‘The Group Principle’ is the first part of The New State (1918) by Mary Parker Follett and comprises of 15 chapters.

The individual has a ‘psychic relation’ with the group, and it can be observed in the ‘group process’, i.e. the process through which a group produces an idea by receiving input from each and every member. The process itself is a very simple one. It comprises essentially of acting and reacting, through which a ‘given unity’ splits into differences and becomes unified again to yield an ‘achieved unity’. It may also be called the social process.

The collective idea, collective feeling and collective will spring from this process. At this stage, however, they comprise a mere ideal. They complete themselves through the world of affairs, work and government. Right, purpose and loyalty to that purpose all spring from this second stage of the process.

Individual is a point in the social process and may be described as ‘the unification of a multiplied variety of reactions’. Self and others are different points of view on one and the same experience, and two aspects of one thought. Freedom is ‘obedience to the law of one’s nature’. True individualism is to recognize that individual cannot make his or her individuality until given collective scope for his or her activity. This is also true socialism, aiming for the ‘socialization of the will’ to precede the socialization of property.

Society is a psychic process best understood through the laws of the group, rather than the laws of the crowd or mass, mob or mere numbers. Progress is a movement from a lesser to a greater ‘will to will’, and life itself is an infinite progress towards a divine goal: an ideal society where ‘each part is itself potentially the whole’ and ‘the whole can live completely in every member’. To this end, an ideal group may also take advantage of the laws of the crowd or mass, in addition to the laws of the group.

The author shows us that signs of the working of the group principle could already be seen in America in her times in (a) education; medical social service; (c) immigration theories; (d) treatment of crime; (e) real estate management; (f) business; (g) the relations of capital and labor; and (h) ‘modern theory of law’. The group principle was lacking in (a) legislatures and legislative committees, due to party organization; and (b) most obviously absent from city-planning.

 Special attention is given to the new theory of law gaining popularity at that time under the influence of such legal experts as Rudolf von Jhering, Otto von Gierke, Georg Jellinek and Roscoe Pound. It perceived laws as a social imperative – an outcome of our community life that must serve the community, not individuals. It was moving from contract to relation, as it had been accepted that one ‘will’ can be formed from several, and the group is a real person, not a legal fiction.

Capsule summary of Part I, Chapters 1-15

  1. The Group and The New Psychology

Politics appears to be the only discipline to escape the modern tendency of scientific method, analysis and efficiency engineering. The basic error is to perceive individual and society as two self-existing units. Due to this error, the study of democracy has turned into a study of institutions, and the study of politics is dominated by such misleading ideas as the consent of the governed, majority rule, external leadership, industrial wars, national wars, and so on. The old school of psychology has also participated in creating these fallacies, as it offered the law of the crowd, i.e. suggestion and imitation, as the basis of collective life. Happily, the tendency to look at things ‘not as entities but in relation’ is growing in several branches of social sciences. These tendencies may generally be called a ‘new psychology’. We may now recognize that the craving an individual has for union has a spiritual dimension and therefore has a ‘psychic relation’ to his or her group.

  1. The Group Process: the Collective Idea

The ‘psychic relation’ of an individual with his or her group can be seen in the process through which a ‘group idea’ is produced. It may also be called the ‘group process’ and should be recognized as the true ‘social process’.

  1. The Group Process: The Collective Idea (Continued)

Having demystified the ‘psychic relation’ of the individual and the group as the process that creates the collective idea, it is further simplified here as ‘an acting and reacting, a single and identical process which brings out differences and integrates them into a unity’. Follett refutes the concept of the ‘older sociology’ that the social mind is the consciousness of likeness, and also refutes the two theories that had led to this perception: the imitation theory and the like-response-to-like-stimuli theory. She redefines evolution as a process in which (a) the ‘given similarity’ is lost to emerging differences, (b) which are unified to yield an ‘achieved similarity’. Progress depends on the achievement of similarity and real success means ‘something arising to overthrow your security’.

  1. The Group Process: The Collective Feeling

The group process also shows us the origin and nature of true sympathy. ‘It springs from interrelation’. Since we have refuted the dichotomy of self and other, we must also discard the notion of sympathy going across from one isolated being to another. Two theories based on this false notion are refuted here: (a) the theory of herd-instinct presented by Trotter is refuted on the basis that it suggests sympathy to pre-exist the group process; and (b) altruism, which fails to take into account the unifying process that produces sympathy.

