The New State (1918) by Mary Parker Follett

Last updated 20 May 2023

The New State (1918) was a groundbreaking work from the American social scientist Mary Parker Follett (1868-1933), now recognized as a pioneer of management sciences. Excerpts from this work were quoted by the Bengali visionary C. R. Das in his presidential address at the annual session of the Indian National Congress in 1922, and Iqbal applauded it as a political corollary of his own spiritual principle (see Iqbal, Mary Parker Follett and C. R. Das).


The book was published by Longmans, Green and Co. from New York in December 1918, and reprinted in January 1920. The third impression, published in September 1920, carried an introduction by the British politician and philosopher Lord Haldane (Richard Burdon Haldane, 1st Viscount Haldane). The introduction was retained in the fourth impression, published in August 1923. As the text is now in the public domain, it has also been reissued by other publishers.

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Synopsis of chapters


The author observes that the idea of state has been discredited in many quarters during the Great War (what we now call the First World War), i.e., from 1914 to 1918. Six ‘trickles’ have gone to feed this reaction were: (a) an economic and industrial progress, demanding political recognition for itself and a share in political power for the labour; (b) pluralistic philosophies and the anti-intellectualistic tendency; (c) a progressive legal theory of the “real personality” of groups; (d) a growing antagonism to the state, as it is perceived to be embodying the crowd mind and the electorate as a crowd hypnotized by the party leaders, big words, vague ideas and loose generalizations; (e) a life of rapidly increasing interaction, leading to a perception of voluntary associations as real and intimate, and the state as something remote and foreign to the people; and (f) the increasing alignment of interests across state lines before the Great War.

Therefore, the future of the very idea of state depends on its overcoming four challenges. Firstly, to end the conflict between capital and labour by discovering ‘industrial democracy’. Secondly, to secure the self-government of smaller nations. Thirdly, to secure the ‘sovereignty’ of an International League, so that the nations of Europe may not be at one another’s throat (today, we may read European Union or the United Nations instead of ‘International League’). Fourthly, to reform domestic politics.

These four challenges are interconnected, and the present book offers an effective method for addressing all four (and hence the title, The New State).

Part I: The Group Principle (Chapters 1-15)

1. The group and the new psychology                                       

The scientific method has not been applied to politics because individual and society are wrongly perceived as two self-existing units. The growing tendency in social sciences to look at things ‘not as entities but in relation’ may be called a ‘new psychology’ and may help us recognize that an individual’s craving for union has a spiritual dimension, and therefore the individual has a ‘psychic relation’ to his or her group.

2. 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 be called the ‘group process’ and recognized as the true ‘social process’.

3. The group process: the collective idea (continued)

The group process is ‘an acting and reacting’, in which: (a) the ‘given similarity’ is lost to emerging differences, (b) which are unified to yield an ‘achieved similarity’.

4. The group process: the collective feeling

Sympathy springs from interrelation. Two theories discarded here are: (a) the theory of herd-instinct presented by Trotter, which suggests sympathy to pre-exist the group process; and (b) altruism, which fails to take into account the unifying process that produces sympathy.

5. 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’). The germinating centre of true democracy is ‘the will to will the common will’.

6. The unity of the social process

The common born in the social process is a mere ideal until it completes itself through activity in the world of affairs, work and government. This is the social process. It requires us to redefine rights, purpose and loyalty to that purpose. We do not follow right but create right through the social process; there is no private conscience; and my duty is never to ‘others’ but to the whole. Purpose is the evolution of the whole, in which our finite tasks are wholes of varying degrees of scope and perfection. Loyalty means ‘the consciousness of oneness, the full realization that we succeed or fail, live or die, are saved or damned together.’

7. 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’. 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 ‘non-relation’, and eccentricity is ‘difference which is not capable of relation’. An individual advances towards completeness by further and further relating of self to other individuals.

8. Who is the free man?

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

9. 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.

10. Society

Society is a psychic process. Theories refuted are (a) conception of society as a collection of units, and the ‘social contract’ theory based on this conception; (b) society as an organism. 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’.

11. 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. 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’.

12. The crowd fallacy

A group is different from crowd, mass, mob, herd or mere numbers. An ideal group, perhaps, ‘will combine the advantages of the mass and the group proper’.

13. The secret of progress

Progress is determined by our capacity for genuine cooperation, not by physical conditions, or biological factors solely. 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. The dualism between conservatism and progressivism, or tradition and change, is also discarded. ‘Conscious evolution’ also sheds new light on our relationship with God.

14. 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.

15. From contract to community

The old legal theory that attempted to meet new situations by deductions from the past seems to be replaced by a new theory that more correctly holds that (a) law is the outcome of our community life; and (b) it must serve, not individuals, but the community. A living law is always the law of the given condition, never a ‘rule’.

