How a Great Power Falls Apart
Decline Is Invisible From the Inside
TRATTATO DI SOCIOLOGIA GENERALE. BY VILFREDO PARETO. 2 vols. Firenze: Barbèra, 1916. English translation: THE MIND AND SOCIETY. Edited by Arthur Livingston; translated by Andrew Bongiorno and Arthur Livingston with the advice and cooperation of James Harvey Rogers. 4 vols. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1935.
PARETO has never been widely read in the United States. Even during the 1930's, when the admirable English translation of the "Sociologia Generale" edited by the late Arthur Livingston came out, there was no more than a flurry among the reviewers. Pareto's big book does indeed continue to be read by professional students of human relations. As an "anti-intellectual," as perhaps "the Karl Marx of the bourgeoisie," his name at least is part of the miscellaneous furniture of the minds of educated Americans. He deserves a better fate.
For Pareto today does not seem old-fashioned, dated, in the way that another great systematic general sociologist, Herbert Spencer, does. The two have a great deal in common; both had scientific and technical training--Pareto was an engineer, and Spencer almost an engineer--both were brought up in the strict secularist faith of the Enlightenment, both believed in individual freedom, above all in economic life, and both feared and distrusted the encroaching democratic state. Both wrote ponderously and at length, so that for the ordinary reader the task of reading them is a formidable one.
The task is hardly worth while today for Spencer, unless the reader wants to try to relive Victorian intellectual history. For Spencer, faced toward the end of his life with the evident errors in his earlier prognosis of evolution from the "militant" to the "industrial" society, from status to contract, from state intervention in economic life to complete laissez faire, could only rail at his contemporaries for their blindness and wronghcadedness, could do no more than preach against their sins. Pareto, who was only 20 years younger than Spencer, and who regretted the state and prospects of the Western World in 1900 at least as much as did Spencer, made a real effort to understand why his contemporaries were behaving as they did. This attempt to understand confirmed him in the belief that nineteenth-century theories of Evolution and Progress were wrong, at least in their application to human societies, and wrong at bottom because most human beings, even in the enlightened West, are quite incapable of living up to the best plans the reformers have prescribed for them. His study of general sociology became one of the most important documents in the twentieth-century revision of earlier optimistic faith in rapid "linear" social progress. In short, Pareto is one of the leaders of the badly but probably irretrievably named attitude toward human nature we call "anti-intellectualism." We are in 1954 still struggling with the problems the anti-intellectualist movement has set us. Pareto is therefore still worth the great difficulty of reading him. He must unfortunately be read in all his length, for unlike Mr. Arnold Toynbee, he has had no simplifier and condenser.
Pareto's broadest generalization about man's fate need interest the modern reader only as an indication of contemporary revulsions from the concept of linear social evolution. Though Pareto dressed this generalization up in some very abstract concepts of equilibrium taken from natural science, it amounts to one more cyclical philosophy of history. According to Pareto, Western society has tended to move from a state in which the innovators, the entrepreneurs, the "foxes," set the tone, to one in which the tradition-bound, the sound, simple-minded landed aristocrats, the bureaucrats--both military and civilian--the "lions," set the tone. Pareto's explanations of the complex changes in human group-behavior which set up this cycle and keep it moving are subtle and persuasive. The specific conclusion he arrives at is that by the late nineteenth century a period of maximum domination of the foxes was coming to an end, and the reign of the lions was preparing. In the nineteenth century freedom to experiment had led to a maximum of economic productiveness, to a society in which the career open to talent was as open as it ever had been, and better rewarded, a society enjoying a maximum of individual freedom and a minimum of restrictive action by the state and by lesser associations, perhaps also for many individuals a maximum of risk and adventure, and a minimum of security.
Pareto liked this society, but he saw it giving way to another and quite opposite kind of society. Increasing democracy, far from leading to increasing individual liberty, seemed to him an entering wedge for the ultimate rule of the lions, for the return to power of the soldier and the bureaucrat, for the deadening of experiment and initiative, for the lessening of the total productive power of the society but the increasing security of most men--their psychological security at any rate, if not their material prosperity. Something like state Socialism Pareto thought was on its way in the West. The new Socialism would not be an improved nineteenth-century society, with universal security added to universal prosperity; it would not be the classless society of Marxist preaching; it would, indeed, be a kind of return to the twelfth century--a rather more hygienic twelfth century, perhaps even a rather more prosperous one, but certainly an age of faith, decorum, and the less exciting virtues. Pareto clearly believed that this transition would not come without violence, and, in particular, not without international wars and revolutions. But he does not dwell on this prospect with the fond horror of a real prophet of doom like Mr. Sorokin.
