THE PROBLEM OF ORDER: What Unites and Divides Society by Dennis H. Wrong

THE PROBLEM OF ORDER: What Unites and Divides Society

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A close, challenging look at what -- according to numerous philosophers and social thinkers -- prompts individuals and societies to converge or separate, from respected New York University sociologist Wrong (Power, 1988). As is quickly made clear, the problem of order has been an on-going concern from Aristotle on, but for Wrong the tone of inquiry adopts a distinctly modern cast in the 17th century, with Thomas Hobbes's description of life as ""solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short."" The Hobbesian notion of society as a perpetual state of conflict, a war of all against all, contrasts with more positive views such as those of Durkheim and Talcott Parsons, who were more inclined to see the social fabric as providing a nurturing environment for the moral and intellectual betterment of the species. The distinction between personal conflict, as defined by Freud in terms of id, ego, and superego, and group struggles carefully theorized in Marx's work as class-based, allows Wrong to examine both the individual and the societal role in maintaining or frustrating order, with the result that social relations in all their complexity are ultimately addressed. His conclusion, however, that ""social order is indestructible so long as human beings remain alive,"" foists an unsupported optimism on a world situation in which nations are splintering and group violence is on the rise. Heavy going for the uninitiated -- terms like ""normative functionalism"" and ""time-space distanciation"" are thrown out like punches in a free-for-all -- but, still, a useful survey of theorists through the ages who have grappled with humanity's paradoxical, almost schizophrenic embrace of both order and conflict.

Pub Date: Feb. 16th, 1994
Page count: 275pp
Publisher: Free Press/Macmillan