I Modern societies
Modernization originally referred to the contrast and transition
between a 'traditional' agrarian society and the kind of 'modern'
society that is based on trade and industry. For example tradi-
tional and modern would describe the difference between medi-
eval England and late-Victorian Britain.
A traditional society is 'vertically' organized by hierarchical
division by class or caste - a specialization of prestige. But a
modern society is 'horizontally' organized by function, such that
the major functions are performed by modular social systems.
These major social systems include the political system, the pub-
lic administration (civil service), the armed forces, the legal sys-
tem, the economy, religion, education, the health service and the
mass media. So, while a traditional society is like a pyramid of
top-down authority, a modern society is more like a mosaic held
together by the cement of mutual inter-dependence.
A further contrast is that traditional societies consist of a sin-
gle, unified system with a single centre of power; while a mod-
ern society is composed of a plurality of autonomous systems
which interact with each other, influence each other, but do not
absorb each other. Modern societies are fundamentally hetero-
geneous with multiple centres of power; and this is no accident
but intrinsic to their nature. Indeed, the continued process of
modernization tends to break down any remaining vestiges of
hierarchy and centralized domination of social functions.
Modern and traditional societies differ according to their
complexity of organization and their rate of growth in complex-
ity. Modern societies are much more complex than traditional
societies and are growing ever-more complex. Traditional soci-
eties are simpler and have a static structure (or one that increases
its complexity so slowly or erratically that they perceive them-
selves as static). Complexity is favoured by selection processes,
which are more powerful in modernizing societies, because spe-
cialization of function enables greater efficiency (for instance
when division of labour, or increased trade and communica-
tions enables greater efficiency). Increasing efficiency then frees
resources and drives further growth.1
Modern societies are based upon growth and the expectation
of growth. Indeed the cohesion of modernizing societies
requires more or less continuous growth. This is why it is impos-
sible to stop modernization at a particular favoured point - if
growth stops then the nature of society reverts towards a tradi-
tional form. Growth in modern societies includes economic
growth (increasing output and productivity), but also entails
'cognitive growth' - which means an increase in knowledge
and capability across a wide range of activities such as science,
technology and political administration.
Traditional societies exhibit division of labour and cognitive
specialization, but their complexity is...