Familism in a Military Society


By CARLE C. ZIMMERMAN, Professor of Sociology at Harvard University

Talk delivered to the New York State Conference on Marriage and The Family at Hotel Roosevelt, New York City, March 29, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 415-416.

THE United States is now transforming itself from an industrial society to a military one. This transformation has been going on this whole century, but we do not even yet completely recognize it. Those who question this statement should read carefully Herbert Spencer's most brilliant characterization of military and industrial societies (Chs. XVII and XVIII in Principles of Sociology, Vol. II, written in the 1870's) and contrast the two types with the U. S. A. of 1900 to 1910 and 1930 to 1940. This military situation, without regard to the arguments of the "interventionists" and "isolationists," has come upon America in the "logic of historical events." It is said that Christ at the Garden of Gethsemane wished to avoid the sorrows ahead of him but couldn't. We haven't avoided the obligations requiring us to become a military society whether we could or not.

The system of values of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries is now shattered in every field whether of work, play, finance, population or family. We are engulfed in the resultant turmoil and must meet it whether we desire to or not. This present war is related to the last war and will be related to the closely following ones. We are in a century of turmoil and should calmly and philosophically brace ourselves to meet the situation. A "good" society is one which recognizes its lot and prepares to meet the issues.

The characteristics of a "military" society as brilliantly outlined by Spencer before the Europeans coined the words totalkrieg or guerra integrale differ considerably from those of an "industrial" society. In the type "chronic military society" corporate life becomes dominant and "the preservation of its corporate life is the more probable in the proportion as its corporate action is the more complete." "A society's power of self preservation will be great in proportion as, besides the direct aid of all who can fight, there is given the direct aid of all who cannot fight. . . . In a purely military society therefore, individuals who do not bear arms have to spend their lives in furthering the maintenance of those who do." This includes not only munitions workers but farmers, women, captives, and allies. It means not only "furthering the maintenance" of food andmunitions but also the supply of future workers, soldiers, mothers and citizens.

"Given two societies of which the members are all either warriors or those who supply the needs (and reserves) of warriors, and, other things being equal, supremacy will be gained by that in which the efforts are most effectually combined. . . . Evidently, therefore, development of the militant type involves a close binding of the society into a whole." Every one's "actions form hour to hour must conform, not to his own will, but to the public will." For "under the militant type the individual is owned by the state." The process of militant organization is a process of regimentation, which, primarily taking place in the army, secondarily affects the whole community." This regimentation is negative in a minor sense only but primarily positive. Persons are told what they must do to help the society survive and to achieve its purposes.

"Besides telling the individual what he shall not do, it (the military society) tells him what he shall do. . . . The civilian is in a condition as much like that of the soldier as difference of occupation permits." That private life which is permitted is "formed for minor defensive or offensive purposes" or, as Spencer might have added, (formed for longtime as against immediate defensive or offensive purposes). This leads to the forming of an economic (and as Spencer might have added) a social autonomy to go with the military autonomy. Hence it follows that the desire "not to be dependent upon foreigners" is one appropriate to a military economy. A power of producing supplies (and people) at home must be maintained. This, in the economic field, applies as well to the social, the family and the population fields.

All this description of a military society is made by quoting liberally from Spencer and interpolating it with similar ideas which Spencer logically could not avoid but did not directly express. Now the question is how does this apply to familism in a military society such as ours that is being created.

American society from the Civil War until 1914 was almost the pure type of an industrial organization. The individual was paramount. Relations between persons were determined primarily by contractual agreements rather than by status. Even the army we had was a "hired" not a conscripted one. What little public activity existed was mainly to keep private actions within bounds. The society was very careful to defend the individuality of the citizen. He was not owned by the state. Rather, the country existed, to serve him. Public control was only negatively regulative. (In the military society, as seen before, it tends to become highly positively regulative). Social organization had little or no rigidity, as contrasted with that in a military society. We had little or no economic autonomy, being engulfed widely in a world of commerce and foreign relations. Even a high proportion of our people of the 19th century (40 million adults) were imported from abroad.

This industrial type of society existed over a long period due in part to our isolation, and in part to the fact that Europe was relatively peaceful or embroiled in only minor wars. We came to accept this as the "normal" type of life and to look upon the military as "abnormal." As a matter of fact the military type of society has been as "normal" or prevalent as the industrial—if not more so. Individualism developed and spread itself widely. All life began to be looked upon as a matter of choice or contract. In their highly developed industrial type of society people began to choose everything or to leave more and more of their lives to personal decision, rather than conceptions of obligation or duty.

Child bearing and familism became matters of choice. It took time to break up the old religious mores in favor of familism but this was gradually achieved. The early New England idea of the small family, already widespread along the sea coast three quarters of a century before the American Revolution, came to be the accepted pattern.

Child bearing was left to the immigrants, and as each new group of immigrants became industrialized and Americanized, they began to take on the personal choice idea rather than the religious or duty conception of producing children. With the slowing down and stopping of immigration our individualism began to catch up with us since there were no new European peasants coming in to have the children and furnish the increasing supply of human material essential to our economy.

We did not know this beforehand because we have never had any good population statistics sufficient to study our own people. Birth and death registration has only beenaccepted in America in the last few years. A high proportion of the adults now living in the United States can't produce a birth certificate.

All this period was of course but a short and self-eradicating one in human history. The system of survival values or duty conceptions necessary for society to maintain itself were destroyed very quickly. The twentieth century of struggle among the peoples for the "places in the sun" and for the recreation of workable conceptions of loyalty and duty came upon the modern world and has involved America. Slowly but surely we were engulfed in it even if our own national maturity had not alone been sufficient to bring it "imminently."

We are coming to be a military society (in Spencer's terminology) more than in the past. We are creating "new" and more far reaching conceptions of duty and obligation of the individual to society. These already have (and will further) strengthened our former weakened family conceptions. This is and will go on whether we recognize it or "want" it (in the sense of the individual choice want system of the now gone industrial society type). Those who cling to the older conceptions of the small free choice families of none, one or two children are persons as yet unaware that the world they knew has swiftly but surely dissolved about them.

The sole object of this paper is to show that familism, much despised among our intelligentzia of yesterday and among many of today, is resurging in America on account of its close relation to new forces. These new forces of nationalism, militarism, (and survival) are among us and cannot be avoided. If the present war in Europe were to end tomorrow, this redevelopment of familism would go on scarcely unchecked. The rampant value systems of capitalism and industrial laissez faire are shattered. Force will be a dominant factor in international relations for a long time to come. This will make us a military society for our own self protection and because we want to play the role of a leader—a world power.

Force requires duty and men—not untrammeled individual choice and childless parents. In so far as possible our society will try to give its members a new system of wants in the field of familism. To a considerable extent our success in history and even our own future economic prosperity—strange to say—will depend upon how successful we are in inculcating these new familistic conceptions among our present anti-familistic classes.