The Psychology of Social Conformity (1936/37)
By Ernest Manheim (London)
Transliteration by Reinhard Müller 
If we consider the factors which enforce conformity to law and custom, there are first negative sanctions such as disapproval of misbehaviour, penalties, revenge and disadvantages ensuring from breaches of rules. If you exceed the speed limit on a crowded speed you risk a police bill or an accident which is not in your interest. There are, further, forces operating in the economic and social organisation itself which you secure law in a positive sense. They are the factors of reciprocity which work not only in the form of retribution in cases of breach or conflict but also through the motive of selfinterest and through the mutuality of rights and obligations. If I do not lend a hand to my neighbour when he is building his house I cannot expect his assistance when I need it.
In all these cases a well conceived selfinterest lies at the bottom of adherence to law and custom. You observe the accepted rules either because it is your interest to do so and because your interest is identical with the interest of others. Or, if interests diverge the consequences of the evasion of rules make it your interest to observe them.
There is, however, besides this field of positively or negatively sanctioned rules scope for uncontrollable deviations from the valid standard in day to day practice. People observe norms to various degrees often in spite of their direct interests, although they had not to expect negative effects by acting otherwise. If you observe fair play towards a stranger whom you will never see again and if you tell the truth at your own disadvantage you expect neither reciprocation nor public disapproval in the alternative case. The very sentiment which lies at the bottom of this type of behaviour calls for a psychological and sociological explanation. What are the motives for the submission of a person to rules without selfinterest and in the absence of sanctions?
For methodological reasons I shall try to give an answer which is sufficiently formal to be applicable to every social situation, and which, on the other hand, implies the elements of a sociological differentiation according to specific facts.
Let us assume first that a norm of behaviour is never the motive of submission to it. Moral rules are nothing unless they operate through the medium of relations between man and man. The individual does not observe an unsanctioned rule for its own sake or out of pure respect for its validity unless this rule is a pattern for imitation given in the behaviour of somebody else. Voluntary adherence by sentiment to a pattern of conduct is always an identification with somebody else's behaviour. You do not expect reciprocation. If you give a penny to a street musician or if you prevent cruelty to an animal in the street or if you give a dime to street beggar, you don't do so because you expect they will do the same to you at another time, but you do so, because you identify yourself with somebody else who does the same. And if you feel moral dissatisfaction in your own conduct it is because you feel detached from persons with whom you are emotionally associated.
Now, there are many types of emotional attachments which in the long run do not affect and pattern the behaviour of the respective individual. It is only a certain type of association which as a conditioning agency survives the actual persons involved. There are certain personal associations the emotional character of which expresses itself in a persistent adherence to certain common forms of behaviour. The first question to be answered here, is how do these associations originate and what are the driving forces which create them?
There is a force which in different degrees and in different forms operates through every individual - the striving for security. One may call it a pseudo-instinct because it is present in every individual and in every society. The omnipresence of this pseudo-instinct is the other side of the fact that in every society, we have knowledge of, the amount of security, so to speak, is limited and is therefore available only under certain conditions.
By security one should understand neither purely physical nor economic safety, but simply the freedom of the individual to live up to the physical, economic, sexual, legal, moral, or in one word, to the social standard which is set by the group outside of which he does not want so or cannot live. The conditions under which that standard is attainable may be uniform in one group or they may differ from individual to individual in another group. These conditions are determined by those who guarantee security. The demand for a security is a driving force which controls human sentiments and creates emotional attachments. You are emotionally attached not only to the persons who safeguard your physical and social status but also to their mode of behaviour because it represents the rules which you regard as your own and to which your security is conditioned.
The striving for security creates, however, not only identifications with persons and their behaviour but also certain self-imposed limitations on one's own capacity to act and react. You exclude from the range of possible attitudes those which are divorced from your conditional safety. Moreover, you feel satisfaction over the very fact that you can and need behave only this way and not otherwise, you derive satisfaction from the fact that your suggestibility to other types of conduct is limited; that you are open to suggestions only from one direction and not from an other. The Polish peasant, the German officer, the French bohemian, the Bedouin or the Tshagga farmer - they all feel secure so far as they need or can successfully behave only in a certain way and not otherwise. Thus the rules and limitations of behaviour to which a definite standard of rights, prestige and consumption are attached will be an indistinguishable part of the corresponding status and security, and they will be liked for their own sake.
