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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
24. Class
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
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...

Conflict And Violence page

Democratic Peace page


Chapter 30

Social Fields
Types Of Societies*

By R.J. Rummel

Dust as we are, the immortal spirit grows
Like Harmony In music; there is a dark
Inscrutable workmanship that reconciles
Discordant elements, makes them cling together
In one society.
---- Wordsworth, The Prelude I

Conflict eventuates in a structure of expectations among individuals, an implicit or formal system of understandings, rules, and norms ordering social interactions. At their most informal, such structures involve the everyday interactions among friends, lovers, or co-workers, as in conversation and the exchange of pleasantries. At their most formal, such structures include organized groups, with law norms determining the allocation of authoritative roles, rights, and duties.

My concern now is to define the structure of expectations encompassing society at the state level, so that we can understand national conflict and violence. Accordingly, this chapter will focus on national societies, especially on three pure types and their differences and similarities; Chapter 31 then will consider the political dimensions of these types; and the Chapter 32, the particular conflict associated with each. Subsequent Parts will then provide the logic for empirically assessing whether these types of societies exist and whether each manifests the expected conflict.

The following chapters are social generalizations at the most abstract levels. I am concerned with the essence of society, state, political system, and societal conflict. Pure types and abstract relations are my objects, and concrete details are of interest as they exemplify or deviate from these types.1 Accordingly, the reader familiar with a more empirical, detailed, and contextual elaboration of societies and conflict (as in Hagopian, 1974; Huntington, 1968; or Upset, 1963) may find the following chapters stark to the point of caricature.

This simplicity is intended. I am trying to separate some elements of my perspective on societal conflict. First is the theoretical framework presented in previous chapters, which is focused on societal conflict in this part. This framework is intuitive, speculative, and based on my perception of conflict and society. It is substantive, in that it says something about us and our behavior, without any logico-mathematical paraphernalia. This theoretical framework is intended to stand apart from the mathematical equations and statistical tests to be conducted later. Otherwise, the framework would tend to be lost among the technical material and details.

Second, I have uncoupled a careful consideration of alternative theories and explanations from the presentation of my own. These alternative views involve questions and assumptions lying at the root of the conflict helix, and involve tests that overlap those I will employ. For this reason, I will include these views in the next volume, Vol. 3: Conflict In Perspective. I can then relate these explanations to the total development of this book, including the results of my tests.

Therefore, the framework to be presented in this part would have been less skeletal had I included both a discussion of alternative theories and my description of societies and their conflict along with the attempt to relate the subsequent propositions to existing and historical social data. These problems, of organization never seem to have a simple solution, but I trust that the following chapters and parts will inform more than mislead the reader about the conflict helix and its validity for state-societies.


A society comprises particular social interactions that are based on a division of labor, are mutually directed to other selves, and are founded on the law of comparative advantage. As relevant to the purpose or nature of the society, each of us does what lies within our abilities, temperament, and interests as adjusted to those of others.

Society also exists within the medium of our meanings, values, and norms. It is also a culture. Society without culture is unthinkable, although culture without society is possible. A sailor shipwrecked on a deserted Pacific island manifests his culture in his attempts to survive; a lone soldier hiding on a Philippine island for twenty-five years strictly adheres to the ancient Japanese code of duty and loyalty.

Societies are sociocultural fields or antifields. Generated by interests (powers), interconnected through the medium of meanings, values, and norms, laced by the forces of sociocultural distances and moved by the efforts of diverse wills, societies are a multifold of different, overlapping, intersecting, and nested structures of expectations, in other words, a multiple of balances of power, The division of labor is simply another term for the complex of such structures.

Who does what, how, and when are not dictated by God, nature, or history, but are the outcome of the multiple balancing of powers among individuals aware of each other and with opposing interests. A particular division of labor (such as the industrial United States in 1974), the specific location of individuals within that division (such as my job as a professor of political science), and the distribution of rewards to investments (such as my salary to the amount of my preparation and effort) are manifestations of a complex of balances of powers. Society consists of either conflict interaction indicating the change in the division of labor or nonconflict interaction mirroring a specific division.

