Grouping of individuals interacting with each other

A society is a group of individuals involved in persistent social interaction, or a large social group sharing the same geographical or social territory, typically subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations. Societies are characterized by patterns of relationships (social relations) between individuals who share a distinctive culture and institutions; a given society may be described as the sum total of such relationships among its constituent of members. In the social sciences, a larger society often exhibits stratification or dominance patterns in subgroups.


Bastiat, Frédéric (1801-1850), by Jörg Guido Hülsmann, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, 15 Aug 2008
Biographical essay
"Bastiat propounded the view that in a natural society, one based on private property, the interests of the various social groups would become harmonious. For example, although debtors and creditors seem to have conflicting interests, a more careful examination would show that in fact a debtor has an interest in the well-being of his creditor, who may be the source of further credits. Similarly, a creditor has an interest in the well-being of his debtor because only a prosperous debtor would be capable of paying interest. Bastiat discussed countless similar relationships, such as those between consumers and producers, workers and capitalists, landlords and tenants, and so forth."
Book Review: The Future and Its Enemies, by Richard Ebeling, Future of Freedom, May 1999
Review of The Future and Its Enemies (1998) by Virginia Postrel
"Society is the evolved and cumulative outcome of multitudes of generations of human actors' pursuing their individual ends; and through their interactions with each other, they have often generated social institutions, norms, patterns, and rules that were no part of the original intentions of the respective social participants. ... Each individual in his respective corner of the society comes to possess specialized and local knowledge, the full significance and usefulness of which only he may completely understand and appreciate for its successful application to various economic and social purposes. "
Book Review: The Quest for Cosmic Justice, by Richard Ebeling, Future of Freedom, Dec 1999
Review of The Quest for Cosmic Justice by Thomas Sowell, 1999
"Only a cosmic or godlike perspective could claim to know what each of us 'deserves.' Instead, the intellectual elites claim the supposedly disinterested superiority to bear the burden of these momentous decisions. They arrogantly presume to do away with all the circumstances that make the patterns of society what they are: custom, culture, tradition, the competitive processes of the market, and the free choices of individual human beings. All these are to be set aside, with large swatches of society re-configured according to the designs of the social engineering elite."
Branden, Nathaniel (1930-2014), by Chris Matthew Sciabarra, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, 15 Aug 2008
Biographical essay
"For Branden, a free society cannot be sustained without certain psychological, ethical, and cultural prerequisites. Among the psychological requirements of a free society are the six pillars of self-esteem—practices essential to the achievement of human authenticity: living consciously, self-acceptance, self-responsibility, self-assertiveness, living purposefully, and personal integrity. ... the struggle for a free society is a struggle for the values of the integrated individual self against groupthink and the entitlement mentality of the welfare state."
Related Topic: Nathaniel Branden
Claiming Paine, by Katherine Mangu-Ward, Reason, Jul 2007
Review of the book Thomas Paine and the Promise of America by Harvey J. Kaye
"And it was Paine, in Common Sense, who declared: 'Some writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness POSITIVELY by uniting our affections, the latter NEGATIVELY by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher.'"
Complex Societies Need Simple Laws: We need to end the orgy of rule-making at once and embrace the simple rules that true liberals like America's founders envisioned, by John Stossel, 15 Mar 2012
Reflects on the "uncountable" number of laws and regulations in the United States as well as Britain, and elicits the views of Laozi, Hayek, Buchanan and Mises in favor of ending "the orgy of rule-making"
"Big-government advocates will say that as society grows more complex, laws must multiply to keep up. The opposite is true. It is precisely because society is unfathomably complex that laws must be kept simple. No legislature can possibly prescribe rules for the complex network of uncountable transactions and acts of cooperation that take place every day. ... Any attempt to manage a modern society is more like a bull in a darkened china shop than a finely tuned machine. No wonder the schemes of politicians go awry."
Related Topics: Economics, Laozi, Law
Conscience on the Battlefield, by Leonard Read, 1981
Pamphlet written in 1951, during the Korean War, updated with prologue in 1981; Read recalls the 1918 incident when the troopship he was on was sunk by a German submarine and wonders about his thoughts if he were dying (in 1951) on a Korean battlefield
"Man, in spite of his individuality, lives with others. And having chosen to live with others, he cannot escape an accountability for his part of any collective action of society in which he participates. As part of the warp and woof of society, he is committed to some responsibility for its collective misdeeds, either by commission or omission. ... While bearing his share of society's sins he can at least refuse to be a sponsor of them; indeed, he can use suasion to spread the truth as he sees it."
