Each society must solve a basic problem: how to coordinate actions by individual men in order to produce good. What is good is of course also arguable; you can also argue whether there can be common good, or only individual, what is the nature of society, etc.
Here I will consider only the ways in which the society – that is, in practice, usually the state - can organize itself to gain its goals.
Below are enumerated and described basic systems or principles of organization. They are ideal types in the sense proposed by Max Weber; they generally never appear alone, and each society uses a mixture of all principles, in various proportions. First, however, some preliminary questions must be mentioned.
First of all, men are social animals. It is not everything they are, of course, but it is certainly a major part of their nature. As social animals, they have certain inborn way to organize themselves: family, small tribe up to 300 people, and sexually specific organizations: male warbands and friendships, and female circles. Those fundamental elements of society are not included amongst the rational principles of organisation. They are the default position, from which the society starts and to which it retreats when all higher form fails. Most importantly, they are insufficient by themselves to ensure survival of any society higher or larger than a small tribe. The rational principles either make use of or oppose those instinctive and natural associations, but are always distinct from them.
Secondly, the basic aspect of all organisations is the justification: what is the reason that members of that organization should be loyal to it and sacrifice their interests for the good of the whole. For the natural organizations described above that problem is less important, because the loyalty to such organisations is inborn in men. People are naturally willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of their family or to help their friends in warband. In addition, the necessity for social cohesion is obvious for small tribes surrounded by untamed nature and by enemies.
Obviously, all existing social systems make use of those natural loyalties, but require some higher principle to go beyond them, to the loyalty to the remote leader, the state, the nation or the humanity as the whole. This is why the assertions by writers on military cohesion that soldiers fight not for the cause or nation but for their friends are obviously false. The soldiers do fight for their friends – that is the emotion they actually feel. But in some armies there is a reason why both they and their friends are willing to sacrifice their life, and do not simply run away together. Other armies lack that reason, and as the result their soldiers do run away.
Such justification are also needed in other areas of society. Why an official should to be honest, and benefit strangers to the detriment of his own kin? In many states there is no such justification, and as the result there prevails corruption. Such states are able to be anything more than bands of robbers preying on local tribes only thans to direct or indirect help from other, more robust nations.
Justification for the state are usually religious or more rarely pseudo-religious, in the form of utopian ideologies. For a limited time a society can survive without such a justification, sustained only by the habit of obedience and self-interest. At present China is running an experiment, with its government having no better justification than the fact that it governs and is ensuring prosperity. The desperate attempts to ensure high and constant economic growth suggest that the rulers of China are not confident that this experiment will end favourably for them.
Such problem are analysed by Eric Voegelin in his books, eg New Science of Politics. This essay however is concerned more with the problem what are the members of society to do, not why are they willing to do it.
The most basic way to ensure cooperation, from the theoretical point of view, is a free agreement of parties, as in commercial partnerships. We could call the zero principle – particularly as it actually does not assure any cooperation, which lasts only as long as all parties believe that it is in their interest. If the partners do not agree, the partnership is dissolved. This system is theoretically the best possible, as it ensures both cooperation and freedom, but can work at most for a few partners. In practice, it is very often only a formal expression of instinctive modes of cooperation, such as friendship or warband; if it is not the case, such a partnership is extremely fragile. There were attempts to apply similar principles to the state, but they obviously always ended in failure.
The first actual principle is tradition: one does as did one's fathers did before him. This must be distinguished from habit of obedience as it was described above. Habit of obedience is one of possible reasons why people continue to obey some social structure. It means simply that any change of existing structure entails risk and effort, and people are not willing to do that without good cause. Habit of obedience can support various systems of organisation.
Tradition as a system of organisation describes what members of society should do: namely what they and their forefathers did before. It is typical for the simplest and least changing societies, and is usually supported by religious beliefs, or, of course, the habit of obedience. Without other principles, it can held together only a wholly undifferentiated society, in which all members do the same. The benefits of this principle are twofold: tradition works, better or worse, but reliably, and it costs nothing.
