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Chapter 3 led our attention toward abstract considerations. It started with ways of relating, argued that moral reasoning is constituted in the ways of relating, and finally discussed moral reasoning development as one aspect of the more general development of abstract cognitive structures. Although this abstraction is useful for presenting and clarifying the Piagetian perspective on moral development, political development is not, after all, a development of abstract intellectual structures but the development of concrete social arrangements. Recall that these abstract structures present themselves to us as ways of relating that are of potential use in the social world.

The ways of relating contemplated by the moral reasoning stages are only ideals or potentials, however, until they become the basis of actual relationships and, more broadly, actual social arrangements. A social actor can only carry them out in concrete social arrangements if she has like-minded and cooperative others. The term we use for this mutual use of a way of relating is "public commonness," and if a given way of relating is publicly common, the people sharing it form a culture.

Each member of the culture relates to other members in the cultural way of relating. These relationships within the culture create institutions through two mechanisms. First, institutions can arise from simple replication of individual pair-relationships. For example, a hierarchy can arise as the replication downward of individual dominance-submission relations. Replication is the sole source of social institutions at Stages 1 to 3, since they have no vision of social orderings beyond dyads. Second, institutions can arise from the actors' shared determination to interact within a specific, larger, institutional framework. An institution is, after all, nothing more than a group of people acting intentionally within its framework.

Chapter 3 asked what individual relationships or ways of relating were characteristic of each moral reasoning stage. This chapter asks what social forms beyond individual relationships - that is, what institutions - can social actors create when limited to a given stage's ways of relating. Table 3 summarizes the following discussion.

Table 3. Speculative Classification of Social Forms

Interpersonal Relations / Forms of Influence Associated Social Institutions
1 Domination; physical compulsion; threats; seizure by force; extortion Pecking order; slavery; prison and other total institutions
2 Barter and trading; deterrence by revenge; bribery; corvee labor; prebend; curses; feudal fealty and vassalage Early feudal system; exchange patronage systems; tax farming; hostages
3 Friendship; compadrazgo; romantic or courtly love Medieval towns; social patronage or client system; late-medieval aristocracy; estates (Staende); dualistic Staendestaat; corporatism
4 Mutual support of overarching moral sstem Modern army; bureaucracy; fascism; tyranny of majority rule; absolutism
5 Mutual respect; rational debate, fair competition, and scientific testing Democracies protecting civil rights and liberties; due process; capitalist market economies; "normal science"
6 Satyagraha; agape; undistorted speech; communicative action; mutual care [none currently known]

In order to determine the ideal-typical institutions associated with each stage, this chapter's analysis presumes a culture exists. This assumption does not mean any loss of generality for this work's overall analytic framework, however, since no claim is made that any specific society has a culture. (This is a matter for empirical determination in each case.) Subcultures, cultural ignorance, and dissent obviously create certain social dynamics (e.g., repression, conflict, compromise, development), but dynamics will not concern us until the next chapter.


Stage 1 possesses few and very simple ways of relating. The institutions built up from these relationships are accordingly very limited, restricted to pecking-order hierarchies and slavery. Even such an "institution" as an extortion racket involves at heart no more than one person threatening another; little organization is involved. The organization emerging from Stage 1 is the result of immediate responses, not of any social vision.

Do any Stage 1 institutions currently exist, and have they existed in the past? Bullying and extortion rackets still exist among children and to some extent among adults, and slavery still exists in isolated areas of the world. Maximum-security prisons may contain a Stage 1 culture. Radding (personal communication) has speculated that Nazism was based on a Stage 1 worship of force.(1)

The social forms built up from Stage 2 relationships are more varied than Stage 1 forms, but still operate on the narrow bases of positive exchange (bribery) and negative exchange (revenge). For example, the Roman, Byzantine, and other empires were organized on the "venal control" or "tax farming" system (Frey, 1971), which relied only on Stage 2 relationships. Governors related to the emperor on a positive exchange basis, giving the emperor both protection from outlying barbarians and an annual tribute levied on the subject population, while receiving both military support and the right to all taxes collected beyond the emperor's tribute. The governor's loyalty was additionally ensured by the negative exchange practice of keeping hostages: the governor's family would remain in the imperial capital or even in the emperor's household and thus could be punished for any misdeeds of the governor.(2) This straightforward Stage 2 relationship between emperor and governor was duplicated at lower levels: between the governor and his subgovernors; between each subgovernor and his district superintendents; between each district superintendent and the district's village headmen; and between each village headman and the heads of the village families.