Pareto is not even clear as to whether his cycle is a series of spirals reaching ever higher, or merely a swinging back and forth of a pendulum. His heart was not really in this grand philosophy of history, which one suspects he brought out largely to annoy the believers in assured linear Progress. And of course we are in no position 30 years later to test the accuracy of his analysis. For whether we are on a spiral, a pendulum, or a fine straight line tending upward as all good charts should, the fact is that we as contemporaries cannot place ourselves in any such scheme; we simply do not yet--and perhaps never may--understand the social process well enough to see just where we are in its course. Much of what Pareto predicted has indeed come to pass; the state everywhere "interferes" with the individual far more than it did in 1900. Yet it is by no means certain that in the West at least there is in the mid-twentieth century any less chance for the individual who has a new idea, for the inventor, the innovating artist, the engineer, the entrepreneur, than at the beginning of the century. The total wealth of the West is greater than ever before, in spite of its rather more equal distribution. Our intellectuals complain about the deadening uniformity of modern life, but hardly any more vigorously than did the intellectuals of the heyday of individualism in the Victorian Age. If ours is to be an age of lions, there are a lot of foxes about and seemingly thriving.
The heart of the big book on general sociology is, however, the analysis of human group-action summed up by Pareto in his concepts of the "residues" and the "derivations." Here indeed he deserves the epithet Mr. Max Lerner found for him in a review of the English translation in 1935--"The Bentham of the irrational." Pareto, it should be noted, did not claim to be a psychologist. He had indeed trouble with his labels, and made use of terms like "instinct" which might lead an unwary reader to assume that he has theories about what makes an individual behave as he does. Actually Pareto leaves the study of drives, urges, impulses, libidos and the id to the professional psychologist. As a sociologist, he is interested only in the observable behavior of men in groups; and he has to use as evidence a good deal of purely symbolic behavior, language, ritual, customs and the like. In analyzing that behavior he finds it convenient for purposes of understanding to divide it into three classifications--never forgetting that in real social life the three are usually inextricably mixed. First there is rational or "logico-experimental" action, of which the easiest understood is the kind the economist studies and which indeed he can study with mathematical tools; but Pareto, who was earlier a very distinguished mathematical economist, turned to sociology just because he became convinced that so much of social action must escape the economist. The other two classes then are both "non-logico-experimental"--the "residues" and the "derivations." What Pareto meant by these by no means transparent terms is best brought out concretely.
In the fifth century B.C. a group of Greek sailors sacrifice to Poseidon before setting out on a voyage. A thousand years later, perhaps in the same spot, a group of Greek sailors, now Christians, pray to the Virgin before setting out on a voyage. The sentiments--the "residues"--involved are clearly the same, or very nearly the same, in both instances. There are in Paretan terms several different kinds of residues here, though that expressing a need for divine or at least superhuman aid in face of possible danger is perhaps uppermost. This residue, indeed, would not be greatly changed if we brought the incident down to today, when compass, naval architecture, radio and much else have robbed the sea of so much of its terror. Most of us still can hardly approach an airplane trip without some feeling of need for at least psychological reassurance.
The derivations are of course the ideas, the theories, held about Poseidon and the Virgin respectively, and perhaps for skeptical moderns, about luck or even about the relation between the individual and actuarial statistics. They vary, even though the systematist can certainly discern similarities in the cults. What is, however, crucially important is that from the point of view of the true believers, the participants in the ritual, the two systematic theological derivations are simply worlds apart. You cannot normally believe in both Poseidon and the Virgin.
