Consensual versus imposed order

An organization’s order is established by either voluntary agreement, or by it being imposed and acquiesced to.  Under this terminology, an order is always imposed to the extent that it does not originate from a voluntary personal agreement of all the individuals concerned.  (50-51)

I discussed themes from this a while back in my post about social contract theory and its application to intentional communities.  In that post, one of the things I tried to explain as a major different between such organizations and the dominant forms of government is that joining an intentional community is a voluntary agreement.  Most forms of government do not operate this way, falling under Weber’s “imposed order”: you must submit to the order because you were born in a given territory, and the government has the means (generally) to ensure your compliance.

Weber goes on to explain the importance of constitutions in either form of order:

The only relevant question for sociological purposes is when, for what purposes, and within what limits, or possibly under what special conditions (such as the approval or gods or priests or the consent of electors), the members of the organization will submit to the leadership.  (51)

The “constitution” he is referring to, to be clear, is not necessarily the written constitution, if an organization even has one.   Instead, he thinks we shouldn’t be distracted by what is written, which can be significantly different than actual practice, or otherwise not answer the core question he is asking here, and focus on the observable relationship between those who give directives in an organization and those who follow.

I again think that definitions like this are, if not anarchist, then at least fit quite well into anarchist theory.  The question Weber is asking is under what conditions people will obey the leaders of a given organization.  This implies that if those instructions are illegitimate, made through an illegitimate process, or given by people using their offices illegitimately, they will be faced with resistance from the other members, if not outright refusal.  What determines if a directive meets this criteria is the order of the social organization.

Weber also points out that even in cases of formally voluntary agreement, it is very common for there still to be a large measure of imposition.  He doesn’t really give any examples here, so this could be interpreted in a number of ways.  He could be referring to the point made just above about looking at the actual practices of those being studied instead of the formally stated agreements.  It’s also possible that he’s referring to systems that we consider to be ‘voluntary’ but are often not to many people, such as a perpetual minority in a majority-rule system.  Or maybe he’s just saying that beyond the initial agreement, there are a variety of non-voluntary forces that could come into play in that system.  Perhaps this will become clearer later on.

He seems to be talking about the voluntary-ness of a social order, not the individual decisions beyond their constitutionality.  Returning to intentional communities, I think this would mean that just because someone in a leadership position has made a decision that one does not like yet has to follow, that does not make the decision itself imposed.  The order itself is still voluntary, and the decision comes from the legitimate use of a leadership/follower structure created from that voluntary order.

Weber doesn’t address additional aspects of this here, especially change over time.  Someone who joined a community 20 years ago could find themselves in a very different social situation now compared to when they joined, largely because of population turnover.  While many of the community institutions would probably be recognizable, it’s also possible that the social order as Weber would have us understand it has gone through major changes.  Is it necessary for all of these changes to be voluntarily agreed to by everyone?  At what point does a proposed change become imposed?  It seems like under his definition that anything less than a voluntary agreement is by definition imposed.  What is the measure of acceptance of a given order?  Is there something more to look for than lack of overt resistance?

Also, I think it’s important that we not confuse the voluntary versus imposed dichotomy with questions of legitimacy.  They are tied together, but are not the same thing.  Often people (on the modern far left especially) equate imposed with illegitimate.  From Weber’s perspective, I think he would argue that is because one has a certain perspective on legitimacy of a social order.  There are plenty of examples of imposed orders that members of that group consider to be legitimate.  I already mentioned the modern State (whose authority most people seem to accept in most contexts), but this could also include the typical organization of a corporation, or a family structure.  I think that Weber would want us to recognize that if we are claiming that an imposed order lacks legitimacy, that is because we have a certain personal view about what legitimacy is, and therefore are making a normative argument that those who we are discussing may not agree with.


~ by Ethan Tupelo on 02015.01.16.

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