Spencer’s Social Progress

Author: Herbert Spencer, English philosopher

Context: 1857, prior to Darwin’s “The Origin of Species”, on the tail-end of the first Industrial Revolution

Language: inquisitive and scholarly; here he asked what social progress really meant and whether it should be redefined

Audience: the intelligent but uninformed, more specifically those interested in philosophy and anthropology

Intent: to direct scholars’ attention to another way of thinking about society and social progress; until this time most were under the impression that social progress meant that societies were improving the standard of living. Spencer argued instead that social progress meant that people were living on more equal terms rather than on better terms in general.

Message: The point that Spencer tried to make in this essay was that people needed to rethink what they knew about social progress. Until this time people thought that social progress was the improvement of the quality of life through the advancement of technology. Instead, social progress meant that different factions of society were becoming more equal rather than just finding their lives easier. He analogized social progress to that of organic progress; that all organisms grow in the same way, from homogeneous to heterogeneous. He said that all forms of progress take this course, including social progress. He said that social progress had been doing so due to the division of labor, specialization, and the intervention of government. Society had been dividing itself based on what individuals within a community practiced, and how the need for trade arose as a result of this specialization, which in turn leads to an even greater level of subdivision, that of playing a single part in the creation of a final product.

The Domostroi, Chapters 35-49

The Domostroi clearly sets out each person’s role in a household. It is very clear on how one should carry themselves and how to act in various situations. In chapter 35, the focus is on how servants should conduct themselves while running errands. They are supposed to be very conservative and follow every instruction given. They are told not to gossip at any point, and to give the utmost respect to whoever they are sent to. This includes not coughing, sneezing, or taking any interest in a household’s possessions.  For women, The Domostroi also lays out a very conservative lifestyle. They are not supposed to eat or drink at any point without their husband’s knowledge, have strangers in their household without the husband knowing, and cannot drink any type of alcohol other than light beer or kvass. This of course also means that no woman should ever drink alcohol to the point of drunkenness. The man’s role is primarily focused on maintaining the order of things and enforcing the rules set forth. It states that if a man does not structure his household in the way shown, “he will be destroyed now and forever. His house will also be destroyed.”

The Domostroi’s rules all follow the same religious trend. Everything that is said carries the force of God which could mean that it was either followed very closely or possibly very leniently. Some of the roles stated seem to be close to impossible to follow such as not being allowed to do normal bodily functions like coughing or sneezing in front of a master. Like many of the codes written before its content is very religiously skewed. If Christianity was widely accepted at the time then these texts may have been very valid. However, without a strong central authority that would strictly enforce these rules, I find it hard to believe that most people could follow such a strict and contextual code.

Chapters 37 and 38 discuss the proper ways in which to care for clothing and organize the house. Clothing should be kept neatly stored, and free from all stains. The author of The Domostroi takes careful consideration when outlining appropriate dress for a variety of occasions: work should be performed in old clothes, and the very best clothes should be worn to church and when going out in public. Chapter 38, entitled How to Keep {Dishes in Good Order and} Arrange the Domestic Utensils. {How to Keep Rooms} Neat and Clean. {How the Housewife should Punish Her Servants, How her Husband Should Supervise Her, Punish Her, and Save Her with Fear} outlines the proper ways to maintain the kitchen, prepare and save food and clean the house. The author places an emphasis on organization and clean hygiene practices (especially when handling/storing food), and says that entering an organized area “is like entering Paradise” (143).

Chapter 38 also touches upon the issue of enforcing organization and the maintenance of ‘Paradise.’ Wives should be punished with a beating, but should also be forgiven for their transgressions. Children and servants should be punished in a similar fashion, and no one should ever be struck out of anger or hatred. Chapter 39 says that a failure to correctly teach and enforce the mistress, servants and children would result in judgement from God. Alternatively, a master who could teach the other members of the household and maintains an organized house received mercy from God.

The Domostroi puts a strong emphasis on the importance of being clean and keeping an organized house. The author’s decision to use God’s judgement as punishment highlights the religiosity of the time period. Such punishment would have had no bearing on a society which wasn’t devout. The attention to cleanliness is also an indicator that people were not dirty and unhygienic, but rather that dressing nicely and keeping a clean, organized house was a matter of pride. The hierarchal nature of society can be seen especially well in the doling out of punishments: the master is responsible for teaching and discipling his wife, children and servants.

