From Kurt H.
Wolff, (Trans.), The Sociology of Georg Simmel. Glencoe, IL: The
Free Press, 1950, pp. 13-17.
The sociological significance of conflict (Kampf) has in principle
never been disputed. Conflict is admitted to cause or modify interest
groups, unifications, organizations. On the other hand, it may sound
paradoxical in the common view if one asks whether irrespective
of any phenomena that result from convict or that accompany it,
it itself is a form of sociation. [l] At first glance, this sounds
like a rhetorical question. If every interaction among men is a
sociation, conflict--after all one of the most vivid interactions,
which, furthermore, cannot possibly be carried on by one individual
alone--must certainly be considered as sociation. And in fact, dissociating
factors --hate, envy, need, desire--are the causes of convict; it
breaks out because of them. Conflict is thus designed to resolve
divergent dualisms; it is a way of achieving some kind of unity,
even if it be through the annihilation of one of the conflicting
parties. This is roughly parallel to the fact that it is the most
violent symptom of a disease which represents the effort of the
organism to free itself of disturbances and damages caused by them.
But this phenomenon
means much more than the trivial ''si vis pacem para bellum'' [if
you want peace, prepare for war]; it is something quite general,
of which this maxim only describes a special case. Conflict itself
resolves the tension between contrasts. The fact that it aims at
peace is only one, an especially obvious, expression of its nature:
the synthesis of elements that work both against and for one another.
This nature appears more clearly when it is realized that both forms
of relation--the antithetical and the convergent--are fundamentally
distinguished from the mere indifference of two or more individuals
or groups. Whether it implies the rejection or the termination of
sociation, indifference is purely negative. In contrast to such
pure negativity, conflict contains something positive. Its positive
and negative aspects, however, are integrated: they can be separated
conceptually, hut not empirically.
The Sociological Relevance of Conflict
appear in a new light when seen from the angle of this sociologically
positive character of conflict. It is at once evident then that
if the relations among men (rather than what the individual is to
himself and in his relations to objects) constitute the subject
matter of a special science, sociology, then the traditional topics
of that science cover only a subdivision of it: it is more comprehensive
and is truly defined by a principle. At one time it appeared as
if there were only two consistent subject matters of the science
of man: the individual unit and the unit of individuals (society);
any third seemed logically excluded. In this conception, conflict
itself--irrespective of its contributions to these immediate social
units--found no place for study. It was a phenomenon of its own,
and its subsumption under the concept of unity would have been arbitrary
as well as useless, since conflict meant the negation of unity.
A more comprehensive
classification of the science of the relations of men should distinguish,
it would appear, those relations which constitute a unit, that is,
social relations in the strict sense, from those which counteract
unity.  It must be realized, however, that both relations can
usually he found in every historically real situation. The individual
does not attain the unity of his personality exclusively by an exhaustive
harmonization, according to logical, objective, religious, or ethical
norms, of the contents of his personality. On the contrary, contradiction
and conflict not only precede this unity but are operative in it
at every moment of its existence. Just so, there probably exists
no social unit in which convergent and divergent currents among
its members are not inseparably interwoven. An absolutely centripetal
and harmonious group, a pure ''unification'' ("Vereinigung''),
not only is empirically unreal, it could show no real life process.
The society of saints which Dante sees in the Rose of Paradise may
be like such a group, but it is without any change and development;
whereas the holy assembly of Church Fathers in Raphael's Disputa
shows if not actual conflict, at least a considerable differentiation
of moods and directions of thought, whence flow all the vitality
and the really organic structure of that group. Just as the universe
needs "love and hate,'' that is, attractive and repulsive forces,
in order to have any form at all, so society, too, in order to attain
a determinate shape, needs some quantitative ratio of harmony and
disharmony, of association and competition, of favorable and unfavorable
tendencies. But these discords are by no means mere sociological
liabilities or negative instances. Definite, actual society does
not result only from other social forces which are positive, and
only to the extent that the negative factors do not hinder them.
