The Maintenance of Social Order Also Involves the Creation of Moral Institutions

Clearly, punishment—or the threat of punishment—is necessary for a general climate of obedience to social norms. What is more, there is an element of force in all forms of property, marriage and religion. In smaller and simpler communities, unorganised social pressure could have been sufficient to maintain the social control necessary to guard against a war of all against all,[85] though some genetically based sense of hierarchy could also have been important. What is perhaps more certain is that, in its early days, law was barely differentiated from other forms of social pressure.[86] The evolution of larger, more complex and more anonymous societies involved splitting the social code into two parts—custom and law—with organised law enforcement by people forming part of a governmental apparatus.

This perspective sees the State as having grown out of a basic social need for a coordinating mechanism especially to ensure safety and order, with the State as the guardian and enforcer of the key norms.[87] Plato (427–347 BC), Aristotle (384–22 BC), the Stoics[88] and the Epicureans[89] all thought of the State as coterminous with society itself. Much more recently, Stark argued that society solved one of its most difficult problems by placing a monopoly of the means of compulsion in the hands of the State.[90] For his part, Norbert Elias[91] also sees the advancing division of functions involved in the civilising process—including the division of labour—as going hand in hand with the monopolisation of physical force and the growing stability of the central organs of society. It is the monopolisation of force—this narrowing of free competition—in conjunction with increasing pressures for self-constraint that create the pacified social spaces in which the functional dependencies between people can grow, the social fabric can become more intricate and economic activity can flourish.

In his account of the origins of the State and civilisation, based on the study of the six original civilisations of which we have knowledge, Elman Service specifically denies the class-conflict theory of the origin of either the State or of civilisation. He agrees that the creation of culture was the human achievement, the means by which societies tamed and governed their members and created and maintained complex social organisations. This depends on the ability of the political aspects of a culture to integrate and protect the society. Some societies, however, have done more than perpetuate themselves, having found political–cultural solutions that enable them to grow to ever-greater size and complexity. Service argued that the origins of government lay essentially in the institutionalisation of centralised leadership, which in developing its further administrative functions grew into a hereditary aristocracy.[92] Primal government worked to protect and legitimise itself in its role of maintaining the whole society. In this view, political power organised the economy rather than the reverse.

Despite all claims and appearances to the contrary, the law is really a liberator not an oppressor, and so is the State as the ultimate enforcer of the law. These moral functions can, however, easily be subverted so that the State becomes an oppressor. This experience provides the motivation for much political philosophy, and for political programs aimed at regulating the role of the State itself.

Unorganised social pressure in support of key norms and the organised enforcement of law is not enough to ensure social order. We cannot do without a sense of guilt—the guilt flowing from the breach of internalised norms.[93] The survival of a community depends on its moral cohesion and the coercive force of the law cannot maintain that moral cohesion alone: secular restraints are not enough to deter evil, antisocial or merely illegal acts. The healthier the society, the less it relies directly on legal sanctions. Ideally, life in society should be lived above the law, not by it. Australian theologian Bruce Kaye, in particular, emphasises that social interaction degenerates when it is construed narrowly in terms of legal obligations.[94] The law is a framework and a guide as to the character of the civic system, but is not an adequate dynamic for the civil community. Similarly, within organisations, an effective dynamic goes beyond narrow legal definitions. The ethos or culture of such organisations is a vital motivating and shaping factor in the civil community that the organisation exists to create and serve. Kaye argues that, if a company interprets its place in the civil and market systems in narrow legalistic terms, it will not create the civil community within its own life, or in its relationships with the host society, which will enable it to fulfil its basic purposes. More prosaically, much contemporary management literature points to the role that goals, values and missions perform in maintaining organisational efficiency.[95]

Voluntary efforts to behave morally and to uphold the law are necessary for complex social organisations; otherwise law enforcement would become impossible as well as tyrannical. These inward voluntary limitations—so necessary for corporate life—are the product of conscience, conviction and inward persuasion and belief, and cannot be imposed directly from outside. Convention is therefore society’s strongest defence against anarchy and the tyranny of an all-pervading disciplinary and coercive law. G. R. Dunstan’s account emphasises the role of institutions as the means by which moral insights are given stability and permanence.[96] Without such institutions, moral insights would be lost in times of need. This emphasis on conventions places a primary emphasis on morality as a common possession rather than as a matter of individual choice or decision.

