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Volume 3

Expanded Contents


1. Introduction and Summary
2. Aggression and the Conflict Helix
3. Frustration, Deprivation, Aggression, and the Conflict Helix
4. Misperception, Cognitive Dissonance, Righteousness, and Conflict
5. Marxism, Class Conflict, and the Conflict Helix
6. Same and Other; Similarity and Difference
7. Cross-Pressures, Overpopulation, Anomie, and Conflict
8. Conflict as a Process and the Conflict Helix
9. Opposition, Determinism, Inevitability, and Conflict

Other Volumes

Vol. 1: The Dynamic Psychological Field
Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix
Vol. 4: War, Power, Peace
Vol. 5: The Just Peace

Other Related Work

Conflict And Violence page

Democratic Peace page


Chapter 10

Intentional Humanism*

By R.J. Rummel

Man is his own chief product.
---- Eisenberg, 1973

Intentional humanism (Part VII of The Dynamic Psychological Field) is the belief that we are free to create our future and are responsible for our past and present. We intentionally direct our behavior toward a future goal and can freely alter goals and associated behavior. Moreover, it is the belief that our ideas and knowledge constitute perspectives on reality that are a dynamic balance between our powers and those of reality. We intentionally alter this perspective consistent with facts and morality, and we can choose a view of humanity and social reality that emphasizes our creativity, freedom, and responsibility. What, then, is the relationship between intentional humanism and the conflict helix?

The helix is a perspective on society and conflict, a way of looking at humanity. It is the sociological plane of intentional humanism, as the dynamic psychological field is its psychological plane.

Consider these elements of the helix. First, social relations involve subjective meanings, values, norms, perceptions, and interests. The unique psychological universe of the individual is the point of departure. Objective conditions or forces have social significance and importance only as we give them meaning in dynamic balance with our powers. Reality, social or otherwise, must inform each individual's perspective. We are a dynamic, active, creative element in nature and society.

Second, our powers have many forms. Some, such as identive power, we shares with all other beings, whereas coercive and intellectual powers are peculiar to intentionally guided rational and moral creatures. Power in its social form is intentional, teleological, goal oriented. The dynamic element in our interaction with others is our means for asserting our individuality, our unique being.

Third, as a universe unto ourselves we have interests (wants, desires, goals) that confront the powers of nature and the interests of others. The limits and strengths of these external powers and interests can be gauged only through direct confrontation and balancing. We thrust ourselves outward, and only by the external barriers and counterforces we meet, defeat, and are defeated by do we realize our own limits, abilities, and wants. Life is a balance of powers that each of us achieves alone. In this sense, each of us is responsible for the life we lead.

Fourth, the harmony, peace, cooperation, and solidary interaction we achieve with each other are the result of our mutual and dialectical balancing of powers. They are the result of a field process, of conflict, of a working out of norms, rules, implicit understandings, agreements, and the like, the consequence of each our powers being limited by that of others.

Fifth, no one can decide what the point of balance should be for another. Each of us knows only our own interests; those of others are traces they leave on the phenomenal level and that we only can perceive subjectively. We never really know what another believes, thinks, and wants. We relate to other selves only through their assertion of interests, their projection of their powers in opposition to our own. Thus to decide abstractly what another's real interests are in lieu of his asserting them is to make a stab in the dark.

Finally, antifields result from certain goals that require us to behave in concert. Certain tasks require organization. Where the balancing among individuals is severely curtailed by a coercive organization encompassing society, such as the state, and where state coercion is correlated with the who gets what across social groupings, a class front develops. Society is fractionated across one cleavage, and intense violence is likely. The best way to minimize intense conflict is to enable a diversity of organizations to develop, presenting maximal opportunity for individuals to exchange and alternate authoritative roles.

What conclusions are consistent with this view of humanity as free, creative, responsible, and teleological?

  • Freedom is among the highest values. Only each of us can decide for ourselves what our interests are, and the costs to, or ethical constraints on, our of gratifying them. We must be maximally free to decide these issues alone and to balance these against nature and others. The structure of expectations resolved through personal interests and calculations is the one most consistent with personal satisfaction and desires.
  • Maximal freedom will minimize violence and extreme conflict. If people are free to decide their own lives in confrontation with nature and others, maximum diversity is promoted. Diversity of groups, of structures of expectations, of balances, of behavior, crosscuts society with multiple alliances, contracts, factions, and conflicts. Society is then truly sewn together by conflict. Moreover, class conflict is segmented, and crosscutting roles, norms, and balances assure that conflict will be drained off before the total society is engaged.
  • Maximal freedom will check and balance the aggrandizement of coercive power. A weakness in libertarian, anarchist, antistate, or Marxist literature1 is the lack of appreciation of Michels' iron law of oligarchy (1949), Acton's principles (1967), and de Jouvenal's historical conclusions about power (1962). All organizations tend to oligarchic power (the right and sanctions of command by an elite); all such power tends to aggrandize itself; all such power will grow unless checked by counterpower; and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

We are not good. Nor are we evil. We are simply concerned with own interests and achieving our own goals. These interests and goals can be egoistic, to be sure. But they can also be fraternal, altruistic, and selfless. Too many people have sacrificed personal gain, comfort, and even their lives for the betterment of others to permit one to assert selfishness as a rule. But one person's altruism may be another's prison.

