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Volume 2

Expanded Contents


1. Introduction and Summary
2. The Concept of Field
3. Reality and the Intentional Field
4. Freedom and Intentional Humanism
5. Perceiving Another
6. Intentions, Attitudes, and Interests
7. Perceiving and Behaving
8. Behavior
9. Social Behavior and Interaction
10. Types of Social Interaction
11. The Equation of Social Behavior
12. The Transition to a Sociocultural Field
13. The Sociocultural Space
14. The Field of Social Forces
15. The Sociocultural Field
16. Distances
17. Status Distance
18. Status Distance and Behavior
19. The Fundamental Nature of Power
20. Social Power
21. The Family of Power
22. Social Fields and Antifields
23. Groups and Antifields
25. Social Class And the Class-Literature
26. Conflict
27. Conflict in the Sociocultural Field
28. The Elements of Social Conflict
29. The Process of Conflict
30. Social Fields and Types of Societies
31. The State and Political System
32. Societies, Politics, and Conflict
33. Societies in Empirical Perspective
34. Testing for the Existence of Exchange, Authoritative, and Coercive Societies
35. Is Conflict Manifest as Theorized?

Other Volumes

Vol. 1: The Dynamic Psychological Field
Vol. 3: Conflict In Perspective
Vol. 4: War, Power, Peace
Vol. 5: The Just Peace

Other Related Work

The Conflict Helix: Principles and Practices...


Chapter 24


By R.J. Rummel

Bow, bow, ye lower middle classes!
Bow, bow, ye tradesmen, bow, ye masses.
---- W. S. Gilbert, Iolanthe I


The statuses of wealth, power, and prestige are the components of social space mutually ordering and ranking people. These are continua along which people desire to move, with consensus as to the desired end. Relative status ranks, status disequilibrium, and incongruence have consequences for conflict and social interaction among individuals, as argued in Chapter 18. But individuals organize themselves into conflict-groups which clash and struggle in terms of their interests, and status relationships are insufficient for an understanding of this social conflict. A new category is needed, one that lies along the front between field and antifield.

Wherever authoritative roles exist, they differentiate between those who command and those who obey. Moreover, in any organization1 we can differentiate between those who participate in the hierarchy of command, regardless of their position in this hierarchy, and those who are subordinate. The president, vice-president, manager, division head, and foreman in a factory are all part of the command-hierarchy, even though those at the bottom may be acting on command from above as much as they are commanding others. It is the mass of workers, who have no command and power, and must simply obey.

So far command is an empirical concept. We know from experience, from our sense for a group situation, who has authority to command and who does not. Our social antennae are always alert to this right, to the authoritative roles, in the various groups of which we are members. This sensitivity to the "head man" provides direction in our behavior as we relate ourselves to others within an organization. One of the first questions asked by new members of an organization concerns who is the leader.

But as a way of understanding conflict between groups, we must move beneath empirical phenomenon to theoretical structures, such as the configuration of opposing attitudes between individuals that lie along their various sociocultural distances.2 These structures will vary between individuals depending upon their attitudes. At the societal level, however, we can define one particular structure that separates all individuals into one of two theoretical categories: those who command and those who only obey. It divides those who are part of the command-hierarchy of an organization from those who are not. It distinguishes between those who authoritatively dominate and those who submit--those who are superordinates and those who are subordinates.3

Any two people who share organizational membership are either both superordinate or subordinate, or one is a superordinate and the other a subordinate. On the basis of our organizational memberships and roles, therefore, we can separate people into either the category of superordinate and superordinate. The significance is that this division defines a structure of conflict between two social classes.

I consider a social class (henceforth, simply class) to be a category of individuals sharing membership in a similarly oriented conflict-group. Moreover', class is a dichotomous category. There are only two classes and they oppose each other by virtue of an intrinsic opposition in the attitudes of their members. Classes thus define a particular structure of conflict based on the defining differentia of the two classes, which is membership in the authoritative hierarchy of an organization or subordination to it.

Authoritative roles and the expectations associated with them are the basis of classes.4 The two classes thus correspond to the "ins and outs," the leaders and led, the rulers and ruled, the elite and nonelite. They define the structures of conflict between clusters of individuals in social space. But why? So far I have defined the categories of superordinate and subordinate, but have provided little basis for understanding why a structure of conflict should obtain.

Consider that conflict between individuals may be latent, with no awareness of antagonistic attitudes. When interests are not yet stimulated, there is no conflict consciousness. The latency comprises dispositions for interests to oppose, the yet unrealized tendencies that lie along social differences and similarities, along social distances. Thus, conflict between worker and manager may be latent, as between buyer and seller, Catholic and Protestant, American and Arab.