Note that no vision of the overall tax farming system is required by its participants: what appears to be a complex totality is composed simply of nested, individual, Stage 2 relationships. This is a good example of how the replication process can create broad social forms out of individual relationships.

Stage 2 institutions have existed in many areas and eras, not just in empires. The early feudal ages were characterized by Stage 2 organization; feudal lords exchanged protection for rent and service from their vassals.(3) Feuds, though the word apparently arises from a different root than feudal, also are based on a Stage 2 relationship of systematic, alternating revenge. Feuds may not ordinarily be considered social institutions, but they certainly represent regularly occurring behavior motivated by a publicly common way of relating, and so accordingly deserve to be termed a "social form." Bloch (1961: Chapter 9, Section 2) discusses the "vendetta," which had some legal/social sanction as late as the thirteenth century. It should be no surprise that Stage 2 feudal society should include such a social form. Currently, political scientists study Stage 2 institutions in terms of "clientelism," a concept applicable to societies worldwide. The research collections of Schmidt et al. (1977) and Eisenstadt and Lemarchand (1981) include studies of clientelism in societies both Western and non-Western, developing and developed, urban and rural. The pervasiveness of clientelism would appear to arise from the simplicity of its underlying cognitive structure. [SPC: Here is a quotation from an article, "The Land of the Pathans", by Joan Farnum, in the Duluth Budgeteer News of 1/23/2000, p.B1, quoting Dr. Elenn' [sic] Elness, a doctor from Duluth volunteering at the Christian Hospital in Tank, Pakistan: "'They are a very proud people, and the family's honor is very important. A lot of family feuds are the result, like back in Kentucky - an eye for an eye, or worse, an arm or a leg for a finger. It escalates.'"]

Although Stage 2 institutions obviously exist around the world, social scientists appear to be preoccupied with them to the point that Stage 3 ties are misread as thin disguises for selfish interests. Lande (1977:507-508), for example, writes his theory of dyadic relationships exclusively in Stage 2 terms: "Dyadic relationships, being systems of exchange or barter, must be between individuals who are unalike. . . . [One partner] is not likely to be asked to interest himself in the [other's] trade as a whole. . . . The interests that unite the leader and his followers are particular rather than categorical: the purpose is not the attainment of a common general objective but the advancement of the leader's and his followers' complementary private interests." Hall's (1977) theoretical discussion of the patron-client relationship follows similar lines. Such formulations miss Stage 3 institutional forms (e.g., of patron-client relations), not by ignoring them but, more pernicious, by reading them as Stage 2. The fact that Stage 3 reasoners come to their decisions in structurally more complex ways than Stage 2 reasoners is ignored in the retrospective cynicism of social-scientific analysis. Rawls (1971) has pointed out that utilitarianism can always read any principled moral decision retrospectively as self-interest. As Radding (1979) argues in a similar context, such analyses dismiss the plainly stated reasons actors advance for their actions.

Stage 3 institutions are characterized by the grouping of people, each of whom maintains mutual ties with the other members. Several excellent examples were created in medieval France, starting around the twelfth century: cities, towns, and communes; the aristocracy; the estates (Stände); and the "dualistic" system (Ständestaat) by which Rule was created through the cooperation of the Stände and the ruler. Each of these institutions was created from the same Stage 3 cooperation among elements. Pirenne (1952:180-181) explains how towns, for example, were integrated: "the burghers formed a corps, a universitas, a communitas, a communio, all the members of which, conjointly answerable to one another, constituted the inseparable parts. . . . [T]he city of the Middle Ages did not consist in a simple collection of individuals; it was itself an individual, but a collective individual, a legal person." Poggi (1978:37-38) notes that this collective creation differed from earlier institutions based on dyadic ties of feudal vassalage. Each town formed a collective identity out of the individual equality of its citizens, and the old, Stage 2 relationship of feudal vassalage was banished in the towns: both Pirenne (1952:193) and Poggi (1978:40) note the German proverb "Stadtluft macht frei" (city air emancipates).