One more concrete instance should bring out clearly the fact that Pareto is no naïve anti-intellectual, that he says nothing so foolish as that ideas, theories, "derivations," are powerless to affect human group-behavior, that one set of ideas is as good as another, that ideas are peripheral, part of the "superstructure," mere froth on the surface of the great wordless waves of society. Here is an example from the memoirs of Talleyrand--himself, incidentally, a good Paretan in practice. The Prussian army, led by Bluecher, was advancing on Paris after Waterloo. The Prussian general, Talleyrand learned from observers, was especially incensed at the existence in Paris of a Pont de Jéna, commemorating the disastrous and, to many Prussians, disgraceful defeat of the Prussian army by the French in 1806. Bluecher was determined to blow up this particular bridge--not for military purposes, for the war was over, and he had no intention of blowing up any other bridge in Paris. Talleyrand at once took steps to change the name of the bridge to Pont de l'Ecole de Guerre, since it led from the right bank to the War School on the left. Bluecher arrived to find no longer a Pont de Jéna, so he blew nothing up. The story as Talleyrand tells it is almost certainly incorrect in many details, notably in assigning to himself the almost exclusive credit for saving the actual bridge. But its central facts--that Bluecher at least thought of blowing up a bridge because it was named after the battle of Jéna, that the name of the bridge was changed before or shortly after Bluecher arrived in Paris, and that he did not blow up the bridge--are quite clear.
In the Paretan analysis, the mere name "Pont de Jéna" is a derivation in this instance, a simple one, hardly a theory or a proposition, but still a name filled with certain obvious, indeed quite logical and rational associations. The residues involved in Bluecher's behavior--and no doubt large numbers of his officers and men shared the sentiments expressed in the residue--are, as they almost always are, quite complicated. Certainly a major residue here is one which Pareto called "persistence of aggregates," the residue at the bottom of traditional conservatism, a residue strong in Prussian officers and often expressed in a touchy patriotism. The real value of this example, however, is not in distinctions among specific derivations and specific residues, but rather in the relation between residues and a derivation. Here is evident the kind of minimal importance--an instrumental rôle in actual social change--Pareto always admitted for the derivations. By changing the mere name of the bridge, by manipulating a derivation, by yielding indeed in a sense, but not by any abject surrender, Talleyrand was able--to use rather barbarous but at least quite clear terms from social-scientese--to "deactivate" certain of the Prussian's sentiments which when active were injurious to the best interests of France.
He was not able, and according to his memoirs did not even try, to remove or change the Prussian's sentiments, or their expression in his residues. And indeed it is somewhat a challenge to those who, like most of us Americans, have been brought up in a belief in the power of the idealistic word to change human sentiments to ask, How would you have "reasoned" with Bluecher? It seems pretty clear that it would have done no good --would probably have done harm--to have pointed out to Bluecher that his sentiments expressed in just that way at least were petty, that the economic value of the bridge was far greater than any satisfaction to Prussian pride its destruction might bring, that the proposed act was not in accord with the Kantian Categorical Imperative, or with Christian ethics. Another idealistic course--proudly retaining the name Pont de Jéna--would almost certainly have meant loss of the bridge.
In fact any conceivable line of reasoning, even the most abstract and "idealistic," that could be taken in a case of this sort would involve some appeal to the residues. It is one of the great strengths of Pareto's system that, though for purposes of analysis he finds it convenient to distinguish between derivations and residues, he realizes, as naïve anti-intellectuals do not, that in social action the two are always associated, in varying proportions and strengths indeed, but always in association. By temperament and training--in which one must include a desire to épater le bourgeois--Pareto inclined to minimize the rôle of high ethical ideas in transforming group-action. He did not hold, however, that even such ideas are dispensable or powerless or unimportant. Among his residues he included what amounts to a residue compelling men to make just this kind of derivation, to hold high ethical ideals, and to believe they can live up to these ideals.
The bulk of the four volumes of Pareto in English translation is taken up with an elaborate classification, a taxonomy, of the residues and the derivations. With the derivations, which Francis Bacon had already analyzed as "idols" and with which we are all familiar as "rationalizations," Pareto has no great trouble; but he found it necessary to divide the residues into six classes, 26 subclasses, and 25 further subdivisions. Now the test of any such systematic classification is its use, as Pareto well knew. By his own standards of natural science, he has failed as a taxonomist, for no one uses his system in the daily routine of work, as a botanist still uses much of the system of Linnaeus. The late L. J. Henderson made a valiant attempt in a Harvard seminar on concrete sociology to train his students in the regular use of the Paretan system, but he has had no successors.