People may be unaware of this antagonism of interests even though they are in contact or stand in some social relation to each other. A particular important social relation has to do with the distribution of rights, privileges, and obligations, with who owns what (which in essence constitutes the authority to exclude others from it), with the status quo. A status quo is the core of a structure of expectations5 but takes on particular interest regarding classes when it is articulated through law-norms and their instrumentalities, authoritative roles. For intrinsic to the authoritative structure of an organization is the differentiation between those who have certain rewards and rights and those who do not. Executives have more rights and rewards than secretaries, kings more than subjects, foremen more than laborers. Bringing status into the picture, incumbents of authoritative roles tend to be higher than subordinates on wealth, power, or prestige. More directly, the hierarchy of authority differentiating between those who command and only obey also usually defines the stratification of an organization.

We have found in Chapter 17 that statuses are bundles of attributes that roughly delimit profiles shared by individuals at the same status level. Thus, the rich share a variety of attributes, attitudes, and values setting them off from the poor. The attitudinal difference between laborer and manager, between landowner and peasant, between totalitarian elites and subjects exemplify these differences.

Those high in status tend to support the status quo, of course. Their status in part depends on this, as do their rights and rewards. And in groups high status is conjoined with authoritative roles. Thus, authoritative role incumbents will tend to support the status quo. By the same line of argument, subordinates, usually low in status, will tend to be opposed to the distribution of rewards and rights that authoritatively defines their position in the organization. Subordinates will thus tend to oppose the status quo.

A class distinguishes members of the command-hierarchy from the subordinates. That is, it demarcates a cluster of similar attributes, attitudes, and values and comprises those who tend to support or oppose the group status quo. Thus it should be clear why class is dichotomous (those who support versus those who oppose the status quo), defines opposing attitudes (those who have versus those who want) and is a structure of conflict.

Classes are dispositional conflict-groups. Because classes define opposing attitudes, they tend to produce opposing conflict-parties. Thus in Western democratic societies, opposing conflict-groups tend to be recruited from workers and bosses and peasant and landowner. Thus we find the union versus management, the left versus the right, Democrats versus Republicans, Labor versus Conservatives. Classes are well springs of conflict embracing society; they are recruitment reservoirs for interest groups.

To turn now to antifields, classes have so far been defined regarding organizations, which are groups having more or less diffuse authoritative hierarchies. A professional organization may have only weak, narrowly limited authoritative roles; a state may be tightly bound by a dictatorial command structure. This variation among organizations is a variation in their class demarcation. The scope and coerciveness of the authoritative hierarchy determines the specificity of the class structure and the strength of a group's antifield. Thus, the division between field and antifield, their antagonism, their contradiction, can now be seen in terms of latent class-conflict. Field and antifields form a social front of class-conflict, the societal wide disposition for ins and outs to struggle, the general tendency for those who benefit to support a status quo and those who do not to oppose it. Thus field versus antifield is not only a philosophical idea but a sociological concept as well.


The conflict of classes is a reality of all large societies and cannot be eliminated. It is inevitable.
----Encyclopedia Britannica, 5, 1973, p. 874

So far I have restricted the discussion to organizations, to their authoritative roles, to classes. The social space of individuals is thus divided and subdivided into nested, overlapping, and separate structures of conflict.

We may therefore stand in different class relations to another, depending on the organization. We may be a member of a church (subordinate position), a student (subordinate), a treasurer of our bowling league (superordinate), a member of the Sierra Club (subordinate), and an Army Reserve captain (superordinate). In one organization we and our friend may stand in an authoritative relationship (as for example in the Reserve) while in another (such as the league) this relationship may be reversed. Such crosscutting class memberships segment our attitudes, statuses and conflict-structures.

Insofar as society is crosscut by class-segmentation, especially among the quasi-coercive and coercive organizations, then no societal conflict front will form. Our dissatisfaction with the status quo of one organization is balanced by benefits from the status quo of another. Class conflicts thus remain localized in organizations.

However, there is a tendency for the same people to have authoritative roles across organizations. Often the criteria for incumbency, such as intelligence, education, charisma, and success, mean that the same individual will be part of the authoritative hierarchy of different organizations. The poor and uneducated generally are the subordinate members of organizations; those of high family, education, power, or wealth generally have authoritative roles. This is not to say that mobility does not exist, for certainly in many societies there is a circulation of elite. The point is that success breeds more success and power builds on itself. At the psychological level the cognitive incongruence associated with being a superordinate in one organization and a subordinate in another produces psychological forces towards bringing these roles into balance. In societies there is a tendency towards class-generality.

Thus, there is a tendency for the proletariat to be generally subordinate in different organizations and the capitalist superordinate; the Protestant in Northern Ireland superordinate and the Catholic subordinate; the white superordinate in the Union of South Africa and the black subordinate; the Communist party official superordinate in China and the nonofficial subordinate. Through class-generalization a structure of class conflict for an organization is inclined to be the structure of conflict for society.

