On Self and Social Organization

On Self and Social Organization


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It is almost impossible now to imagine the prestigious position Charles Horton Cooley (1864-1929) held within the founding generation of American sociologists. His seminal work on human communication, social organization, and public opinion stimulated and guided much of early American sociological thought.

Cooley's work relating self and community is now more relevant than ever to the problems of understanding and directing modern democratic societies. Cooley applied the ideas of pragmatism to developing a systematic way of approaching social action, social change, and social order; he used these interrelated theories to analyze the social problems and cultural crises of the age. According to Cooley, social change is a fragile, interactive process that, due to constantly arising problems of action, requires ongoing scrutiny by the public. This collection of Cooley's best work is an important contribution not only to the history of ideas--especially to the origin of modern sociological theory-- but also to the current public debate on civil society, community, and democracy.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226115092
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 09/28/1998
Series: Heritage of Sociology Series
Edition description: 1
Pages: 268
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.80(d)

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Copyright © 1998 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-11509-2

Chapter One

Some Teachings of Emerson

I do not know what it is that should make a writer's words of lasting value unless it be that they are such as other men must always find profit in reading. If they contain this element of permanent interest, it will not matter very greatly what else they contain or lack. It is the affirmative, not the negative, that is in the end important. In pursuit of that ideal beauty and simplicity, beyond the attainment of our time and people, which we think we perceive in the Greek sculpture, men are willing to give themselves much trouble, nor is any figure rejected because it is found imbedded in earth or because it lacks arms, legs, or head. So in literature, it seems to me, we should estimate a man by what he is rather than by what he is not, by the light that is in him and not by the darkness.

Three or four years ago the first of English critics came to this country and gave us a talk upon our Emerson which many Americans found very irritating. Few accepted the critic's decision, and it was even thought that he took a true British satisfaction in giving our conceit a set down. Yet it seems to me that if there is injustice in his criticism, it lies rather in what is omitted than in what is said. He tells us much about what Emerson is not and little about what he is. Our attention is called with great emphasis to the want of legs and arms in our statue, but the wonderful beauty of the torso seems neglected. We are told he is neither a great poet, a great philosopher, nor a great man of letters; only, like Marcus Aurelius, "the friend and alder of those who would live in the spirit." This phrase may, no doubt, mean much, but certainly there was no great enthusiasm shown in expanding and illustrating it.

Without accepting or attempting to controvert this literary estimate of Emerson, I propose to offer a few somewhat general remarks upon his influence as a "friend and alder."

To everyone puzzled by the conflicting claims of reason and authority, hesitating, perhaps, between friends, interest, and peace, on the one hand, and his own intractable instincts, on the other, Emerson offers his calm, clear, and unmistakable counsel of self-reliance. "Trust thyself."

"Whoso would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness but must explore if it be goodness." He does not say "follow your own instincts unless they seem to conflict with what the world recognizes as right and proper" but "trust thyself" always, implicitly, and everywhere. This is his bottom fact; if this is not true, nothing is. A man's first duty is to live not according to the world but according to himself. If there still linger, in this generation, the notion that the divine light is in some way outside of man and not within him, at that Emerson strikes as at the root of all evil. How this mild-mannered descendant of many clergymen admires strong and independent men; hardly less than Carlyle himself.

But this vigorous and uncompromising declaration of independence is not enough. He asserts that this self-guidance is the most difficult of attainments, only to be gained by him who is ready to sacrifice much for it. "Society," he points out, "everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of everyone of its members." "The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion." "Whoso would be a man must be a non-conformist." I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names, to large society and dead institutions. A favorite thought with him is the contrast between the simple, straightforward independence of inanimate things or of young children, and man's cringing submission to others. In "The Sphinx," his first poem, the waves are "unashamed" but man "crouches and blushes, absconds and conceals."

Another fundamental doctrine of Emerson's ethics is that this uncompromising struggle must be carried on with temperance and composure. Quarrel and controversy are, perhaps, a little better than apa thy but not much. They defeat the real end. How can the "still small voice" be heard amid the tumult of party conflict? Noisy people, however good their ostensible purpose, were his aversion. He had no faith whatever in such.

His temperament enabled Emerson to practice a composure in trying circumstances which his friend Carlyle admired but did not attain. Early in his career he was invited to address the students of the Divinity School at Cambridge. He consented, and with the calm and innocence and audacity peculiar to him the "gentle iconoclast" presented views on religious matters that must have made his hearers' blood run cold. Yet nothing more wholly uncontroversial in its tone than this address can be imagined. There is not a word to indicate that Emerson supposed it possible that anyone could take his opinions amiss. Bigotry and intolerance were things he hardly comprehended.