Part II: The Traditional Democracy (Chapters 16-21)

16. Democracy not “liberty” and “equality”: our political dualism

Equality rests on two points: (a) I am equal to everyone else as one of the necessary members of the group; (b) each of these essential parts is the tap from an infinite supply – in every man lives an infinite possibility. Hence the ‘political dualism’ of the state and the citizen, accepted by the existing theories, is false. So is the conception of democracy as ‘natural’ rights, ‘liberty’ and ‘equality’, as there are no ‘natural’ rights, and rights are born with society. Liberty cannot be defined in negative or quantitative terms, or equality in quantitative or mechanical terms, which is the current practice.

17. Democracy not the majority: our political fallacy

It is fallacious to conceive democracy as ‘the ascendance of numbers’ or ‘majority rule’: (a) in practice, we are seldom ruled by numbers alone; (b) majority rule ‘by its very nature abolishes itself’ because once a party has gained majority, further decisions are necessarily delegated to committees, sub-committees, party bosses, or even one boss; (c) the idea that ‘the getting of votes’ is the object leads to corruption; (d) in practice, majority rule draws upon inheritance and environment (which includes sentiment and prejudice), mass-induced idea (the spread of thought and feeling throughout a community by suggestion), and some degree of integration of the different ideas and the different forces of that particular society; (e) majority rule where sufficient ‘integration’ has not happened is recognized even now as ‘artificial majority’, which seldom lasts for long; (f) a majority meaning a preponderance of votes can easily be controlled by a party or an ‘interest’, and can lead to manipulation of ‘helpless majorities’. It is equally fallacious to believe that the minority is always right (it has already been established in the previous part that great ideas are not invented in isolation). Proportional representation of minorities does not solve the problem either.

18. Democracy not the crowd: our popular delusion

To perceive democracy in terms of crowd or mass, and to try to make it work under the laws of the crowd, is a ‘popular delusion’. There are already signs of a growing tendency to operate under the group laws, and ‘our most essential duty to the future is to see that that tendency prevails.’

19. The true democracy

True democracy is yet to be discovered but may be anticipated as ‘the rule of an interacting, interpermeating whole’. It is a centripetal force, and suffrage is only its external aspect. It also gives us a new idea of aristocracy: ‘We believe in the few but not as opposed to the many, only as included in all.’

20. The growth of democracy in America

The two problems of democracy today are: how to make the individual politically effective, and how to give practical force to social policies. Theories that are criticized here include the social contract, Utilitarianism and liberalism. The system of government based on checks and balances was rooted in ‘Fear, not faith, suspicion not trust’, and its unworkability necessitated the ‘extra-official system’ of the party organization, which has now failed. It is futile and childish to attempt reform through (a) change in the forms of government (charters, etc.); (b) the nomination of ‘good’ men to office; and (c) exhortation to induce ‘the people’ to elect them. Such ideas leave out the whole body of citizenship. The solution is ‘an entire citizenship educated and responsible.’

21. After direct democracy—what?

Direct government, the concentration of administrative responsibility, and the increase of social legislation are not sufficient. What is needed is ‘a new method of living by which the individual shall learn to be part of social wholes, through which he shall express social wholes.’

Part III: The Group Organization: Democracy’s Method (Chapters 22-33)

Section 1. The neighborhood group

22. Neighborhood needs: the basis of politics

People should organize themselves into non-partisan neighborhood groups to express their daily life, to bring to the surface the needs, desires and aspirations of that life. These needs should become the substance of politics, and these neighborhood groups should become the recognized political unit.

23. An integrated neighborhood

‘Neighborhood consciousness’ can be evolved in five ways: 1. By regular meetings of neighbors for the consideration of neighborhood and civic problems, not merely sporadic and occasional meetings for specific objects. 2. By a genuine discussion at these regular meetings. 3. By learning together  through lectures, classes, clubs; by sharing one another’s experience through social intercourse; by learning forms of community art expression; in short by leading an actual community life. 4. By taking more and more responsibility for the life of the neighborhood. 5. By establishing some regular connection between the neighborhood and city, state and national governments.

24. Neighborhood organization vs. Party organization – the will of the people

Concerted action can be brought about (a) either by the manipulation of other’s minds; or (b) by the evolving of the common mind. Political organization does the first. The neighbourhood organization will put a blow to this by (1) replacing the pseudo unity of party with a real unity through the creation of a genuine public opinion and a true will of the people; (2) by evolving genuine leaders instead of bosses; and (3) by putting a responsible government in the place of the irresponsible party.

25. Neighborhood organization vs. Party organization – leaders or bosses?

Neighbourhood organization will replace party bosses and bureaucracy with real leaders, having five basic qualities: (a) be a guide of the group and at the same time be guided by it; (b) see the total relativity of the cause to the group; (c) have the power of integrating; (d) be a practical politician (as compared to mere politicians, who exist at the moment); and (e) have at the back the kind of organization that would develop group not crowd leaders.