Ferguson, Adam (1723-1816), by Ronald Hamowy, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, 15 Aug 2008
Biographical essay
"... Ferguson offers a conjectural history of social institutions, maintaining that societies naturally evolved from savagery to barbarism to civilization. Of these stages of development, the first, Ferguson maintained, was both prepolitical and lacked any real notion of private property. In barbaric societies, in contrast, property had ceased to remain communal, and private wealth, most often in the form of agricultural products and animal herds, had developed. Despite the existence of unequal possessions, however, a formal institutionalized system of laws regarding property had to await the development of civilized society."
Related Topics: Adam Ferguson, Property
Henry David Thoreau and "Civil Disobedience," Part 1, by Wendy McElroy, Future of Freedom, Mar 2005
After some background and biographical material, describes the event (Thoreau's imprisonment) that led to writing "Civil Disobedience" and Thoreau's reaction to those who paid the tax on his behalf, his jailers, his neighbors and Ralph Waldo Emerson
"According to some accounts, Emerson visited Thoreau in jail and asked, 'Henry, what are you doing in there?' Thoreau replied, 'Waldo, the question is what are you doing out there?' Emerson was 'out there' because he believed it was shortsighted to protest an isolated evil; society required an entire rebirth of spirituality. Emerson missed the point of Thoreau's protest, which was not intended to reform society but was simply an act of conscience. If we do not distinguish right from wrong, Thoreau argued that we will eventually lose the capacity to make the distinction and become, instead, morally numb."
Herbert Spencer as an Anthropologist [PDF], by Robert L. Carneiro, The Journal of Libertarian Studies, 1981
Traces Spencer's contributions to the fields now known as anthropology and sociology and how his concept of cultural evolution was developed
"Thus, when he was ready to give his study of society a name, he chose 'sociology.' ... Years later, in the preface to Volume 1 of The Principles of Sociology, he gave his reasons for adopting the term: 'For the Science of Society, the name "Sociology" was introduced by M. Comte. ...' ... But regardless of labels, Spencer devoted enormous thought and effort to erecting a comparative science of society of the most general kind, and his work gave a powerful impetus to the anthropology that came after him."
If the State Falls, Does Society Crumble?, by Lew Rockwell, Mises Daily, 25 Jan 2007
Discusses the situation in Iraq four years after the 2003 invasion and evaluates the question of "just how integral is the state to society?"
"Which raises the question: just how integral is the state to society? Is it the case that we can expect every society that loses its state to fall into chaos such as Iraq is doing today? ... On the face of it, the role of the state – the legal monopolist on the use of aggressive force against person and property – is absurdly implausible. There is no obvious reason why any society should put up with it."
Related Topics: Iraq, Iraq War (2003), The State
Individual Liberty and Civil Society, by Richard Ebeling, Feb 1993
Reflects on Benjamin Constant's lecture on what liberty meant to the ancient Greeks vs. the 19th century Europeans and Americans and the 20th century reversion to statism
"In civil society there is no longer a single focal point in the social order, as in the politicized society in which the state, designs, directs and imposes an agenda to which all must conform and within which all are confined. Rather, in civil society there are as many focal points as individuals, who all design, shape and direct their own lives, guided by their own interests, ideals and passions."
Introductory, by John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859
Chapter I
"But reflecting persons perceived that when society is itself the tyrant ... its means of tyrannizing are not restricted to the acts which it may do by the hands of its political functionaries. Society can and does execute its own mandates: and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practises a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself."
Liberty Defined, by F. A. Harper, 4 Sep 1957
Speech to the Mont Pelerin Society; Harper first offers his definition of liberty, then explores "adulterated" definitions, its relation to morals, moral law and basic humans rights, ending with his hope for the cause of liberty
"To begin with, liberty seems to me to be a word having to do with matters of personal conduct in relation to other persons in society. Or to put it another way, it relates to limitations of action one person may or may not suffer at the hands of another person. It is in that sense a word focused on matters of individual conduct in a social setting."
National Servitude, by Sheldon Richman, 21 Jun 2013
Discusses calls for "national service", contrasts them to insights from Frédéric Bastiat and Adam Smith, and counters possible objections
"Leaving aside any question of moral duty, the fact is that in a free society, in which aggressive force is barred and all relationships are voluntary, people naturally seek to satisfy one another's wants in order to improve their own lots in life. As the early French economists liked to say: Society is exchange, and exchange is mutually beneficial. Exchange is at the very heart of a civil society based on voluntarism and free markets. ... Each individual wants things in order to live the sort of life she wishes, things she wouldn't be able to make herself. In a free society, no one may compel another to work for her benefit."
