from Human Relations and Power

by Albert Mueller-Deham (1957)

Philosophical Library, NY



Classification of Basic Relations in Brief Outline


Classification appears to be a dry business, but it can lead to the core of a science. No less a man than the great physicist Planck, the founder of the fundamental "quantum theory" asserts: "that every branch of science is confronted with the task of satisfactory sorting and arranging of its material" and he designated this step as the decisive one in relation to the course of further scientific progress. (1)

This view is illustrated by the history of every natural science. Systematic Botany began its first rapid development after the introduction of a more formal classification of plants by the Swede Linn, the second rush came after its substitution by a genetic system under the influence of the theories of evolution. (1)

It was of the greatest importance for physics when Maxwell's equations allowed light and electromagnetic phenomena to be seen as closely related, separating light from its former neighbor, sound, and then relating the latter to mechanics.(1)

Social relations have both an inner inherent quality and an external aspect. Love between man and wife, mother and child can be contrasted with the mere fact of subordination in factory or office, which may be willing or hostile, either towards the prescribed work or to the superior. It seems that social phenomena analogous to love offer more unity and fewer, eventually contradictory, premises than that of subordination.(1)

Therefore the inner attitude of the participants, the quality of their connection or separation has been selected as the primary point of procedure. (2)

An example may serve to give a - preliminary and incomplete - explanation of the distinction introduced and particularly of the terms "factual" and "external." Three conscripts enter the military service, an institution with forceful and uniform rules where strict subordination is demanded. New conditions are indeed hard facts, preexistent, and the whole change of their environment is external. Their inner attitudes are not given, do not constitute the relation; they develop, may vary and are secondarily chosen. (2)

The first G. I. is an adventurous and patriotic youth who has applied for the Marines in spite of the rough training lie expects. He will grouch, but obey willingly, soon feel at home in his platoon and later become proud of his service. Of the two others: one is a communist and the second an egotistic and pampered weakling. They will both react with inner, if not open opposition. External relations lead to inner attitudes which may be different. The latter are neither uniform nor constitutive to super-subordination. It may be anticipated that power relations are in the background. It is obvious that power may be welcomed or hated.(2)

The question of inner attitude can be asked this way: How can individuals (or groups) react to each other, feel towards each other? The first answer is: Their relations constitute either a connection or a separation, they imply affirmation or negation, being based on a positive or negative evaluation. The contacts are conditioned by recognition of others as to their persons, interests or activities, often with inner alliances; or are characterized by inward separation, indifference, inconsideration or antagonism. It is a question of being with the other, or at least on an equal footing with him, or of not being for, but often against another.(2)

A man leaves home after breakfasting with his family, buys some cigarettes, uses a bus, chats with some acquaintances, reaches the factory and begins to work. He was first a member of a closely united group, then entered some relations based on reciprocity, to become at last a link in a work-association. Suppose this occurred in the South. He saw that a colored man was forbidden the section for the whites, at another stop a passenger hustled and pushed to obtain a seat, then he heard a conversation wherein one person argued against the political views of another. So he first witnessed an act of exclusion, then a manifestation of undue selfish behavior towards others, then a show of relations of divergence, of opposing views. In this short hour all the main types of connections and separations were experienced. (2)

This presentation proceeds in stages. The contents of the various categories are first generally formulated and illustrated. It is then proved by deductive reasoning (p. 5 f, p. 9 f.) that they and their mixtures correspond to a complete classification from the selected point of view. A detailed treatment of each type follows. (Ch IV ff.). The means for recognizing and testing the participation of each basic relation are outlined (P- 5 f-, 9 f-, 27, 35, 47). These are qualitatively difterent.(2)

i. Unition (we-group, "community" in the non-local sense). This entails the intimate "we" of lovers and friends, families and nations, the master and his pupils, the genuine leader and his following. It is not the "we" of shareholders or the employees of an enterprise. It is a human unity bound by an emotional tie of belonging together in common feeling. Bound by unition, the individual becomes part of a whole; his feelings and acts proceed from this unity - from this larger "I." It is the group member as part of the unit which sacrifices itself for the whole when the dive bomber attacks the enemy man-of-war. It is the triumph of "we" over "I." The mother shares her insufficient portion with the children when food is scarce.(2)