So much is implicit in what has already been said. The point here is to make this explicit for large-scale societies, such as states, in order to show that they also manifest a particular type of power. Again, all societies are a unification, a gestalt, of various kinds of power balances, of social fields and antifields. Overlapping and nested structures of expectation together may involve, say, inductive, authoritative, and bargaining powers. Even in the most repressive prison, there may be mixtures of inductive (homosexual love), exchange, and intellectual (the prisoner-teacher) power, as well as the dominant coercive power. Nonetheless, there are societies dominated by one kind of field, one kind of overriding balance of powers, one comprehensive structure of expectations.

At the level of regional societies any social power could theoretically generate the dominant social field. Manipulative power could dominate if one person, through drugs, electronic means, and robotic slaves, controlled a whole society. Altruism could tower over other powers if altruism and love permeated society, as in the historical dream of the good-hearted. Intellectual power could rule as in the ideal of Plato's Republic. But historically and practically, societies have been and are dominated by one of three types of power, or their combination.

The three are the authoritative society, with a prevailing authoritative power based on legitimacy; the exchange society, permeated by bargaining power and emphasizing rewards and promises; and the coercive society, a coercive organization founded on threats and deprivations. Let me consider each in turn.


An authoritative society is structured by traditional norms, mores, and principles. In short, it is the field of custom, widely shared, widely believed right and true, which defines duties, privileges, and rights. It endows actions and commands with legitimacy. It is the field of authoritative powers.

A civil courtroom, a Catholic church, a university graduation ceremony are examples of such fields. At the societal level, we find authoritative fields to dominate primitive tribes and groups. Principles handed down from ancestors have a special force governing all. Norms--"the way things have always been done"--are followed without thought, automatically. Questions of right and wrong are decided by custom and commands are legitimate insofar as they issue from traditional authorities. Truth is defined by authorities, passed down by generations, or enshrined in special works, such as the Koran, Bible, or I Ching. Experience and empirical science are subordinate to reason and intuition or faith. Art, music, and literature are devoted to exemplifying or extoling the fundamental virtues, principles, and truths.

China and India, up to recent times, Arab nations like Saudi Arabia, and African states such as Nigeria were authoritative societies in this sense. Europe through the Middle Ages was one authoritative sociocultural system in which the rights and duties of king and peasant alike were defined by custom and widely accepted principles.

What I call the authoritative society is Sorokin's ideational supercultural system (Sorokin, 1957); my description of the field corresponds to his. What I have done, however, is to emphasize the dominant authoritative power and the importance of legitimacy within the field. More on this later.

Interaction within the traditional field is usually solidary, cooperative, and contractual. Norms are widely shared; the dominating structures of expectation are strong, with historical continuity. We know how to act and when. Because of the force of custom and tradition, we know what to expect from others.

Interaction is integrated and unified through a stable and continuing structure of expectations that defines duties and rights in most situations. Anomie and personal disorganization are minimal. There is little need to search for identity or a sense of purpose. Situations are not fraught with uncertainty, and social and psychological stability prevails. Society is governed by the traditional balance of power.

Moreover, the social field is generated by positive interests. Legitimacy is the basis of action and is founded on a society wide consensus about what is right. Superegos mesh; morality is commonly defined. The self suppresses interests in conflict with this morality. We want to do what is right, good, legitimate. We strive to manifest interests that accord with tradition, that we personally desires, and not negative interests, coerced into action by threats or deprivations.

Such societies are usually governed authoritatively, by a chief, dictator, king, or aristocracy. This does not mean that rule is totalitarian nor that laws are arbitrary and contingent on the ruler's whim. The ruling elite are bound by the same tradition (structure of expectations) as their subjects and must observe historical rights and duties. The king can command, but only if his commands are consistent with custom, accepted principles, and morality.2 Such is the basis of his legitimacy.

The purpose and function of the government is to regulate tradition, protect the society from external threats, and decide questions for which customary law provides ambiguous answers. Government tradition dominates. Whether ruled by king or emperor, subjects are usually free from governmental regulation and controls, from coercive governmental repression.

Freedom in such societies stems from believing in and following tradition. The individual who disagrees with tradition, who violates the norms, who is immoral as custom defines it will be at a minimum ostracized, quite possibly jailed, and perhaps executed for his ideas and behavior. A Lutheran in a Catholic nation, a Jew in an Arab land, an atheist in a religious society have felt the force of such tradition.