Related Topics: Frédéric Bastiat, Adam Smith
On Evil Acts, by Lew Rockwell, Mises Daily, 19 Apr 2007
In the wake of the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, contrasts the typical mainstream and conservative responses to such acts of violence and suggests a third way
"The part that impacts on politics and economics is the second consideration: how can we as a society best deal with the problem of evil? ... With the market, there are many decisions that we as a society do not have to make collectively but instead we make them individually as buyers. ... We do not have to decide collectively what cars to drive, what websites to visit, or what food to eat. So it is with security. And so it is with the problem of human evil."
Oppenheimer, Franz (1864-1943), by George H. Smith, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, 15 Aug 2008
Biographical essay
"Oppenheimer distinguishes between two methods of acquiring wealth: the economic and the political. 'These are work and robbery, one's own labor and the forcible appropriation of the labor of others.' ... Oppenheimer's distinction between state and society became a crucial aspect of libertarian philosophy. The state, he contended, is 'the fully developed political means,' whereas society, based on voluntary relationships, is 'the fully developed economic means.' He attributed the growth of individual freedom to the development of cities in late medieval Europe and to the emergence of a money economy."
Popper, Karl (1902-1994), by Jeremy Shearmur, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, 15 Aug 2008
Biographical essay
"Popper also is well known for his writings on social philosophy. His books Open Society and Its Enemies and The Poverty of Historicism, both written during the Second World War, were powerful attacks on Plato, Marx, and their arguments in favor of historical inevitability as enemies of an open society. The open society that Popper favored was characterized by ethical individualism—in opposition to the moral collectivism of his day—and was influenced by Kantian ideas about the significance of intersubjective criticism."
Real Liberalism and the Law of Nature, by Sheldon Richman, 10 Aug 2007
Examines Hodgskin's introductory letter to Henry Brougham, a Member of Parliament (later Lord Chancellor), written in 1829, published in The Natural and Artificial Right of Property Contrasted
"Hodgskin was alarmed that few among the general public or in Parliament understood that society is a natural phenomenon, rather than an artificial product of government. It was too commonly thought that without a constant stream of new legislation, society would run down and turn chaotic. (Have we heard anything like this lately?) ... But if no one understands the true nature of society, i.e., that it is essentially self-regulating, then how can a legislator know that he must keep from interfering with it? It's a question we could put to almost any member of Congress."
Reasoning on the Nature of Things, by Clarence B. Carson, The Freeman, Feb 1982
Discusses how natural law doctrines were repudiated by utilitarians, why natural rights are important from an economic viewpoint, how the rights to life, liberty and property can be construed and what the author understands as the "social contract"
"The social contract is not a written agreement, nor do we willingly and consciously enter into it. Rather, it is that agreement which is necessary, in the nature of things, to the existence of society. It is every man's tacit agreement not to use violence to get his way, to leave others to the enjoyment of the fruits of their labor, not to trespass upon the property of others, to fulfill the terms of his individually entered into agreements, to honor his parents, to succor his children, to keep his word, to meet his obligations."
Robert Nozick, Philosopher of Liberty, by Roderick T. Long, The Freeman, Sep 2002
Focuses mainly on Nozick's contributions in Anarchy, State, and Utopia, with brief reference to his later works and his death earlier in 2002
"Nozick argued that because there is 'no social entity' but only 'different individual people, with their own individual lives,' it makes no sense to describe the sacrifice of an individual's rights as being made up for by an 'overbalancing good' to society as a whole; a human being 'may not be used or sacrificed for the benefit of others,' because doing so would 'not sufficiently respect' the fact that 'he is a separate person' whose life is 'the only life he has' ..."
Smoking Bans Are Dangerous to a Free Society's Health, by Thomas A. Firey, The Baltimore Sun, 6 Dec 2006
Argues against proposed legislation in the city of Baltimore and the state of Maryland to ban smoking in restaurants and bars
"Liberal societies have market economies in part because the pursuit of profit and the threat of competition force the marketplace to provide choices for people with many different preferences. This should include the choice of smoking-allowed and smoke-free bars and restaurants. ... Free societies allow people to make decisions that others don't like. That includes allowing smokers to have bars and restaurants to cater to their preferences, just as nonsmokers should have establishments that cater to theirs."
Related Topics: Entrepreneurship, Health
Spencer, Herbert (1820-1903), by George H. Smith, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, 15 Aug 2008
Biographical essay
"In addition to his other contributions to libertarian theory, such as his detailed typology of the militant and industrial forms of social organization, Spencer made seminal contributions to the theory of spontaneous order. In The Principles of Sociology, Spencer likened social development to a 'rolling snowball or a spreading fire' where there is 'compound accumulation and acceleration.' An intricate social network evolves as in a market economy that is so interdependent that any considerable change in one activity 'sends reverberating changes among all the rest.' Society, in other words, is an unplanned spontaneous order, one that 'grows' rather than is 'made.'"