The obsolete term of Unition has been chosen because none of the familiar words expresses the exact meaning. "Community" usually means "local community" in American sociology. "Union" is used very loosely. A union of employers or of labor, a Union Club is often no close union, but a group bound only by interests or superficial companionship. The word "togetherness" has been used recently in sociological and general publications. This term expresses well the inner attitudes within unitions but cannot be applied to a group. It is always awkward to propose a new term and I beg indulgence, but it seems necessary to avoid confusion.(2, 3)

A natural communism of money and property exists between youthful friends. The devotion of the disciple or follower to his beloved master or leader may be boundless. The fatherland in distress can command millions willing to die for it. The nucleus of unition is solidarity. Sacrifices of personal interests may be offered and demanded. There is love and devotion for the whole, some intimacy, and in case of need - helpfulness towards one another among the members.(3)

2. Relations based on reciprocity and conformity ("society" as opposed to "community"). Reciprocal relations between individuals are affirmative; they recognize the other's personality, interests and rights. They form a bridge between one ego and another, but they constitute no unity; they are as far from pure selfishness as from a close union. Reciprocity does not mean sacrifice; the other person is similar to one's self, but no better. Therefore it leaves place for justified self-assertion; for defense against any infringement by others and for fair competition, (as in sport or in economic life); for preferment and every decent ambition. The other person is equal as to his personality and his rights; he need not be equal in his personality and in his rights. Not to everyone the same, but to everyone his due. Reciprocity is intimately connected with conformity, presupposing it; a common standard is generally needed for mutuality. In sport competitions the rules of the play must be kept by both sides in order that the better performance may win. Honest buying and selling are based on reciprocity and a common means of exchange. The prevailing customs, folkways and manners form the common grounds for social intercourse. The demand arises for reciprocal politeness and tact. The unavoidable personal conflicts should be settled by agreement, arbitration or legal decision. The latter two represent the common standard. The objectivity of the law and the impartiality of the judge warrant reciprocity. It is no violation of mutuality but, on the contrary, a confirmation, when transgressions against the personality or the rights of others are warded off by self-defense, by reproach, by public opinion with its consequences, or by legal compulsion.(3, 4)

Consideration, politeness, tact, fairness, equity and jus. tice are the virtues of reciprocity relations. Tle ideals of the gentleman and the lady, honesty, fair dealing, and fair fighting grow on this ground. The extension of the reciprocal attitudes from individuals to groups makes no difficulty. (4)

3- Work-association. This signifies affirmed, willing cooperation in a common task; a joint purpose according to plan; partnership in relation to an objective; and the function of the individual therein. The task may be of material or of ideal nature, with or without personal advantage for the members and executed either in free cooperation or bound to discipline. Different individuals are connected by an "it" - by something impersonal, objective. The relations of the hospital doctor to his patients and of the librarian to his borrowers are primarily neither those of mutual personal acknowledgment nor of unition; they are essentially those of service. The fulfillment of the job and the accepted duty is demanded from the members of a work-association. The motives of the commencement (personal interests, contracts, etc.) may be different, but the functional attitude during activity with its obligations is decisive. (4)

Three different kinds of affirmative connections have been submitted. Seen from the point of view of inner attitude, one may question whether this scheme is complete. Persons may be connected individually by mutual acknowledgment, or they may form a closer unity. In the first case the category of reciprocity is established. A closer unit may be of personal nature unition; or induced by an impersonal objective bond (work-association). There are no other logical possibilities of relations based on inner connections, any one encountered must either belong to one of the three groups or be a composite of them. The argumentation is quite analogous if, instead of individuals, intergroupal relations are considered; the unit-forming connection then becomes the group, not the single person. The three basic positive relations are qualitatively different because they constitute dissimilar bonds, are founded on various evaluations and lead to divergent attitudes and conducts. In real life they are also interdependent and very often combined. In fact, mixed relations are the rule rather than the exception.(5)