  1. The Group Process: The Collective Will

Just as group idea and true sympathy arise from the group process, so does the collective will. Other terms used by Follett are social will, creative will and common will. She avoids Rousseau’s phrase ‘general will’, apparently because it could imply ‘as if the collective will were lying around loose to be caught up whenever we like’. She emphasizes the necessity of creating the collective will. It happens only through group, which teaches not only the process but also the value of creating the collective will. We get ready to become part of ‘the world process’ when we see that agreement with our neighbour for larger ends is ‘of the same essence as capital and labor learning to think together, as Germany and the Allies evolving a common will.’ The germinating centre of true democracy is ‘the will to will the common will’.

  1. The Unity of the Social Process

The common idea and the common will are born together in the social process as shown earlier but the common will is a mere ideal at this stage. It then works itself out in the material world and generates itself in a new form. The common idea and the common will, therefore, complete themselves only through activity in the world of affairs, work and government. This is the social process. It can be described as ‘the union of thought and will and activity by which the clearer will is generated’. It seems that ‘the absolute of Good Will’ are also references to this clearer will. This process gives us both the principle and the method of democracy. We can apply these ideas to politics by understanding that ‘progress is an infinite advance towards the infinitely receding goal of infinite perfection’ (this will be discussed later). This requires us to redefine rights, purpose and loyalty to that purpose. Regarding rights, we should know that (a) we do not follow right, we create right through the social process; (b) there is no private conscience; and (c) my duty is never to ‘others’ but to the whole. Purpose is also is generated by the social process: the infinite task is the evolution of the whole and our finite tasks are wholes of varying degrees of scope and perfection. Loyalty is also awakened through the same process that creates the group, and it springs into being as the true purpose evolves – ‘Loyalty means the consciousness of oneness, the full realization that we succeed or fail, live or die, are saved or damned together.’.

  1. The Individual

An individual is a point in the ‘social process’ rather than a unit in it, and may therefore be described as ‘the unification of a multiplied variety of reactions’. The ‘social mind’ is no less real than individual, since ‘the only reality is the relating of one to the other which creates both’ – the ‘social process’. The greatest fallacy Follett wants to dispel is ‘the conception of the separate individual’, which served as the basis of the nineteenth century legal theory, which exaggerated differences, and offered concepts like individual rights, contract, ‘a man can do what he likes with his own’, and so on. Individual is rather like a branch that cannot be expected to live if cut off from the tree, and the tree is the social process; or a wave in the sea, where the wave represents ‘the waters of our life’ and the sea is ‘human endeavour’ (both metaphors had been employed by Iqbal to the same effect independently). Individuality is redefined as ‘finding my place in the whole’. It’s tested by its ‘capacity for union’; neither by an individual’s apartness, nor by his or her difference alone (but we should differentiate between the real individual and the physical one: physically an individual may be aloof from others, but what matters is the ‘relating’ that is going on in real – e.g. through books, media and other channels). Vitality is tested by ‘the power of synthesis’ and the measure of fullness is how far the whole is expressed through an individual. Evil is also redefined as ‘non-relation’, and eccentricity as ‘difference which is not capable of relation’. All differences are not eccentric: differences springing from the social process are also united through it. An individual is never complete because ‘completeness spells death’, as shown by biology. An individual advances towards completeness not by further aggregations to himself or herself but by further and further relating of self to other individuals. ‘To speak of the ‘limitations of the individual’ is blasphemy and suicide. The spirit of the whole is incarnate in every part.’

  1. Who is the Free Man?

Freedom is ‘obedience to the law of one’s nature’.

  1. The New Individualism

Freedom as loyalty to the law of one’s nature is founded on the ‘new individualism’, i.e. the awareness that an individual cannot make his or her individuality effective until given collective scope for his or her activity. From another point of view it is also ‘true socialism’, i.e. ‘the socialization of the will’, which must precede the socialization of property.

  1. The Society

Society is a psychic process. Theories refuted are (a) conception of society as a collection of units, a wholly erroneous idea; the ‘social contract’ theory is a fallacy because it is based on this conception of society, perceiving individuals as completely developed units pre-existing society; (b) society as an organism is a less misleading theory. The ‘divine goal’ towards which life is an infinite progress is an ideal society where ‘each part is itself potentially the whole’ and ‘the whole can live completely in every member’.

