If we consider "a society" to be a group of individuals within the same species who cooperate for the benefit of the group as a whole, then it is reasonable to say that all human societies are hierarchical to some degree.

Several well known philosophies aspire to a society entirely without hierarchy. However looking at nature for inspiration doesn't help much as it seems that all social animals from mammals, to birds, to fish to insects have a hierarchical social structure. From an evolutionary perspective it can be argued that this makes sense as without a social structure aggression and violence is much more likely in order to assert access to food and breeding rights, sacrificing rank in society for a low risk albeit slightly reduced access to food and mates could therefore be a sensible trade off. In addition leadership prevents group fragmentation and subsequent vulnerability to predators.

The question is therefore is hierarchy inherent to and/or necessary for the existence of Society?

  • When you talk about "hierarchical (social) structure", are you referring to a specific mathematical structure? Is it one of preorder, total preorder or total order? – Thomas Klimpel Sep 9 '13 at 23:33
  • This question sounds more like a discussion opener than a Stack Exchange question, if I understand the rules correctly. You can ask for books and papers about social philosophy, but I doubt we'll find any consensus here. – Kevin Holmes Sep 10 '13 at 5:00
  • If society is a mutual agreement then anything can be. You underestimate possibilities though. There can be hierarchical societies which are totally fare. For example the rotating hierarchy. Every member must take every place in hierarchy for some time. Then start over. – Asphir Dom Sep 11 '13 at 12:53
  • @Keven Holmes, that's the problem with philosophy.stackexchange. The entire Stackexchange family of sites is designed for questions to be answered. In philosophy none of the questions ever get answered, just discussed. I assume people here have noted this before. – Janet Williams Sep 14 '13 at 2:26
  • @Kevin Holmes yes you're right it was really a discussion opener, I don't think this is really a question that can be definitively answered. Are you supposed to only answer answerable questionsas in "where can I find research on the need for hierarchy in society"? – Jonno Bourne Sep 14 '13 at 7:17

Humans are always trying to gain as much control over the world and its resources as they can. We are always obsessed with science and engineering in order to gain knowledge of our world, so that we can control it even further. We even have social sciences to attempt to control our own species.

Humans will take any opportunity they can to gain more control over their natural environment, and other humans who form part of the environment are no exception. If a human can control another human with limited repercussions, he will attempt to do so, either subtly or through a formal institution.

Because all humans are not made equal (I do not mean this as an ethical statement about human rights, but about the human genome), they will naturally compete for control of each other, and there will be a victor. The victor will naturally dominate the others, simply because he can - and humans will never pass up an opportunity for further control of their available resources.

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  • I think this is a good partial answer to the question, possibly because I asked the question badly! You seem to be saying that you think that humans will naturally try to dominate each otehr given the opportunity, which I pretty much agree with, however the question is more general than that and relates to society human or animal and whether hierarchy is necessary for it to function. Is society without any form of intra-group dominance something that can ever exist? – Jonno Bourne Sep 9 '13 at 8:44
  • "Humans will take any opportunity they can to gain more control over their natural environment", but then why do people who believe in hierarchy-less society exist? E.g. I wouldn't take an opportunity to gain control over natural environment through hard force, therefore am I exception? – rus9384 May 10 '18 at 17:53

As the examples you point out show societies do not exist without some form of social differentiation. Aristotle, for example, marked out five kind of political organisation - from monarchy to tyranny.

I'd be very surprised if any social philosophy in its mature form discounted social differentation of any kind. The question usually is to what extent and to what forms.

For example, ideally, all persons are equal before the law; which one can consider as an egalitarian concept - does not mean that there is no social differentiation; for then there are citizens (those who are under the law), judges (who apply the law), police (who enforce the law) and prisoners (whose citizenship is curtailed).

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  • Equal before the law is an absurdity in today's context. This is practically now a lie. Laws are created by the ones in power to prevent the rest from getting too much power. While that, stealing a bread gives you more jail time than stealing millions of $ in many 'democratic' countries. – Overmind May 15 '18 at 8:57
  • @overmind: Sure; unfortunately the finance-business lobby have far too much power as the recent financial crash only too clearly showed. The law, at that level, does not have enough teeth. – Mozibur Ullah May 20 '18 at 10:36

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