A couple uses a taxi from the railway station to their destination, they form a unition if lovers, or stand in reciprocal relations when they are acquaintances sharing expense. At the same time they compound a work-association with the driver bound for a common purpose and are in a relation of reciprocity, exchanging the drive for the fare. The chauffeur is bound concurrently in a doubleservice condition - first to his passengers and then to the taxi company which employs him, further, by the reciprocal condition. The attitude of the participants is influenced by every one of these elements. A clergyman when preaching, is in the same act both a member of the religious community and of the institution of the Church; he functions only in the latter relation when he registers the data of a baptized child and solely in the first when he attends church in another city. (5)

The understanding of the existence and frequency of mixed relations deducts nothing from the value and importance of the basic categories, which are easily found in reality both as pure and as prevailing forms. They are used in the second case as ideal types abstracted from reality, scientific conceptions, necessary tools with which to analyze and describe the social world. Types and tools of this kind are indispensable for sociology.(5)


Antagonism: Separating, negative social relations. The field of affirmative connections having been covered in the main, the forms of antagonism come into consideration. Consistently, the point of procedure must lie in the inner attitude, not the external forms, such as fighting, suppression or passive resistance. Every affirmative basic relation has its negative counterbalance:

i) Relations of selfishness. The existence of such relations is self-evident and needs no demonstration. The personality or rights of the other person are denied or inadequately considered; more or less he is merely an object to be used or pushed aside. The scale ranges from impoliteness to murder. Customs and laws, the standards of reciprocity, are infringed; the solidarity of the group is broken or the duty within a work-association is violated by laziness, unreliability, or ill-will.(6)

2) Exclusion, the "out-group." Unition immediately induces its opposite: Exclusion. Whoever does not belong to a unition is an outsider; he does not participate in the feelings of coherence but is excluded from them. It is warm and homely in the house of unition, but outside the wind blows cold. At best the non-member is an indiferent stranger to the group, maybe without discrimination, as the Dutchman to the Australian; but to the English the foreigner is distinctly less valued, and "alien" is altogether an unpleasant word. The phenomenon of exclusion has not escaped literary notice from the time when the ancient Greeks regarded all foreigners as barbarians. Sumner has vividly described the facts from the historical and ethnographical point of view, contrasting the in-group with the out-group, the "we" with "they." Nevertheless, the importance of exclusion for sociological theory is neglected, its factual implications and supplementary connection with unition are overlooked.(6)

Total war or the persecution of the Jews by the Nazi government form suitable examples, though the fights between boy groups, the feuds of neighboring villages, socially indistinguishable except for their different names and localizations, can also be quoted . Some clash of interest - for example, over a right of way or a brawl in a taphouse or at a barn dance where one member of a group was beaten - may have been the original cause whereby exclusion started and may continue for generations. (6, 7)

The solidarity of the in-group comes into action with the slogan "Right or wrong, my unition." The interests of the groups are defended even when the issue is doubtful; the side of the single member is taken even when his behavior has been far from blameless. (7)

Further characteristics of exclusion lie in the tendency to hold every member of the excluded group responsible not only for his whole group but also for the misdeeds of a single or a few representatives, and, moreover, to hold the group for its members. Conflicts of exclusion are often fought without any moral or factual restriction; they lead to total war and to the denial of every consideration and moderation. Since exclusion is the necessary counterpart of unition, the latter has to be supplemented by reciprocity relations when disastrous consequences for society and international policies are to be avoided.(7)