This common conception is quite superficial: society, as we know
it, is the result of both categories of interaction, which thus
both manifest themselves as wholly positive. 
Unity and Discord
There is a misunderstanding according to which one of these two
kinds of interaction tears down what the other builds up, and what
is eventually left standing is the result of the subtraction of
the two (while in reality it must rather be designated as the result
of their addition). This misunderstanding probably derives from
the twofold meaning of the concept of unity. We designate as "unity''
the consensus and concord of interacting individuals, as against
their discords, separations, and disharmonies. But we also call
''unity'' the total group-synthesis of persons, energies, and forms,
that is, the ultimate wholeness of that group, a wholeness which
covers both strictly-speaking unitary relations and dualistic relations.
We thus account for the group phenomenon which we feel to be ''unitary''
in terms of functional components considered specifically unitary;
and in so doing, we disregard the other, larger meaning of the term.
is increased by the corresponding twofold meaning of ''discord''
or ''opposition.'' Since discord unfolds its negative, destructive
character between particular individuals, we naively conclude that
it must have the same effect on the total group. In reality, however,
something which is negative and damaging between individuals if
it is considered in isolation and as aiming in a particular direction,
does not necessarily have the same effect within the total relationship
of these individuals. For, a very different picture emerges when
we view the conflict in conjunction with other interactions not
affected by it. The negative and dualistic elements play an entirely
positive role in this more comprehensive picture, despite the destruction
they may work on particular relations. All this is very obvious
in the competition of individuals within an economic unit.
"Vergesellschaftung" win be rendered as ''sociation.''
On the term and its various translations, see The Sociology of Georg
Simmel, loc. cit., pp. lxiii-lxiv.--Tr.
is both "unit" and "unity," and Simmel uses
the term promiscuously in both senses. --Tr.
3. This is the
sociological instance of a contrast between two much more general
conceptions of life. According to the common view, life always shows
two parties in opposition. One of them represents the positive aspect
of life, its content proper, if not its substance, while the very
meaning of the other is non-being, which must be subtracted from
the positive elements before they can constitute life. This is the
common view of the relation between happiness and suffering, virtue
and vice, strength and inadequacy, success and failure--between
all possible contents and interruptions of the course of life. The
highest conception indicated in respect to these contrasting pairs
appears to me different: we must conceive of all these polar differentiations
as of one life; we must sense the pulse of a central vitality even
in that which, if seen from the standpoint of a particular ideal,
ought not to be at all and is merely something negative; we must
allow the total meaning of our existence to grow out of both parties.
In the most comprehensive context of life, even that which as a
single element is disturbing and destructive, is wholly positive;
it is not a gap but the fulfillment of a role reserved for it alone.
Perhaps it is not given to us to attain, much less always to maintain,
the height from which all phenomena can he felt as making up the
unity of life, even though from an objective or value standpoint,
they appear to oppose one another as pluses and minuses, contradictions,
and mutual elimination. We are too inclined to think and feel that
our essential being, our true, ultimate significance, is identical
with one of these factions. According to our optimistic or pessimistic
feeling of life, one of them appears to us as surface or accident,
as something to be eliminated or subtracted, in order for the true
and intrinsically consistent life to emerge. We are everywhere enmeshed
in this dualism (which will presently be discussed in more detail
in the text above)--in the most intimate as in the most comprehensive
provinces of life, personal, objective, and social. We think we
have, or are, a whole or unit which is composed of two logically
and objectively opposed parties, and we identify this totality of
ours with one of them, while we feel the other to be something alien
which does not properly belong and which denies our central and
comprehensive being. Life constantly moves between these two tendencies.
The one has just been described. The other lets the whole really
be the whole. It makes the unity, which after all comprises both
contrasts, alive in each of these contrasts and in their juncture.
It is all the more necessary to assert the right of this second
tendency in respect to the sociological phenomenon of conflict,
because conflict impresses us with its socially destructive force
as with an apparently indisputable tact.