This joining together of equals is characteristic of other late-medieval institutions. The landed aristocracy joined with the poorer knights in a solidarity of chivalry: "The consciousness of class which gradually caused the French aristocracy to become a homogeneous group was thus crystallized around the knightly ideal, its ethic and the virtues of wisdom and loyalty" (Duby, 1977:180). This new association among the aristocracy was also made among towns. These associations were the estates (Stände) - again, a collective creation of formally equal and individually weak participants. The Stände, in turn, cooperated with the territory's ruler to create Rule. Rule was not exercised directly by the ruler as her right, but rather came from the cooperative association. This concept, often termed dualism, "suggests that the territorial ruler and the Stände make up the polity jointly, but as separate and mutually acknowledged political centers. Both constitute it, through their mutual agreement; but even during the agreement's duration they remain distinct, each exercising powers of its own, and differing in this from the 'organs' of the mature, 'unitary' modern state" (Poggi, 1978:48).

The above passage leads us directly into the consideration of Stage 4 institutions, where the abstract principle of Rule is recognized as a prerequisite of social organization itself, not as a byproduct of mutual, bilateral agreement.(4) As Poggi (1978:68) puts it: "In the absolutist state the political process is no longer structured primarily by the continuous, legitimate tension and collaboration between two independent centers of rule, the ruler and the Stände; it develops around and from the former only." Instead of being one of the centers of power whose "interpersonal" cooperation constituted a Stage 3 ideal relationship, the ruler is now the expression of Rule itself. (See Poggi, 1978:Chapter 4.)

Institutions built up from Stage 4 relationships are accordingly absolutistic in character: the modern army, bureaucracies (prior to Weberian rationality), absolute monarchs, fascist government, governments without civil liberties (i.e., subject to the domination of one group - "the tyranny of the majority"), and religions claiming absolute moral authority. Sacred custom, sacred law, sacred procedures, sacred religion - whatever the sacred system is, it constitutes a Stage 4 society. In Almond and Verba's (1963) terms, such societies are "subject" political cultures. Citizens are aware of and orient to the overarching moral authority represented by the state, but have no sense that they themselves create and can alter that authority. Stage 4 conceptualizes society as a totality, and this permits great variability in institutional forms. As long as the institution establishes consistent role requirements, public support (ideally) will follow.

In Europe, the transition to Stage 4 institutions can be seen in the reign of France's Louis XIV (1643-1715). Louis replaced the provincial feudal nobility with his own administrators and, by drawing the nobility to his court in Paris, made himself the arbiter of their fortunes. He thus replaced the Stage 3 feudal ties represented by the system of estates with Stage 4 direction from his single, overarching authority.(5)

Stage 5 relationships can be found in at least three institutions: constitutional democracy, as conceptualized by John Locke and Thomas Jefferson; capitalist market economy, as conceptualized by Adam Smith and his non-Marxian successors; and science, as conceptualized by Karl Popper. Note that these three institutions are ideal-typical; no particular society, including the United States, need have institutions structured at this level.

Locke and Jefferson's theory of constitutional democracy presumes attitudes of mutual respect among citizens; such respect makes possible the recognition of rights existing prior to a social contract - the "inalienable rights" of the Declaration of Independence. Such rights are inalienable because they are inherent in the preexisting moral relationship of mutual respect. The democratic (or representative) form of government reflects the relationship of mutual respect. In addition, the procedures for creating, administering, and adjudicating public law reflect the relationship of rational debate. The right of free speech and press and the right to petition Congress stem from the necessity of gathering all relevant information before a decision. Stage 5 rules of procedure are designed (or at least are evaluated in terms of our desire) to allow all sides to be heard. Due process in both execution and adjudication of laws reflects a desire to ensure that all interests have an opportunity to be heard.

