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We have discussed an ordering of social forms, and the conception of political development appears to have overcome the five "fundamental theoretical challenges" raised in Chapter 1. But the discussion to this point has been fairly static. We know from earlier research how individuals move from stage to stage, but we have not yet asked how cultures might move.

In particular, we would like to address five general issues of political development's dynamics:

1. (Unilinearity) Is there a single developmental path, or are there alternative paths?

2. (Inevitability) What drives development? In particular, what initiates it? Is it historically inevitable? In particular, what is the role of human agency in development? Cyclical theories of history, such as those of Aristotle, Polybius, or Spengler, see no possibility of long-term development. "Spiral" theories of history, such as those of Vico or Toynbee, assert that progress is inevitable despite repeated short-term setbacks. Other theorists, e.g., Hobhouse and Marx, see history as an inevitable, fairly steady progression.

3. (Monotonicity) Is retrogression possible or, as Pye (1978:viii) asserts, is there a "ratchet effect" in development? Can historical cycles occur? Is stasis possible, either brief or long?

4. (Synchrony) Do all elements of society develop equally and simultaneously throughout a society or, as Chilcote (1981:277) and Althusser (1970:Chapter 4) mention, is asynchronous development possible? In Piagetian terms, are there decalages of development between different areas of society?

5. (Continuity) Does development occur in crises and discontinuous changes, as argued in Binder et al. (1971), or does it occur in small, steady increments? Can stages be skipped? [Note that the term "continuity" is used here in its mathematical sense of smooth, incremental differences on a scale. Do not mistake this sense of the term for another sense, namely, "going on all the time", as in, "I'm continually improving."]

Fortunately, the broad outline of answers to these questions are implicit in the logic of our analytic framework. The major dynamics of development flow from two sources in the conception of development: the dynamics of moral reasoning development and the dynamics of establishing, maintaining, and altering the public commonness of a way of relating.(1) The answers thus indicated require empirical support, and the necessary research will certainly fill in the details with midrange theories and the like, but the broad outlines of the answers seem already implicit.

The issue of unilinearity was dealt with tangentially at the end of the previous chapter. Development is unilinear in the sense that it is always measured along the same sequence of structural stages. It is multilinear in its cultural content, however, since different cultures develop with different institutions. We must distinguish carefully between these two aspects of political development, just as we do for individual development. Taking cognizance only of structures, all development looks the same; taking cognizance of both structure and content, cultures can develop differently. This book is primarily concerned with the unilinear development of structures, but it fully recognizes that each culture has its own institutions, environment, and heritage.

Before we can address the issues of inevitability, monotonicity, synchrony, and continuity, however, we must examine more closely how development occurs. Development of a higher-stage culture requires two changes to occur: the emergence of a new stage of reasoning in the form of ideal ways of relating and their associated institutions, and the realization of these ways of relating - that is, the establishment of their public commonness. These changes have different dynamics. Cognitive growth, manifested in new ways of relating and institutional forms, occurs as an intellectual resolution of cognitive ambiguities felt in the previous stage. Public commonness, on the other hand, requires access to political power sufficient to teach and implement the new ways of relating and institutional forms. In addition, the interaction of these two sets of dynamics creates a further set of dynamics.

This chapter first sets forth specific major forces associated with each set of dynamics. Following this presentation of dynamic forces, we will be able to address definitively the issues raised above.


Short of Stage 6, every moral reasoning structure is ambiguous, meaning that application of the same reasoning to different perspectives can yield different conclusions. Stage 3 reasoning, for example, leaves Heinz undecided whether to cast his sympathies with his wife or the druggist. Stage 4 reasoning leaves him uncertain whether to be guided by legal injunctions not to steal or traditional/religious injunctions to care for people in need. Such ambiguities are the engine that powers cognitive development: increasing awareness of both perspectives induces the reasoner to attempt to coordinate them. The structure coordinating them is the next-higher stage. (See Habermas, 1979c:79; Turiel, 1966, 1974, and 1977; and Walker, 1980, 1983.)

These ambiguities within individuals' reasoning can also appear, writ large, in a society. If public issues are susceptible to two lines of reasoning at the same stage, citizens at that stage will find themselves divided and in conflict. The civil disobedience and official brutality during the civil rights movement, for example, could be viewed in Stage 4 terms either as legitimately firm official responses to blacks' repeated, deliberate violations of law and social convention, or as unmannerly reactions to blacks' politely firm demands for ordinary, courteous treatment. This ambiguity of response split the United States (and the South itself), creating a public debate that revealed, in effect, the inadequacy of both opposing Stage 4 positions. The public debate made salient a variety of resolutions of the conflict in terms of Stage 5 theories of civil rights, even if those resolutions were not always understood and adopted.