The unresenting silence with which he took the abuse that New England orthodoxy heaped upon the author of this lecture proved that he could live as nobly as he wrote. Even in the outward result he was well justified. It takes two sides to make a quarrel, and those whom an angry reply would have made bitter enemies soon grew ashamed of themselves. By the next spring he is able to write Carlyle that "The ill wind is blown over." His lack of contentiousness enabled this formidable heresiarch, more dangerous than a thousand noisier men, to live and die in perfect personal amity with the New England clergy.

This composure of Emerson's must be not only outward but real and internal, controlling the whole conduct of life. An artist in ethics, if not in literature, his test of behaviour is beauty. We must not strive too hard. No man must exaggerate his part. "Zeus hates busy bodies and those who do too much." We are to be masters of life, not its slaves. "A man should give us a sense of mass." Truly great men, he declares, are much greater than their deeds. "We cannot find the smallest part of the personal weight of Washington in the narrative of his exploits." Caesar, who seems great without effort in everything he attempted, was profoundly admired by Emerson.

Nor are we to trouble ourselves too much about to-morrow. The present is always the critical moment. He has a great deal to say about the Day. He alone is rich who owns the Day. "Devastator of the Day" he calls the unlucky celebrity-hunter who bores him. None of his poems, in my opinion, is more perfect in its way than that beginning "Daughters of time the hypocritic Days." It is one of those few productions of Emerson's which he seems to have conceived as a whole and not in fragments. The days march past in an endless procession offering the poet such gifts as he chooses to take, "diadems and faggots." Choosing too hastily, he forgets his morning wishes, selects a few "herbs and apples," things of no value, and the Day departs in silence. Too late he sees how she scorns him for his choice.

Perhaps, after all, the chief benefit we derive from a writer like Emerson is his companionship. Our daily life does not always offer the most inspiring company, but in reading we may always "hold converse with the wise." I do not know a writer with whom this sort of converse is closer or more elevating than with Emerson. Here is a man who, having a noble idea of life, lived up to it. Confiding his thoughts to paper as they occurred to him without attempt at system or literary form, he made up his works by collecting these fragments; "each," he confesses, "an infinitely repellant particle." Books so composed are, no doubt, seriously defective, but they lend themselves in a wonderful way to desultory reading. You cannot go wrong in opening Emerson. Every paragraph, almost every sentence, is a little essay by itself, always suggesting much more than it says. Such reading, it seems to me, brings us very close indeed to the personality of the author.

Such, I take it, is an outline of Emerson's teaching on a few questions of daily importance. I imagine that there is scarcely anyone who has felt his influence deeply who does not stand ready to say that he could better do without many poets, philosophers, and men of letters than without this "friend and aider."

Chapter Two

On Autobiographies

All men of every sort who have done anything worthy, or that even approaches worth, ought, supposing them good and truthful folk, to describe their life with their own hand; but this excellent enterprise should not be undertaken before passing the age of forty years. —Benvenuto Cellini

It will be seen that Benvenuto, though only a simple craftsman, promulgated a bold and comprehensive theory of autobiographies. He was in fact peculiarly suited for this work as he was altogether free from that false reluctance to speak frankly of one's self that many feel. Most people praise their own virtues by indirection, Benvenuto openly, as any one can see on almost any page of his narrative.

Beside the narrative autobiography, of which Benvenuto's may serve as the type, there is another sort of literary performance, of close kin with it, namely, the diary, which might be characterized as an ejac ulatory autobiography. There have been many illustrious keepers of diaries, but certainly the philosopher and protagonist of diary writing, the man who holds the same place in relation to them as Benvenuto to autobiographies, is our Emerson. He practiced and taught this habit that many look upon as unsocial and self-conceited. "Pay so much honor" he says "to the visits of truth to your mind as to record them." Holding that "He who writes for himself writes for an eternal public" he wrote down day by day the thoughts he needed for his own use and afterward arranged them into essays as best he might. He gives his own experience as a student and practitioner of life and pretends to do no more. Perhaps this fact is a reason both of his exhaustless interest and suggestiveness and of his being misunderstood by those who do not appreciate his method nor sympathize with his personality.

The views of these men are worth considering. Why may not, why ought not, one who has dreamed, planned, striven, lost and won, write his autobiography; not necessarily under that name, but leave for others' use some simple record of his more inward self, his aims, methods and results?

One answer to this might be that he may and ought if he can, but that few are capable of it; few can so record the results of their own lives that others can understand and use them; it needs an openness, a mastery over the instinct to seem other than one is, that is all but unattainable. It needs power of expression—in a word, self-record is not so simple a matter as one might suppose but calls for the whole armory of literary faculties.

