Essay on the Organic Theory of State

The union of individuals forming the State has been described as similar to the union between the several parts of an animal body, wherein all parts are functionally related and none can exist in isolation from the rest.

Just as the body has a natural unity, so has a social group. An arm lives and moves only as a part of an organic whole.

Amputated from the body, it dies. The Organic Theory is a biological conception which describes the State in terms of “natural science, views the individuals which compose it as analogous to the cells of a plant or animal, and postulates a relation of interdependence between them and society such as exists between the organs and parts of a biological organism and the whole structure.”

In other words, as the animal body is composed of cells, so is the State composed of several individuals, and as is the “relation of the hand to the body, or the leaf to the tree, so is the relation of man to society. He exists in it and it in him.” The State is an organic unity—”a living spiritual being.”

The Organic Theory is as old as political thought itself. Plato compared the State to a man of great stature, and conceived a resemblance in their functions. He said that “the best ordered commonwealth was one whose structural organisation resembled most nearly in principle to that of the individual.” Cicero, too relied, upon the same analogy and likened the head of the State to the spirit which rules the human body.

Among writers of the middle Ages and early modem times, the theory was supported notably by John of Salisbury, Marsiglio Althusius and many others. It, also, found favour with Hobbes and Rousseau, although the analogies and comparisons which they made were superficial.

With the decline of the Social Contract Theory, in the early part of the nineteenth century, the theory of the organic nature of the State found a new and vigorous expression. The ancient and medieval writers had merely drawn an analogy between the State and an organism.

They held that the State resembled an organism. But writers of the nineteenth century regarded the State as an organism.

Even fanciful and very often vain elaborations of the organic conception, attributing, for instance, to the State an alimentary system, a nervous system, a circulatory system, etc., became the theme of the time.

Indeed, the “fascination of the theory with its biological analogies and parallelisms became so widespread that political science, for a time, seemed in danger of being swallowed up by natural science.”

The new theory, that the State is an organism, took root in German soil and there it found its most notable advocates. But the culmination of the theory was reached in the writings of Bluntschli.

The State, he asserted, is the very “image of human organism.” As “an oil painting,” he said, “is something more than a mere aggregation of drops of oil, as a statue is something more than a combination of marble particles, as a man is something more than a mere quantity of cells and blood corpuscles, so the nation is something more than a mere aggregation of citizens, and the State something more than a mere collection of external regulations.”

He stretched his biological analogy to the extreme and endowed the State with the quality of sex, describing it as having a male personality.

Theory as expanded by Spencer. The theory that the State is an organism received a most scientific treatment at the hands of Herbert Spencer, the English philosopher.

Spencer believed that social life is a part of an ever-evolving nature and starting from the idea of a universal evolution, he afterwards included biological evolution in his analysis. He asserted that society is an organism and it differs in no essential principle from other biological organisms.

The attributes of an organism and society, he maintained, are similar and the permanent relations existing between their various parts are also the same. Both exhibit the same process of development.

The animal and social bodies, Spencer affirmed, begin as germs, all similar and simple in structure. As they grow and develop, they become unlike and complex in structure. Their process of development is the same; both moving from similarity and simplicity to dissimilarity and complexity.

“As the lowest type of animal is all stomach, respiratory surface or limb, so primitive society is all warriors, all hunters, all builders, or all tool-maker.

As society grows in complexity, division of labour follows, i.e., new organs with different functions appears, corresponding to the differentiation of functions in the animal, in which fundamental trait they become entirely alike.”

In either case there is a mutual dependence of parts. Just as the hand depends on the arm and the arm on the body and head, so do the parts of the social organism depend on each other.

Every organism depends for its life and full performance of its functions on the proper coordination and interrelation of the units. As the diseased condition of one organ affects the health and proper functioning of other organs, similarly, individuals who form the society are inseparably connected with one another for the realisation of their best self.

There is so much dependence of one on the other that the distress of one paralyses the rest of the society. “If the iron worker in the social organism stops work, or the miner or the food producer, or the distributor fails to discharge his natural functions in the economy of the society, the whole suffers injury just as the animal organism suffers from the failure of its members to perform their functions.”

Society and organism, it is further pointed out, are both subject to wear and tear and then replacement. Just as cell tissues and blood corpuscles in the animal organism wear out and are replaced by new ones, in the same manner, old, infirm, and diseased persons die, giving place to newly born persons.

Spencer, then, gives some structural analogies between society and organism. He says, society, too, has three systems corresponding to the sustaining system, the distributaries system and the regulating system in an organism.

The sustaining system in an organism consists of mouth, gullet, stomach and intestines it is by means of this’ system that food is disgusted and the whole organic machine is sustained. Society has its own sustaining system and it is the productive system comprising the manufacturing districts and agricultural areas.

The distributary system in an organism consists of the blood vessels, heart, arteries and veins and they carry blood to all parts of the body. Means of communication and transport in the social structure correspond to the distributary system in an organism. What the arteries and veins mean to the human body roads, railways, post and telegraph services mean to society.

Finally, the regulating system is the nerve-motor mechanism which regulates the whole body. Government in the body politic regulates and controls the activities of the individuals, and it is analogous to the regulating system.

From these points of agreement, Spencer concludes that the State is an organism. But he himself admits that the identity between the two is not complete. There is one “extreme unlikeness” in the structure of the body-politic and that of the animal organism.

The animal organism is concrete in structure, that is, its units are bound together in close contact and they form a concrete whole. The social body, on the other hand, is discrete.

Its parts are separate and distinct, or, to quote Spencer, the units of the social body are free and “more or less widely dispersed.”

Spencer also points out another difference between an organism and a social body. This difference, he admits, is very important because it “greatly affects our notion of the ends to be achieved by social organisation.” He says that there is no “nerve sensorium” in the social body.

That is to say, there is no single centre of consciousness in society as is found in the living body. In an organism, consciousness is concentrated in one definite part of the whole, the cerebrum or brain. In society, it is diffused or spread over the whole. Every individual member in a society has his own conscience and he acts for himself independently of others.

But even these “fundamental” points of difference in the structure of the body-politic and that of the animal organism did not deter Spencer from his thesis that the State is an organism. As a matter of fact, he built on those differences his theory of Individualism.

He concluded that the State should leave the individual alone to pursue his own welfare, for “society exists for the benefit of its members, not its members for the benefit of society.” Herbert Spencer did not, however, realise that his conclusion was the very negation of the organic nature of the State.