How can Emile Durkheim's perspective on the increased division of labor in modern society be compared and contrasted with Max Weber's analysis of bureaucratic organization and authority structures and with Ferdinand Tonnies' views regarding the growth of Gesellschaft-types of structures?
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Durkeim, Weber and Tonnies were concerned with man’s relationship to the economic and political systems in which he existed. All three wrote about the development of capitalism and its effects on those relationships. If all three were concerned with the dehumanizing aspects of capitalism, however, Durkheim and Weber were more pragmatic than Tonnies. Durkheim did not initially view capitalism and the division of labor as an inherent evil to be militantly opposed, although the scale of devastation resulting from the First World War turned him sharply to the left. In his most important work, however, The Division of Labor in Society, his thoughts were not yet tainted by the experiences and observations of Europe at its worst. As such, he viewed the division of labor in a more practical sense, as something almost inevitable and not without merit. Durkheim, however, was concerned with the dehumanizing nature of a development left unopposed by moderating influences, as evident in the following:
“. . . if we analyse this badly defined complex called civilization, we find that the elements of which it is composed are bereft of any moral character whatever.”
“It is particularly true of the economic activity which always accompanies civilization. Far from serving moral progress, it is in the great industrial centres that crimes and suicides are most numerous . . .”
Weber was also interested in the growing propensity of economic systems to develop divisions of labor in which individuals would specialize in specific tasks, and similarly saw in this development a natural inclination of individuals to focus on that in which they were most skilled. The establishment of professional civil services, or bureaucracies, was both necessary and, ultimately, detrimental to the health of humans increasingly governed by “unelected officials":
"From a purely technical point of view, a bureaucracy is capable of attaining the highest degree of efficiency, and is in this sense formally the most rational known means of exercising authority over human beings."
"...it is . . . horrible to think that the world could one day be filled with nothing but those little cogs, little men clinging to little jobs and striving toward bigger ones . . ."
Tonnies’ theory of Gemenschaft and Gesellschaft contributed to the discussion by drawing a distinction between the nature of man and the evolution of society in a dehumanizing direction. Tonnies described Gemenschaft as a cooperative community not unlike Marx’s utopia in which all coexist in a harmonious environment and man remains uncorrupted by material motives. That environment, however, changes with the intervention of economic and social practices alien to that world:
“Through this development social life in and of itself is not diminished, but social life of the community is impaired and a new phenomenon develops out of the needs, interests, desires and decisions of persons who previously worked cooperatively together and area acting and dealing with one another. This new phenomenon, the 'capitalistic society,' increases in power and gradually attains the ascendancy.”
Society, according to Tonnies, evolves through capitalistic incentives from the harmonious “community” to the competitive and pernicious “society.”
Tonnies was easily, at least until Durkheim’s personal transformation towards more radical ideas, the least forgiving of the notion of free enterprise.
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