Chapters 40, 48, and 49 mainly talk about the role of the steward in the household. The steward runs the kitchens and all that encompasses, from planning meals to making sure thing are clean in the morning.. They are entrusted by the master with this task, so that the master can attend to other things. Part of the job is to check to make sure the house has enough foodstuffs and arrange for more to be bought if it is running low. There is advice included as to who should be trusted to buy from and how to attempt to even make some money with excess supplies. They should also walk through the kitchen every morning to make sure that everything is in it’s place and in good repair. After the husband and wife talk about the meals they want it is the stewards job to make sure they get what they want. He has buy and give  to the cooks and bakers the proper ingredients, then make sure the food is prepared properly. Afterwards he is in charge of dealing with leftovers and making sure everything is cleaned.

The position of steward is not too dissimilar to a position you might see in modern times in a large household. Now and assumably then it was the type of thing that a fairly rich family would have. To have your own bakers, cooks, and other serving people that you need someone to watch over them it would be a lot of people. The rules and instructions are quite strict for how they should act which makes sense due to the amount of money they would handle and opportunities for them to steal. It is interesting that a man must consult his wife before determining what the meals for the day will be but it makes sense. Food is stereotypically the women’s job and it keeps her from being unhappy with what she is eating. Overall these rules are very similar to the description of a modern job which is interesting for text over 500  years old.

The Domostroi, or “Household Order” in English arguably aligns itself very similarly to many seemingly basic ‘codes of conduct’ – especially when referring to property. For instance, people of fifteenth century Russia valued guarantees the same way present-day society does. With regards to servants and their handling of artifact property, the Domostroi places a target on said servant’s back, making sure the servant – if delivering goods – holds himself accountable every step of the way. The Domostroi also lays out codes for how people should conduct themselves as guests in others’ homes, codes that arguably everybody – regardless of a person’s culture – should follow. Some of these codes include not wandering about aimlessly and picking up objects without permission.

On a similar note, the Domostroi states that guests should always bring gifts to their respective hosts. Hosts are also required to make sure their stock (food, drink, utilities, etc.) is always full (The Domostroi explicitly states, a “sensible household should contain everything that will be used in the house during that year”)(152). One element of conduct in the Domostroi that is a debatable form of conduct (religion aside) is how women should behave. Chapters 35-49 of the Domostroi state that women shouldn’t drink – ever. It also places (arguably) too much responsibility on the husband with regards to what women can and cannot eat. The Domostroi states that wife’s must ask their husbands about what they can and cannot eat. The code also advocates for self-sufficiency, by teaching it’s readers how to cook, farm, and preserve stock for year-long consumption.


Domostroi (Chapters 1-18)

The Domostroi represents the many facets of life for the “fortunate few” in Muscovy’s social hierarchy.  Those living under this social system were subjected to strict and detailed standards of behavior and expectations.  We have determined that at the crux of this system was a “culture of fear” that was responsible for ensuring proper social conduct.  This means that this group of people followed the Domostroi‘s guidelines not because it was necessarily beneficial but because they were motivated by fear of consequences.  These consequences were social, political, and most strikingly, religious.  There is a heavy emphasis on how one should appear to God and to his peers, as he represented his family’s name and place within the religious and social hierarchy.  It seems then, that the household was not restricted to its physical space, but extended into the city, society, and religion of Moscow.

There were many expectations for Christians at this time. Specifically, the head of the household was expected to “Do God’s will faithfully and keep His commandments” (65).  If one did not, he would “…answer for [himself] on Judgement Day” (65). In turn, he was expected to teach these values not only to his wife and children, but also to his servants. However, these values were not to be taught through abuse or violence, but rather through love and by example. Throughout the document there was an emphasis on maintaining the social hierarchy already imbedded within the culture, especially with the emphasis on the importance of both priests and the Tsar. The Domostroi notes to “Always approach bishops eagerly and offer them the honor that is due… Fall at their feet and obey them in everything, as God commanded” (69). Regarding the Tsar, one was expected to “Fear the Tsar and serve him faithfully… Do not say anything false to him, but tell the truth, deferentially, as though you [speak] to God Himself” (71). Throughout the document, explicitly stated within each section were the expectations for Christian individuals and then subsequently the rewards and punishments for adhering to or disobeying these mandates. In addition, another way this order was maintained was through the emphasis on helping others less fortunate than oneself. By encouraging people to donate what they could to the poor, there was no emphasis on rising socially, but rather on staying where you were, and helping those poorer than you. By applying this mentality to the social hierarchy, this document allowed the nobility to maintain order. The culture of fear emphasized not only applied to God and His wrath, but also to the clergy and Tsar.