I have previously discussed exchange interaction as the exchange of positive interests. Bargaining power dominates in the relationship and the resulting structure of expectations is formed through a confrontation of such powers. At the level of society, such a field is often called a market system or spontaneous society. A market system usually refers to economic relations, and although economists such as von Mises (1963) have tried to generalize the term to all social relations, the singular association in people's minds between markets and the economy is indelible. As to spontaneous society, a favorite term of Hayek for an exchange system (1973), a traditional society, no less than an exchange system, can come into being without governmental direction or planning. Traditional society simply grows and develops, and its members follow their interests freely along the traditions that have evolved.

The term "exchange," however, captures the essence of the type of society Von Mises, Hayek, and others such as Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, and Jeremy Bentham had in mind, and which is the ideal of contemporary libertarians (Friedman, 1962; Rothbard, 1970; Hospers, 1971). The exchange society is one freely determined by our multiple and intersecting positive interests. It comprises not one main structure of expectations, as does traditional society, but an interlocking balance among a multitude of balances of bargaining powers at different levels. It is the result of our exchanging one positive interest for another.

The field need not be and is not primarily economic, therefore. Sentiments such as mutual compliments over dress or appearance may be exchanged, as well as support, as when one helps a candidate run for office in the expectation of getting an official position if he wins. Exchange can be in terms of psychic satisfaction, as in giving to charity in return for the self-satisfaction it provides. In any case, the dominant force is bargaining power; and society is the intersection between the various bargains we achieve.

Social behavior in such societies is usually cooperative and contractual. Cooperation is a natural outcome of an exchange, since satisfying their own interests requires that the parties help gratify some interests of the other. Rewards and promises are the basis of such a society. Promises that exchanges will be completed as specified form the contractual core of the relations. And rewards, the actual return for completing the exchange, are the outcome.

In an exchange field, therefore, we are free to pursue positively their own interests as they see and weigh them. And the outcome, the prevailing division of labor, is a resultant of all these vectors of interests towards manifestation.

Class, status, and exchange conflicts abound in such a society. There are conflicts between buyer and seller, worker and employer, producer and consumer, rich and poor, provident and profligate, creditor and debtor, and so on. Moreover, traditional norms provide little guidance, since each new exchange situation is a confrontation of different subjective interests. However, these conflicts are crosscutting and concern limited interests. The resulting balances are specific, limited, and contextual. And in their multitude and diversity, to use Simmel's expression (1955), they sew society together.

Society, at any moment, is in flux. Balancing and balances exist simultaneously, conflict and nonconflict interaction are entwined, and countless conflicts are being actualized, manifested, or accommodated. The result of this diversity is a harmony of interests at the societal level. The division of labor is the best balance across all of our different interests; the availability of goods and services best matches our diverse wants, which we alone can define and weigh; and our rewards best fit our will and investments.

The role of government within such an exchange field is minimal. Its function is to ensure the operation of the principles upon which the society is based, such as the sanctity of contracts and private property, the customary law protecting individuals against personal harm and injury, and civil rights. Other than these "night watchman" functions, the government which governs best governs least. For if people are left alone to define their own interests and to pursue them through exchange with others, the society will best maximize both human freedom and equality.

Social justice prevails through the multiple balancing processes engaging our own wants, perceptions, and will. For justice, in the final analysis, is an accommodation between contending parties based on a mutually agreed exchange of interests. And the exchange field generalizes this to the whole society.


The coercive society has already been discussed in the form of a coercive organization. It is an antifield in which interactions between individuals are determined by commands buttressed by threats or deprivations. A prison or army camp manifests such societies, but they also exist at the state level in totalitarian countries.

Of course, exchange and traditional power balances exist. All cannot be governed by coercion. But the dominant theme is the threat of terror, force, repression. Society is clearly split into two factions, those who rule in the name of some superordinate future goal, and those who obey. Coercive societies are pure class-societies.


I have defined authoritative, exchange, and coercive societies as pure types. Figure 30.1 pictures the three types as overlapping social spaces.