The capitalist market economy, as seen by Adam Smith, also has these characteristics of mutual respect and rational debate. Mutual respect makes possible the basic agreements of the market system: the agreement upon everyone's right to buy and sell freely; the agreement upon an abstract medium of exchange; the agreement upon an impartial regulatory body of sufficient strength to preserve the conditions of free trade. What the relationship of rational debate was to constitutional democracy, the relationship of fair competition is to market economies. Fair competition allows all factors to be taken into account in a decision to buy or sell: the buyer or seller, like the rational debater, is provided with the entire range of alternatives to choose from.

Science resembles a free market system in that the "stock" (in the colloquial sense) of a theory rises or falls according to whether scientists "buy" it. Scientists start from a position of mutual respect - a recognition that their colleagues hold initially different beliefs and yet all seek scientific truth. This recognition enables scientists to work cooperatively toward their mutual goal, even though they may appear to be competing with one another for the adoption of their own theories.(6) The procedures of scientific testing implement that cooperative effort. Theories must be tested against real-world evidence through reproducible tests of hypotheses. The process is rational, in that hypotheses derived from "true" theories will be repeatedly confirmed and hypotheses of the other sort will at some time be disconfirmed. The criterion employed - that theory be able to predict empirical consequences - is acceptable to all concerned, and it is open enough to allow all relevant information to be gathered before a decision is made on a theory's validity.(7)

We will not speculate here about what institutions would reflect Stage 6 relationships. As noted earlier, Kohlberg has not encountered such reasoning with sufficient frequency to prove empirically that it lies beyond Stage 5. Social institutions are invented when a group of people can relate to one another in the same way; accordingly, the development of Stage 6 institutions must await a larger concentration of Stage 6 reasoners. (Rawls, 1971:Section 43, suggests possible governmental arrangements of the Just Society. The social forms discussed by Jackins, 1987, are also of interest in this connection.)


The above discussion applies Kohlberg's micro-level theory of cognitive structure to a macro-level theory of institutional content. Kohlberg can justify his theory as nonethnocentric because of its content neutrality. Does the emphasis on institutional content make our macro-level theory ethnocentric?

Genetic epistemology is not a scientistic denigration of foreign ways of thought but rather a culture-free theory of structural development. Consider a Stage 2 reasoner thinking through the question of whether a husband should steal a drug that could save his wife's life. Within the Stage 2 reasoning structure, questions of right or wrong depend on decisions of what is good or bad for the reasoner. Thus a common Stage 2 answer is that stealing the drug would be wrong because you might get caught and put in jail. Kohlberg (1981a:115) reports the opposite answer given by a Stage 2 Taiwanese village youth to a similar story: "He should steal the food for his wife, because if she dies he'll have to pay for her funeral, and that costs a lot." Though the two answers differ in their content (both in the decision made and in the considerations adduced for that decision), the answers were the same in the structure of the reasoning used. In both cases morality is judgment from only a single perspective; other people do not enter into the decision except insofar as they can help or hurt one. This example illustrates that the structure of moral reasoning can be identified and studied independently of either cultural or individual variations in content.

Granted, cultural bias can and undoubtedly does creep into the actual coding of the research instruments. For example, it may be, as Gilligan (1982) argues, that women are scored too low by Kohlberg's scoring manual. Interviewers and coders eventually come to rest believing they understand the cognitive structures supporting their respondents' use of such terms as "love," "honor," etc. If one group of people has a more complex meaning for these terms than another, then one group or the other will be misscored unless the difference in meanings is recognized and explored.

