufts

This book like its predecessor, Human Nature and the Social Order, is luminous in its thought, direct in method, simple in diction and style. As contrasted with the earlier work, which aimed " to see society as it exists in the social natures of man, "in the present work " the eye is focused on the enlargement and diversification of intercourse which I have called social organization, the individual, though visible, remaining slightly in the background."

Parts I. and II., on ' Primary Aspects of Organization ' and ' Communication' respectively, are perhaps intended for the general reader rather than for the student. They give a clear and orderly presentation of familiar material.

Part III., on ' The Democratic Mind,' and Part IV., on ' Social Classes,' are much more significant. They contain a fresh and first-hand study of conditions and tendencies. Part III. starts with the doctrine that " the central fact of history, from a psychological point of view, may be said to be the gradual enlargement of social consciousness and rational co-operation." The view sometimes expressed that in tribal life there is lack of self-assertion, and that personality of the individual is merged in family or clan, is declared to be ' without foundation ' when ' taken psychologically, 'although ' from the standpoint of organization there is much truth in this.' (This appears to the reviewer a failure to carry through consistently the author's own central position, that self and society are simply correlative aspects of one reality. If the organization treats clan or group as indivisibly responsible, is it conceivable that this corresponds to no psychological attitude? Or if religion is organized entirely as a family or tribal affair, does not this imply a necessary limitation in psychological self-assertion ? Of course some selves are asserted just as vigorously in savage life as in civilized life ; but the social organization in such cases gives corresponding freedom, as to the warrior, whom the author cites.) " That which most inwardly distinguishes modern life from ancient or mediaeval is the conscious power of the common people trying to effectuate their interests." The life of the group under modern conditions may express itself " on a level not merely of the

(419) average member but of the most competent, of the best." Increasing social consciousness is inimical only to the ' individuality of isolation,' not to the individuality which rests on choice. The masses " contribute sentiment and common sense which gives momentum and general direction to progress, and as regards particulars finds its way by a shrewd choice of leaders." This part closes with a thoughtful discussion of the present trend toward social idealism and brotherhood, on the one hand, and of the confusion in standards which favors selfishness and exploitation, on the other.

In Part IV., ' Social Classes,' we have an especially instructive discussion of the present stratification of society. In particular the advantages and disadvantages of ' open classes' as versus more fixed conditions are presented. Most Americans assume that a free opportunity to rise from one class to another — freedom of individual opportunity and career— is an unmixed blessing and in fact leaves little to be desired. But as Professor Cooley well says, " there is also a freedom of class, or of those individuals who have not the wish or power to depart from the sphere of life in which circumstance has placed them :" " not opportunity to get out of them (their groups) but to be something in them ; a chance for the teamster to have comfort, culture and good surroundings for himself and his family without ceasing to be a teamster."" That it is wrong to keep a man down who might rise is quite familiar, but that those who cannot rise or do not care to have also just claims, is almost a novel idea." "Now if the ablest men are constantly getting out of a given class the tendency is inevitably to weaken that class, to make it an easy prey, to render it less capable of getting a fair share in the goods of life. The main guaranty for freedom of this latter sort is some kind of class organization which shall resist the encroachment and neglect of which the weaker parties in society are in constant danger." It is further noted that an ' open ' class into which all the more ambitious and capable aspire to pass ultimately may be more stable than a fixed higher class, and that such a class exercises upon the ideals of those who hope to enter it, or of those professions which are brought into intimate relation with it, an influence altogether out of proportion to its size. Most of us exist in an " upper-class atmosphere and are so pervaded by it that it is not easy for us to understand or fairly judge the sentiment of the hand-working classes."

Parts V. on 'institutions' and VI. on ' Public Will ' are less satisfactory. They do not give such intensive analysis and hence in many cases hardly present more than the surface and obvious reflec-

( 420) -tions, but they serve a purpose for the general reader in rounding out a survey of social structure.

J. H. T.


No notes

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