No theory forbids me to say "Ah!" or "Ugh!", but it forbids me the bogus theorization of my "Ah!" and "Ugh!" - the value judgments. - Theodor Julius Geiger (1960)

The Self-Preservation of the Group

Groups, much like individuals, engage in ongoing efforts to ensure their survival through physiological, psychological, and social means. Just as individuals strive to maintain their health, groups undertake actions to secure their continuity. Despite changes in membership, groups maintain their identity through the stability provided by their locality or physical territory, which serves as a constant amidst change.
Social ties, such as family ties, ensure that new members gradually replace old ones, preserving the group's identity through continuous, gradual change. Groups also achieve continuity through spiritual or ideological means. This continuity, unlike the transient nature of individual lives, grants groups a significance that surpasses any single member. While individuals must start anew, the group accumulates achievements and experiences.

Groups often prioritize their collective identity over individual members, who are valued primarily for their contribution to the group’s sustainability. This can diminish individual importance. Conversely, groups closely tied to a single leader face risks when that leader dies or is removed. To counteract this, practices like hereditary succession or the principle that ‘the king does not die’ have emerged, solidifying group identity and continuity, as demonstrated by the stability of landholding in English hereditary monarchy.

Symbols further embody the enduring nature of group identity. These symbols reinforce group stability and unity, transcending individual leadership. Their loss can undermine group unity and solidarity. However, strong internal solidarity can turn such losses into a unifying force.

Honor functions as a sociological tool intertwining social and individual interests. Though perceived as deeply personal, honor fundamentally serves the group's preservation by embedding social requirements within the individual's personal realm. This transformation ensures individuals protect their honor as a personal duty, maintaining group cohesion.

Social structures, such as political communities, preserve their unity through specialized organs or representatives, like the civil service. These organs emerge from the division of labor, becoming specialized and independent structures that maintain group interests. For instance, economic exchanges facilitated by the business class or the efficient decision-making by smaller, dedicated apparatuses exemplify this. Such structures enhance group flexibility and cohesion, enabling more effective and consistent actions.

Group decision-making often faces internal opposition, hindering unity and effective actions. Delegating tasks to specialized committees or individuals with expertise can reduce friction and ensure consistent actions, as objective knowledge often leads to unity. But deep-rooted factional divisions and subjective opinions can still influence decisions. To mitigate disruptions, prominent issues are often transferred to specialized apparatus or committees, separating objective purposes from personal interests, leading to more unified and purposeful actions. While specialized apparatus can improve efficiency and unity, they may lack personal warmth and dedication, limiting broader individual engagement. Collective actions tend to gravitate towards the lowest common denominator, as superior individuals cannot always bridge the gap with those of lower standing.

Effective governance requires strong organizational structures to counterbalance individual powers. Overly autonomous apparatuses, such as rigid bureaucracies or abstract legal systems, can conflict with broader group needs. Their independence should be limited and connected to the group’s collective life, ensuring they serve the group rather than becoming self-serving entities. This balance is crucial for maintaining order and accountability.
Frequent leadership changes can foster adaptability and fresh perspectives, preventing the formation of closed, autonomous bureaucracies. Group administration may require forming central bodies to manage complex or large groups.

Self-preservation can occur through stability or flexibility. Stability is favored in groups with disparate elements or sharp internal differences, while flexibility is essential for groups facing external threats. Adaptability, through apparent changes in form or material basis, helps sustain social entities.
For instance, aristocracies tend to be conservative, preserving existing privileges and avoiding disruptive movements. Reform attempts often lead to unintended consequences, either revolution or radical reaction. Democracies, favoring youth and flexibility, accommodate new social forces and ideals, preserving their unity through adaptability.

Division of labor fosters interdependence but can also create challenges like fragmentation.
Variability and conflict within groups can serve as stimuli for change and contribute to group cohesion. Opposition, whether external or internal, strengthens unity by highlighting shared interests and fostering solidarity.

Social unity is a stabilizing force amidst changing dynamics. It gains strength from the variety of human experiences, which enhance its permanence. Just as truth persists against numerous errors, social unity maintains its strength despite constant changes, ensuring continued relevance and effectiveness in preserving group cohesion.

Simmel, G. (1908), Die Selbsterhaltung der Gruppe, in: Soziologie, p. 494-613, Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot.