Polity and Order

Any governance, whether public or private, is concerned with prescriptions: laws, ordinances, executive orders, decisions, rules, policies, programs, understandings, commands, and traditions are some of the names we give to these prescriptions. Those prescriptions that are consonant with each other add up to what we call the social order. The core of a social order is the laws, the codified or traditional prescriptions which are enforced by public government. We do not have any reliable counts of the number of laws, but all observers seem to agree that the number of legally regulated activities is increasing in our society, which is one sign that our social order is growing and becoming more complex.

The public governments in the United States, in addition to the federal one and the 50 state ones, consist of over 102,000 counties, townships and municipalities, school districts, and other territorial bodies.1)  Of particular interest is the emergence, in recent decades, of many so-termed "authorities", which combine features of business organizations with features of public agencies. No modem country in the world seems to have decentralized its public government into so many small units as has the United States.

Large private organizations have their own "governments" within the framework set by the laws issued by the public ones. In this category, the U.S. has some 300,000 manufacturing establishments, with an average number of 57 employees.2)  In 1958, the 36 most profitable corporations employed an average of 236,000 persons,3) about as many as the population of Nevada, the least populous state in the union. Among the private governments, we also include some 250 religious bodies with about 310,000 local parishes and congregations, averaging about 300 persons in each.4) in 1957, the largest unified religious organization, the Roman Catholic Church, claimed 36 million members.5) Finally, among the important private governments we must also count some 8,700 national voluntary associations, 6) – at least 36 per cent of all adult Americans belong to one or more voluntary associations 7) – and the labor unions to which a third of all employed in nonagricultural establishments belong.8)

Persons who occupy positions where the production of prescriptions is expected of them are the rulers of the social order. They invent new prescriptions, and thus change or enlarge the social order. Those who apply or transmit the prescriptions to others are the administrators of the social order, and those who find themselves exposed to the prescriptions are the subjects. The present trend is toward a rapidly enlarging body of administrators. Thus the number of persons in government civil service (not all of whom are administrators) increased from 7 per 100 subjects in 1930 to 15 per 100 subjects in 1958.9) In industry, the administrators have also increased. Bendix reports 8 administrative employees per 100 production workers in 1899, 18 in 1929, and 22 per 100 in 1947.10) We have no figures on the growth of functionaries in churches, labor unions and voluntary associations.

The maintenance of our social order is, in the last analysis, ensured only by means of the government’s use of physical (military or police) force. One should not minimize the extent to which this is exercised as a reality, rather than as a mere threat. The F.B.I. Uniform Crime Report reveals that in 3,781 cities with over 2,500 inhabitants, representing a total population of 102 million, there was in 1958 1.8 police department employees per 1,000 population 11) and no less than 2.34 million arrests.12) To maintain the external defense of its social order, the United States in June 1959 maintained 2.5 million men in its military establishment, about a third of whom were based abroad.13)

Rulers and administrators exercise power. We learn which person or organization has power by learning whose version of order prevails. Answers in terms of persons are probably appropriate in some instances – the President of the United States has enormous power – but in many contexts, particularly in highly organized democracies, they appear less appropriate. Here, any power of importance is likely to be not a person but an organization. Organized parties gather up whatever power rests in individual votes. Every branch of the economy has its pressure organization: industrialists, farmers, retailers, laborers, etc., have their lobbies. The religiously oriented use the weight of their organizations, the churches, to impress the body politic. Also, voluntary associations of various kinds often exercise considerable power on the local level, where the units of public government are small and weak. "We live in an era in which only organization counts," says Robert S. Lynd; "values and causes with unorganized or only vaguely organized backing were never so impotent."14)

Power is difficult to measure, and one cannot easily present statistics on the distribution of power in a society. Lawyers, who constitute about one-tenth of one per cent of the population of the United States, supply the majority of its decision-makers in government. For various periods, 70 per cent of all presidents, vice presidents, and cabinet members have been lawyers, and so has 57 per cent of all senators, 56 per cent of all members of the House of Representatives, and 52 per cent of all state governors.15) (This is not a recent trend, as Matthews points out: "25 of the 52 signers of the Declaration of Independence were lawyers, 31 of the 55 members of the Continental Congress, 23 of the 33 men who have served as President of the United States have been lawyers."16))  These statistics do not necessarily mean that the lawyers have the power; they are for the most part spokesmen for interests other than the bar association, and advocate the respective versions of order of these interests. Power in the United States is localized in the large organizations of business and industry, in labor and farm groups, and, above all, in the large semi-autonomous branches of government, such as the White House, the Congress, the high courts, and the military establishment. The task of the federal government and its various agencies is not only to exercise power by initiating actions but also to maintain orderly market places in which power blocks can fight out their interests, and arrive at reasonable and workable compromises.