Another part of the Domostroi lays the rules of savoir vivre attached to hosting events. This section possessed two main parts. The first described the manner in which a priest should be received on holy days. The host was the master of his home and in charge of preparing, inviting, and offering food, while the guests had to show humility and respect. The priests invited were supposed to perform the ritual appropriate for the occasion. The priest had to pray for the Tsar and the Tsaritsa, the members of the clergy and finally “all that is profitable to the man of the house, his wife, children, and servants” hinting the role genders played in the society. It is also interesting to point out that the host had to invite as many priests as possible; it might suggest that such actions were also used to show one’s wealth as well as nobility. The second section regarded the behavior to possess should one invite guests. It demonstrated that not only the host was in charge of the preparation, and conducting the gathering, but that it was also his role to respect God through the evening’s interactions. It was the host’s responsibility that guest behaved appropriately, eat and drink enough to honor God, but not too much. This chapter also used fear as the method of choice to convince its reader. Shall you guest misbehave or utter blasphemy and food will turn into dung in their mouths, angels will report your actions to the Devil as opposed to God and “such deeds will stand on Judgment Day.”

Similarly latter passages of The Domostroi bring that culture of fear to the daily religious lives of the people. Men were told that they should attend church services daily. And women should go as they are able and have their husbands permission. Church goers were instructed to stand like pillars while praying “with fear and trembling, with sighs and tears, {turning the eyes of your body towards the abyss}”(13). Fortunately there were ways to make amends, unceasing prays for long periods of time was said to allow the holy spirit to enter your body. A good priest was also considered an acceptable remedy. A priest was to be held in fear when you come to him in love to confess your sins. This fear was doubtlessly preached throughout Russia and was a significant part of every true christian’s life. The father was taught by the church and he taught his family what they said. That adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, drunkards, swindlers and slanderers will not possess the kingdom of God.

The discussion of daily life and family relationships shows the importance of children in families and society.  Parents were expected to care for and protect their children or be ridiculed by their neighbors.  These relationships were also highly gendered, as mothers were responsible for their daughter’s instruction in female crafts and fathers were responsible for teaching their son a specific trade.  Education was considered important because it made the daughter or son more marriageable, thus enabling families to improve their social position through their children.  The same concept applies for the establishment of a dowry, which was considered a father’s responsibility.  The culture of fear began early in children’s education, even before the children started learning themselves.  Parents that failed to instruct their children away from sin would pay the price on Judgment Day and be publicly shamed, possibly having their house dishonored and paying a fine to the government.  As part of their education, children were taught to fear God, but they were also taught to fear their parents.  The Domostroi references biblical passages that advised fathers beating their sons so that they might behave properly, and there is little mention of affection between parents and children (96).  Even the discussion of caring for parents in old age is framed in terms of cleansing sins instead of familial love.  It is clear from these chapters that the level of respect between family members was a means of establishing social position and proving one’s religiosity and merit to the community.

Law and economy in Post-Kievan Rus

The Mongol invasion and occupation of Rus changed the economic structure of the country. People in the countryside needed the protection of nobles. This was essentially the roots of the serf system. The law system had also considerably evolved from past systems. The laws were written out and included provisions such as swearing on a cross, an equivalent to among other things our modern day swearing on the bible, and that all where equal in the eyes of the law. Most of the cases that we have records of have to do with property disputes. Fires where not uncommon so records where often destroyed. The system for evidence was also interesting. It appears as though those who were illiterate placed extremely high value on written documents while those who could read including judges placed a higher value on human evidence, even when the memories where 60 years old. It appears that dueling could be used to challenge evidence as well as a manner of determining the case.

I found the equality written into the law to be very interesting. It was declared in the first point of the first set of laws, However it only refers to men. Also the fact that it was written does not necessarily mean it was followed. In our own history we had a time that our constitution said all where equal, yet all people where not treated equally. I wonder if it was the same here? This of course does not even address the fact that the rights of women and children are not addressed there.

Fashioning a Fashionable Soul

Hellbeck’s interpretation of Podlubni’s diaries depict a man trying to conform to the morals of his state. He goes through many organizations and practices so as to become the ideal Soviet citizen. Each attempt is recorded in Podlubni’s diary. But, at a point in the piece, Hellbeck argues that this private journal may not reflect Podlubni’s true thoughts, but his desired thoughts. He introduces the idea that the diary could be Podlubni’s tool of turning himself, of influencing his own nature.