Similar ambiguities are involved in creationists' demands that their doctrine be taught in biology courses as a theory competitive with evolution. Creationists see the conflict as a battle over competing opinions about the truth - and many scientists (who ought to know better) take the same view.(2) This conflict cannot be resolved short of Stage 5, where the requirements of empirical falsifiability and hypothetico-deductive logic are understood. Creationism does not generate empirical hypotheses (because God might have done anything) and is not falsifiable (because any arrangement of evidence can be attributed to God's action). Creationist claims may be true, but no one can test them. Creationism is not taught beside evolution because the former is an article of faith while the latter is, even if disputed, a testable theory.(3)

So we see that cognitive development need not occur out of purely individual moral conflicts. These open political conflicts of civil rights and creationism make salient the ambiguity of Stage 4 reasoning and thus allow citizens the opportunity to move from Stage 4 to Stage 5. The cognitive stages structuring cultures manifest their ambiguities in widespread social issues, creating the possibility of widespread cognitive development.


As mentioned in Chapter 3, some reasoners at a given stage can (in various limited ways) understand reasoning at the stage above their own. Starting from an initial ignorance of the stage above, reasoners subsequently "are aware of"; "recognize" and "prefer"; and finally "reproduce" +1 reasoning.

Each of these abilities makes reasoners to some degree susceptible to guidance by +1 reasoners. Reproduction underlies the relationship of master and disciple, in which the disciple wishes to acquire the master's facility through hearing and restating the master's reasoning; the ability to reproduce +1 reasoning means that a reasoner can follow and accept a higher-stage analysis, even if she cannot generalize the reasoning to other times and situations. Even if the reasoner is able only to recognize +1 reasoning, she will still recognize it as more adequate and will prefer it, and accordingly the conclusion reached, to other reasoning. And even if the reasoner is only aware that the other person is not speaking nonsense, she will be more cautious about maintaining her own position in the face of reasoning that sounds coherent even while it is not fully understood.

On the other hand, people dismiss reasoning at stages below their own and at stages more than one above their own. Lower stages are understood quite well and dismissed as inadequate, for at least the same reasons that the reasoner earlier found them inadequate. Reasoning two or more stages above is dismissed as gibberish or is understood as ("assimilated to," in Piaget's language) a lower stage. To exercise legitimate authority, therefore, leaders must justify their leadership and decisions with reasons at, or one stage above, the cognitive stage of those they expect to lead.

These observations make especially relevant Katz and Lazarsfeld's theory of the "two-step flow of communications." Since their 1955 study (see also Katz, 1957), social scientists have divided the public into two groups: a relatively large, "inattentive" public and a relatively small, "attentive" public ("opinion leaders"). The inattentive public does not understand or else pays no attention to public affairs, but instead relies on members of the attentive public for explanation of and guidance about issues. To the inattentive public the mass media project a rudimentary image but little depth or detail. Opinion leaders, on the other hand, attend closely to public affairs, both through a variety of media and through personal involvement. The two-step flow of communications means that leaders need to lead only the attentive public, for it will in turn lead the inattentive public. Leaders are thereby relieved from justifying their policies in terms understood by all: the attentive public's support will be sufficient.

This pattern of communications means that leaders can reason up to two stages above many of their followers. They must reason no more than one stage above the attentive public, and in turn the attentive public, if its members wish to remain opinion leaders, must reason no more than one stage above the inattentive public it leads. The overall effect is to allow leaders legitimately to command a much wider variety of followers than if all leadership depended on direct persuasion.

In this age of mass media, however, leaders are available in increasingly immediate, albeit highly impersonal ways to their followers.(4) To the extent that this direct communication substitutes for the more personal, two-step communication pattern, leaders have to couch their appeals in arguments no more than one stage above the people they wish to persuade. The potential would seem to exist for a consequent degradation of public discourse as rhetorical style comes to substitute for the substance of high-level reasoning.

Other societies undoubtedly have communications patterns other than those discussed above.(5) Whatever patterns are involved, however, legitimate influence cannot jump more than one cognitive stage. Because communication systems govern the degree to which this limitation can be overcome, their study must be an important element of political development research.


A regime's legitimacy and stability are enhanced if decision-makers reason at or just above the cognitive level of the remainder of society. There are several reasons for this. First, no higher-stage alternatives to rule will arise. Even if the existing political system generates some bad decisions, citizens will not immediately be able to construct a radical cure of that system. Same-stage modifications of the existing political system will have similar structural difficulties and so may not appeal even to dissatisfied citizens.(6) Second, citizens will understand how the system works, supporting the existing regime out of a "better the devil you know" feeling. Finally, citizens will tend to give greater credit to decisions they can understand than those they cannot. People will accept discomforts they judge to be fair. Rulers will be able to persuade many or most citizens of the validity of public policy choices. A steady media campaign with such slogans as "Law Is The Basis Of A Free Society" and "Marriage Ties Take Their Strength From Law" [I'm obviously not a good slogan writer.] would tend to convince Stage 4 reasoners that Heinz should not steal the drug, even if opposite, equally reasonable points of view exist.

