Principles of Group Solidarity

By Michael Hechter | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI
THE PRODUCTION OF
FORMAL CONTROLS

Man, by the construction of his body, and the disposition of his mind, is
a creature formed for society. The body, being subject to infirmity and
disease, is exposed to difficulties that would involve him in despair and
death, but for the friendly aid of his fellow-mortal, whose sympathetic
nature prompts him to cheer and alleviate the anguish of an afflicted
brother. — The mind, a much more exalted and active principle, would
suffer much in its energy, and more in its enjoyments, was it denied the
mutual comforts and advantages of society…. The vicissitudes to which
mankind are liable, are as numerous as they are various, and happen to
the wise and good, as well as to the inconsiderate; it is a duty, therefore,
everyone owes to the community at large, to encourage every attempt cal-
culated to soften and relieve the wants of others, whilst it holds out the
same prospect to themselves, should the Providence of Almighty God
reduce them to circumstances requiring it.

from the Rules and Regulations of The Good Intent Society,
instituted at Newcastle upon Tyne, July 12, 1813

RATIONAL CHOICE theorists have never had any difficulty understanding why formal controls are instituted in hierarchical groups where members are differentially powerful. They know that formal controls exist because it is often in the interests of the powerful to extract rents from those who are dependent upon them. As Hobbes ([1651] 1968: 228) notes, one route to the establishment of controls is “by Naturall force; as when a man maketh his children, to submit themselves, and their children to his government, as being able to destroy them if they refuse; or by Warre subdueth his enemies to his will, giving them their lives on that condition.” In a similar vein, Adam Smith ([1789] 1961: I, 74) argues that the fact that masters tend to have more power than workers keeps wage rates low.1

It seems far more difficult, starting from rational choice premises, to explain how formal controls can ever arise among individuals who, at least initially, are endowed with relatively equal amounts of power. That rational

1 Using a similar concept, the shifting power diffentials between rulers and their subjects, Levi (1987) attempts to explain variations in state tax policies.

-104-

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