Aspects of the Neoconservative Agenda through the lens of Dahrendorf’s Social Conflict Model

I. Introduction:

Trying to reduce a complex social interaction to a general theory, as Dahrendorf states, leads to empty generalizations or to empirically unjustifiable oversimplifications. With this in mind I limit this discussion of social conflict in the United States, specifically from the beginning of the Bush Jr. Administration, noting that an analysis based on Huntington’s theory – largely the disposition of the Neoconservative agenda, which I will discuss in more detail – would make for an interesting discussion. As I hope to show, the social structure of the US closely resonates with the key points highlighted in Dahrendorf. Additionally, while I do believe there is valuable information to be obtained through a psycho-social analysis of this, or any social structure, I think Dahrendorf’s limitation on endogenous conflicts as “the task of sociology to derive conflicts from specific social structures” points out most of the main functional relationships of the two dichotomous models of society along with the principle of authority and authority structures. These aspects of the Conflict Theory model and, what I would call the general tendency toward a neo-totalitarian state are the main points of my argument.

An important aspect, and precondition, of the Conflict Theory model is that it is intended to be ‘crafted’ to suit the needs of a particular conflict and therefore avoids generalizations and oversimplifications. Further, it considers the trajectory of the system and therefore,  through empirical research, attempts to establish a reasonable set, or multiplicity, of parameters to evaluate the system and the relative intensity of each parameter in the specific context. As Dahrendorf points out, “it is erroneous to assume that a description of how elements of a structure are put together in a stable whole offers, as such, a point of departure for structure analysis of conflict and change .” Such an approach can tends to eliminate many of the assumed structural and functional relationships that may lead to incorrect interpretations of empirical data and eliminates the difficulties of distinguishing between intended and unintended outcomes and relies more on the scientific method of matching empirical evidence with stated hypotheses.


II. Critical Evaluation of Key Points

I will highlight the key points of Dahrendorf’s Social Conflict Model as presented in lecture at the World Peace Academy by Dr. Jürgen Endres.1 Beginning with dichotomous models of Integration and Conflict, as listed in Table 1, it is important to note that these
two contrasting models form what I would consider to be a canonical set of mutually induct and mutually restrictive pairs. This is to say that these two aspects of society are, in the case of the Unites States at least, intertwined and are the impetus for change itself.
There is always a very progressive element of society which is met with a more conservative element and the more, for example, the indicators of Conflict become dominant, the more their tends to be a reaction by the more conservative elements of society. This explains the oscillation from Democratic to Republican parties controlling the three branches of government. However, there is an added layer which, according to Dahrendorf, would be the real progenitor of the social dynamic – namely, that the real holders of authority in the United States take advantage of the Conflict/Integration dichotomy as a strategy to divide and conquer the US population while the laws and regulating freedom, liberty and justice are slowly manipulated and normalized into totalitarian state.

Table 1: Two Possibilities of Think Societies

Model of Integration:

Model of Conflict:

• society is a relatively persisting configuration of elements• society is a well integrated configuration of elements• every element contributes to the function of society• every society rests on the consensus of its members • every society is subjected at every momentto change: social change is ubiquitous• every society experiences at every moment social conflict: social conflict is ubiquitous• every element contributes to the change of
• every society rests on constraint of some of its members by others


This authority structure is perhaps most apparent when one investigates the changes in US domestic law since 911 as well as the   gregious violations of international and domestic law that largely went unchallenged regarding the invasions of Iraq2 and Afghanistan and the case of Guantanamo which, of course, did not go unchallenged but still remains a functioning entity of a rogue state in violation of the principles of the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights. In fact, it was the largely under published challenges to these violations which show how subtle yet powerful the authoritarian structure is. In fact, that several congressional representatives even made attempts to impeach George W. Bush3 indicates that there was a clear understanding of what was going on within the ranks of the government. Still, after 911 there was a rapid decent into a security state which was highlighted by the Patriot Acts I and II, the Homeland Security Act, the Defense Intelligence Act, and numerous other legal maneuvers that were designed to obscure or circumvent international and domestic law. At the same time the penal codes were reflecting a crack down on civil liberties, the presence of armed police and military started to become common place and normalized in major cities and even in small villages outside of metropolitan areas.