Such leadership also keeps the society just, within the current capacity of its people to envision and maintain a structure of justice. For we must recognize that justice does not arise magically from buildings and statutes; rather, it arises from the ability and willingness of people to relate in the structure of justice contemplated in the institutions. The level of moral reasoning found in a society constrains the institutional forms that its citizens are able and willing to create. Leaders can create institutional models for citizens to fill and learn from, but such models must always be within the grasp of their occupants' reasoning - that is, no more than one stage above.

The previous discussion makes the happy assumption that leaders always reason at stages at or above the led. This need not be the case, of course: many circumstances might place a lower-stage reasoner in charge of or dominant over higher-stage reasoners. This arrangement is termed an inversion.(7)

Societies with many inversions will inevitably experience a legitimacy crisis, as the reasoning of the leaders becomes widely criticized by the led. The leaders, unable to comprehend the objections and alternatives, maintain their illegitimate position with increasingly repressive methods. Repression can mean toleration of criticism without remedial action (Marcuse, 1965), suppression and/or control of communication networks, or the outright silencing of critics by intimidation, exile, imprisonment, or death. Societies with many inversions may survive such a legitimacy crisis, even when it continues for some time. However, such a society is as unstable as a balloon: it holds together, but a small pin-prick can destroy it.

This section's analysis is not a scientistic foundation for a meritocracy of cognitive stage, however. First, arguments for any social arrangement must focus, as Rawls (1971) shows, on its effects on the worst-off position in society. The above considerations of who understands what, and whether legitimacy crises occur, are grist for normative analysts' mills but are not normative considerations per se. Second, the above discussions assume that both leaders and followers come from the same cultural tradition - that +1 reasoners have resolved the problems still actually experienced by their culture's +0 reasoners. It seems unlikely that a Zulu could use Stage 4 reasoning from that culture to solve problems even of Stage 3 reasoning faced by, say, a local U.S. Chamber of Commerce - and vice-versa. Such a cultural difference is extreme, of course, but the general principle remains at any degree of difference: one can preserve the normative virtue of development only by preserving the cultural continuity between specific problems and their specific, higher-stage resolutions.

In sum, a society's overall moral reasoning level limits the types of legitimate social institutions which that society can maintain. Furthermore, the average cognitive levels of the leaders and the led determine the frequency of inversions in the society and thus the long-term stability and legitimacy of its institutions.


If cognitive levels are so important in political development, it follows that changes in the overall average of moral reasoning stages will be important sources of social change. This section discusses the social dynamics resulting from a rise or fall of average cognitive level.

We begin by cautioning that the inevitability (or at least nonretrogression) of individual moral reasoning development does not imply any corresponding inevitability of its social average. Other things remaining equal, the social average is perpetuated by the ongoing balance between the death of the oldest, most advanced reasoners and the concurrent development of those remaining alive. It is the fallacy of composition to believe that individual dynamics must have parallel social dynamics.

What can cause overall cognitive advances and declines? New socialization techniques, wide exposure to higher-stage reasoners or institutions, indigenous resolution at a higher stage of the ambiguities of an important social issue - all of these and undoubtedly many other circumstances can cause a society's overall cognitive advance. On the other hand, domination by a foreign conqueror, disease, and systematic suppression of higher-stage reasoners by reactionary forces - these and, again, other circumstances can cause overall cognitive decline.

Our interest is not in the multitude of such causes, however, but rather in the dynamic consequences of cognitive advance and decline. We look first at cognitive advance. The average cognitive advance of a population will certainly imply (and may well arise from) an increased recognition that the old culture has illegitimate, arbitrary, or illogical elements. This will stimulate both an increasing criticism of the old culture and a search for new cultural possibilities. Subgroups will form to experiment with, and ultimately to live out, these new cultural possibilities. Cultural history will be rewritten as expressions of the new subculture, just as women's history and black history are currently being rewritten. From these sources a new culture will arise as the old culture accommodates to the new.

At the same time, the breakdown and refashioning of the old culture will set in motion phenomena of reaction. Because the emerging cultural alternative is more highly developed than the existing culture, it will be misunderstood by many people as they assimilate it, in Piaget's sense, to their existing, less structured cultural understanding. If the new is taken to be the same as the old, the society experiences the politics of opportunism and reform, in which limited immediate concessions are sought and granted in ignorance of (or to prevent) fundamental change. Stage +1 cultural proposals may benefit from the respect of +0 reasoners, but they also suffer from those reasoners' natural reluctance to leap into the unknown. Thus the Equal Rights Amendment benefitted from the widespread support for women's rights, but suffered from the fear-mongering campaign waged against it (Mansbridge, 1986).