Democracy, sociologically speaking, is a protest movement against the uneven distribution of power. Democracy seeks devices to disperse or decentralize power. Ideally, it means that everyone has equal power. In practice, it means that everyone exerts some influence on the government process, by voting for a party in general elections of office holders and by expressing opinions publicly. In 1860 only 17 per cent of the population was eligible to vote; in 1920 adult women got the right to vote; and in 1960 some 109 million Americans, or 61 per cent of the total population, were eligible to participate in the presidential election.17) (The ineligible are under 21 years of age, too recent residents of their states to have voting rights, illiterates, or aliens.) Only two-thirds of those who are eligible actually vote; non-voting is greater among women than among men (31 compared to 21 per cent), greater among Negroes than whites (67 compared to 21 per cent), greater among Protestants than Catholics (32 compared to 15 per cent). Non-voting is also more prevalent in rural than in urban areas, more common among the very young people and the very old voters than those of middle age, and more common in the lower income and educational brackets than in the higher ones.18)

By means of public opinion polls we have learned the composition of the two major political parties. In general, Republicans are favored by older age groups, Protestants, farmers, the better-educated, the more respected occupations, and the higher-income brackets, and Democrats by the younger age groups, Catholics, city dwellers, the less-educated, laborers, and the lower-income brackets.19) The Republican election victories in 1952 and 1956 showed that Negroes, Catholics, and wives of workers had to some extent switched party to vote for General Eisenhower. Kennedy’s victory in 1960 was evidence that these categories had returned to their predominant Democratic allegiance, but firm conclusions on this point must await publication of more detailed election studies. In general, one must remember that there is a large overlap in terms of background characteristics of supporters of the two parties. It is true that more Democrats are recruited from families headed by a member of a labor union – 31 per cent of the Democrats belonged here in 1952 – but the Republicans also have strength in this category – no less than 23 per cent of their support in 1952 came from members of families headed by a union man or woman.20) Given such similar popular backing, the parties are hardly instruments of "class politics". While some issues divide them, their major difference is perhaps simply that they promote separate slates of persons for political office. The importance of the outwardly projected personal quality of the candidate for high political office is enhanced by the use of television and other mass media in making him known to the voters.

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1) This figure is given in Nathan Miller, "United States", in B. A. Cohen (editor) The Worldmark Encyclopedia of The Nations, Harper and Bros., New York, 1960, p. 1075. My own calculations from various sources gives a total of 120,000.

2) U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1959, Washington, D.C., 1959, p. 780.

3) "The 500 largest U. S. Industrial Corporations", Fortune, vol. 62, (1960) no. 1 (July), p. 131.

4) Cf. infra, Table 74 and further information in the source of this table.

5) The figure refers to persons baptized in the Catholic faith (Infra, Table 74). By another estimate, 31 million of the population above 14 years of age report that they are Roman Catholics (Infra, Table 76).

6) Infra, Table 35

7) Infra, Table 36. Table 37 indicates that memberships are more common among those who own than those who rent their residences, more common among the more educated than the less educated, more common among married than single, and less common in big cities than small, but more common in small cities than in rural areas.

8) Infra, Table 38

9) Infra, Table 28

10) Reinhard Bendix, Work and Authority in Industry, John Wiley and Sons, New York, 1956, p. 214.

11) Infra, Table 30

12) Infra, Table 31

13) Infra, Table 29

14) Robert S. Lynd, "Foreword" to Robert A. Brady, Business as a System of Power, Columbia University Press, New York, 1943, p. xi.

15) Infra, Table 27

16) Donald R. Matthews, The Social Background of Political Decision-Makers, Doubleday, New York, 1954, p. 30.

17) Infra, Table 34

18) Infra, Table 33

19) Loc. cit.

20) Loc. cit.