  1. The Self-And-Others Illusion

Self and others are different points of view of one and the same experience, and two aspects of one thought. Every decision of the future is to be based on ‘the recognition of the community between us’. This involves the rejection of those theories which aim at serving the needs of one individual or the other, or a compromise between them, or an addition to them. They are based on one of the most harmful dualisms of all, i.e. ‘self-and-others’.

  1. The Crowd Fallacy

The difference between group, crowd or mass, mob, herd and mere numbers is a subject that has not received sufficient attention. Without wanting to form any dictums on differentiating between them, Follett offers some observations. Crowd action is the outcome of agreement based on concurrence of emotion. Concurrence of thought is either absent or it is produced by becoming aware of similarities. Examples of crowd action are mass meetings, but ‘crowd action’ cannot be defined by numbers alone, nor is it a matter of being organized or unorganized. It may better be understood as a condition where thought is inhibited by contagious emotion. Suggestibility, feeling, impulse and eloquence, which have little to do with the group process, are emphasized in crowd action. The ‘essential evil’ of crowds is that they do not allow choice. However, a crowd or mass can still lead to heroic deeds because it works under the law of ‘normal suggestibility’, i.e. ‘you have the will in control and using its power of choice over the material offered by suggestion’. A mob is the extreme case of mass working under the law of ‘abnormal suggestibility’, i.e. ‘the controlling act of the will is absent’. In the herd theory, the ‘comfort’ of fellowship is emphasized but not its ‘creative agonies’. There is only a state of ‘numbers as mere numbers’ where we are simply wearied by the presence of other people, e.g. at a bazaar. This is ‘when we are a lot of people with different purposes’. An ideal group, perhaps, ‘will combine the advantages of the mass and the group proper’.

  1. The Secret of Progress

Progress is determined by our capacity for genuine cooperation, not by physical conditions, or biological factors solely. ‘We progress, not from one institution to another, but from a lesser to a greater will to will.’ Theories refuted here include (a) Nietzsche’s concept of superman as ‘the man who showed most force’; (b) the invention theory; and (c) the struggle theory, unfortunately transferred also to the intellectual world through intellectuals who perceive discussion as the highest form of struggle. We should know that ‘he who shows the unifying power in greatest degree is the superman’. It is not true that the individual invents and the crowd follows, rather invention also happens through the social process. Likewise, struggle should not be conceived as strife only. In the true theory of evolution, struggle has always meant adaptation, and the ‘fittest’ in biology has meant ‘the one with the greatest power of cooperation’. The dualism between conservatism and progressivism, or tradition and change, is also based on fallacies and needs to be discarded. ‘Conscious evolution’ also sheds new light on our relationship with God: ‘God is the moving force of the world, the ever-continuing creating where men are the co-creators … Man and God are correlates of that mighty movement which is Humanity self-creating. God is the perpetual Call to our self-fulfilling.

  1. The Group Principle At Work

Signs of the working of the group principle can already be seen in America in (a) education; medical social service; (c) immigration theories; (d) treatment of crime; (e) real estate management; (f) business; (g) the relations of capital and labor; and (h) ‘modern theory of law’, to be discussed in the next chapter. It is lacking in (a) legislatures and legislative committees, due to party organization; and (b) most apparently absent from city-planning.

  1. From Contract to Community

The author differentiates between the old legal theory that dominated till the end of the nineteenth century and a new legal theory that seemed to be gaining domination at the beginning of the twentieth century under the influence of such experts of law as Jhering, Gierke, Jellinek and Roscoe Pound. It is (a) that law is the outcome of our community life; and (b) it must serve, not individuals, but the community. This is replacing the older theory aiming at maximum self-assertion on the principle that ‘new situations are to be met always by deductions from old principles’. The new school recognizes the laws as ‘a product of conscious and increasingly determinate human will’, affirms that one will can be formed from several, and recognizes the ‘group’ as a real personality rather than a legal fiction. This means that we can make one idea grow where two grew before. Instead of contracts between partners, perpetuating the separate existence of the partners’ respective ideas and interests, we are now moving towards ‘relationship’, e.g. in the formation of corporations. Pound has listed at least six signs of the growing recognition of the community as the basis of law. From social psychology, we should take two warnings against this new tendency: (a) relation must not be personal but impersonal; and (b) relation itself must always be in relation. It also means that the ideal of social justice is itself a collective and progressive development produced through associated life, and produced anew from day to day. Law is a social imperative and there is no distinction between legal principles and their application. A living law is always the law of the given condition, never a ‘rule’.

Next in series: The Traditional Democracy