This sketch is incomplete, for the necessary role of political power (i.e., authoritative roles in the state) has been ignored. The generalization of class conflict is not only horizontal, but vertical. Recall that authoritative roles not only have legitimacy by virtue of an organization's law-norms, but also those of the larger organization of which it is a part. Class conflict over the status quo in an organization must entail conflict over the legitimacy of these authoritative roles for the larger organization as well. Since the organization with the greatest power is the state with its governmental arm, generalization of class conflict eventually extends to the political level. That is, class struggles must become political struggles. If we are talking about an industrial, secular society, class conflicts between worker and management will generalize across industries and groups and become a political class struggle. Thus the manifest confrontation in all industrial societies between anti status quo, pro-labor parties of the left, and pro status quo parties of the right.

In every modern democracy conflict among different groups is expressed through political parties which basically represent a "democratic translation of the class struggle." Even though many parties renounce the principle of class conflict or loyalty, an analysis of their appeals and their support suggests that they do represent the interests of different classes. On a world scale, the principal generalization which can be made is that parties are primarily based on either the lower classes or the middle and upper classes.
---- Lipset, 1963, p. 230

In this light, national politics is the manifestation of conflict between those who support and oppose the status quo reflecting a generalized class-division in social organizations. Manifest class conflict is a struggle, a balancing, as to which class will control state power, as to who gets what. The outcome is a balance between classes based on their resources, the strength of their interests, and their expectations. The outcome is a distribution of rewards and rights, and a determination of state authoritative roles and the legitimacy of such roles for the whole society.

From within the perspective of human societies as political societies, the composition of the body of first-class citizens cannot help but be the crucial internal political question. It is, in fact, the political basis of civil wars and revolutions. When one considers the central role of moral evaluation in social and political life, it must follow that human beings cannot be neutral about the kinds of men in their society who have genuine, public authority and about the things for which they stand
---- Brotz, 1964, p. 573

Thus, the state at any one time is an image of class-conflict and balance.

How is a latent conflict structure transformed into a conflict situation and manifest conflict? Members of different classes become conscious6 of their class membership through contact, communication, intellectual propaganda, class organization (such as in a union), and conflict (such as strikes).7 People begin to see their problems tied not to individual effort, but to "them," to an opposition who share a particular attribute: superordination or subordination in the organization. Their interests become fraternal, rather than egoistic,8 and they not only blame the other class for their problems but believe the other side's rights and privileges or their demands to be unjust. Fraternalization, blame, and a sense of injustice9 combine to turn the structure of conflict into a situation of conflict, into a ready pool of antagonistic political interests, groups, parties, and revolutionary movements.

Finally, let me return to the field-antifield distinction. The cleavage which divides society as a whole into a structure of conflict lies along the field-antifield front. Insofar as field processes are restricted and segmented by commands, a conflict front will develop along the lines of contact between antagonistic tendencies to regulate social behavior for some purpose and to spontaneously respond to sociocultural forces between two classes.

Politics is the manifestation of this struggle at the societal level; state power is its aim and incarnation. Intense conflict and violence are the ultimate outcome.

Any given pattern of intergroup hostility and conflict varies in its intensity and in its implications depending upon whether it is (a) traditional and sanctioned as a "legitimate" channel for aggression-release, or (b) in opposition to nominally dominant value-patterns.

The most intense conflicts, such as those which merge into mass political actions, are to be expected when: (1) situation a co-exists with an increased threat to the dominant group, or (2) situation b has moved close to widespread repudiation of the dominant values.
---- Williams, 1947, p. 62


Let us now return to the components of social space and distances. Along with status components, class is a component locating people relative to each other in social space. It defines the degree to which people can exercise authoritative command.

Status is a collection of desired attributes with correlated attitudes and values. Class is a collection of organizational positions with associated attitudes towards the social status quo. Status is a subjective evaluation based on what is most desired by a culture. It reflects the dominant values. Class is a structural feature of societies. It manifests authoritative power.10

Status and class thus represent different latent functions, underlying patterns of interrelated social dispositions, and potentialities bearing on social interaction.

Status and class are of course correlated. The rights and privileges attendant upon class promote and support status differences. Nonetheless, the correlation is not perfect, for those within the subordinate class can be of high wealth (a laborer who wins the sweepstakes) or power (Jesus Christ); or those in a superordinate class can be without wealth (a lower governmental bureaucrat who regulates the largest corporations) or power (a contemporary British monarch).

