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A Note on Riesman's The Lonely Crowd

Author(s): Rudolf Heberle

Source: American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 62, No. 1 (Jul., 1956), pp. 34-36
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
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Riesman's theory, relating three types of "directedness" to phases in the growth of population, is criti-
cized, and it is suggested that "other-directedness" be linked to migratory mobility rather than to "incipient
population decline."
David Riesman's three categories of
"directedness" are nearly identical with
Max Weber's types of orientation of social
action: traditional, value rational (Ries-
man's "inner-directed"), and purposive
rational (zweckrationacl).
Riesman's first category is precisely what
Max Weber means by traditional orienta-
tion. The "inner-directed" person follows
his moral gyroscope in the pursuit of goals
which he perceives as valuable because his
inner voice tells him they are. The "other-
directed person" chooses a given way of
acting because he is anxious to receive the
approval of others-this is, at least, one
kind of purposive-rational conduct. Ries-
man emphasizes that his concepts are con-
structs, types; that a person can be more or
less inner- or other-directed (he is little con-
cerned with tradition, for reasons to be dis-
cussed later), and that people cannot be
pigeonholed in these categories. In other
words, his concepts are meant as ideal
types-and so are Max Weber's.
Around these concepts, Riesman builds a
theory of history. In this respect, he differs
from Weber. The latter was certainly con-
cerned about the increasing rationalization
of society and culture; he was sharply
aware of the disenchantment (Entzauberung)
of the world; but he did not risk the attempt,
inevitably futile, of constructing periods of
history on the basis of psychological cate-
Riesman's theorem soon gets him into
trouble, from which he tries to escape by
conceding that even in our age of other-
directedness there is still room for inner-
directed people; that, in fact, the other-
directed personalities are still the exception,
occurring most frequently in the metropoli-
tan upper-middle classes, while rural and
provincial city people are still, as a rule,
tradition- or inner-directed. The weakest
part of Riesman's theory is his effort to
link his three types of directedness with
the three major phases of population move-
ment. In fairness, we must admit that Ries-
man introduces his theorem with modesty
and caution: "Let me point out . . . that I
am not concerned here with making the de-
tailed analysis that would be necessary
before one could prove that a link exists
between population phase and character
He intends to use the "curve of popula-
tion" (sic) theory "as a kind of shorthand"
for such words as "industrialism," "folk
society," "monopoly capitalism," "urbani-
zation," "rationalization," and so on.2 Since
every one of these terms in his shorthand
denotes a different problem-complex, Ries-
man might have achieved more convincing
results by discarding them.
Despite the reservations, he believes in
the existence of a "link" between popula-
tion phases and his character types which
"detailed analysis" would expose.
Riesman does not specify whether the
"link" is of a causal nature, a functional
relationship, or whether it is merely co-
incidence in time; however, his phrasing
suggests an indirect causal relationship; "the
society of transitional population growth,
develops in its typical members a social
The Lonely Crowd (Anchor Books edition),
p. 23.
2 Ibid.
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character whose conformity is insured by
their tendency to acquire early in life an
internalized set of goals. . . the society of
incipient population decline develops in its
typical members a social character whose
conformity is insured by their tendency to
be sensitized to the expectations and prefer-
ences of others. . . . " How this comes about,
we are not told; presumably the explanation
is reserved for "the detailed analysis."
A causal connection, or any kind of
"link," would presuppose some degree of
co-ordination in time of the two phenomena.
Riesman lets the phase of "transitional
population growth" in the West begin in
the seventeenth century. It would have been
more correct to put it a hundred years
later; in any case, the age of "inner-directed-
ness" which we usually designate as the
age of individualism was well under way
since the fifteenth century, as manifested in
the Renaissance and in the Reformation.
Riesman's phase of "incipient population
decline" began about 1878-if not earlier, as
in France. In other words, it began when the
"inner-directed" characters in the urban
upper and middle classes had their heyday.
They were the very first to resort to effective
and more or less methodical contraception.
Obviously somehow Riesman's periodiza-
tions do not fit the facts.