However, this does not mean that the genetic epistemological paradigm itself is biased; it only shows that specific means of identifying cognitive structures can be in error. Researchers' ability to test alternative scoring methods by empirical study means that the methods are not trapped in bias, even if they contain it.(8)

This chapter's conception of political development uses specific institutions to exemplify different developmental stages, but the stages are defined in terms of their organizing structures. Being based on structure rather than content, this conception of political development is culture-free. All cultures can be placed within the stage sequence, and any given structural stage can describe many different institutions from different cultural traditions. Furthermore, development does not require a culture to become like any more-developed culture, but instead requires that each culture resolve the structural ambiguities of its current stage in its own fashion. Even though there is a culturally universal sequence of organizing structures, there is no universal sequence of specific social forms.

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1. A few notes of clarification are required here. (a) Recall from the discussion in Chapter 3 that adult Stage 1 reasoners are likely to have special problems interacting with more developed reasoners and are likely to have remained at their reasoning levels because of unique difficulties in their upbringing. The social behavior flowing from Stage 1 reasoning accordingly cannot be judged by the behavior of adult Stage 1 reasoners. Stage 1 children do not run around as slavers, extortioners, and bullies. On the other hand, the absence of such behavior may stem from the higher stage reasoning of the adult authorities who define so much of the moral world for them. (This is the thesis of Lord of the Flies.) We cannot, therefore, discuss "natural" Stage 1 social behavior with any confidence. ("Natural" means societies which have evolved organically, in contradistinction to artificially constructed societies like prisons.)

(b) I have encountered a surprising amount of skepticism among other moral development researchers that a Stage 1 society exists or ever could have existed. They argue that Stage 1 reasoning is too simple, too unmoral to create a society at all. Such a position, however, seems inconsistent with the basic perspective of genetic epistemology. Knowledge is constructed, stage by stage, and therefore somewhere between John Rawls and the primeval ooze there must have been a time when Stage 1 was the pinnacle of human (prehuman?) intellectual achievement. Stage 1 societies therefore must have existed in the (possibly very distant) past.

(c) Could recent times have seen a "natural" Stage 1 society? Again, despite my colleagues' skepticism, I think such a society is quite possible, although Western society's penetration of even the remotest regions constantly lessens this possibility. My colleagues' skepticism arises, I think, from a correct reluctance to equate our cultural background with a maximum security prison. Recognition that the latter is distorted by its situation within our present, far different society should alter their skepticism.

2. Note that punishment of miscreants' families occurs in many early legal systems. See Bloch (1961) on the medieval European vendetta, and Hobhouse (1906:Chapter 3) for examples from many other cultures.

3. See Bloch (1961) and Poggi (1978) for a discussion of the specifics of feudal relationships. Hear Poggi's (1978:24-25) description of the hierarchical extension of Stage 2 feudal relations: "Historically, however, the elaboration of the lord-vassal relationship mostly advanced downward. Typically, a territorial ruler, finding it impossible to operate a system of rule constituted of impersonal, official roles, sought to bridge the gap between himself and the ultimate objects of rule - the populace - by relying primarily on his retinue of trusted warriors. To this end, he endowed them with fiefs from the landed domain under his charge . . .; but his immediate vassals often carved from their own fiefs smaller ones for the members of their retinues."

4. Wolin (1960) makes this point in his discussion of Hobbes.

Regarding the transition from the Stage 3 city to the Stage 4 absolutist monarch:
Richelieu was playing a deep game. In order to stamp out the final traces of feudalism, and consolidate the King's power throughout the realm, the Cardnal had ordered that the defensive walls of all French towns should be razed. In Loudun, where half the population was Huguenot, the debate over whether or not the walls should come down had been raging for years (Banville 1999:116).

5. See Deutsch, Dominguez, and Heclo (1981:189-191). Thomas Wright (1984) presents a study of the first Ibañez administration in Chile that shows striking parallels between Ibañez's and Louis XIV's methods.

6. Just as free-market theory sees entrepreneurs cooperatively benefitting society through their selfish competition.

7. Thomas Kuhn (1970a, 1970b) calls this form of science "normal science."

8. Recall the discussion in Chapter 3:note 22, about the mutual checks provided by the theoretical-philosophical and empirical-psychological aspects of moral development research.

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