A good example of the effects of cognitive advance is provided by Radding (1979), who attributes the disappearance of the medieval ordeal to a widespread cognitive advance of the population. He argues that the ordeal resembles in its logic the stage of "immanent justice" described by Piaget (1932), and that the ordeals were only one form of the wider range of rituals by which "the early Middle Ages [attempted] to control the physical world" (Radding, 1979:956). The change to a new sense of the physical world, seen in such diverse areas as poetry, natural philosophy, and the procedures for canonizing saints, suggests a change in the cognitive level of the population. The disappearance of the ordeal can then be seen as one among many cultural concomitants of an overall cognitive advance.

The cognitive decline of a population should, other things remaining equal, cause the regression of the culture to lower stages. The population becomes increasingly unable to maintain the original culture. The institutional forms might be followed out of habit,(8) but institutional challenges will not be met by adaptations at the original stage level and children will tend not to be socialized to the original stage level. The old forms might even be idolized, but like all idols they will have no life.

The important concept of institutional "challenges" warrants an example. Consider the institution represented by an ideal-typical bureaucracy. Rules in this bureaucracy have a Stage 4 moral justification: rules must be followed to prevent chaos in the handling of the bureaucracy's work. Suppose, however, that the actual bureaucrats were all at lower stages. As Danet (1971) has shown, a bureaucracy's clients use a variety of arguments - moral arguments, in fact. (Although the Stage 1 threats, Stage 2 bribes and, to a lesser extent, Stage 3 appeals to friendship no longer seem moral to us, Kohlberg's work has amply shown that these are the forms of morality characteristic of these levels.) How is a bureaucrat to reply to these arguments? A Stage 4 bureaucrat will of course have no trouble recognizing the inadequacy of these appeals. Even if the threats or bribes are effective, the bureaucracy at least has a preliminary defense against them in its bureaucratic recognition of them as wrong. But suppose that a bureaucrat is at a lower Stage than 4 - say, Stage 3. The bureaucrat might dimly feel that the client's appeals in terms of friendship or personal ties are wrong, but Stage 3 counter-arguments give no clear support, as seen in this exchange:

Client: Why don't you just set aside those requirements? After all, I am a friend and neighbor of yours.
Bureaucrat: If I did that I'd disappoint my boss, who is counting on me to follow the rules.
Client: How can you put your boss ahead of me, your old friend and neighbor?
Bureaucrat: (no answer)

The client appeals catalogued by Danet constitute challenges to the institution. New situations, new clients, new employees - all constitute a challenge. Unless the institution's structure is preserved by people at the appropriate stage, the institution will regress to less developed forms.


Development depends not just on cognitive stage levels but also on the relative visibility and feasibility of alternative cultural possibilities. Schelling's (1980:Chapter 3) "meeting problem" provides a physical metaphor for the cultural problem of establishing a publicly common way of relating. As Schelling presents it, the problem is that two people are to meet in a city, but they have made no prior arrangements when and where to meet and have no way to communicate with one another. What should they do to meet? Schelling's answer is that certain (largely accidental) features of times and places make them stand out as points of coordination. Noon, for example, is the time that most stands out during the day; the tallest building in town (or possibly city hall) is the most conspicuous place. This time and place therefore become the basis of coordination, not because they are "right" in any normative sense, but only because they stand out in some way. Noon may be inconvenient as a time to meet and the tallest building may be difficult to reach, but they are nonetheless the points required in order to guarantee mutuality of action.

Analogously, when two social actors interact, they both need a way of relating that is publicly common - common so that both can use it, publicly common so that interaction can take place without an elaborate preliminary search for common ground. How is one to know how to relate to others in a way accepted by all? The basis of a relationship can of course be established by negotiation without prior assumptions, but this is uncommon. There are usually several forces (the analogues of Schelling's "stand-out characteristics") that determine which way of relating is actually chosen. The first of these forces (cognitive stage) was discussed earlier: ways of relating that are too cognitively advanced cannot become publicly common if no one can grasp them. In addition, there are at least three other sets of forces at work affecting the choice: inertia, hegemony, and the presence of subcultures.