Traditional societies are very often the first form of state formed from unified tribes. The new ruler retains the tribal form of organization, even if he reshapes the actual tribes which form it, and adds on top a small layer of his administration, which is financed by tribal tribute. The army is formed by tribal levies and the ruler’s personal warband-bodyguard.
The principle of tradition is obviously present in all long lasting social systems; it is usually emphasized by the rulers in periods of decline, when they lack any better justification than the habit of obedience. In such case, any change can lead to the collapse of the fragile rule, and therefore the system which requires the least effort and causes the least disturbance is preferred.
The second principle or system is direct command or tyranny. One does as one is told. The difference of this from many of the following principles, which can also be based on orders of sovereign or his representatives, is the criterion for assessment of individual's conformance. In this case the only criterion is the feeling of the commander; if he is satisfied, the individual did correctly. If not, not. This system allows by itself to command only a small group; the tyrant must be able to personally see and threaten each member.
By creating a hierarchy, the system can be extended – the tyrant controls his satraps, they control their lieutenants, and so on. This enlarged system, as all greater societies becomes unstable without some religious or utopian justification. Social organizations based on such a system are economically inefficient, and can survive only by robbing or extracting tribute from other societies. For that reason it is the archetypal form of organization on the Great Steppe, where tribute from surrounding sedentary societies was always necessary.
The benefits of this system are flexibility and simplicity. The disadvantage is enormous inefficiency and incompatibility with any economic progress.
The third principle is that of law and morality. One does as one should do. There are various definitions of law and morality. Here we will use the following distinction: morality is what you should do regardless what other members are planning to do; law describes what you should do in cooperation with others. In particular, when you obey a moral rule, it is immaterial whether other people obey such rules, and what they should do. In case of law, to the contrary, this is of prime importance. This definition is far too short, and probably makes little sense without further explanation, but for now we will leave it at that.
We will consider primarily law. This principle is even more connected with other principles than is the case in general – even in abstracto it is hard to imagine a society ruled entirely by the law, with no personal authority. The law can be established by tradition or command; it can demand mechanical obedience to precise rules or autonomic interpretation of general principles. The specific difference of the law is that it is known in advance and foreseeable, and in addition it establishes only certain limits, within which an individual can behave as he wishes. It is, therefore, the first principle which allows individual any autonomy – and autonomy, the freedom to make decisions, is necessary for progress (and for that reason, of course, it is dangerous).
The fourth and fifth principles are connected together; in a sense, they are opposites. They require a bit more explanation than others; we all know what is law, command or tradition, but those principles are less well understood. They are principally met with in either military or management.Those principles are also directly connected with an increasingly important element of modern society: various inspections by the private and governmental institutions.
In the German and even more in English military tradition they were called Befehlstaktik and Auftragstaktik – the command-system and the task-system. Various enthusiasts call them also Second and Third generation war. Those names can be obviously rather confusing.
The so-called Befehlstaktik (command tactic or system) or Second Generation War is actually a very civilian principle of organisation, and it has nearly nothing to do with commands as defined in the second principle. In management it could be called Fordism or eg process management. It is actually rather simple: you define exactly what each position in organisation should do and what are the criteria for the appraisal of its performance and the rewards and penalties. Next you take a man, train him appropriately, put him in the position and inspect his compliance with rules. If he follow exactly the rules, you reward him according to the pre-established tables, if not, you introduce appropriate penalties. In short, you construct a kind of Skinner box, or conduct Pavlov training, with preestablished expected stimuli and reactions.
For various reasons, mostly having to do with the fundamental principles of Western civilisation, that system is immensely popular. Of course, it has many advantages: predictability, and surprisingly also freedom. Namely, freedom is actually not a freedom to do anything as such – in that sense anyone is perfectly free, since he can do what he wishes – if he disregards the results. Freedom to be meaningful requires an ability to foresee the results of one's action; only if we can know what will be the results of our action, we can make reasonable decision – and only such decisions can be said to be truly free. In addition, this system allows to avoid having to make ever any personal decision. In each situation (that is, each situation foreseen by the planner) correct behavior is clearly predetermined and established. This allows to fulfill another modern desire: to avoid responsibility and to avoid any personal authority. No one will be able to order the individual to do anything; all duties will follow from first principles. In fact, such a system seems to provide absolute freedom and absolute security, together with avoidance of any responsibility. It is ready made for anyone who wishes to use it to create utopia.
