Why does Etzioni use the terms gemeinschaft and gesellschaft in The Spirit of Community?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In this book, Etzioni is trying to promote a communitarian agenda.  That is, he wants people to stop being so concerned with their own individual wants and needs and to think, instead, about the needs of society.  This is why he uses the terms gemeinschaft and gesellschaft.

These terms refer to different types of societies.  In gemeinschaft, people are not as individualistic as we are in America today.  Instead of thinking only of their own needs, the people in such a society are willing to, at times, put the needs of the community ahead of their own needs.  In a gesellschaft, people are never willing to do this.

Etzioni does not argue that we need to (or even that we could) go back to a pure gemeinschaft, which typically has a much more "primitive" economic system.  However, we do need to get back more towards that sort of a society by encouraging people to be more willing to think of the good of the community before their own good.

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