Inertia is undoubtedly the most powerful force affecting cultural choice. Existing cultures are supported by an enormous "sunk cost," both mental and physical. Consider the obstacles to be overcome by an instructor wishing to change the culture even of a college class. Psychologically, the students have put much effort into learning the existing college culture: that effort represents the mental cost invested in the culture. The students are each well-trained in existing modes of college instruction, successful in such modes of instruction, and unsure of the nature and consequences of alternative modes. Linguistically, the cultural terminology of "instructor" and "student" contemplates a particular mode of classroom experience. Physically, the classrooms are laid out with student desks all bolted to the floor to point in one direction. The blackboard is placed in front above a raised platform. The room's designers intended this arrangement to facilitate certain forms of interaction; their efforts represent the physical cost invested in the culture. One need not advocate stasis in order to recognize our cultural investment in it (Habermas, 1982:222-223).

Inertia has an even more basic force arising simply from the prior existence of the culture. The historical political culture (that is, the political culture up until yesterday) is the most obvious point of orientation for social actors. As Lukacs (1914:321) puts it:

everything, once it appears in the world, takes on an existence entirely independent of its creator and purpose, its harmfulness or usefulness, its goodness or badness. . . . We are speaking here of the category of "being there" [Bestehen], naked existence as a force, a value, a decisively important category in the whole order of life (quoted in Arato and Breines, 1979:15).

New ways of relating, by contrast, have to be invented.

Concrete (experiential) history is therefore important in determining an individual's belief about the political culture. History gives rise to "anticipated reactions," affecting individuals in that their behavior is predicated on their belief about the political culture they share. They choose their actions in anticipation of their co-actor's reactions. The political culture as it has actually been experienced by social actors thus perpetuates the political culture. Inertia guarantees that the existing culture will always be the incumbent, so to speak, in any issue of cultural change.(9)


Political regimes can rely on inertia to maintain themselves, but most prefer to give nature a hand, as it were, by exercising more direct influence over what ways of relating can become publicly common. The resulting forces I call "hegemony."(10) A direct form of hegemonic force is exercised through rewards and punishments applied to the use of different ways of relating. The same power that allows privileged groups or classes to extract benefits for themselves can be used to maintain the culture against less favorable ways of relating: by rewarding cultural conformity and repressing dissent. This power of reward and sanction raises the ante needed to develop and promulgate new ways of relating.(11)

Rewards and punishments are costly, however. Rewards require direct outlays, and punishments require maintenance of a costly supervisory force. A more efficient form of hegemonic force is the differential exposure of various potential ways of relating and the differential invention and exploration of new cultural possibilities.(12) The choice of a way of relating is always made in view of the alternatives available and their acceptability to the partners. Public discussion of a cultural alternative is essential for the alternative to be commonly understood and thus capable of replacing the existing culture. If cultural alternatives are too ill-regarded to be mutually acceptable, too little-known to be mutually available, or simply not invented at all, then direct reward and repression are unnecessary.

Such forces have been studied by a variety of theorists under a variety of names. Socialization research has revealed biases built into U.S. school curricula and textbooks (Parenti, 1978:156-173, and 1983:41-44). Such biases are undoubtedly found elsewhere.(13) Overly (1970) discusses the role of the "hidden curriculum" (the way of relating actually practiced in the schools) as a source of learning more powerful than verbal education. (See also Parenti, 1983:41.) Bachrach and Baratz (1962) discuss "nondecision-making" - forces which act to prevent certain issues from becoming public issues. (For more recent discussions see Wolfinger, 1971; Crenson, 1971; Stone, 1980, 1982.) Certain forms of nondecisions are kin to the Marxian concepts of "ideological" (class-based) thought and, as Wolfinger (1971) notes, "false consciousness." In the Marxian formulation, the ruling class's domination of the means of economic production results in their ability to dominate the means of intellectual production as well. (See Parenti, 1978:Part 2, for a description of this process.) The normative theories produced by intellectuals accordingly tend to justify the existing class structure; such class-limited philosophies are termed "ideology" in Marxian thought. Deprived of competing intellectual traditions, the proletariat or other dominated class comes to accept both the ruling class's ideology and its ideological interpretations of events. (See Lewy, 1982.)

Note that this discussion does not take any position in the long-standing debate between "pluralists" and "neo-elitists" over the importance of hegemonic forces for understanding U.S. society. The point is, rather, that such forces can exist, that they might have great weight, and, most important for this work, that they operate from mechanisms deriving from the requirements of public commonness.(14)


That a culture has a publicly common way of relating does not mean its members relate only in that way. Subsets of the culture can be subcultures: groups whose members choose a different way of relating. For example, people usually relate to other members of their immediate families not as fellow citizens but as intimates.