The sociologist will be able to describe a specific type of security in a given social context in terms of institutions, social alignments, founded expectations and chances. But as a category it stands for itself. It is an ever present factor the functional character of which varies with the different social settings. Security is what a child feels if it is close to its mother, or what an employee hopes for when he is promised a pension. The successful Trobriand gardener who has filled his storehouse, the holder of a life annuity, the prosperous entrepreneur, the well guarded child and the employee who is sure of his pension - they have, by virtue or their totally different social situations, nothing in common but the feeling of security.
Security of a given type, however, is not one compact phenomenon but a compound of different expectations. They are observable and even measurable in certain cases. In our own society a measure of economic security is provided by relative unemployment figures, by the frequency of bankruptcies, by the time interval of trade cycles, by the equally computable phenomena of social mobility and fluctuation. We have legal security as long as we can trust that the sanctioned rules which underlie our dispositions and projects will not be broken by others or suspended now or in 20 or 40 years' time. We speak of political security as long as we can have confidence that no revolution will shake and no foreign invasion will change the structure of the state which executes law and safeguards our interests. Security is in all its aspects observable also in primitive societies. You can measure the risks involved in primitive gardening, cattle herding and trading by establishing the cyclical fluctuations of the return, and you can compare the actual degree of physical, political or military risks with the traditional standards of safety as far as they are embodied in corresponding institutions which are to be maintained. In some cultures economic and legal unsafeness is reduced to a psychologically negligible magnitude while religious anxiety and expected frustrations of a ritual character form a semi-independent driving force. Whether risk is to be shouldered by the individual, a group or the community, whether a potential risk can be met or has to be put up with, or whether it originates in uncontrollable natural processes, or in trading, enterprise, conflicts or in the competitive process of social selection - all that will deeply effect the individual and the structure of society.
In a word we can speak of different spheres and cycles of security. In that sphere in which you are secure you are not open to new suggestions while you may be suggestible in other spheres. Further, there are types of long and of short range security, and they are correlated with short and long range rules of behaviour. The longer the cycles of security the deeper are ingrained those rules of acting and reacting to which your security is conditioned and the lesser is your suggestibility.
The next question arising from this: what is the psychological mechanism of fixing or eliminating or neutralising suggestions?
Every individual acquires in the course of his life a number of identifications  some of which are deeper rooted and probably never lost again. Particularly those fixations are most stable which are implanted in early childhood by those who provide the most elementary and fundamental basis of individual security, namely physical safety. Parents or relatives who protect the child from physical discomfort, who safeguard his stable biological routine and who protect the child from strange situations which he cannot cope with - they provide a number of identifications which in certain aspects will guide and determine the attitude of the individual throughout his life. It is, however, not only the family but "any primary group" and any close contact which may affect the individual in the same way.
Now, any of one's acquired identifications may, in given situations, come into conflict with others. There are not only in the Trobriands but in many other societies conflicting identifications with the mother or the father or their respective kinship. In Europe, at least, humanitarian and national loyalties may often clash within the same individual. Or, in a certain context, compassion with the poor and attraction by the successful may come into conflict. All these identifications do not clash as such, only in certain situations. If, however, these situations arise the individual is left unguided in an emotional conflict unless it has been provided with certain suggestive patterns in which these conflicting elements are reconciled and balanced according to an attractive formula. A few examples may make that clear.
In Hungary there is an old established type which predominates in the aristocracy and in the middle class. The Hungarian expression for it is "úri ember" which means something like "gentilhomme". His social rôle corresponds in a way to that of the English gentleman. Originally "úri ember" was the expression for a social type closely related to the English squire, bur through amalgamation and urbanisation it developed to a more universal character. The "úri ember" could be defined as a type of individual who as a rule has a higher education, has polite manners, dresses in a certain way, spends generously, controls his tongue or else gives or demands satisfaction, keeps his word and has access to the rank of an officer in reserve. His economic position may or may not be settled but he must not pursue certain occupations, e.g. he must not do manual work. He has certain unwritten privileges which are sanctioned by a mutual and tacit understanding operative within his group. He is entitled to a distinguished treatment in office and public life, to preference in matters of promotion, and he has a valid claim to assistance and solidarity in cases of conflict or need.