If, however, Pareto's classification of residues and derivations has proved unwieldy and unusable, if indeed neither the term "residue" nor the term "derivation" has caught on with the public in the way some of Freud's terms have caught on, the underlying conception is part and parcel of the way many mid-century students of human relations approach their work. We need not use that often disputable word "influence." Pareto's direct influence has perhaps been slight, especially in this country, though by no means negligible, as the mention of names like Talcott Parsons, George Homans, James Burnham, N. J. Spykman, perhaps even George F. Kennan, would indicate. It is rather as one current in the broad stream of contemporary revision of the eighteenth-century--and, one must admit, the nineteenth-- estimate of the potentialities of radical reform of group-behavior that Pareto's work survives. It should be worth while following up the implications of his work in a concrete problem very much before us today, that of "colonialism."
Pareto would most certainly classify the proposition, that the existing system of colonial dependencies of Western nations in Africa, Asia, Oceania and Latin America is unjust and anachronistic and should be terminated by the immediate granting of complete independence to all colonial peoples, as a derivation not in accord with what he with characteristic heaviness called "logico-experimental" fact, or reality. He would, indeed, have poured on those who maintain this proposition the kind of scorn he reserved for people he called the "virtuists" and others call "dogooders." But once he had got rid of his spleen, and settled down to the work of analysis, he would conclude that from the subjective point of view of the native leaders against colonial rule, the spreading among their own people of a belief in the unjustness of the colonial system is indeed a useful derivation; and that the spreading of a belief in this proposition among the Western colonial rulers themselves or at least among Western peoples would be an even more useful derivation from the point of view of these native leaders. From the point of view of the interests of the Western peoples, and indeed from the point of view of all interested in the peace and prosperity of the world, he would conclude that this proposition is on the whole a harmful one, an ideal so unreal in its estimate of the ability of most colonial peoples to rule themselves in this kind of world--the One World of fact, the One World of modern industry--that the attempt to achieve it would be disastrous for all concerned.
The residues, as always, would give Pareto more trouble than the derivations, for he did not really succeed in classifying them at all effectively. He would certainly recognize that among the native peoples themselves strong sentiments in favor of independence and group self-esteem, sharpened by the events of the last 50 years, have been so far activated that no sensible Western statesman or publicist could afford to disregard them or attempt to suppress them and return to simple nineteenth-century "imperialist" methods of direct or indirect rule. Among the Westerners themselves, he would recognize the existence of a strong current of anti-imperialist feeling among liberals everywhere, and somewhat vaguer and more widespread feeling of bad conscience about the past of Western imperialism among many other Westerners. In particular, he would have to admit as a very powerful residue indeed among Americans a strong sentiment against all forms of colonialism. Since like most lovers of irony, he was not above Schadenfreude, Pareto would undoubtedly enjoy to the full the current plight of American liberals forced to support wicked France in Indo-China--forced, indeed, to egg her on to a firmer stand.
In the Paretan analysis, then, and from the point of view of the Westerner, we are faced, not with a simple conflict between our ideals and our interests as the intellectualist, whether "realist" or "idealist," sees such a conflict, but with a most complex one in which ideals and interests and sentiments are inextricably mixed on both sides of the dilemma--and among both Westerners and natives. In such an analysis, the first conclusion must be that no immediate practical solution of the problem is possible. For nothing can effect a radical change in widespread residues, nothing can root them out rapidly and entirely, nothing, in short, can really reform them in a generation or so. The statesman and the social scientist can study them, can try to estimate their strength, can indeed--to lapse once more into social-scientese--take the kind of measure that may activate some and deactivate others. Like the physician, these seekers after the health of the body politic may indeed find that their therapeutic measures have unforeseen consequences, that the residues respond unpredictably to manipulation by means of the derivations they administer. But, again like the physician, they have to do something, for the patient demands it. One of the residues Pareto specifically names is a residue that demands that there be political action. Pareto by temperament would agree with Hippocrates--and with Burke and the anti-planners generally: "Do no harm"--do not interfere where you do not fully understand, for Nature is wiser than you are. But he also knew that the patient wants the pill, or even the operation, and that sometimes one has to give in to the patient.