There is a continuum of subcultures between, on the one hand, those whose way of relating supplements and refines but does not set aside the tenets of the larger culture and, on the other hand, those whose way of relating supplants and denies the larger culture's claims. Examples of the former would include the Lions Clubs or a local church group: the larger culture looks benignly on the special ways these groups' members interrelate. Examples of the latter would include homosexual couples, whose way of relating to one another is illegal in many states.(15)

Subcultures are an important source of cultural innovation: they provide laboratories within which people can experiment with new ways of relating and new institutions. Because such experiments are confined to a restricted group, cultures find them relatively easy to tolerate as long as the participants remain duly respectful of the larger culture in their external relations.

The medieval city is a good example of how subcultures foster innovation. The city walls demarcated the subculture boundary (and enforced the tolerance of the city's feudal neighbors). Inside the city, new forms of social organization (e.g., craft guilds) were able to develop in a way they could not have in the wider, feudal culture. Ultimately, of course, the city subculture became strong enough simply to transform and even suppress the prior, feudal way of relating.

Subcultures are the cultural analogues of cognitive-developmental decalages: both contemplate domains differentially receptive to new cognitive structures. Some areas of the culture are easily adapted to new structure, while other areas may be quite resistant to any change, just as cognitive domains are.

Chapter 3 cited research indicating that moral reasoning decalage is quite restricted: people usually vary by no more than a single stage among different moral judgment problems or different aspects of the same problem. In addition, decalages are not very stable; they are, rather, a sign of an ongoing transition. Cultural decalages (subcultures), on the other hand, seem likely to be both more various and more stable. Relevant to this variance and stability are four sources of cultural decalage. First, social development has at least the same sources of decalage as cognitive development. If cognitive development to Stage X occurs first around one issue and only later around others, one would expect political development to show a similar decalage.(16) Second, the propagation of political development faces additional problems of space and cultural connection. Hot tubs show up in Scranton ten years after they do in California. Although our culture is relatively unitary, it consists of many more specialized subcultures linked only loosely by internal migration, by common tradition, by mass communication, by economic forces. As pluralists have long said, different political issues involve different constituencies. Third, the different constituencies are penetrated and integrated by different means. The practicalities of establishing a publicly common way of relating are different for a local union than for the recipients of Social Security benefits, and prison inmates must organize in different ways than garden clubs. Fourth, as Althusser (1970:esp.Chapter 4) points out at length, different social products have different logics and hence their own developmental rhythms. The production of social theory differs from the production of consumer goods, and both differ from the production of educated individuals. The differences will induce yet greater decalages. These variations show that political development should even more than cognitive development be subject to horizontal decalages.


This chapter has presented a variety of dynamic forces, all arising from the requirements of cognitive structure and public commonness. These forces are inevitable - part of the general conditions of human culture.(17) Neolithic culture and twenty-fifth century culture appear equally subject to these forces. Because these forces govern the dynamics of social change and development, we can now address the five issues raised at the beginning of the chapter.

1. Unilinearity

Political development is unilinear in structure but multilinear in specific content. Social crises can have more than one developmental solution. Developmental trajectories can branch or converge.

2. Inevitability and the Role of Human Agency

The theory presented here yields no historical inevitability to development. It does argue that development is driven by, as Habermas (1979c:97) puts it, "a gentle but obstinate, a never silent although seldom redeemed claim to reason, a claim that must be recognized de facto whenever and wherever there is to be consensual action." This steady force for development is (in Piagetian terms) the force of cognitive equilibration or (in cultural terms) the drive to resolve ambiguities and contradictions in the cultural way of relating.

However, such a force is only one of several acting on the political culture. Just as the cognitive development of individuals is not inevitable but rather dependent upon the recognition of conflicts and the mental time and energy to resolve them, so is the political development of cultures dependent upon accidents of nature and society.

The overall political development of the past ten thousand years indicates that the steady force of cognitive equilibration has an effect. This force is not a physical or impersonal "march of history," however. Instead, it is a force constituted and reconstituted anew by people who in a performative attitude affirm the existence of a social (moral) truth rather than in a propositional attitude recognizing the existence of an objective truth. (See Habermas, 1979a, 1979d.) It is this force which requires that development theorists take normative beliefs seriously. Theorists must study beliefs for their normative impact and thus their value, not just their objective structure.

3. Monotonicity, Devolution, and Cycles

Both Binder et al. (1971:esp.297-307) and Grew (1978:esp.10-34) see development as proceeding in a discontinuous fashion; that is, in periods of crisis followed by periods of consolidation. The definition of a crisis may be subject to discussion, and a certain amount of retrogression may occur, but these works view crises as basically irreversible. Grew (1978:11): Changes "must now appear to have been in some sense irreversible." Pye, in his introduction to Grew (1978:vii-viii): "Even [the] complaint [that the same crisis can repeatedly return] . . . is qualified by the acknowledgment that there is a 'ratchet effect,' that is, societies cannot go back and pretend that changes have not taken place."

