Dr. ELIAS (UK) examined some of the problems with which one is confronted if one attempts a systematic comparative study of highly complex and differentiated societies not simply with regard to one or the other of their specific aspects or institutions, but with regard to each seen as a whole. He argued (1) that the difficulties which often seem to arise if sociologists use such expressions as "total societies" or "societies as a whole" are to a large extent due to a certain lack of precision in the use of the term "society" on the one hand, and of others, such as "state," "nation," "country," etc., on the other hand; (2) that what we call "state" is one specific type of social organization which can be, investigated in the same way as industrial or other types of large-scale organizations; but (3) that detached investigations of the "state," as one type of social organization among others, are somewhat hampered by the dangers threatening most contemporary societies organized as "states" and by the corresponding aura of sanctity surrounding it ("Patriotism," "Nationalism," "Treason," etc.).

To avoid confusion ELIAS introduced the term "state-societies" to refer to societies organized in this manner. He further argued (4) that comparative studies of highly differentiated state-societies in the round require, as a general frame of reference, not only a static theoretical model of the state, such as that of Max Weber, but a dynamic or developmental and genetic model or gauge indicating the general mode, or at least one of the possible modes, in which earlier types of social systems transform themselves into state-systems of an earlier prenational type and int. nation-states.

A brief outline of three of the many stations along a line of development which is fairly representative of many, though perhaps not of all the older state-societies may be enough to indicate the kind of model suggested. These are stations on a line which is continuous, and it is the direction of the line rather than the particular stations which matter. Changes are possible in the direction of lesser as well as of greater complexity, differentiation or efficiency of organizational techniques.

Station A:

The future state-society as loosely knit system of more or less freely competing territorial units.

Initially competing units are land-, horse- and/or cattle-owning kinship-groups, often including followers, clients, servants or slaves (e.g. "houses," "dynasties," "clans," etc.). The main axis of tensions in such a system is that between centrifugal and centripetal social groupings. Competition between them may have the form of a ladder-competition, i.e. changes in the position of competing units on the power and status ladder can occur without producing changes in the system and its ladder-competition as such; or it may have the form of a knock-out competition, i.e. a series of elimination-struggles which leaves in the field fewer and fewer competitors until two and finally one of them emerges with military, economic, and political power resources which defy competition and establish the victorious social unit as the effective central authority.

Station B:

The state-society as a relatively differentiated and cohesive system centered on an organized monopolization, of tax- and troop-levies by representatives of one group which controls the twin-monopolies at the center unilaterally, namely without institutional counter-controls by other groups. "Autocratic state-societies," "Personal rule."

This type of organization represents, in the case of not too highly urbanized and industrialized societies, by far the simplest mode of terminating or keeping in cheek knock-out rivalries. Once established, the key to whatever stability such a régime may have is the ability of the ruling unit to maintain control over a body of armed forces strong enough to squash any resistance, and to levy with the help of these forces dues of one kind or the other which in turn are indispensable for the maintenance and control of these forces. The struggle between centralising and centrifugal social formations, as the main axis of tensions, is replaced by struggles between competing social strata, cadres or fractions for the control of the central monopolies themselves.

But at this stage techniques for regulating such struggles are nonexistent or rudimentary. If the struggles come into the open at all, it is usually in connection with fractions and conflicts within the inner circle of the ruling set itself; in that case, if they are not suppressed by the use or the threat of force, the probability is great that they will develop into a knock-out rivalry.

The development of this type of state-organization, compared with that of Station A, is bound up with an expansion of commerce and some forms of industry, usually by the growth of urban settlements and their characteristic social strata. How far state-organizations of this type can adjust themselves to changes in social stratification and in the internal balance of power which go hand in hand with a higher degree of urbanization and the more advanced forms of industrialization and bureacratization is, at present, an open question.

Station C: 

The state-society as a more highly differentiated and cohesive system where groups in control of the central monopolies are themselves subject to control by other social units according to firmly instituted and enforceable regulations and where all those subject to the government's control have a chance of participating, to a higher or lesser extent, in the control of the governing group itself. Nation-states with multilateral and reciprocal controls.

The organizational problem has been solved at this stage by means of organizational and psychological arrangements and techniques which ensure that several powerful social formations keep each other in check in a manner which prevents each of them from establishing its absolute supremacy over the others.

A similar equilibrium of forces can sometimes be found in state-societies of an earlier type, but in such cases an unstable equilibrium between several foci of power which keep each other in check is rarely more than a phase of transition between series of knock-out rivalries.

Specific forms of organization and techniques of control which make it possible to stabilize over long periods such an essentially unstable balance of power between several interdependent social strata and cadres develop rather late in the history of mankind. 0ne can find them first in connection with increasing commercialization and urbanization, in some relatively small territorial units, in a city-state or a small kingdom, from which they spread with the necessary adjustments to larger state-societies.

In all these cases, the stabilization of this unstable balance of forces is made possible by the development of a firm institutional and psychological shell which helps to contain the potentially explosive forces of internal power rivalries. It bars the leaders of all social sections, and above all the government of the day itself, from gaining and even from seeking absolute, permanent, unilateral control over all other sections. It is, at the same time, elastic enough to allow for gradual adjustments to changes in the unstable balance of power. Altogether, such a shell is a rather complicated affair.

Among the functions of this shell, one stands ut quite clearly; in Station C type societies rivalries between different sections of society are allowed to come into the open. But their disruptive propensities are curbed. They are kept within bounds by deeply implanted emotional disciplines and beliefs. They are moderated by specific standards of behavior and confined to well established institutional channels which determine the rules of the struggle, limit it, more or less, to the use of verbal weapons and exclude the threat or use of physical force as a means of deciding controversial issues.

One of the most characteristic features of state-societies of this type is, in other words, the fact that competitive tensions and rivalries are public and contained. The main impetus which ensures that no single social formation can control others without being controlled, or is controlled without setting a watch upon its controllers, comes from the contained rivalry of party organizations which, in turn, is connected with less highly organized tensions and rivalries between different sections in society at large. But, again, although there is some evidence which suggests the grades of tension and pressure at which organizations of this type can adequately function have a maximum as well as a minimum, it would require many more comparative studies of specific societies before one can hope to come to grips with this kind of problem. Moreover, one does not know very much about the way in which organizational properties of a state-society's shell itself help to increase or decrease tensions and antagonisms; or about the reasons for rigidities in the shell; or about its influence on contained private and inexpressible tensions and conflicts of individuals. Comparative system-analysis, in fact, opens up a good many problems which are still largely unexplored."

There followed a discussion of the papers presented by INKELES and ELIAS.

Stein Rokkan: Report on the Discussion: Seminar on the Comparative Method, in: Transactions of the Fourth World Congress of Sociology, Volume III, Louvain/BEL: ISA, pp. 325-328