social character; character of society

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Each society is structuralized and operates in certain ways which are necessitated by a number of objective conditions; such conditions are the methods of production and distribution which in turn depend on raw material, industrial techniques, climate, etc., furthermore political and geographical factors and cultural traditions and influences to which society is exposed. There is no „society“ in general but only specific social structures which operate in different and ascertainable ways.

Although these social structures do change in the course of historical development, they are relatively fixed at any given historical period and society can exist only by operating within the framework of its particular structure. The members of the society and/or the various classes or status groups within it have to behave in such a way as to be able to function in the sense required by society.

It is the function of the social character to shape the energies of the members of society in such a way that their behavior is not left to conscious decisions whether or not to follow the social pattern but that people want to act as they have to act and at the same time find gratification in acting according to the requirements of the culture. In other words, the social character has the function of molding human energy for the purpose of the functioning of a given society. ― (1949c: Psychoanalytic Characterology and Its Application to the Understanding of Culture, in: S.S. Sargent and M.W. Smith (Eds.): Culture and Personality, New York (Viking Press) 1949, pp. 5f.)


The social character results from the dynamic adaptation of human nature to the structure of society Changing social conditions result in changes of the social character, that is, in new needs and anxieties. These new needs give rise to new ideas and, as it were, make men susceptible to them; these new ideas in their turn tend to stabilize and intensify the new social character and to determine man’s actions. In other words, social conditions influence ideological phenomena through the medium of character; character, on the other hand, is not the result of passive adaptation to social conditions but of a dynamic adaptation on the basis of elements that either are biologically inherent in human nature or have become inherent as the result of historic evolution. ― (1941a: Escape from Freedom, New York (Farrar and Rinehart) 1941, pp. 298f.)


I call the blending of the individual psychical sphere and the socioeconomic structure social character. The socioeconomic structure of a society molds the social character of its members so that they wish to do what they have to do. Simultaneously, the social character influences the socioeconomic structure of society, acting either as cement to give further stability to the social structure or, under special circumstances, as dynamite that tends to break up the social structure. ― (1976a: To Have Or to Be?, New York (Harper and Row) 1976, pp. 133f.)