To pursue the argument further would go
beyond the scope of this note. Riesman
could, however, have linked his other-
directed type to the demographic phe-
nomenon of migratory mobility. He could
have shown how migration may affect the
structure of a society as well as the system
of values and norms, i.e., the codes of con-
duct.4 This we shall presently explain. But
first we must consider a hypothesis which
reverses Riesman's postulates, i.e., the
possibility that changes in values and atti-
tudes may influence the pattern of popula-
tion growth.
The rapid population increase in the
West can be regarded, in part, as made
possible by the increasing emancipation
of Western man from traditionalistic codes
of conduct and from the social bonds
of Gemeinschaft. It is also fairly obvious
that the new attitudes of rationalism and
individualism which characterize Riesman's
"inner-directed" type facilitated the adop-
tion of contraceptive practices and thus
initiated the phase of incipient population
Less evident is the relation between
Riesman's "other-directedness" and the
population movement. Frankly, I cannot
see how this character type could be either
the product or a causal factor of the phase
of incipient population decline, except that
the urge to live up to the standard of living
of one's social stratum may be an important
motive in resorting to birth control. But,
on the other hand, I can see very clearly a
causal connection between "other-directed-
ness" and migratory mobility and vertical
social mobility. We may consider first the
latter. The fear to be "conspicuous" (Ries-
man, p. 105), to appear "unconventional"
or "old-fashioned," the strong urge to
conform to certain standards of overt be-
havior, the dependence or approval by
one's peer group-these are very striking
characteristics of American middle-class
people. It is also most likely that this
"other-directedness" has become more pre-
dominant in recent decades, because the
proportion of people who are dependent
upon employment by others (the "white-
collar" workers) has increased in the
middle classes. This, of course, is true also
of Europe where "other-directedness" is
not so striking.
The difference between Europe and the
United States is probably that a much
larger proportion of white-collar workers
in the United States has risen socially
from the classes of manual workers, in-
cluding farmers, and are newcomers to
urban middle-class society. Feeling inse-
cure, like most newcomers, they are anxious
3 Ibid.
R. Heberle, Uber die Mobilitdt der Bevilkerung
in den Vereinigten Staaten (Jena: G. Fischer Verlag,
R. Heberle, "Social Factors of Birth Control,"
American Sociological Review, IX (1941), 794-805.
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to conform and in the desire to rise further,
or to see their children rise, they increase
their efforts.
Migration and migratory mobility are
other factors. They probably have much
greater weight in the United States than in
Europe. There can be no doubt about the
extremely high migratory mobility among
middle-class people in the United States.
Even the sample reports of the United
States Bureau of the Census, which by no
means cover all migratory movements,
show an astounding frequency of moving
between one community and another.
The relation between migratory mobility
and conformity due to other-directedness
can be arrived at by theoretical reasoning.
Let us compare a society in which people
tend to stay for generations in the same
community or region with one in which
they move frequently in their own lifetime
and their migrations cover large distances.
In the latter society, a large proportion
in each community will be
"strangers" (Simmel) to each other. One
does not know from what kind of family
one's neighbors or one's colleagues come,
or to what social class their parents be-
longed, or what they themselves have done
in the past. They cannot be placed in a
familiar social category except by observing
and evaluating their manifest conduct or
overt behavior. No wonder, then, that
under these conditions everybody desires
to appear at his best and to win the ap-
proval of others by conforming to the ob-
servable standards.
In a society with low migratory mobility,
people are known to one another for longer
periods of time and not only as individuals
but also as members of kinship groups and
of social sets with local prestige and estab-
lished reputations. Their idiosyncrasies
and eccentricities are known and often
taken for granted. The pressure to conform
is not as strong as in a society of high migra-
tory mobility. This applies especially to
members of the prominent families who
can afford to engage in a certain measure
of non-conformist conduct without damage
to their prestige. In the United States we
find approximations of this society in New
England and in the Deep South, and it is
here, according to literary sources and my
own observation, that pressure for con-
formity in the upper middle classes is not by
far as strong as, for example, in the Middle
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