One thing is certain: we do not like that a writer should too grossly presume upon our interest in him. We desire to know what sort of man he is; perhaps even that he should make it his business to tell us; but we desire that he should do it by such delicate innuendoes as shall reveal his sense of our extreme condescension in taking any interest in him whatever. Egotism is not the sort of autobiography here meant, nor is it sufficient for fame that a man write himself down an ass.

Even this, however, is as it may be. Not all self-assertion, even extravagant, is ridiculous. We glory in it when it comes from the right men at the right times. Dante demanding "If I go who stays?," Landor declaring of his fame "I shall dine late but the guests will be select," Wordsworth commiserating the generation that did not understand him, John Quincy Adams rising at a critical moment when the House hesitated before a great responsibility and declaring "I intend to put the question", these are not ridiculous. We like this magnificent self-trust of real greatness and feel that such men spoke not from vanity but from a consciousness that they stood for something worthy. They were on our side, standing up for things that we wish to see stood up for. But this we endure only from great men at great moments. For the most part this style of expression must either be entirely unconscious, like the diary of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, or the touch must be very delicate indeed. Few writers can talk of themselves with perfect grace, only peculiarly select and genial spirits. From most men, even of genius, such familiarity has something repugnant.

There is one kind of literature that has always been written very much in the autobiographical manner and apparently always must. I mean that which relates to the conduct of life. There is no well-settled science of personal conduct and there has always been objection to general and dogmatic propositions on this subject. But experience has the greatest value and suggestiveness and this is most accessible in the self-records of a few wise and good men. The writings of Marcus Aurelius, of Epictetus, of Thomas a Kempis, of Emerson, and of Thoreau, may be regarded from one point of view as a sort of empirical ethics, but certainly they are much more than this. Their greatest use is as a contribution to the art of life. We need these facts for their beauty and inspiration; and the facts are in their very nature autobiographical.

Chapter Three

Transportation and Organized Society—General

The character of transportation as a whole and in detail, at any particular time and throughout its history, is altogether determined by its inter-relations with physical and social forces and conditions. To understand transportation means simply to analyze these inter-relations. So far, attention has been fixed as much as possible on the simpler and more obvious conditions, the physical. We now approach the more complex question of the social relations of transportation.

The need for the movement of things and persons underlies every sort of social organization, every institution whatever. It is equally necessary to that economic organization which supplies society with food and other material goods, and to those psychical organizations, the church, education, research and the like, which, though ideal in their aims, require material instruments. The transfer of books, of scientific instruments and, above all, of men charged with multifarious social functions, is as necessary to society in its way as the transfer of grosser material substances. There can be no adequate theory of transportation which has regard only to some one aspect of its social function, as the economic aspect. That is not the only aspect, nor can one truly say that it is more important than the others. All are co-ordinate, equally indispensable to social progress.

Precisely because transportation underlies social development it is in turn determined by that development. It is a tool of the economic, the political, the military organizations, and the character of the tool varies with their needs. The most permanent conditions of its progress are the natural obstacles it has to overcome and the natural forces it employs; but even these in their practical bearings are relative to social development. The art of scientific sailing converts a contrary wind form an obstacle into an assisting force. When men discover how to utilize coal through steam and the steam-engine, it is as if there were a new and ample creation of natural power. The natural forces were always there, but they exist for man only as they are discovered and used by art. The mechanical arts, again, do not advance in an accidental manner, but are intimately associated with economic and political conditions as well as with the progress of physical science. We have the railroad not only because of the ingenuity of men like Stephenson, but because the great economic need of the time was back of that ingenuity urging it on. The chief characteristic of the economic revolution begun in the latter part of the previous century, was industrial concentration and specialization. These could not go far without better means of land movement, and the canals first and then the railroads supplied that means. The railroad is inseparably bound up with the other changes of the time, in part their cause, in part their effect.

What, in general, is the social function of transportation?


Excerpted from ON SELF AND SOCIAL ORGANIZATION by CHARLES HORTON COOLEY Copyright © 1998 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


1 Some Teachings of Emerson....................35
2 On Autobiographies....................39
3 Transportation and Organized Society....................General 4 Transportation and Economic Organization....................49
5 The Process of Social Change....................63
6 Heredity and Instinct in Human Life....................81
7 Sympathy or Understanding as an Aspect of Society....................93
8 The Significance of Communication....................100
9 The Roots of Social Knowledge....................110
10 Society and the Individual....................131
11 Social and Individual Aspects of Mind....................141
12 Particularism versus the Organic View....................147
13 The Social Self—the Meaning of "I"....................155
14 Primary Groups....................179
15 The Theory of Public Opinion....................185
16 Democracy and Distinction....................194
17 Open Classes....................207
18 The Tentative Method....................215
19 Intelligence in Social Function....................226
20 Social Science....................234
21 The Tentative Character of Progress....................241
22 A Primary Culture for Democracy....................244
Index of Names....................253
Subject Index....................255

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