The "úri ember" offers, through his appearance, a suggestive pattern in which a number of otherwise conflicting sentiments and emotional fixations are balanced and merged into one single, attractive formula of behaviour. He displays a definite masculine pride together with respect and devotion towards women. He assists the poor but does not mix with them. He values wealth but he is not acquisitive and shows a certain equanimity towards making profit. He has strong passions but does not break the rules of decency. He is most sociable but keeps carefully his privacy. He has a national pride but at the same time he is, to a certain extent, anxious to be a cosmopolitan. In short, through his conduct and appearance he suggests a formula of equilibrium of sentiments which in any other setting may conflict. Now, there are in Hungary people enjoy the rôle, the economic safety and prestige of the "úri ember". There are others who through their conduct live up to that pattern as much as their circumstances allow but do not enjoy the corresponding social status to the full. Finally there are large groups of men who do not claim to be "úri ember". First of all the peasants who have their own stable standards, then craftsmen, manual workers and all those who do not wear collars. Yet all or most of them accept the suggestive standard of the "úri ember" as the legitimate pattern of behaviour and they observe it wherever they can.
There is from the top to the bottom of the social hierarchy a certain cohesion, a certain loyalty which in certain respects guaranties uniform behaviour. This anonymous loyalty which extends to men who do not know each other is the main positive inducement to the observance of both the written and the unwritten law. If that loyalty did not exist not even court materials could perhaps enforce those laws which in reality are observed to a sufficient degree.
I try now to circumscribe the psychological mechanism aground of this more or less general conformity.
The formula of the "úri ember" is an equilibrium of different sentiments and an attractive model of controlled behaviour. It is suggestive in many ways. First, the bearing of an "úri ember" reveals independence, safety and, to a certain degree, non-competitiveness. This type offers through his appearance a pattern of behaviour which conditions maximal success. Second, the man of that type sets the rules of conduct and does not break them. Thus, he suggests well deserved prestige and dignity and offers a moral pattern and a guide towards moral self-respect to anyone else. And third, through his bearing, habits and choice he sets the aesthetic standard and defines what is pleasant, beautiful, biologically attractive and what is not. He sets the rules for recreation and leisure, for courting, dressing and speech. - All these different ways of attraction are various aspects of the same phenomenon, or rather, different channels through which the same suggestion works. These various ways of attraction are, above all, functionally interchangeable responses to the same cultural phenomenon, to a general human need.
Somebody e.g., who is primarily attracted by the aesthetic aspect of a given model will also aim at the concomitant moral and economic standards because they all radiate the same aesthetic suggestion to him. And vice versa, another whose ambitions are roused by the independence of the "úri ember" will be attracted by his manners, hobbies and his way of dressing as well because they all convey to him the atmosphere and promise of success and security. Whether a person aims at wealth for the sake of beauty and taste, or whether he submits to the set aesthetic norms only in order to secure his claim to status and wealth, could perhaps be decided by the psychologist in each individual case. For the sociologist, however, all these various aspects form a body of overlapping impulses which work as a compact whole and permeate all spheres of the individual attitude towards others and towards himself.
The interchangeability of these various ways of suggestion expresses itself also negatively: if you deviate from your model in one way your partial nonconformity is likely to be attributed by others to all other aspects. If you e.g. do not speak the standard accent you will probably incur the suspicion of being an outsider in other regards as well. A businessman probably would not conclude an oral contract with you, fearing you might be vague with regard to commercial fairness - for, the accepted code of honour is, as a rule, acquired together with certain aesthetic, linguistic and consumptive habits.
But conformity is not only a condition or a chance but also a fulfilment in itself. He who does not conform in his conduct to his model, has not only less chance but he feels not entitled to claim a full share of the corresponding status. If you deviate from your own accepted standard you will become an outcast of your group - not only in the eyes of others but also in your self-assessment.