Despite these contentions, the present theory indicates that political cultures can regress. If the average adult moral reasoning stage declines, the political culture of the society may well decline, having fewer higher-stage people to support its previous high levels and having more lower-stage people to fail to understand it. Even in the absence of any overall decline, the accidents of history may give hegemonic power to a regime dedicated to the imposition of a regressive way of relating. (Obvious examples include external invasions and the rise of a leader like Hitler.) However, since there is a steady force for development and none for regression, the overall trend should be upward.

This work's analysis yields no dynamics creating long-term cycles of development and regression. Certainly development and regression can succeed one another, giving the appearance of a cyclical historical trajectory, but there seems to be no basis for our expecting any inevitable cyclical motion.

4. Asynchrony

This analysis provides a means of discussing political development without necessary reference to nation-states or any other fixed entity. (As Grew, 1978:5, states the problem: "In most of the literature on modernization the favorite unit of analysis - the national state - is not that in which the subject of analysis, social change, occurs.") We can conceive of any society as a set of hierarchically organized, overlapping, and differentially articulated cultures. (See Althusser, 1970:esp. Chapter 4.) The social scientist's task is then the analysis of the ways of relating publicly common within each (sub)culture and the determination of the dynamics and cross-linkages of those (sub)cultures.

Does development proceed independently in different areas of our culture? Certainly total independence is impossible as long as there are free communicative links within the culture as a whole. At the very least, individual cognitive development, stimulated by the example from more developed subcultures, should eventually result in the transformation of the broader culture.

It is apparent, however, that the decalages of development between groups can be large. Hegemonic control of communication, in addition to all the other sources of within-culture variation, may result in much wider stage variations in political development than are seen in individual cognitive development. Thus development need not occur equally and simultaneously throughout a society. The existence of subcultures, and the imperfect linkage of cultural areas with one another - both allow developmental decalages to occur.

5. Continuity, Crises, and Stage Skipping

Do societies develop smoothly, or in leaps stimulated by crises? From the present perspective, the question appears to have no determinate answer, because a developmental history will depend on which culture/subculture is chosen from the "set of hierarchically organized, overlapping, and differentially articulated cultures" mentioned above. Certainly it is possible to have discontinuous development, as Binder et al. (1971) and Grew (1978) show in numerous examples. A widely felt cultural challenge that demands immediate response (e.g., a war) can create a developmental discontinuity as the entire culture is transformed at once. On the other hand, if the culture being studied is diverse enough and the crisis it faces requires no immediate resolution, then development may appear continuous, as the (possibly discontinuous) alterations of the constituent subcultures aggregate into the appearance of smooth flow. (Duby, 1977:esp. p.218, discusses social change along these lines. Grew, 1978:10-15, discusses possible criteria for calling a period or event a "crisis.")

In cognitive development the individual never skips a stage in the process of development - each stage builds on the one previous to it. Is the same true of political development? Clearly stage skipping is not possible when a culture first develops to a specific stage. Just as each cognitive stage must build on the one before, each new level of culture must grow out of the one immediately previous. No matter what the cognitive levels of the individuals are in the society, they would appear to need time to work out the practical social problems of one level of development before proceeding to the next.

One can imagine, however, that stage skipping would be possible in certain other circumstances. If a culture were conquered by a two-stage-lower culture and were shortly thereafter freed, the first culture would be able to spring back to its original stage. The longer the second culture's domination lasted, however, the less likely such a return would be: children would increasingly orient to the new culture and would be unsure how to relate in the old culture; and the changes accumulating with the new regime would make the exact restoration of the old regime ever less appropriate.


The above discussion shows that development is an extremely complex process. This does not mean simply that many forces (e.g., literacy, communication, military ambitions, etc.) affect development, for that has long been known. It means, rather, that development occurs through the interaction of profoundly dissimilar forces: forces inducing cognitive development and social invention, forces of social inertia, forces of hegemonic control, and forces of subgroup/subculture interaction. Within cognitive development itself, each stage differs from all other stages in its cognitive ambiguities, and so a theory of political development must embrace at least five structurally dissimilar transitional forms of the moral reasoning alone. The six different structural forms of societies may each take social form in an infinite number of distinct institutional arrangements, each yielding unique transitions.

The variety of cognitive transitions will be further diffracted by the wholly separate variety of inertial and hegemonic forces by which the existing culture is maintained. Would Gandhi have succeeded if India had been Nazi Germany's colony and not England's? Certainly Martin Luther King's tactics had greater success against Bull Connor's police power than against the Chicago financial elite's economic power. There are a variety of instruments of hegemonic control and circumstances making them possible, and the specifics of political development will be accordingly complex.