Has diary writing survived? Is there something comparable now?

As technology has sped up society, and physical writing has fallen out of fashion, many of the younger generation have turned to electronic styles of diaries, favoring short and typed passages over the traditional form. Today’s most consistent source of social records, it could be argued, would be social networks. Any incident out of the ordinary, and many too that are ordinary, will end up here. But, the public nature of these sites lacks the privacy of Podlubini’s diaries and, therefore, may color the style of ‘reporting’.

Does this influence the blogger any differently than Podlubini is in his diaries?

In his writing, Podlubini attempts to instill and record a set of Soviet morals — a strong will, a good work ethic, patriotic intentions. He records his successes and chides himself at his ideological shortcomings.

“30.12.1933 […] With full confidence I can say that this year I have received nothing. Studied at the FZU— with bad results. Began to study in middle school— also with bad results. I am neglecting my classes horribly, lagging behind in all subjects. I don’t have enough willpower to control myself. Right now I have a big, huge, horrible weakness of will. This is the cause of all my troubles, this is my biggest deficiency.”

Fitzpatrick, Sheila. Stalinism : New Directions.
Florence, KY: Routledge, 1999. p 100.

Podlubni knew that his diaries, like many private possessions at the time, may be confiscated by the State on any grounds and at any time. This is one of Hellbeck’s arguments to caution us away from the complete truthfulness of Podlubni’s records.

So, were these diaries entirely private?

Social Media Logotype BackgroundConsider them in the context of popular social networks. Imagine the most cautious user — only friends can see their posts, does not use an accurate identifying picture, and only accepts requests from close, close, friends. Their records can be obtained by any determined individual, similar to the Stalinist state. But, our user runs this risk. On such sites, our user hopes to associate and connect with like-minded individuals. Is this not what Podlubni hopes to accomplish? A connection with the other members of his State through the fashioning of his personality, of his “Stalinist soul”.

But, if this is to be an accepted analogy, what of the many users that ‘over-post’ or flood the site with over dramatized postings? Are they just asking for attention, taking advantage of the publicity of the networks? Does this disprove the connection to private diaries?

No. The basis of social sites is to establish oneself on the web. It is a defining of self. While this may be fabricated and unlike the true self, it is often an expression of a self the users want to become. They fabricate an ideal “public self”, similar to Podlubni’s fabrication of a real “Stalinist soul” — a strong individual and a strong worker.

Given the entries we see online today, what morals can be in our souls?

Location and Utopias


For More and Plato, location of a utopia affects its development and success. While More believes that a utopia must be physically separated from other societies, Plato suggests that any society can become a utopia wherever it is located if certain conditions are developed and met over time. More’s utopia is located on a remote island. His placement suggests the utopia cannot be corrupted because its inhabitants are physically separated from others. Essentially, More thought that outside contact corrupts the mind and society. In Book II of Utopia, More describes Utopia as not an “island at first, but part of a continent (More 28).” Utopus, the ruler of Utopia, believes that the continent they conquered was full of “uncivilized inhabitants (More 28).”  For this reason he orders all individuals of Utopia to dig a channel fifteen miles long to separate Utopia from the other continent. This channel serves not only as a physical separation, but also as a metaphorical one in which the ideas of Utopia become disconnected from the uncivilized culture surrounding their society. In addition, each town is located almost equidistant from the other. This placement is deliberate and creates an overall equality among the people because no individual has to go further for something than another individual demonstrating the true essence of a utopia.

In contrast, in Plato’s Republic, location is not as essential to the creation of a utopia.  However, location plays a small role in how Plato constructs his utopia. Plato believes that his “philosopher kings” must be separated from society at a young age so that their minds are not corrupt. Plato believes the separation from society allows the philosopher kings to rely not on sensorial observation, but rather on their training and understanding the Form of the Good. The utopian society that Plato creates is different than More’s because he does not believe his utopia needs to be isolated. Plato suggests that if certain conditions are met, any society can become a utopia.  For instance, if the philosopher kings are well trained in arithmetic, geometry, physical training, astronomy, and ultimately dialectics they will be able to create a utopian society no matter where they are.  More and Plato both use location in many different ways while describing their utopias. More uses location as a complete separation from the world. Plato uses location as a way to separate a few individuals and train them to then return to society and then rule society in a utopian fashion. Thus location is essential to the development of a utopia.