How does Weber’s notion regarding the evolution of societies from primitive, irrational types of law to a more “structured system of formal laws” compare to Durkheim’s thoughts on law in...

How does Weber’s notion regarding the evolution of societies from primitive, irrational types of law to a more “structured system of formal laws” compare to Durkheim’s thoughts on law in societies characterized by mechanical- versus organic-solidarity? 

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ophelious eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Max Weber and Emile Durkheim both came up with some very interesting sociological ideas.  In the area you're asking a question about, legal/political development, the two men's opinions share some similarities.

Both ideas are kind of complicated but can be summed up roughly as follows:

Weber would say that people go through three different forms of government.

  1. Charismatic -- This is the most primitive type of political power, in which a group is held together by the personality of an individual.  Some extraordinary leader, religious or not, comes along and tells everybody what to do.  People follow because they either fear or respect this individual.  When he/she dies, the group must find another charismatic person to run the show.
  2. Traditional -- After charismatic comes traditional.  In this form of political power, things are run they way they are because that's the way they've been done for a long time.  Fathers pass power on to sons who then become heads of their own households.  An example of this can be seen in feudalism, in which political power and land rights are generational.
  3. Rational -- In this more "evolved" type of authority, a logical legal code is created to govern behavior.  A class of bureaucrats comes into existence to monitor and enforce the law, but the true power comes from the logic of the laws themselves.

Durkheim is a little different because his ideas on mechanical and organic solidarity are a little less specific and include some economic elements.  Mechanical Solidarity:

  1. Works in small scale societies without a lot of people
  2. There are not a lot of different types of jobs
  3. People operate more independently
  4. Religion plays a bigger part
  5. Strict rule with harsh punishments
  6. The individual is downplayed compared to the society as a whole.

Organic Solidarity:

  1. Large societies with more people
  2. Jobs are specialized
  3. Because of specialization, people depend more on each other
  4. Religion plays a smaller part
  5. Restitution over punishment
  6. The individuality of people is valued

As you can see, both men are talking about how societies come to be organized.  Weber is more focused on a political type of power which evolves into bureaucracy, while Durkheim's ideas in this respect are more social.

Jessica Pope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Both Weber and Durkheim believed that societies laid on an ideological ladder of evolution. They considered the structure of the nation-state to be the highest, most advanced structure on the ladder of social evolution. Thus, when studying cultures whose social organization differed from that of their own, both Weber and Durkheim tended to place these societies a lower rungs on the ladder.

For Weber, lower rung communities were not very safe because their law was "irrational." Their law was based on beliefs about community gods and spirit. Weber believed such laws to be fundamentally unstable.

Durkheim also considered the relationship between law, organizational structure, and community structure. For Durkheim, loosely organized clan structures could never achieve the true safety of a nation state because their solidarity was organic -- based on the autonomy of each person, rather than mechanical -- enforced by the state.