The class component thus uniquely orders individuals in their authoritative right to command. What, then, is class-distance? This is the over-all vector distance between individuals in their right to command each other. The more one person can command another in all the organizations of which they both are members, the greater the magnitude of this vector. The direction of the vector then indicates who is generally the subordinate. That is, the direction measures generalized class difference between two people; the length reflects the intensity of the difference.

Class-distance is thus directly relevant to understanding conflict behavior. For it defines the attitude of two people towards the status quo and their likely interest (strength of attitude) in opposing or supporting each other. In other words, class-distance measures a structure of conflict between individuals and a potential schism in society. The greater the average magnitude of class-distances in society, the more likely that a society-wide manifest conflict front will form and an overt class struggle will occur.

Moreover, the greater the average magnitude of class-distance, the more the sociocultural field is segmented by an antifield. The extreme is a totalitarian society governed by an elite in all situations. For its members, there is no meaningful crosscutting of authoritative roles. People are divided clearly into two classes.

The other extreme is international relations in which no one organization authoritatively commands all (the legal sovereignty of all states is the norm) and individuals have multiple authoritative relationships. The average class-distance between states is low,11 indicating that international relations is a sociocultural field in which adjustments between states largely occur in line with field forces and processes.

To summarize, we have found that individuals are differentially located in a sociocultural space defining their meanings, norms, values, status, and class. Moreover, distances between individuals in this space reflect their relative socioculture dissimilarities and are field forces toward social behavior. We thus have unified in this conception the ideas of culture, social behavior, distance, status, and class.

In the remaining chapters, I will exploit these concepts to more directly understand conflict, especially as a process. Now I can turn to the core concern of this book. 


* Scanned from Chapter 24 in R.J. Rummel, The Conflict Helix, 1976. 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. While recognizing the continuum of groups discussed in Section 23.2 of Chapter 23, I will focus on the organization as the primary group basis for class differentiation.

2. This structure will be discussed in Section 28.3 of Chapter 28.

3. At this point I should express my intellectual debt to Dahrendorf's stimulating and provocative Class and Class Conflict in Industrial Society (1959). I depart from his ideas in many ways and he may not recognize his influence on these pages, but his work provided the opening "idea wedge" into the problem of societal conflict and antifields and a way of understanding class conflict consistent with the conflict helix.

4. In Chapter 25 I will compare my definition of class to those commonly employed in the literature. For the moment I want to elaborate the meaning and implications of that definition I am adopting.

5. See Section 28.5 of Chapter 28.

6. On class consciousness, see Landecker (1963).

7. Regarding labor-management relations, 0. Kahn-Freund (1954, p. 194) notes that "in this as in other spheres of life, it is the conflict itself which gives rise to the formation and consolidation of groups and to the establishment of the relevant social relations as group relations. To be sure, conflicts develop out of group relations, but at the same time, group relations develop out of conflicts, and it is more correct to say that labour management disputes tend to develop into intergroup conflicts than that they halve that character from the outset. By characterizing labour disputes as group conflicts one is in danger of conveying the impression that such disputes presuppose the existence of established and coherent groups. This impression would be wrong."

8. I owe these concepts to Runciman (1966).

9. Regarding the lower class and after pointing out that class-conflict is inevitable, the Encyclopedia Britannica (Vol. 5, 1973, p. 874) says: "The lowly status is injurious to the sense of dignity of many persons, especially when it is reinforced by resentment against authority, however, legitimate, and the desire for goods and services which cannot be acquired on the basis of income earned through the sale of services and goods in the market."

The Encyclopedia also explains that: "The 'lower' classes, while acknowledging the superiority of their 'betters,' do so with reluctance and ambivalence. And in some instances some of the members of these classes deny outrightly that superiority. Ethically radical and politically revolutionary attitudes constitute the extreme form of denial of the claims of the 'superior' to their superior status."

10. On some of these differences between class and status, see Sorokin (1969), Weber (1947), Centers (1950, 1951), and Dahrendorf (1959).

11. Many will quarrel with this, for a current approach defines international relations as a class system stratified by wealth and power. First, I have uncoupled status from class. I agree that international relations is a stratification system (see Chapter 17), but from this it does not follow that there is a class struggle.

States belong to many international groups, most of which resemble spontaneous groups or voluntary associations, called international organizations. Some, like the United Nations, are voluntary organizations (in my terms). In no case is there a coercive international organization, although advocates of a federal or unitary world government wish to bring one into existence.

In international organizations there are law-norms, authoritative roles (even if rotated among members), and command structures (witness the power of the President of the General Assembly). Thus, states do stand in relative subordinate-supcrordinate positions. But across the many existing organizations, there is little consistency (indeed, such is avoided as a matter of principle based on the equality and sovereignty of states) for any two states as to which is superordinate. Thus, the average class-distance is low.

For citations see the Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix REFERENCES

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