All that is common place and actually applied common sense with regard to our own civilisation but, what is a matter of course in one's own domestic situation one often forgets to observe in another society. If you e.g., want to give somebody else an idea of Hungarian society and describe the Hungarian political, social and economic system and forget the "úri ember" because it is such a natural thing, you will not make Hungarian society comprehensible. But facts of that kind do exist in every society and their observation must give the sociologist a clue when he is about to draw up a map of the existing loyalties which are not always to be found along institutional limes. The sociologist ought not only to observe but to describe which organisations guarantee the status of the individual, which individuals feel primarily responsible for law and order and who offer at first hand the suggestive models of behaviour, and who, measured by this criterion, are regarded as outsiders.
In our own civilisation these loyalties are not fully based on, and are not comprehensible only through the interaction of institutions. There is, of course, a set of institutions which are instrumental for the working of such non legal links between individuals as indicated above. They could not be understood without a comprehensive tableau of institutions. There are, first of all, occupational groups, political organisations and the family which maintain the dominant patterns of a society, and educational and recreational institutions which produce and mould them. But if we want to map out the alignment of a group which is integrated by a common and accepted model and acts accordingly - we are at a loss unless we extend our field of observation to another sphere which cuts across the boundaries of a number of institutionalised activities. Social groups, integrated through a valid model, act, in some regards, concerted and distincted from others, although their members do not know each other and are not linked by common interests, occupations, organisations or kinship. If, e.g., in our own civilisation we were to draw up the different alignments of connubium and commensalism, through which a mass of anonymous individuals are liked to one or several coherent groups, we would simply have to observe the range of conforming behaviour which in every aspect of an existing culture is defined or patterned by one or more common models. At this point of approach we could even go further and empirically substantiate the view that suggestive models are in fact an organising agency and an institutional factor in themselves. For they form, under circumstances, the only selective and organising momentum which links individuals who do not know each other to a consistent group. This applies primarily to civilisations like our own, in which descent and kinship on the one hand, and coherence and status on the other, are not strictly correlated with each other. But even if we discount these specifically modern aspects of suggestive models, we have not ruled out the phenomenon itself which, as an organising agency, is present wherever a social order exists and demands integration of sentiments and control of behaviour.
In some societies there is more than one pattern predominating. - If you go to Germany you will soon notice a number of social types which differ from one another in what they accept as right, pleasant, biologically attractive and worthy of imitation. The German example will perhaps illustrate the rôle of suggestive types in the maintenance of law and order.
The plurality of such models is in itself not a factor of disorder. Several coexisting types of loyalties can guarantee law and order just as well as one universally binding model. This depends on the structure of the society. The plurality of patterns will only be a factor of disorder if they clash with each other and if the individual is at liberty to choose arbitrarily between them and to change one for another. For such models are binding only if there is no escape from their range of suggestion. In Germany, however, we will or, at any rate, we would find several conflicting and overlapping patterns. The army officer, the civil servant, the Junker, the wealth Hanseat (a traditional type of a cultured and wealthy merchant of northern Germany), the formerly organised worker and as a protest against all of them the Youth Movement - they all had their own, different moral codes, their own prestige, "Weltanschauung", and their different aesthetic ideals. Each of them claimed to represent the essentially German type but each of these binding suggestions could or would, under circumstances, be neutralised or evaded. In the long run this set of conflicting models produced a type of, in certain respects, unstable individuals with variable loyalties.
Besides these conflicting and unbalanced identifications there did exist one more or less general loyalty to the state. But loyalty to the state as such is a vague psychological force and it is a practical norm open to different interpretations unless the state is governed by a definite, constant and generally accepted type of man.
It is necessary to discuss here the background of this German situation. Instead, we turn back to those facts which are more or less common to every society.
The German example may well illustrate that apart from negative sanctions the validity of law is largely based on individually fixed loyalties, and when they break down for one reason or another, the enforcement of law and social conformity rests more and more on negative sanctions, unless the old and lost loyalties are replaced by new ones.
