Unification in the Social Sciences: Search for a Science of Society

4. Social Power
A half century ago, former WAAS President Harold Lasswell developed a trans-disciplinary framework for understanding the relationship between social, political and legal processes, reuniting three fields of human activity that are commonly treated separately. Their framework provides insight into the means by which social capacity for accomplish­ment is institutionalized and distributed as political and legal power for effectuation and enforcement. Winston Nagan’s presentations focus on their efforts to frame a comprehensive global social process model describing how human beings seek to realize values through institutions and activities.5 The core of Lasswell’s conception is the central role of power in human affairs.

Human behavior is purposeful, even when it is intended simply for relaxation and enjoyment. Security, sustenance, wealth, status, power, knowledge, beauty, love and enjoyment, self-realization and spiritual fulfillment are common human pursuits. Maslow defined a hierarchy of needs. Lasswell groups them under eight categories of values which human beings seek to realize – power, enlightenment, wealth, well-being, skill, affection, respect, and rectitude, to which Nagan adds a ninth, aesthetics.

Regardless of the classification, human beings seek to accomplish and society possesses an amazingly diverse range of powers and capacities for accomplishment at the physical, social, cultural, mental, psychological and spiritual levels – most of which we take for granted like the air we breathe. This social capacity grows exponentially from one generation to the next. One need only imagine the challenges earlier generations faced performing simple tasks that we now carry out effortlessly on a daily basis – communicating instantaneously around the world, traveling between cities and continents in the time it once took to go from the farm to the nearest town. Explorers used to travel the globe for years trying to ascertain what lay beyond the horizon. Healers have spent millennia cataloging the nutritional and medicinal benefits of various foods, flowers, and herbs. Today literally the whole world’s knowledge is available at our fingertips. The experience and knowledge of the entire human community accumulated over countless generations are freely offered to each new generation in a concentrated and abridged form through education.

Society’s powers for achievement are legion. Society has established law and order and extended freedom and rights to billions of people, doubled the human life span and raised the average standard of living twelve-fold in the last two centuries. Rapidly increasing social capacity is evident in all fields – from science, education, healthcare and entertainment to business, governance and the arts. It extends from the local to national to global level and beyond into outer space. It ranges from the capacity for short term immediate gratification to achievements sustained over many centuries – magnificent structures, living constitutions, immortal works of art and eternal wisdom. It encompasses achievements that are physical, social, mental, artistic, and spiritual – the Partheon and the pyramids, the family, community and nation-state, democratic forms of governance, banking, measurement, mathematical renderings of Nature’s secret formulas, insights of geniuses, timeless literature, exalted works of art, cultural and universal values. It traverses all the stages from mere physical survival to expansive growth and increasingly sophisticated levels of development to the continuous evolution of new ideas, institutions and ways of life.

Do all these achievements have anything in common? They all represent diverse expressions of the collective capacity of society for accomplishment. Moreover, the various forms of social power by which they have been fashioned are largely interchangeable. Throughout history, military power has served as a basis for economic expansion, whether through colonial conquest or by providing a protective atmosphere of peace and security among trading partners. The power for transport and communication is readily convertible into productive power. The power of scientific and technical knowledge is applied to generate economic power. Economic strength translates into political power. Broad-based political power provides the capacity for rule of law founded on universal human rights. The legal power to protect property, uphold human rights and enforce justice creates an expansive social atmosphere that releases the energy of people for peaceful, productive progress.

A closer examination reveals that this power exists in several stages and forms. There is the raw capacity or potential of the society for constructive (or destructive) activity, which is fully harnessed only during times of war and severe national challenges, when society exhibits the capacity to dramatically increase its level of activity, as the USA multiplied its capacity to produce trucks, tanks, ships and aircraft during the early 1940s to support the entire Allied war effort. Within a single year America increased its arms production to equal the combined output of Germany, Italy and Japan, and then doubled it again during the follow­ing two years.6 Through the Green Revolution, India doubled foodgrain production in five years to overcome the imminent threat of famine and achieve food self-sufficiency in the late 1960s. Japan mobilized its institutions and citizenry to deal with the horrendous consequences of the Fukushima nuclear accident. Apart from these exceptional achievements, society performs countless near miraculous actions every day without which modern civiliza­tion cannot function – it generates energy, distributes water, educates youth, enforces law and order, produces and distributes goods and services, develops and maintains infrastructure, governs, seeks knowledge, invents, innovates, and creates an endless progression of new ideas, objects, devices, processes, institutions, ideas, artworks, means of entertainment and enjoyment. All these are expressions of society’s power for accomplishment.

Not all social capacity expresses in action. Not all of its endowments are equally shared and distributed. Not all social power is made freely available for the betterment of society-at-large. Intervening layers of social authority determine how social capacity is converted into social power and for whose benefit. Once concentrated among a tiny élite aristocracy or military class, today freedom and rights are more widely distributed than ever before. But we still witness extreme inequalities in the distribution of wealth so dramatically documented by Thomas Piketty.7 Contrary to the principle that all citizens in a democracy have equal rights and voice, the influence of wealth and corporations over political power is ubiquitous. Nagan shows how law and constitutional principles are interpreted to support the inequity.8

The exercise of social authority in the form of political power, money power, corporate power, and social status influences the total social capacity that can be harnessed and how that capacity is utilized. As society advances, it organizes a portion of its total power and channels it through various institutions. Economic institutions such as corporations, commercial networks, monopolies, cartels, labor unions and shareholder bodies organize, magnify and govern the distribution of production, wealth creation and distribution of income. Political institutions including executive, legislature and judicial bodies, political parties, lobbyists, media houses and special interest groups mold public opinion, altering the power of different individuals, groups, organizations and classes to determine the uses and abuses of social power. Constitutions, laws and the institutions that enforce and interpret them define what and to what extent social power is converted into rights, rules and procedures that can be applied uniformly and impersonally to all citizens and activities.

At any point in time only a tiny portion of the total power of society is converted into political and legal forms. Most of our lives remain unregulated and self-directed and most of the capacities of society remain underutilized. Global unemployment of more than 200 million, levels of underemployment five or ten times greater, technology that is hoarded, markets that are monopolized, public resources that are exploited for private profit are symptomatic of the gross inefficiency of social systems. The very notion of efficiency is narrowly applied at the level of the firm, neglecting the enormous waste and high economic costs to society generated by the misallocation of social power.

Thus the world is confronted by the paradox that vast underutilized social capacities exist side by side with persistent poverty, suppressed rights and unmet needs.9 Indeed, the potential power of society is not subject to any inherent limits. There is always scope to enhance the development, expression, organization and application of knowledge, skill, organization­al know-how, and technology. Human capital and social capital are potentially limitless resources. The more we develop them, the more they grow and the greater their capacity for further development.

5 Winston Nagan and Garry Jacobs, “New Paradigm for Global Rule of Law,” Cadmus 1, no.4(2012): 131-141.
6 Paul Johnson, A History of the American People (New York: Harper Perennial, 1998), 780.
7 Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century(Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014).
8 Winston Nagan and Madison Hayes, “Simulated Judgment on Campaign Finance in the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Azania,” Eruditio 1, no.5(2014): 21-30.
9 Ian Johnson and Garry Jacobs, “Crises and Opportunities: A Manifesto for Change,” Cadmus1, no. 5(2012): 11-25.

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