Nonetheless, in a diverse, noncoercively organized society, some will certainly try to assert their desires and ethics over others--that is, to jockey for greater and greater power. A large organization or a government with minimal caretaker functions could increase its power until the diverse elements in society were constrained and partitioned into harmless patches of social fields. The growth of coercive government power in the United States and Great Britain exemplify this. In a society of maximum freedom, what is to prevent some from transforming a power base into a tyranny over all others?

Relevant here are the analyses of Montesquieu, Mosca, de Jouvenel, and others who have seen the absolute requirement for checks and balances. Coercive power checks coercive power. Aggrandizing power limits other aggrandizing powers. It is crucial, then, to equate power with its source. Power is not balanced by dividing it institutionally into a system of checks and balances, as in the United States, and then generating such power from the same source, voting majorities; nor by dividing government into legislative, judicial, and executive branches having separate powers but all appointed by a king. As Mosca so well saw, to check aggrandizing power, power balances must, be based on opposing social force. True opposing interests must be engaged.

The solution to maintaining diversity is inherent in freedom itself. If diversity is enabled to develop and individuals are free to strike their own balances, opposition based on differing, interests will curb aggrandizing power. Freedom and diversity are the best check against the growth of a power center. As in the economic world, where a monopoly cannot exist without coercive government support (von Mises, 1963), in a free society a monopoly of power could not develop. Each surge of power would provoke its opposition from different social interests.

The ultimate solution is decentralization. How can intentional humanism be implemented? The solution is not more government, but less; not centralization, but decentralization; not world government, but the reduction of state power; not planning, but individual spontaneity and responsibility; not coerced dependence, but balanced interdependence and autonomy. As Nock (1935) points out, our enemy is the state, whether the benevolent welfare state which regulates, legislates, and dictates in the service of some special interests, or the totalitarian state which terrorizes all, controls all, and murders tens of millions in the service of justice as defined by a handful.

This may be the appropriate point to end my third volume on our intentional field. But I would rather conclude on a note of intellectual perplexity. Most social scientists will be skeptical of my conflict helix perspective and its emphases on the balancing of powers.

But then what about the following perspective?

We have diverse views of reality and conceptions of truth. What we see is a function of the dialectical conflict between our perspective and the powers of reality to manifest specifics within our perspective. Moreover, part of our perspective comprises our cultural meanings and schema as well as our approach and methods for determining truth. What is truth to us is then perspectival; it is the outcome of a conflict between the powers of reality and our own. Moreover, what is social truth--the knowledge of a culture or society--is then dependent on the clash of separate, autonomous truths.

That which we believe is true is a balance of diverse perspectives and intellectual powers.

How do we arrive at truth? By providing our grounds, by being public, and by being critical. But criticism implies conflict. Science, for example, is institutionalized conflict for the balancing of powers among diverse views and evidence. The norms of science (freedom to assert one's views, intersubjective testability, public data, precise methods) are the norms for a conflict helix directed at maximizing truth. The process of intellectual and scientific growth is a particularization of the general conflict helix. The powers that are balanced are intellectual and authoritarian; the interests involve facts, theories, beliefs; the structure of expectations then is a settled paradigm.

The outline of intellectual history as a conflict and balancing of ideas should not be too controversial. Most accept today that knowledge grows out of diversity, critical interaction, and conflict. Moreover, once the meaning of intellectual power is understood, perceived truth--what we call knowledge--is a balance of powers. This is not to deny the existence of a Truth, but to simply point out the manner in which we come to accept what is true.

Now comes the normative kicker. Because this process is so essential to truth, we must be absolutely free to assert our beliefs, free to try various approaches, free to criticize, debate, disagree. We must be free in the realm of ideas. At least in the West, there is consensus: the state must not interfere with the freedom of speech and belief; censorship is bad; diversity is good; the free conflict of ideas promotes truth.

A similar argument could be made for beauty. The conflict between aesthetic tastes and demands, the balance between different conceptions of beauty and aesthetic powers, the need and importance of artistic diversity in encouraging creativity, point to a process that is yet another particularization of the conflict helix. And of course, the intellectual chorus would agree, the state must neither define what is beautiful nor interfere in the process.

Surely the process of establishing truth and beauty, the balancing of powers, conceptions, interests, and so on, which underlie them, are sensible and widely accepted. The invocation against state interference and the emphasis on maximal freedom is no less accepted.

My position on our balancing of powers in general is precisely the same. The case for truth and beauty holds for the social contracts we achieve among ourselves. A social contract--the expectations, agreements, understandings--among us is the outcome of the process of our balancing powers. The state should not interfere anymore than it does in matters of truth and beauty. Interference means some power elite imposing their interests and perception on everyone else. A purely "majoritarian" democratic government makes no difference. If an assumed majority cannot legislate truth or beauty, how can they legislate personal social contracts?

From the perspective of the conflict process in the social field, social contracts are an outcome of a mutual adjustments among our interests, capabilities, and wills. Our social contracts are a balance of powers with others, a balance of our mutual interests. And the key to making these social contracts best fit our mutual values is freedom. Its consequence is a spontaneous society and the best possible peace consistent with our diversity. 


* Scanned from Chapter 10 in R.J. Rummel, Conflict In Perspective, 1977. For full reference to the book and the list of its contents in hypertext, click book. Typographical errors have been corrected, clarifications added, and style updated.

1. Marxism is a form of idealistic anarchism: the state is a tool of the ruling class, which under capitalism is the bourgeoisie, the last in the historical progression of classes. Once this class is eliminated, the need for a state disappears, and all people can live cooperative, mutually beneficial lives.

For citations see the Vol. 3: Conflict in Perspective REFERENCES

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