Sunday, 24 September 2000

From "The Division of Labour in Society"

By Emile Durkheim.

[Spencer] believes that social life, just as all life in general, can naturally organise itself only by an unconscious, spontaneous adaptation under the immediate pressure of needs, and not according to a rational plan of reflective intelligence […] the conception of a social contract is today difficult to defend, for it has no relation to the facts... Not only are there no societies which have such an origin, but there is none whose structure presents the least trace of contractual organisation […] to rejuvenate the doctrine and accredit, it would be necessary to qualify as a contract the adhesion which each individual, as adult, gave to the society when he was born, solely by reason of which he continues to live. But then we would have to term contractual every action of man which is not determined by constraint. In this light, there is no society, neither present nor past, which is not or has not been contractual, for there is none that could exist solely through pressure.

If it has sometimes been thought that force was greater previously than it is today, that is because of the illusion which attributes to a coercive regime the small place given over to individual liberty in lower societies. In reality, social life, wherever it is normal, is spontaneous, and if it is abnormal, it cannot endure.

[…] higher societies […] have, according to Spencer, the vast system of particular contracts which link individuals as a unique basis […] Social solidarity would then be nothing else than the spontaneous accord of individual interests, an accord of which contracts are the natural expression […]

Is this the character of societies whose unity is produced by the division of labour? If this were so, we could with justice doubt their stability. For if interest relates men, it is never for more than some few moments. It can create only an external link between them […]

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