For Dunstan, such conventions incorporate expectations as well as imposing limitations. We take the predictability necessary for social life for granted because we assume that we know what to expect of one another in roughly comparable situations. We can do so because a large part of our socialisation—our elementary social and moral education—involves training in the meeting of such mutual expectations. Such expectations involve a prescriptive element because social situations are understood as relationships in which certain conduct is expected as appropriate to the roles of the people involved.[97] Fidelity, in this context, means meeting the expectations appropriate to one’s role. Simply following the moral rules—including obeying the law—is not enough. Personal integrity requires one to be on guard against formalism and to be conscious of the live, human, ethical reality behind such obligations. In times of rapid social change, such expectations can be fluid or imperfectly understood, but there is a recognisable continuity and cohesion in them. Frequently, there are conflicts between these roles and their accompanying obligations and consequently the need for moral judgement cannot be avoided.[98] Such role behaviour—and the mutual support of people in their groups—is a significant part of everyday life, bound up with our awareness of ourselves as agents. Consequently, Mead believed that a person was built up of internalised roles, so that the expectations of others became the self-expectations of a self-steering person.[99]

These conventions are very demanding because they flow from what the community believes to be of worth. They include specific beliefs about the worth of people regardless of their specific characteristics. These include beliefs about the value of human relationships and the common interest in the truths on which they stand. Such beliefs have a history and, in the case of Western societies, can be traced in the twin roots of our culture: Greek culture and Judaeo-Christian religion. A mature religious ethic, such as the Judaeo-Christian tradition, makes demands well beyond mere utilitarian considerations to the supreme worth of sacrifice, in the transcendence of self in subordination and service to the other.

These learned moral traditions are complex and usually tacit. Such moral judgements are neither simple deductions from principles nor simply calculation of consequences; but, as I pointed out earlier, they have been built into our vocabulary and our stories. Such moral judgements involve a skilled performance.[100] Even the moral abstractions of our legitimisers express general aims, which cannot be made operational in a straightforward way through clear-cut ‘means-to-ends’ calculation, though such abstractions supply a general orientation for living. Also, as we have already seen, there are conflicts in the roles we perform and there also conflicts between the abstractions we use. What this means for American philosopher Hubert Dreyfus is that skilled social behaviour transcends the analytical application of universal rules in a way of thinking that is rapid, intuitive, holistic, interpretative, experientially based and context dependent.[101] Importantly, for Cambridge economist Tony Lawson, the social system is an inherently dynamic process, which emerges from and depends on human practice, but which is not reducible to individual human agency. In short, it is an emergent evolutionary system.[102]

Consistent with the account given earlier, British moral philosopher Robert Downie emphasises the emotional element in social morality: the ties generated by kinship, common religion, custom, language, traditional ways of earning a living, traditional loyalties of all kinds and, more generally, shared broad cultural traditions.[103] Nevertheless, there are limits to the degree of variability in social rules. Social moralities must have certain structural features in common. Downie lists a number of obvious truths as limiting the scope for variety: our lack of self-sufficiency, our limited benevolence, our approximately equal power, our limited understanding and skills and limitations imposed by the environment and scarcity.[104] Consequently, we require means of limiting violence, exploitation and competition and means for encouraging cooperation. All of this implies that there is necessarily a strong element of consequentialism in social morality. This does not mean that social morality is, or must be, limited to an examination of the consequences of action. The beliefs on which we act extend our moral values well beyond such consequentialism.

Not only are there social rules and expectations, there are said to be social rules about social rules. Downie describes second-order rules of recognition, of change and of empowerment and procedure. For their part, Australian public-choice philosopher Geoffrey Brennan and American Nobel Prize-winning economist James Buchanan[105] emphasise the importance of rules at the constitutional level. They argue optimistically that the natural tendency for conflict in the interests of individuals is moderated substantially in the choice of rules. In their view, it is these second-order rules and moral principles that help us determine the moral legitimacy of government action. This view presupposes the existence of sufficient social capital and freedom from violence to enable discourse about such rules. It also ignores the extent to which there are real conflicts of interest involved in those constitutional rules. Additionally, there is no reason to believe that these add up to a coherent, consistent system. Nor, as Brennan and Buchanan point out, is there any reason to believe that the forces of social evolution will always ensure the selection of the best rules.

In summary, while there is wide range of views about the basis of our moral and legal principles, there is strong support for the proposition that the moral and legal principles, along with a sense of community, provide crucial elements in the governance structures of our societies.