This system is, of course, an attempt to create a machine of people, and because of that, Matt Beck's essay is applicably to this in toto: In its utopian or immoderate form it represents the typical quest of Western utopianism to construct a perfect mental or physical machine which should replace the world.
The only difficulty is that this perfect system recognizes only limited number of situations, while life is infinitely complex. The more the system is precise and automatic, the more its decisions do not fit the situation.
Since in such a system both stimuli and reactions must be clearly defined, it tends to use terms and ideas belonging to lower levels of complexity. To explain what this means, we must turn to the science of complexity. It is both very old and still in infancy; to give a basic idea of it we can say that the basic levels of complexity since antiquity are defined as matter (stone), living (plants), mobile (animals), rational (men).
The mathematical science of complexity describes so-called deterministic chaos: situations which are determined by basic simple rules, and despite that unforeseeable – because the smallest change in the initial conditions can cause arbitrarily large change in the result. In reality, as opposed to mathematics, the basic simple rules never describe reality fully, and Heisenberg's principle of uncertainty makes it possible to foresee only possible variants, not a single actual future. For that reason, even the science of complexity does not reflex, even in part, the actual infinite complexity of reality; despite that it is a useful conceptual tool, as long as you understand that its models never reflect reality, and are used only as aids in reasoning.
Only the lowest level of complexity –matter - are physical and directly measurable. Even in animals and plants the basic physical terms and tests are insufficient. You can use scales to establish mass of some object, but there does not exist a single simple test which can establish whether something is living or dead. Even more difficult is establishing whether something is actually intelligent. The Turing test uses the only possible criterion: phenomena belonging to the same or higher level of complexity; that is, intelligent people.
Since according to science of complexity it is impossible to define the terms belonging to the higher levels of complexity in terms belonging to the lower levels of complexity, such mechanicals systems, which want to use exact definition, must always make use of approximations. As the result, there will always be situations in which the mechanical system will assume the reality to be the opposite of the actual case, and order actions directly opposite to what is necessary.
If we have a legal system build on the mechanical principle, the number of legal loopholes increases proportionally to the number and precision of the laws. As the result, such a system does not manage to eliminate arbitrariness. To the contrary: the arbitrary decision of a man is replaced by either an arbitrary decision of another man who bypasses that system, or by a random result produced by the runaway legal machine.
Secondly, the system is based on inspections; as its aim is avoidance of divergence from ideal, the number of necessary inspections grows with the desired level of performance and the number of rules. If the mechanical system is used alone and in service to an utopian ideal, the aim is perfection, that is zero divergence, zero defects. This requires an infinite number of inspections; moreover, since any finite number of rules leaves loopholes, as explained above, the perfect organization will need even more rules to close each discovered loophole; each new rule and each attempt to more precisely define rules (that is, to define them using lower levels of complexity, or using terms created and defined in the regulation itself) will increase the number of loopholes. As the result we will have an infinite number of inspection to check compliance with an infinite number of rules; long before that ideal is reached, the organization will consist only of inspectors.
Thirdly, there is a so-called Campbell law, according to which any arbitrary measure measuring some more complex feature can work so far as it is not used to reward or punish men it describes. As soon as you starts using statistics to reward, people start to “game” them, ensuring that they stop measuring anything.
The opposite system, the fifth principle of organization, is so-called Auftragstaktik, or Third Generation War. In management, it is sometimes called Toyota management system. It is simple in principle. You start with one clear goal. You subdivide this task into subtasks, and assign a man or group of men to each; you explain to each what they are to do, and what is the general task. If they share your aim, they try to reach their goals, normally using established procedures, but bypassing or changing them as necessary. If you or they observe that any actions is detrimental to the overall goal, the subtasks are changed.