Figure 30.1

First is the exchange society, in which individuals work out their interests and conflicts through mutual exchange. Organizations of diverse kinds abound, between which the elite contend and develop their own balances of exchange power. Second is the authoritative society, in which relations and interactions derive from traditional norms. Balances of power are based on appeal to sources of legitimacy, such as custom or precedent. And third is the coercive society, in which members are intentionally organized towards achieving some goal. At the state level, societies are more or less a mixture of these three types, although one type may almost completely dominate as in nineteenth-century American West, pre-revolutionary China, and Stalin's U.S.S.R. Let us consider, therefore, societies in practice as being more or less one type depending on the degree of overlap with the other two as shown in Figure 30.1.

The exchange society overlaps in three ways with the authoritative and coercive types. First, there is the dominant exchange field, of which enough has been said. Then there are the normative principles which underlie the field. Relationships cannot be completely based on an isolated, unbounded exchange, for certain implicit cultural norms of right and wrong govern the balancing of power. Culture sets bounds on a just bargain and provides standards of honesty and fairness. This is an overlap between the exchange and authoritative fields which are based on what is right or legitimate. As shown in Figure 30.1, I will call this overlap the normative-exchange region. It is normative in that it represents traditional norms restricting and guiding the free balancing of exchange powers. It is the common law operating in all societies, the practices which are accepted routinely and arouse disdain if violated.

Second, the overlap between the exchange, authoritative, and coercive societies shown by the three-way intersection in Figure 30.1 is manifested in the common law judicial system. This is the system of codified common law, courts, and justices, of law backed by the coercive power of government. Here is where disputes over the interpretation and application of law-norms governing society are determined. This is the juridical region.

Finally, there is the region of nonnormative overlap between exchange and coercive societies. This is the extension of government coercion into the exchange field through the regulation and control of exchange and through coercive redistribution of rewards. This region differs from the juridical in that such laws and regulations of government are not based on common law or custom, but are legislative law and administrative regulations. Such law is arbitrary in that it is not tied to principles of long standing, to common law, but to what the governmental elite believe ought to be. It is based on the laws' assumed utility and is meant to adjust or determine through government coercion the outcome of particular exchange and the shape of certain structures of expectations. Thus, the permissible minimum wage a person can bargain for (minimum wage laws), the minimum price he can sell his goods for (fair pricing laws), or the minimum amount he wants to set aside for retirement (social security) may be coercively determined by the governmental elite.

However, traditional fields also overlap with exchange and coercive societies. There is the normative-exchange region in which exchange or bartering goes on within a consensual framework of traditional norms and practices. The bazaar next to a ancient Moslem mosque in Yemen or a hawker of religious statues near the steps of Saint Peter's are examples of the intrusion of exchange into the authoritative field.

The juridical region in the authoritative society is common law coercively enforced by government as it bears on interpersonal exchange. All cultures have developed norms about equity in human relations, about what is just or exploitive. The juridical region consists of those institutions legitimately charged with discovering, applying, or arbitrating the common law in cases of dispute and whose decisions are coercively binding. Although based on tradition and considered legitimate, a particular custom may nonetheless be the subject of strong disagreement (even though divorce may be morally wrong and by tradition illegal, as it was in Italy until recently, may a woman whose husband left her twenty years ago be considered legally single?). Coercion then compels acceptance of a court's judgment.

However, not all law or government is concerned with arbitrating the common law within the authoritative field. Government also intrudes when the traditional elite use coercion to maintain and insure the pursuit of accepted norms and customs. Here government is used to enforce and preserve tradition against change. Thus, government enforces religious commandments, outlaws prostitution, abortion, gambling, Sunday work, dope, incest, and so on. Moreover, the elite may desire to extend the moral "truth" to unbelievers through religious or moral control and indoctrination. The use of coercion to extend and maintain tradition is the normative-directive region.

Now, let us consider these overlapping regions from the perspective of coercive societies. Even in societies in which individuals are totally and coercively mobilized towards gratifying some interest, in a space of directed and hierarchical interaction, there are regions of intrusion from exchange and authoritative fields. First, there is the juridical region in which judges or arbitrators play the role of discovering the common law or norms bearing on a disputes, clearing up ambiguities in such laws and so deciding questions of rights. This juridical process, however, works in the lacunas and interstices of the positive law directed by the government towards some superordinate goal. The juridical region is that permitted to exist by the lack of interest or the design of the governmental elite.