This political and military strategy of co-opting the relatively liberal democratic institutions of the US government was no secret. It was openly published by the major players of the neoconservative think tank The Project for the New American Century – the board of which were the major players in the Bush Jr. cabinet and high ranking political and military officials. In the document “Rebuilding America’s Defenses”4 published in September of 2000, this group openly discussed the main impediments to the political and military strategy of hegemony in the middle east and central Asia required as being the fact that congress controlled the ability to declare war and controlled the ability to fund wars. These two principles were of the major ideologies being argued for at the inception of the United States. There were basically two camps vying for political power: the Hamiltonians who basically wanted to continue the British system but without the British; the Jeffersonian/Franklin camp who were much more interested in the inalienable rights of humans beings – and protecting those rights. This is important to note because this was essentially the struggle between Conflict and Integration writ large and played out, historically through the evolution of the US political body – with the winners ultimately being those of the colonialist mindset.


Understanding this explains how the political apparatus was able to use 911 as a radical and catalyzing event to enact security measures along with slowly infusing new laws changing the penal landscape regarding what the government could and could not do to US citizens domestically and abroad. If it was 1776 and these laws were being passed there would be a revolution in the US. The political apparatus relied on the fact that the average US citizen did not know his/her rights. To this end, the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the War Powers Act, the UN Charter, numerous security council resolutions, the Hague Conventions and the Nuremberg Conventions were all violated and the rights of US citizens were slowly stripped away regarding habeus corpus and the right to redress any accusation for a crime.


Thus, one very clear co-ordinated group exists – those with political power and those without political power. Those with political power rely on the ignorance and lack of will and organization to maintain this power relationship. As noted, this distinction was really built into the inception of the United States via the two political camps and can, therefore, considered to be a part of the structure itself.


It can be argued, then, that the two main political parties – the Democrats and Republicans – are really quasi-groups (Conflict/Integration) with somewhat unique attributes but largely manufactured interests and agendas which are played and preyed upon by the power elite – in this case referring specifically tot he Neo-conservative take over of the Executive branch of government.


This dichotomy of power relations between the Executive (and to a degree the Legislative and Judicial) branch and the Democratic/Republican quasi-groups is not the only form of power relation and dichotomy in the US. In fact, the political dichotomy is intimately intertwined with issues of economic class, religion, education and race – to name a few. Due to the scope of this paper I only mention that these would be interesting subjects for further evaluation.


III. Conclusion:

As Dahrendorf notes, if the Conflict Model is made precise enough to reduce the structural analysis of a given conflict, the theory must then answer these three questions:
1. How do conflicting groups arise from the structure of society?

2. What forms can struggle among such groups assume?

3. How does conflict among such groups effect a change in the social structures?
Regarding the first question, it was argued that the very power dynamic that existed at the beginning of the United States set the stage  or what took place after 911. Additionally, since there was already a great degree of inequality in the political and economic arenas as a result of early colonialism, slavery, labor struggles and a political division between the right and left, the structure of the US society on political and economic levels is largely responsible for the current functionality of a government that is tending towards totalitarian control – a slow, methodical and normalized process. The basic forms of struggle are a manufactured struggle between political right and left as well as a class struggle which was perhaps best illustrated by the Occupy Wall Street movement.


Additionally, there are satellite struggles based on fundamentalist ideologies such a abortion and homosexual rights that are often used as divisive tools to set people at odds. The conflicts generated and maintained by the quasi groups mask the real struggle which is between the average middle class and poor US citizen and the political and economic power elite which obscure the illegality and immorality of their actions under the shroud of the ignorance of the electorate such that the real change effected in the social structure is a tendency towards a totalitarian state in which the rights of citizens are slowly stripped from them in plain sight and, all too often, with their approval.


1. Notes from PowerPoint Presentation by Jürgen Endres at WPA in April 2013






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