He would not, then, advocate letting the colonial problem alone. He certainly would advocate neither complete and immediate independence, nor a quite impossible return to strict control of the colonies. One imagines that he would prefer wherever possible the sugar-coated pill of trusteeship, skillfully administered, with a sound additional dose of Point Four. In less metaphorical terms, he would try to preserve as long as possible the real control in the hands of good Western administrators who could distinguish carefully between the demands of Westernized native intellectuals and the needs of the masses, but who would by no means unnecessarily antagonize the intellectuals, who would rather play skillfully on the residues he recognizes as their basic motivation. This would be a hard task, and perhaps an impossible one as the world now is. It is perhaps made somewhat easier by the fact, now patent even to liberals at home in the West, and beginning to be apparent to some of those curious mirror-images of Western liberals who hold power in countries like India, that for "undeveloped" peoples all over the world the alternative to Western imperialism is not in fact complete independence from the West, but Russian imperialism.
Yet no one who knows the West, and especially that now dominant part of the West, the United States, can hope that the foregoing analysis of the colonial problem, or a similar analysis of the problems of race relations in the United States, of "free enterprise" versus "planning," of world federation, and of many more, will be at all acceptable to that powerful current in American public opinion that drives toward idealistic solutions. We are an impatient people, impatient above all in our idealism. On the wave of recent material prosperity, and with a record of genuine achievement in easing up some of the traditional tensions in Western society, we are reluctant to accept the Paretan position that it is quite impossible to eliminate all such tensions. We find him tired instead of cautious, cynical instead of realistic, a man so proudly aloof from common men that he misses the spiritual forces that unite common men--in America, anyway--in the democratic way. Behind him we see his fellow countryman Machiavelli; and we know that Machiavelli is no prophet for the countrymen of Jefferson.
It is tempting to see, in this really powerful and widespread American feeling of dislike for anything in words that sounds like the Machiavellian tradition in politics, evidence--in Pareto's own terms--of a strong set of residues which have served our people well. Of course we do make our compromises. We do not carry our idealism in the matter of colonialism to the point of Robespierre's famous "let the colonies perish, rather than a principle." To foreigners, we seem indeed to have inherited that British capacity for preserving both our sense of virtue and our material possessions intact which so irritated generations of Europeans against perfide Albion in the last few centuries. The subject is one that tempts to irony; unkind foreigners have suggested that we do indeed accept Robespierre's maxim--only with the emendation, "the colonies of others."
Yet we have in the last few years gone a long way in curbing our idealistic impatience in international relations. What Pareto's work now puts before us most clearly is this: Can we adapt the principles and the sentiments (in Paretan terms, the derivations and the residues) developed in the long years when we were outsiders, indeed "colonials," in world politics to our needs now that we have become insiders and responsible leaders? Pareto, though he does not say much directly about Americans, clearly held, with many Europeans of his cast of thought, that we could not--at least not without ceasing to try to be a democracy. At bottom, he believed we take the word too much for the deed, in others as well as in ourselves. Yet he may be wrong. Pareto himself greatly admired the ruling classes of Rome and of Britain at their best. But neither a Roman nor a British gentleman could be a conscious and avowed Machiavellian, nor indeed a Paretan. They had, for one thing--and a most important thing it is--to be simpler-minded than these subtle Italians, less analytical, less conscious of the gap between the real and the ideal.
Yet the basic challenge thinkers like Pareto set those of us brought up in the American tradition remains to trouble us, and nowhere more clearly than in the field of international relations. Perhaps one can dismiss phenomena like the Ford peace ship in the war of 1914, or plans for abolishing national sovereignty by fiat, as not really central. It is harder to forget the Kellogg-Briand peace pacts, and even some more recent examples of the belief in a nice agreement, duly signed. It is harder to forget the numerous publicists who, in telling us that we must not compromise with evil, seem really to mean that evil will yield to good words--or if not to words, at least to good force. To such dangerous nonsense, Pareto is at least an antidote--like all antidotes, dangerous also, and not to be taken in excess.