26. Neighborhood organization vs. Party organization – a responsible neighborhood

Under the political organization, responsibility is divided and delegated. The neighborhood organization will delegate the job while the responsibility will be shared. It will show the citizens that they are not to influence politics through their local groups, they are to be politics.

27. From neighborhood to nation

The will of the people can be the sovereign power of the state if two changes are made. Firstly, the state must be the actual integration of living, local groups. The psychological basis for this would be (a) the fact that we are ready for membership in a larger group only by experience first in the smaller group, and (b) the natural tendency for a real group to seek other groups. Secondly, non-partisan groups other than the neighborhood groups must also be represented in the state. These ideas are not to be confused with mechanical federalism or mediate articulation because here, the individual and not the group remains the unit of democracy.

Section 2. The occupational group

28. Political pluralism

The pluralists have done a great job in identifying issues, but they have failed to recognize the unifying state and the neighborhood group as its basis (the fundamental assumptions of the new state), because the pluralists have not understood the idea of the group.

29. Political pluralism and sovereignty

The social process is a unity but the pluralists divide it into parts and deny the possibility of a collective will. The truth is that the same social process that creates the collective will, ‘creates at the same time the imperative of the collective will’, and this imperative is ‘sovereignty’.

30. Political pluralism and functionalism – the service state vs. the “sovereign state”

Every human being joins many groups in order to express his or her multiple nature. Therefore, group is a method and not the unit of the state, which must remain the individual (however, the individual needs to be the group-individual and not the particularist-individual).

31. Political pluralism and the true federal state

True federalism cannot rest on balance of power, group-rights or the consent of the governed, as the pluralists have wrongly presumed. A true federation would not ignore, transcend or balance its units. It would be all its units in their united capacity. This is only possible through the group process.

32. Political pluralism (concluded)

The pluralists have failed to recognize that human being is a spirit, and a spirit gives the whole of itself to every part it belongs. Therefore, a unifying state (the ‘new state’ of this book) cannot be a static state.

33. Increasing recognition of the occupational group

Neighborhood and occupational groups, either independently or one through the other, must both find representation in the state. However, the important point is not the kind of group but that the group, whatever its nature should be a genuine group, i.e. a group using the group method. The group method can be applied to every form of human association.

Part IV: The Dual Aspect of the Group: A Union of Individuals, an Individual in a Larger Union (Chapters 34-35)

34. The Moral State and Creative Citizenship

The state is the ordering of the infinite series of relations in their right places that the greatest possible welfare of the total may be worked out. This can only be done through citizens ‘in their growing understanding of the widening promise of relation’.

35. The World State

A ‘world state’ appears through the same federal principle, dual in its nature’, which gives birth to the ‘true state’ (as in the previous chapter). This requires ‘a world-ideal, a whole-civilization, in which the ideals and the civilization of every nation can find a place’, not by ‘an increase of similarities’ but ‘by the frankest and fullest kind of recognition of our differences’. This has been called ‘mysticism’ but it is the most practical idea the author has found. Already, ‘a mighty struggle’ is anticipated when ‘the East meets the West’ – the outcome should not be a decision who rules the world, but that each should foster and protect the other.

The motive for coming together can be economic at first, and start through ‘more progressive treaties’ (‘When the individual nations give up their separate sovereignty – as regards their armaments, as regards the control of the regions which possess the raw materials, as regards the great waterways of the world, as regards, in fact, all which affects their joint lives – the falling chains of a real slavery will reverberate through the world. For unrelated sovereignty, with world conditions as they are to-day, is slavery.’).

National rights have become obsolete like individual rights, and the international law of the future must be based on nations as members of a society rather than as sovereigns in the present sense (hence sovereignty needs be redefined as ‘looking in’ as well as ‘looking out’, based on interdependence).

Corollaries to this project include: (1) the abolition of neutrals; (2) change in diplomatic relations based on treatment of each other as members of a large group rather than aliens; and by treating injury to one nation as an injury to the entire community of nations; and (3) the giving up of the theory of the balance of power.

A genuine community of nations means (a) the correlation of interests; (b) the development of an international ethics; (c) the creation of an international will; (d) the self-evolving of a higher loyalty; and (e) the full responsibility of every nation for the welfare of every other.

Appendix. The Training for the New Democracy

The object of education is to fit children into the life of the community. Therefore, when we change our ideas of the relation of the individual to society, our whole system of education changes. For the new state, we need to adopt cooperative learning, teach interdependence, and show the learners that efficiency waits on discipline, while discipline is obedience to the whole of which each learner is a part.  

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