There is, however, in every society in different degrees and at different points scope for public dissension. Legitimate and co-ordinated nonconformity in public is a stabilising force just as much as submission to social norms is. - In what way does public opinion contribute to social conformity?
First of all, public opinion is not a latent and continuous mass consciousness but the overt reaction of individuals on certain, institutionally defined occasions. Now, public opinion reacts uniformly in one aspect while it is ambiguous in other aspects.
There are certain rules which are closed to any challenge in public. In primitive society breach of religious or incest taboos or lack of solidarity will be met by unambiguous public disapproval, as will disloyalty to the monarchy or sexual misconduct in England or reluctance to give protection or breach of promise among the Bedouins.
On the other hand you are at liberty to demand sanctions or reject them in public or favour Chelsea as against Arsenal, or contrariwise. Which of these opinions will dominate publicity is to a certain degree unpredictable and it is not pre-defined by any of the English standards. Through this scope for legitimate nonconformity public opinion provides not only an outlet for acquired drives but it keeps alive certain contradicting identifications the existence of which is instrumental for the maintenance of the social order. Through public emphasis on both - competitiveness and on fair play, on solidarity and on privacy, on authority and on self-reliance a plurality of occasionally conflicting drives is legalised and endorsed.
Legitimate public nonconformity has, however, another function: it provides a continuous selection of those types and of those loyalties which are to predominate. It redefines from time to time those suggestive models which are to be valid in new and concrete situations. It re-establishes the balance between those different identifications of which the dominant patterns are made up. In one word: public opinion as such does not create new sentiments or new fixations but works only through selection of individuals who offer the right pattern for imitation.
In resuming we return to our starting point. Moral and legal rules do not exist and do not work in abstracto but only in so far as they are embodied in personal relations and identifications acquired largely in early childhood. Some of these identifications may in the particular case conflict with each other unless they are balanced and integrated by an attractive, complex formula of behaviour, by a model which calls for imitation. The inducement to conform to these models is provided by the fact that in every society the amount of security is limited and its distribution conditioned to some stereotyped forms of behaviour.
The range and stability of these patterns depend in general on the emotional balance and security which is acquired together with or promised by them. Emotional security is a successful and not frustrated limitation of one's own suggestibility. Security is, in other words, the freedom to live up to one's own standards. In early childhood where the range of security is the shortest and suggestibility at its maximum the emotional balance depends on permanent protection and physical safety. The dominant factors which guarantee or limit the available security in adulthood, differ from group to group or even from individual to individual. They may be economic factors in one case or legal or religious ones in other instances. - But the corresponding standards of behaviour cover not only that dominant field but all aspects of conduct. Suggestive models are the forces which guarantee a certain predictability of human behaviour which is conditional to any order and collaboration. Some of these patterns are life long and common to every member of the same society. Some are suggestive only within a particular group, some are to be redefined from time to time.
Public opinion is not a special source of conformity but only the field where coexisting sentiments are reintegrated to a set of binding loyalties. Public opinion itself, however, creates neither identifications nor is it a continuous reflection of the individual mind but it consists of a set of institutional occasions to focus out of the great variety those individuals who provide the valid patterns which call for imitation.
Public opinion, as it expresses itself in festivities, meetings or through elections, press and literature is, in primitive societies as well as in our own, based on and formed by the interplay of sanctioned law, economic organisation, executive power and the individual response, just as any other social or political institution. In one word: social conformity is not the product but the precondition of publicity and of public opinion.
Typescript written in London. The original is held by the Archiv für die Geschichte der Soziologie in Österreich, Graz, Nachlass Ernest Manheim, Signatur 31/5. First published in: Ernö - Ernst - Ernest Manheim. Soziologe, Anthropologe, Komponist. Zum 100. Geburtstag. Katalog zur Ausstellung anläßlich des 100. Geburtstags an der Universitätsbibliothek Graz vom 3. März bis 14. April 2000. Herausgegeben von Reinhard Müller. Graz: Universitätsbibliothek Graz , pp. 46-51. Annot. R. M.
While using the word in its non specific, viz. non psycho-analytical sense, I leave open the question as to the vital origine and determinants of identifications for any interpretation, in-cluding the psycho-analytical conception.