July 14, 2018

Three Estates of Society

Let’s boil society down to its most basic necessary elements:

  1. Productivity. Wealth and resources need to be produced, captured, or otherwise acquired.

  2. Social Order, Authority. People need to agree on a socially harmonious social order that dictates who gets what resources, who is allowed/obliged to do what, and so on. Without this agreement, “society” would devolve into all-against-all. Sacred authority is ascribed to the consensus order. Sometimes a particular person, like a priest, or ritual, like voting, has the power to define the order. It is important to note that a believed social order roots itself in human psychology as a very strong drive to act in accordance with that order, almost sacred. The social psychology and philosophy of social order is something we will have to develop, to be able to speak of social systems.

  3. Imposition, Power. The social group, or some subset, needs the hard power to impose the order against internal defectors, and external attackers. Sometimes a particular person or class is specialized in power, like a state with a standing military class. We have a somewhat developed theory of the orgaizational behavior of power. We will have to develop and discuss this as well.

The proper relation between these elements is important.

Authority, for example a wise man, has the “power” to define the social order. Does this mean he has impositional-type power? It is important to note the structure: authority is not fully freely held power, the way a sword is, it’s a trust. People want to know what is the correct social order, or about important facts relating to the social order. The Authority is trusted to give correct answers, and to change things wisely. If the Authority abuses this trust, and attempts to wield arbitrary power over society through it, it may be withdrawn, and the Authority loses its power to even speak the truth and be heard.

Impositional power can compel people to listen to the Authority, and can destroy other competing authorities, but cannot directly impose beliefs. Further, it can compel the Authority to say one thing or another, though this can then cause loss of trust.

Power imposing a social order by force on society which is not the social order those people have in their minds has been called tyranny. Tyranny would seem to be a very pathological condition, where impositional power and the rest of society are listening to different authorities.

It is important to distinguish tyranny from the imposition of an order by force which people do buy into it. This is the normal condition that is healthy if that order is healthy. Power always exists, as soon as you have society.

Solidifying our theory of power, authority, the psychologies thereof, and the proper relations between them is an area of active research.


Edited and curated by Wolf Tivy

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