1. Introduction and Summary
Democratic Peace page
I would... argue that it is useful to look at our own national life in these terms. If we examine the smaller groups which make up our vast and complex society, it is easy to see that divisions of interest and loyalties within any one group prevent it from standing in absolute opposition to other groups and to the society at large.
---- Gluckman, 1955:23-24
This chapter examines a few additional sociocultural hypotheses about the basis or causes of social conflict. My purpose is not to provide a comprehensive examination of the literature dealing with them, but to characterize each hypothesis and show its relationship to the conflict helix. The hypotheses concern cross-pressures, population, and anomie.
This basically psychological view is carried to the level of societies by arguing that societies that enable a variety of conflicting and contrasting groups and interests to coexist drain off conflict through the fragmentation and segmentation of individual interests. Conflicts cannot polarize factions, oppositions do not become intense. Individuals do not become engaged in a battle over particular interests, simply because their social interests are segmented, confused, and contradictory. On the other hand, if interests begin to coalesce into one societal cleavage, forming a conflict front that traverses society and divides groups and individuals into opposing clusters of homogeneous interests, conflict will be intense, violent, and possibly revolutionary.
This notion is central to my perspective. Where interests freely form and conflict, structures of expectations are based on mutual adjustments; there is a hubbub of continuous conflict in society as diverse and contradictory interests balance, work out differences, and establish a momentary modus vivendi for their coexistence. In the field of diversity lies conflict, but a unifying conflict. Cross-pressures operate at their maximum when field processes are given the widest scope. We then are buyers and sellers, workers and consumers, bureaucrats and citizens, superordinates and subordinates. We are dominant and subordinate; we win and lose.
But let antifields (coercive organizations) form, which weaken and eliminate cross-pressures, consistently placing the same people in the same dominant and subordinate relationships, and there is the making of class domination and eventual class struggle, dividing society. For interests will begin to polarize around support or opposition to the status quo. Interests previously fragmented, such as religion, career, party, and family, begin to divide along the we-they dichotomy. Such is the case in totalitarian societies, where all important social issues are a matter of state control and regulation, where all society is one clearly structured antifield, a coercive organization. All interests are a matter of supporting or opposing the status quo--the authoritative structure. Cross-pressures certainly exist within the segmented and isolated regions left to field processes, but at the societal level a totalitarian society is divided by antagonistic class interests whose intensity would destroy it--disrupt its one sovereign structure of expectations--if not held in check by countervailing coercion and force, by terror, mass execution, and pervasive concentration and "work" camps.
The fluidity of balances, the multiplicity of structures of expectations, the diversity and separation of antifields, attest to cross-pressures; the singularity of an antifield and the carving up of field processes within it shows the struggle of two interests: to rule versus to overcome.
Surely, variation in population density cannot account for
The focus on population density as a cause of conflict is but a manifestation of an attitude prevalent in contemporary life. It is a belief in material, objective causes of human action, whether they be population, technology, poverty, climate, or urban blight. My argument is that such objective conditions are important insofar as they have meaning and values for us within our culture and individual perspectives. Moreover, even if important to us, such conditions are not causes of conflict but are particular aspects of our conflict structures, situations, balancing of powers, and structures of expectations with others. In short, the role of population density is an empirical and not a theoretical matter. It involves a specific case, not the general conflict process.
We conflict by virtue of our interests opposing those of others. No objectification of these interests is implied. Indeed, no objective conditions or facts may correspond to these interests. They may be wholly idealistic or imaginary as in conflicts over utopian futures; wholly normative, as in conflicts over how society should be run; wholly theological, as in conflicts over the number of angels in heaven.
Even the most dangerous of social conflicts, that of classes, is of authority, of power. And this is a particularly psychological and social question of legitimacy and the normative order, of the right to command. There are no general objective conditions here. Class is a normative relationship, not a matter of objective wealth, poverty, resources, or the like. Even property, often considered to be objective or material, is a normative right. The social meaning of property is as a right of control and command, and major conflict is found to occur where this right has been called into question.
There ismuch substance to this view, which on the
sociocultural level provides understanding of the historical
movement of revolution and war, as shown by Sorokin
How is anomie, then, related to the conflict helix? Under conditions of anomie, the relevant structure of expectations within which people interact is strained; it no longer represents a balance of capabilities, interests, and wills. In anomie there is an incongruent structure of expectations, primed for a trigger provoking a balancing of powers and the creation of a new structure. Extensive crime and disorder, extensive disobedience and "immoral" behavior are signs that the societal consensus--the societal structure of expectations--is inadequate. It is doubtful whether incremental adjustments can save such a structure. Social breakdown and violence is the more likely mechanism for forcing norms and expectations into line with contending interests and their powers.
Through our conflict signal dissatisfaction with existing rights and privileges. Through our social conflict we develop a working relationship with others and establishes our own rights. Through suicide or reflexive violence (an emotional lashing out), we express our powerlessness to alter the status quo.
* Scanned from Chapter 7 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. For an excellent empirical analysis and overview of the literature, see Sperlich (1971).
2. Population density was included in many of the empirical studies described in Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix (Part IX) and generally was statistically independent of conflict manifestations. Empirical research provides no consistent basis for the belief that population pressure causes social conflict.
3. Sorokin's view is considered in more detail in Section 8.1 of Chapter 8.
4. See Rollo May (1972), who argues that powerlessness is the source of personal violence.