How was Herbert Spencer's view that society was a "social organism" manifested by political and economic principles of the nineteenth century?

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In the nineteenth century, society became much more strictly organized because of the pressures of the industrial revolution. These pressures moved many people into cities in order to have them work long, regimented hours in factories. It also resulted in the development of things like an agreed-upon world timekeeping system...

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In the nineteenth century, society became much more strictly organized because of the pressures of the industrial revolution. These pressures moved many people into cities in order to have them work long, regimented hours in factories. It also resulted in the development of things like an agreed-upon world timekeeping system to coordinate transportation, and expansion of the ways that the state policed people who were seen as non-productive.

These changes can all be seen as manifestations of Herbert Spencer's idea of society as an organism. Spencer specifically saw the shift into an industrialized society to be a kind of evolution of social form. To Spencer, this confinement of individual lives into distinct roles benefits the whole organism and is therefore justifiable.

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Herbert Spencer's perspective on society as a "social organism" is related heavily to the industrial revolution and how factories worked in that time period. Industrialization was a huge move away from skilled labor and utilized larger numbers of unskilled workers who functioned as cogs in a metaphorical machine. Since unskilled workers did not make as much money as skilled laborers, more profit was left for the owners of the factories. Spencer, by saying that system was like a social organism, was calling for unregulated capitalism. He believed that those who created and owned the factories were like the head of a body while the workers were each like a singular blood cell (not something he actually said, just an example). The factory owners therefore deserved all the wealth they accrued, because they were more important to the social organism running smoothly than the individual workers.

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In common with many nineteenth-century thinkers, Spencer regards the metaphor of an organism as an appropriate one for the study of society. On this reading, society is a delicate, complex structure that evolves slowly and gradually over time. Spencer argues that social and economic policies must allow the social organism to develop naturally according to its own inner dynamic.

In practice, this means that government has no right to interfere in what Spencer regards as the natural workings of the free market economy. Market forces are the very lifeblood of the social organism, and if the organism is to survive, these forces must be allowed to develop without hindrance. Inevitably, there will be widespread poverty and suffering in society, but for Spencer, this is only natural. Adopting and, to some extent, distorting Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, Spencer sees it as perfectly natural that there are winners and losers in society; the strongest will survive, while the weak will go to the wall.

Governments may be tempted to ameliorate the condition of society's weakest and poorest members, but for Spencer this temptation should be avoided at all costs. Such intervention will upset the delicate balance of society by turning it into more of a machine than an organism. If society becomes a machine, that makes it easier for it to be controlled and manipulated by government, jeopardizing the individual liberty that Spencer, as a classical liberal, so deeply prized and venerated.

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Spencer's view was manifested mainly in the fact that the political and economic principles of the time tended very much towards laissez-faire capitalism.

Spencer viewed society as a social organism that could improve itself or could decline in health.  He believed in the ideas that came to be called Social Darwinism and which held that society would improve if the various parts of society became more "fit."  Laissez-faire capitalism embodied this idea.  It allows for relatively unbridled competition in society.  This competition improves society by discovering which people or groups are "fit" and can improve society and which are "unfit" and will hurt society.  By finding this out and giving more power and influence to the fit, laissez-faire capitalism is aligned with ideas such as those of Spencer.

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