Source Book for Sociology

Author: Georg Simmel  | Date: 1904

162. Compromise and Conciliation as Forms of Accommodation4

On the whole, compromise, especially of that type which is brought to pass through negotiation, however commonplace and matter-of-fact 468 it has come to be in the processes of modern life, is one of the most important inventions for the uses of civilization. The impulse of uncivilized men, like that of children, is to seize upon every desirable object without further consideration, even though it be already in the possession of another. Robbery and gift are the most naive forms of transfer of possession, and under primitive conditions change of possession seldom takes place without a struggle. It is the beginning of all civilized industry and commerce to find a way of avoiding this struggle through a process in which there is offered to the possessor of a desired object some other object from the possessions of the person desiring the exchange. Through this arrangement a reduction is made in the total expenditure of energy as compared with the process of continuing or beginning a struggle. All exchange is a compromise. We are told of certain social conditions in which it is accounted as knightly to rob and to fight for the sake of robbery; while exchange and purchase are regarded in the same society as undignified and vulgar. The psychological explanation of this situation is to be found partly in the fact of the element of compromise in exchange, the factors of withdrawal and renunciation which make exchange the opposite pole to all struggle and conquest. Every exchange presupposes that values and interest have assumed an objective character. The decisive element is accordingly no longer the mere subjective passion of desire, to which struggle only corresponds, but the value of the object, which is recognized by both interested parties, but which without essential modification may be represented by various objects. Renunciation of the valued object in question, because one receives in another form the quantum of value contained in the same, is an admirable reason, wonderful also in its simplicity, whereby opposed interests are brought to accommodation without struggle. It certainly required a long historical development to make such means available, because it presupposes a psychological generalization of the universal valuation of the individual object which at first is identified with the valuation; that is, it presupposes ability to rise above the prejudices of immediate desire. Compromise by representation (Vertretbarkeit), of which exchange is a special case, signifies in principle, although realized only in part, the possibility of avoiding struggle, or of setting a limit to it before the force of the interested parties decides the issue.

In distinction from the objective character of accommodation of struggle through compromise, we should notice that conciliation is a purely subjective method of avoiding struggle. I refer here, not to that sort of conciliation which is the consequence of a compromise or of any other adjournment of struggle, but rather to the reasons for this adjournment. The state of mind which makes conciliation possible (Versöhnlichkeit) is a primary attitude which, entirely apart 469 from objective grounds, seeks to end struggle, just as, on the other hand, quarrelsomeness, even without any real occasion, promotes struggle. . . . This conciliating tendency is rather a quite specific sociological impulse which manifests itself exclusively as a pacificator, and is not even identical with the peaceful disposition in general. The latter avoids strife under all circumstances, or carries it on, if it is once undertaken, without going to extremes in the devotion of energy, and always with the undercurrents of longing for peace. The spirit of conciliation, however, manifests itself frequently in its full peculiarity precisely after complete devotion to the struggle, after the conflicting energies have exercised themselves to the full in the conflict.

Conciliation depends very intimately upon the external situation. It can occur both after the complete victory of the one party and after the progress of indecisive struggle, as well as after the arrangement of the compromise. Either of these situations may end the struggle without the added conciliation of the opponents. To bring about the latter it is not necessary that there shall be a supplementary repudiation or expression of regret with reference to the struggle. Moreover, conciliation is to be distinguished from the situation which may follow it. This may be either a relationship of attachment or alliance, and reciprocal respect, or a certain permanent distance which avoids all positive contacts. Conciliation is thus a removal of the roots of conflict, without reference to the fruits which these formerly bore, as well as to that which may later be planted in their place.

4 From Georg Simmel "The Sociology of Conflict," American Journal of Sociology, May, 1904, vol. 9, pp. 804–6. Reprinted by permission.


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Chicago: Georg Simmel, "162. Compromise and Conciliation as Forms of Accommodation," Source Book for Sociology in Source Book for Sociology, ed. Kimball Young (Cincinnati: American Book Company, 1935), Original Sources, accessed May 30, 2024,

MLA: Simmel, Georg. "162. Compromise and Conciliation as Forms of Accommodation." Source Book for Sociology, in Source Book for Sociology, edited by Kimball Young, Cincinnati, American Book Company, 1935, Original Sources. 30 May. 2024.

Harvard: Simmel, G, '162. Compromise and Conciliation as Forms of Accommodation' in Source Book for Sociology. cited in 1935, Source Book for Sociology, ed. , American Book Company, Cincinnati. Original Sources, retrieved 30 May 2024, from