The Fable of the Bees Tells the Story of Society, by Richard Ebeling, 15 Nov 2016
Discusses the "moral" of Mandeville's work The Fable of the Bees, that "prosperous, wealthy and great societies only arise from men's self-interested desires"
"One of the major turning points in social and economic understanding emerged in the 1700s with the theory of social order without human design. Before the eighteenth century, most social theory presumed or took as a working assumption that human society had its origin and sustainability in the creation of social institutions through either 'divine' intervention, or by human will and plan. But in the 1700s, the idea of society as a spontaneous order that emerged out of the actions and interactions of multitudes of individuals, each pursuing their own self-interest, began to develop into a systematic and scientific theory of human association."
Related Topics: Economics, Bernard Mandeville
The Idea of a Private Law Society, by Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Mises Daily, 28 Jul 2006
Discusses the problem of social order, i.e., rules to regulate the use of "everything scarce so that all possible conflicts can be ruled out"
"In light of the multiple errors of classical liberalism, then, how is law and order vis-à-vis actual and potential lawbreakers maintained? The solution lies in a private law society — a society where every individual and institution is subject to one and the same set of laws! No public law granting privileges to specific persons of functions (and no public property) exists in this society. There is only private law (and private property), equally applicable to each and everyone."
The Open Society and Its Worst Enemies, by Sheldon Richman, 16 Jan 2015
Considers the January 2015 events in Paris and contrasts the choice between an open, free society and imperialistic, militaristic foreign intervention
"Obviously, the police in more or less open societies — 'but rather less than more' — cannot fully prevent the kind of violence that occurred at Charlie Hebdo and the kosher grocery Hyper Cacher. ... If even a full-blown police state could not prevent all such plots, what chance does a society with a vestige of regard for civil liberties have? ... That is why it is imperative for societies wishing to remain more or less open to not let their rulers make enemies by conducting a militarist foreign policy. ... It really does come down to a stark choice between full freedom and empire."
Related Topics: Imperialism, Terrorism, War
The Production of Security, by Gustave de Molinari, Journal des économistes, Feb 1849
Questions whether the provision of security to citizens should be an exception to the economic principle of free competition, delving into arguments favoring monopolistic and communistic government and concluding with a hypothetical free market example
"The instinct of sociability brings him together with similar persons, and drives him into communication with them. Therefore, impelled by the self-interest of the individuals thus brought together, a certain division of labor is established, necessarily followed by exchanges. In brief, we see an organization emerge, by means of which man can more completely satisfy his needs than he could living in isolation. This natural organization is called society."
Try This On Your Friends [PDF], by F. A. Harper, Faith and Freedom, Jan 1955
Poses a riddle about the extent to which government is needed
"A society of wholly good men calls for no political rulership whatsoever. ... Since evil acts wouldn't exist in such a society, control by government is neither called for nor proper. Only in another society where evil has entered the scene is any government deemed necessary, by this simple theory that government is a necessary evil to cope with the evil in man. Now consider as the other extreme a society in which every man is wholly evil. ... this society would then be ruled by a totally evil dictator possessed of unlimited political power. ... How could it be any better than having no political rulership at all in that society?"
Related Topic: Government
Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism?, by Robert Nozick, Cato Policy Report, Jan 1998
Posits that "wordsmith" (as opposed to "numbersmith") intellectuals often resent capitalism because the market society does not reward them as their schooling did
"It is not surprising that those successful by the norms of a school system should resent a society, adhering to different norms, which does not grant them the same success. ... If you were designing a society, you would not seek to design it so that the wordsmiths, with all their influence, were schooled into animus against the norms of the society."
Related Topics: Capitalism, Free Market
Why the Republicans Are Doomed, by Lew Rockwell, 21 Feb 2007
Discusses recent Republican behavior at both the presidential (George W. Bush) and grassroots level, arguing that they take their societal view from Hobbes
"Elsewhere we discussed how the Democrats believe in a conflict-based model of society, with their imagined society consisting of groups of warring tribes (men v. women, blacks v. whites, etc.). In the same way, the Republicans imagine that the social order is rife with conflict, but a conflict of a different sort. Republicans believe that all of society, whether your town, the nation, or the whole world, is divided between those who adhere to the law and those who are inclined to break it."


The Society of To-morrow: A Forecast of Its Political and Economic Organisation, by Gustave de Molinari, 1899
Partial contents: Formation of Primitive Communities and the Conditions Necessary to Their Existence - Competition Between Primitive Communities and Its Results - Competition Between States in Process of Civilisation - Decline of Destructive Competition

The introductory paragraph uses material from the Wikipedia article "Society" as of 03 Dec 2018, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.