This article provides information about the central idea of social evolution depicted by Max Weber, L.T. Hobhouse and Talcott Parsons:
Max Weber has examined the question of development of human society in the context of his study on capitalism. He pointed out that capitalism, as a symbol of progress, emerged out of rationalisation of work ethics, savings, frugal life style beliefs, values, and attitudes.
Weber pointed out that capitalist industrialisation emerged in selected countries of Western Europe and not in other places because Calvinist Protestants of these countries developed a life-style of this worldly asceticism by way of rationalising their thoughts, religious beliefs and values to reduce consumption and to promote investment in industry with a view to glorifying the world as desired by god.
Turning to India, Max Weber pointed out that the predominance of traditional values of Hindustan in terms of Dharmarth, Karmand, Moksha, traditional caste values, etc., were the major hindrance to the development of rational capitalism in India. In brief, Weber observed the development of human society from traditional pre-industrial to rational capitalist which was mediated by a process of rationalisation of religious beliefs.
David McClelland, like Max Weber, emphasised those internal factors like the values and motives of the persons to provide opportunities to shape their own destiny. Therefore, the problems of backwardness, poverty, malnutrition, etc., are vitally linked to traditional and non-traditional thought.
He was of the view that educational programmes and technical aid aimed at increasing the “need for achievement” of the people of backward areas are needed to solve these problems. McClelland concluded that modernisation and development can be achieved through a process of diffusion of culture, ideas and technology.
Hobhouse was strongly influenced by both Comte and Spencer. Following Comte he propounded that “the development of the human mind was the crucial factor in social development”, while from Spencer he took the viewpoint of social evolution or development as a process of increase in scale, complexity and internal differentiation.
Hobhouse highlights that the development of the mind brings about social development and “since this mental development includes a development of moral ideas towards the ideal of a rational ethic, which transforms the major social institutions, it can be regarded as progressive”. A person has used an evolutionary perspective to explain the development of human society through several stages.
He introduced the concept of evolutionary universals to mean that despite historical specificities there are some general directions of evolution through which each social system evolves. He also emphasised on a historical and comparative analysis of major types of evolutionary stages of the social system across the globe ranging from primitive to the modern industrial society. Parsons analysed the following types of evolutionary societies: Primitive/Archaic, Intermediate and Modern.
The primitive societies are characterised by elementary forms of social organisation and elementary economic activities like food gathering, hunting, animal husbandry and cultivation to meet the survival needs of human beings. These societies predominantly use elementary technology. Their cultural expressions are integrated with animism, magic and religion. They have a very simple political system, which is governed by the community’s collective rule.
The intermediate societies evolve from primitive societies out of the pressure for social differentiation caused by growth of population. To Talcott Parsons, as a result of population growth the division of human settlements between towns and cities on binary lines increases.
This also leads to occupational differentiations and the emergence of new classes of people in society. Thus there would emerge elaborate systems of stratification based on one’s control of power, wealth or status or in the pattern of the caste system.
There would evolve generalised rules and codified norms for social control paving the way for the sustenance of a systematised political structure in the form of feudalism or monarchy. To Marx, traditional China, India, Islamic and Roman Empires are typical examples of intermediate societies.
Modern societies, according to Parsons, are a unique contribution of the West to humanity, which evolved because of the industrial revolution, democratic revolution led by French revolution and educational revolution. The Industrial revolution brought about radical changes in the production process with the help of advanced technology and science.
The French revolution brought forth the ideas of equality, fraternity and justice paving the way for democratic governance and achieved social status. Education initiated the
process of secularisation and universalisation of liberal thought. The main features of modern society, according to Parsons are: the growth of universalistic law, evolution of the modern institution of money and banking, rational bureaucracy and growth of democratic society.
Though there are perceptive disagreements, development has also been understood widely in terms of increase in productivity, increase in the intensity of modernisation, urbanisation and Industrialisation. Here development has been viewed as the processes of the quantum increase of the goods and services, as transformation of society from pre- modern to modern in terms of institutional arrangements, as transformation of economy from agrarian to industrial, as migration of population from rural to urban areas, as shifting of economic activities from agricultural to non-agricultural and so on.