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In sociology, the social organism is an ideological concept in which a society or social structure is viewed as a "living organism". From this perspective, typically, the relation of social features, e.g. law, family, crime, etc., are examined as they interact with other features of society to meet social needs. All elements of a society or social organism have a function that maintains the stability and cohesiveness of the organism.
The model or concept of society as an organism is traced by Maclay from Aristotle via a number of thinkers including Comte. It was then developed in the late 19th century by Émile Durkheim, a French sociologist. According to Durkheim, the more specialized the function of an organism or society the greater its development, and vice versa. Generally, culture, politics, and economics are the three core activities of society. Social health depends on the harmonious interworking of these three activities. This concept was further developed by Rudolf Steiner in his lectures, essays and books on "The Threefold Social Order" from 1904 for the next two decades. Hence, the "health" of the social organism can be thought of as a function of the interaction of culture, politics and rights, and economics, which in theory can be studied, modeled, and analyzed. The conception of an "organismic society" was elaborated further by Herbert Spencer in his essay on "The Social Organism".
Steiner's Fundamental Social Law" of economic systems emerged during his work on social order: "Most of all, however, our times are suffering from the lack of any basic social understanding of how work can be incorporated into the social organism correctly, so that everything we do is truly performed for the sake of our fellow human beings. We can acquire this understanding only by learning to really insert our "I" into the human community. New social forms will not be provided by nature but can emerge only from the human "I" through real, person-to-person understanding—that is, when the needs of others become a matter of direct experience for us."
In the 2002 book, Darwin's Cathedral, David Sloan Wilson applies his multilevel selection theory to social groups and proposes to think of society as an organism. Human groups therefore function as single units rather than mere collections of individuals. He claims that organisms "survive and reproduce in their environments" and that: "Human groups in general, and religious groups in particular, qualify as organismic in this sense".
- MacLay, George R. (1990). The Social Organism: A Short History of the Idea That a Human Society May Be Regarded As a Gigantic Living Creature. North River Press. ISBN 0-88427-078-5.
- Rudolf Steiner, June 9, 1922 (GA/Collected Works 83, 245: English edition: The Tension between the East and West, Anthroposophic Press, 1983
- From the introduction.
- MacLay, George R. (1990). The Social Organism: A Short History of the Idea That a Human Society May Be Regarded As a Gigantic Living Creature. North River Press. ISBN 978-0-88427-078-2.
- Rawie, Henry (1990). The Social Organism and its Natural Laws. Williams & Wilkins Co. ASIN B000879AT2.
- Steiner, Rudolf (1985). The Renewal of the Social Organism. Steiner Books. ISBN 978-0-88010-125-7.