Similarly with the intrusion of bargaining power. Free exchange may be permitted in areas considered irrelevant to the coercive organization, as in bartering between friends, or as useful to the organization's interest, as in the small farmers' markets allowed in the Soviet Union. Thus, exchange is regulated by positivist laws.

Finally, to a certain extent, the organization of society will flow along traditional paths. No elite can totally remake society and culture. To mobilize society towards some goal certain traditions may be facilitative, or at least must be taken as given. Thus, a traditional region will encroach on the organization, a region in which governmental coercion is directed towards maintaining certain traditions and norms. For example, by law and traditional barriers against divorce, the family may be maintained as an organizational unit, providing points of stable relations and interpersonal harmony facilitating organizational tasks.


In The Dynamic Psychological Field (Section 24.2 of Chapter 24) I discussed Sorokin's three supercultural systems in the cultural space of meanings, values, and norms. Religion, philosophy, science, and so on are the components of this space in which cultures cluster in terms of their profiles across these components.

One such cluster is the ideational. Truth in this culture is intuitive, revealed, and authoritative. Principles and ideas of the great, the good, the virtuous dominate. The goal of art is to manifest these ideals, of ethics to live them, of science to clarify them, and of philosophy to extol them. As shown in Figure 30.2, the pure authoritative society in my terms is similar to this ideational culture.

Figure 30.2

Opposite to the ideational culture is the sensate. Governed by utilitarian values and calculations, relations are singular, based on immediate interests rather than long-range ideals. Sensory values and taste permeate society. Philosophy is pragmatic, science empirical, and ethics instrumental and hedonistic.

This sensate culture can take two basic forms. The first is the exchange society, which manifests instrumental, pragmatic, individualistic interests. Interaction is based wholly on a social exchange, a balance of positive individual interests. The second form is the coercively organized society. Unlike the exchange society, an ideal, a basic interest, governs the organization of society. But most members of society are coerced into helping achieve this interest. Relations are commanded, and instrumental. Pragmatism reigns in that whatever works towards this interest is right. And philosophy, science, and ethics are judged in this utilitarian fashion. Thus, both the exchange and the coercive societies are sensate in Sorokin's terms, as shown in Figure 30.2.

Finally, there is the idealistic culture. This is a mixture of sensate and ideational cultures, in which relations are partly solidary, partly contractual, partly based on principles and ideals, partly on self-interest, partly on utilitarian values. In this culture tradition provides a foundation for ordering society and integrating all within a common normative system, within which people are permitted to pursue and exchange their own interests. This is a combination of exchange and authoritative fields, as shown in Figure 30.2.

Mapping these types of societies onto Sorokin's three supercultural systems gives us greater insight into the nature of these societies as cultures and into their historical movements. We know, for example, from Sorokin's cultural and historical surveys (1937-41) that neither the exchange, coercive, nor authoritative types have dominated history. Throughout history there has been an oscillation between the authoritative and exchange or coercive. In eighth-to seventh-century B.C. Athens, the authoritative type dominated; in sixth-and fifth-century B.C. Athens, it was the exchange system; in third-century B.C. Rome, the exchange; in second-century A.D. Rome, the coercive; in tenth-century Rome, the authoritative; in the fifth-century Europe, the authoritative; and in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Europe was an exchange system.

Hindu and Moslem India were for much of their history authoritative societies, as was China up to modern times. Today the world is divided into the three sociocultural and supercultural systems. Many "Third World" countries are authoritative societies, governed by traditional norms and values and with governments reflecting and maintaining this tradition. These remain ideational cultures. But a large part of the world is also sensate. These include nations organized into communist societies, and the more or less coercive-exchange societies of the West, such as the United States, England, and Sweden. 


* Scanned from Chapter 30 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. It is especially important to deal at the level of abstract relations when analyzing exchange and authoritative societies, as defined below. For the net of understandings, norms, and balances which integrate behavior are beneath the surface subjective. In Popper's (1962, p. 175) terms, "our modern open societies function largely by way of abstract relations, such as exchange or co-operation. (It is the analysis of these abstract relations with which modern social theory, such as economic theory, is mainly concerned. This point has not been understood by many sociologists, such as Durkheim, who never gave up the dogmatic belief that society must be analyzed in terms of real social groups.)"

2. For a discussion of the authoritative limits on a king's power, see de Jouvenal (1948).

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