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Force in Social Life

The regulation of behavior in society of individuals or groups is undertaken in two ways by the use of force and by the establishment of value and norms that may be fully or partially accepted by the members of the society as binding rules of conduct. The term social control is used by sociologists to the second kind of regulation in which the appeal to values and norms resolves the tensions and conflicts between individuals or groups in order to maintain the solidarity of some group. It is also referred to the arrangements by means of which the values and norms are communicated and instilled. Social control has to be seen in contrast with the regulation of behavior by force. These two are not entirely separable in actual social life. The ultimate sanction of law is physical coercion and physical force may enter more or less into all types of social control.                               

Violent conflicts between social groups have influence upon the form of human societies by extending, destroying or modifying particular ways of life and its causes and consequences. There are two main types of conflict – one between whole societies: war and violent conflict within a society: revolution and counter-revolution, civil war etc.

Early sociologists like Comte and Spencer assigned a very important role of war to the development of society. According to Comte there was no other means in the early stages to bring about the indispensible expansion of human society and to restrain within society a sterile warlike ardor incompatible with an adequate growth of productive work except the gradual incorporation of civilized populations into one conquering nation. Spencer argued that in the early stages of development those societies were most likely to survive which were most effectively organized for war. They made a distinction between a military and an industrial type of society in the former work was subordinate to war while in the latter, represented by the modern western nations, war is subordinate to work. Comte had declared that at last the time has come when serious and lasting war must disappear completely among the human elite. Later writers like Oppenheimer took a similar view of the importance of war in social development without sharing the view that it was about to disappear from human affairs. Among the recent works Raymond Aron’s Peace and War: A theory of international relations he discuss the concepts and schemes of classification which are necessary in order to study war and peace systematically power, force, the international system of states, different types of war and peace. He also discusses the historical examination of the global system of states in the nuclear age and moral evolutions of war and their political and strategic implications. He raises the question of the possible alternatives to war as a means of regulating the relations between sovereign states and their own national interests. The recent studies of war and peace differ in important aspects from the earlier sociological theories. They are no longer concerned with evolutionary trends but focus on modern war and to the specific issue of avoiding a major war through an analysis of the conditions and situations that may provoke it. They draw upon historical and comparative investigations but do not aim at the construction of a general theory of war. They have contributed to the ideas about the complex phenomenon of war and an indication of its causes. The sociological studies of war and peace do not provide the single course of action but help to enlarge the area of rational choice and control. The study of revolution attracted attention as Marxism saw revolution as a basic phenomenon of social life. In the 20th century the Russian and Chinese revolutions marked the new course of social development while many revolutions in smaller countries like Cuba etc have contributed new political ideas and models of new social institutions. The cumulative effect of these events and revival of radical and revolutionary ideas in the western countries have led sociologists to focus on these aspects. The sociologists condemn war and apprehensive about the possibility of a conflict involving nuclear weapons and focus their studies on control or elimination of international warfare but differ largely on the use of force in revolutionary struggles. Sociologists approach the study of revolutions with sympathy or aversion but over the course of time there is an idea that sympathy with movements of rebellion is ideological and a greater threat to sociological objectivity than is an attachment to the status quo. It is difficult to believe that violence and the use of force are more prevalent in revolutionary movements than in counter-revolutions or in the defense of an established order. There are numerous historical examples of the savage repression of radical or even reforming movements in modern societies for example suppression of Paris commune to the armed attacks on the trade unions in USA, the Nazi movement .It is obvious that the status quo is defended more violently than it is attacked. Simmel in studying conflict wrote that it seems impossible to deny an a priori fighting instinct and Freud in an exchange of letters with Einstein asserted the existence of a destructive or aggressive instinct in human beings. A study by Durbin and Bowlby concluded that the willingness to fight is so widely distributed in space and time that it must be regarded as a basic pattern of human behavior. The sociologists need to study the occurrence of violent conflict at particular times by investigating the social conditions behind as well as the motives of the people and their leaders. There is no doubt about the use of force in these different forms has had in sustaining or destroying a particular social order and in creating new types of society. Pareto taken from Marx’s theory argued that it is by force that social institutions are established and it is by force that they are maintained.

Source: T.B. Bottomore, Sociology A Guide to Problems and Literature