3) Relations of divergence. ("Opposition" on objective grounds) Where plan is set against plan, task against task, conviction against conviction, relations of divergence result. The antagonism is not on a personal but on an objective basis, relating to ends or only to means. Two political parties stand in opposition: They aim at a different pattern of political life. The faith of one religion is incompatible with that of another. "Objective basis" is not a quite satisfactory designation. What is meant is: irrespective of personal (or group) wishes, interests or emotions. The German language has a word for this: "sachlich," which has no short English counterpart. The attitude, characteristic for pure relations of divergencies as in work-associations is "sachlich." Naturally, other attitudes of personal character are usually admixed if men work as a team or in disagreement over ends and means. Free enterprise and socialism contend for economic order. Philosophers differ over idealism or positivism; sea power is opposed to air power in the military service; the views of economists clash in reference to the avoidance of business depressions, and so on.(7, 8)

The completeness of this survey can be easily demonstrated. Antagonism starts either from personal or supra- personal attitudes. Personal antagonism is either based on hyperegotism (category of selfishness) or is merely self- defense of the individual against infringement (reciprocity). Antagonism of suprapersonal character can only be founded on the social connections. The specific opposite to unition is exclusion, to work-association - relations of divergence. Transgressions against reciprocity are not only followed by individual self-defense but are also judged by the organs of conformity, law and custom. The reactions vary from disapproval to harsh punishment in court. Seen from the group, these are positive actions which guarantee but do not overreach reciprocity; the culprit may feel them to be antagonistic. It would be possible to enumerate a separate category of retaliation, but this would be an unnecessary and unproductive complication.- It seems preferable to adhere strictly to the group aspect, which constitutes the starting-point of the whole scheme.(8)

The basic relations, seen from the point of view of the inner attitudes and evaluations of the participants, are indicated in Table I. (8)

Because a zero-point always connects the positive and negative side of every division, a zone of indifference must be interpolated between both groups. Examples: the Australians and the Dutch, neutral egoism or keeping aloof, an undecided or vacillating attitude towards a problem or task, sitting on the fence, etc. (8)




Positive, affir- Unition (we- Reciprocity Work-

mative, social group; "com- (includes association

relations. Con- munity" in conformity (willing

nections. the not-local to common 'cooperation).

sense, to- standards).

getherness) ("Society.")

Zone of indifference

Negative rela- Exclusion Relations of Relations of

tions. Separa- (out-group). inconsiderate divergence

tions. Anta- or aggressive (opposition

gonism. selfishness. on objective


Table I is obviously complete from only one angle, though an important one. Many other divisional arrangements are possible and also necessary for sociology. This does not mean any depreciation of other categories that the one presented has been selected as primary. We shall, for the sake of brevity, call these relations of inner attitude the basic social relations. (9)

One could take objection to the affirmation that the categories as listed are a complete scheme because many other feelings and attitudes exist which are not mentioned, much less treated. This is quite true from the psychological point of view, but not from the sociological. It can be maintained that all social consequences of very different psychological attitudes can be expressed within the elaborated frame of reference. Let us take "hate" or "admiration" as instances.(9)

Hate is directed either against members of a group or an individual as such. In the first case "exclusion" is given. Hate against an individual (second case) is founded on some distinct and specific or purely emotional foundations. A person is considered to be a very bad character, has definitely objectionable qualities or has proved to be otherwise injurious. The hater will react to his adversary with relations of selfishness ranging from avoidance of all contact to aggression with words and deeds; he will deny reciprocity, not to speak of unition. If the other is the aggressor, the answer will be either justified self-assertion (reciprocity) or will imply exaggerated selfishness.(9, 10)

Ready submission with feelings of unition will result if an admirer enters into social relations with a revered person. He will be pleased if he can become a helper (work-association); Goethe finds his Eckermann. The person being admired will usually feel friendly towards his admirer, offer reciprocity, perhaps even some unition connected with superordination. In rare cases he will remain indifferent, the result being a one-sided relations (Chapter XII). (10)