This system avoids most of the mistakes of the Befehlstaktik. It is, however, much more difficult. Each member of organisation has real authority; therefore you must trust each one, and each one must be trained well enough to understand overall goal. They must be able to act independently, and together. Moreover, the superiors and supervisors must have an ability to arbitrarily punish and reward subordinates: that is, if a superior observes that a subordinate executes all procedures perfectly, but at the same time his actions are detrimental to the overall goal, he must punish him. On the other hand, if a subordinate breaks established procedures, but in this way serves the purpose of organization, he should be rewarded, or at least tolerated. Moreover, since subordinates have a freedom to act and are rewarded according to the results of their action, some unfavourable results – that is, mistakes or defects are built in this system.
You can find here a free book by Don Vandergriff, Raising the Bar Creating and Nurturing Adaptability to Deal with the Changing Face of War. Is a description of a proposed education system for US Army and demonstrates well the differences between Auftragstaktik and Befehlstaktik.
Mission Type Tactics, or Auftragstaktik
"Campbell's Law is an adage developed by Donald T. Campbell.
"The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decisionmaking, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor."
The practical observations on the failure of the directives/inspections system as regards food safety.
Faults of the ISO 9000 quality management system - based on defined duties and inspections.
The sixth principle or system of organization is the most ingenious. It is an attempt to use a machine-like system to coordinate independent actions of different actors in the same direction. Whereas in the fourth system each actor had to be inspected, controlled etc, this system aims to align self-interests of actors so that they will cooperate without any supervision. The three main variants of this principle are: free market, democracy, and freedom of speech, especially as applied to science.
This principle is the most emotionally laden of all, as it offers the best hope for the realisation of the basic utopian objective of the Western civilisation: a society without authority, with everyone absolutely free to do what he wants, and yet acting for the common good. The principle in itself is obviously not utopian, and its introduction has allowed great improvements in society. What is utopian is the hope of creating a system which would turn self-interest to the common good so effectively, that it would function without any need of arbitrary authority and with no need for virtue from citizens: Kant’s republic of devils, which would be a perfect state if only equipped with a correct constitution.
It is obvious that such a system needs to punish those who trespass the rules. An authority is needed also to adjust the feedback mechanisms; only those who hope for a eternally perfect constitution, fitting all possible sets of circumstances, can deny it.
What is less obvious is that the authority must be able to intervene even when the actors obey the literal rules of the game: that is, that this system can never replace the arbitrary supreme authority. After a momentary consideration however such a conclusion is unavoidable.
For example, in case of the economic system, some investments which are necessary for the economic progress will not be made by individual entepreneurs and must be organized by the government. In particular, this applies to energy infrastructure and transport. There is a necessity to establish standards and organize systems, and in some cases individual enterpreneurs are unable to do this.
In some cases, as in food trade, economic system without government or other non-economic intervention is entirely infeasible, and would result in recurring famines.
Finally, in some cases an economic activity which is entirely legal and profitable may cause a deadly danger to the whole society. The most obvious example would be selling an enemy a dangerous weapon system in a way which managed to circumvent the exiting legal sanctions.
The most dangerous problem connected with this system, however, is that the rewards introduced by it are only loosely connected with the actual goal. The system can work when members of society aim to achieve some other goals (eg producing useful equipment, providing needed commodities), using the incentives provided by the system (eg money) only as signals how well they are fulfilling the needs of society. When the actors concentrate merely on maximizing the signals, the system gradually stops to work.
This is very well visible in the current economic crisis. The financial sector has an important function in modern economy. It is an equivalent of the central planner in the communist centralised economy. It is responsible for allocating resources to correspond to the future needs. As soon, however, the financial sector is allowed to use its position to maximize its gains – which according to superficial economic theory should be its only goal – it stops benefiting the whole system, and instead begins to cannibalize it. The actual production falls and, what is much worse, it stops corresponding to the needs of of society. False price signals created by the financial sector cause misalignment and misallocation of productive resources.