Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Two Concepts of Society

Repeatedly in history we see two ideas of what human society is, or should be. Whether in the form of Cicero versus Julius Caesar, or the political candidates in the 2010 elections in America, these notions remain essentially the two versions of human community, despite myriad re-packagings over the centuries.

The first, although not exactly corresponding to the writings of Aristotle, is close enough that we can call it Aristotelian. The key element of this understanding of society is the concept of inter-connection. In society, each individual is connected with other individuals via a smorgasbord of relationships: parent/child, employer/employee, friend/friend, spouse/spouse, coach/player, etc. Interconnection reflects a deeper interdependence among human beings, and each contributes and receives in a variety of ways. Society is, in this view, a network.

The alternate view, while not precisely taken from the texts of Plato, is close enough that we may call it Platonic. In this view, society cannot self-manage, but rather needs the state to maintain it. The government forms the basis and both supplies and organizes society. Individuals stand on the foundation, which is the state, and carry out their roles, empowered and directed by the state. The key element here, then, is the direct dependence of the individual upon the state.

The choice presented by these two models is, thus, either interdependence of members of society upon one another, or the dependence of all members of society directly upon the government.