This interaction explains why simple theories of political development have been doomed to failure. Development has complex dynamics: societies can advance or decline or simply change; they can advance in jerks or smoothly; in exceptional circumstances they can skip stages; they can advance on some fronts and not on others. Even though development theorists have pointed to similar sequences of developmental stages, none have explained developmental dynamics properly. Hobhouse, for example, was reduced to speculating about the survival of the morally fittest society - a reflection of his time's Social Darwinism. Theories of simple unilinear progression cannot encompass development's complexity.

The theoretical outline presented here does not deny that complexity. Instead, it offers analysts a relatively simple framework for explaining how their unique events arise. Even though each of the dynamic forces are complex in themselves, they are much simpler than their interaction, and clearly identifying their effects will enable researchers to find unifying themes. To take just one example, I referred above to the variety of social forms existing at Stage 3 and noted that there would be a corresponding variety of transitions to Stage 4. It is quite possible that these transitions will resemble one another - that their common origins in the structural ambiguity of Stage 3 will give rise to common transitions. If so, such common transitions may react to hegemonic forms in equally characteristic ways. These possibilities are mere speculations here, of course, but they indicate in what direction researchers will most likely find results. We know from bitter empirical experience and from the present theoretical outline that development occurs in many ways; we need to seek simplification in the natural terms of the processes creating such variety.

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1. Not surprisingly, but pleasing nevertheless, these dynamics arise from the solutions to what was earlier termed the two major theoretical challenges facing political development conceptions: the challenges of normative grounding and of making the micro-macro connection.

2. During the mid-1970s the American Chemical Society's Chemical and Engineering News - analogous to political scientists' PS - carried a year-long exchange of letters between dogmatic creationists and dogmatic "scientists."

3. Döbert (1975), in his attempt to apply a genetic-epistemological model to religious beliefs, discusses what "knowledge" (i.e., "an 'independent' environment" to which belief systems must adapt) means in the context of religion. He argues that "God" is not the appropriate target of such knowledge since God "is always anew constituted by the developing patterns of religious consciousness." Döbert (1975:10-12) suggests that the necessary target of knowledge can be found in Luckmann's (1963) view of religion as one element of meaning in "a process of constituting and maintaining society."

4. This thesis is discussed in Robinson (1976), cited in Hennessy (1985:244-246).

5. See, for example, the research reported in Pye (1963).

6. Such difficulties may, however, be more potential than actual in concrete circumstances. For example, a civil war between equally matched adherents of two Stage 4 legal systems could be "resolved" by a turn to the authority of a widespread religious fundamentalism. The latter might ignore the few religious groups not sharing its tenets, but this structural defect can be concealed by oppression in a way that the civil war was only attempting to do.

7. I am indebted to Fred Frey for first calling my attention to the concept of social inversions.

8. Habermas (1979c:99) calls this "the background consensus of habitual daily routine."

9. This is why history, even as an academic field, is so politically sensitive. As a substitute in political socialization for concrete (experiential) history, academic history creates the future political culture in its reconstruction of the past.

10. I am indebted to Clarence Stone (1980, 1982, and personal communication) for clarifying my thinking about the various aspects of hegemonic power.

Notice that hegemonic control is over the development and proposing of alternative ways of relating; it doesn't refer to the ability to control people's actions that violate the culture.

11. This form of power generally corresponds to Stone's (1982:286) "second level of power." His "first level of power" involves activities taken within an established cultural context (that is, the playing out of a given way of relating) and so does not concern us in the present discussion of developmental choices among alternative ways of relating.

12. This form of power generally corresponds to Stone's (1982:286) "third level of power."

13. See, for example, Bronfenbrenner's (1962) study of Soviet education.

14. The debate over the presence of hegemonic forces only partly concerns empirical evidence. As Ono (1965:52) notes (cited in Wolfinger, 1971:1078), empirical evidence cannot discriminate between the neo-elitist and pluralist models. Wolfinger admits the possible existence of hegemonic forces, and argues that neo-elitist models can only be researched from a prior normative commitment. He concludes from this that such research should not be undertaken, since normative questions are outside the social-scientific purview. Without pursuing the question further, I would argue that normative issues can be studied, if not in the ways Wolfinger seems to accept, and that it seems odd for a social scientist like Wolfinger to recognize a potentially important social force and then simply refuse to study it. As Chapter 1 proposes, we must make normative grounding a criterion of our research and see where it leads us.

15. For the sake of the example we here assume that the United States as a whole has a single culture, which of course it does not, and that laws define the culture, which of course they do not.

16. The decalages of moral development seem likely to be the traces of previous social crises. If so, cognitive development will recapitulate social development in the ordering of cognitive acquisitions.

17. They would be known to the actors in Rawls's (1971) Original Position, for example.

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