Chapter 12


The more Marx ignored and devalued civil society the more he formulated a socialism without safeguards, a socialism whose rise to power could only take the form of centralization. Marx had inherited the idea of civil society as one of a pair of concepts, the other being, of course, the state. We are told that Marx himself even noticed civil society's importance for capitalist development, although, once again, if we look at the texts they seem pretty modest to support such a heavy hypothesis. The most important is a letter Marx wrote Engels on 27 July 1854.

Schlomo Avineri contrives to find in this letter a veritable theory of the origins of capitalism in which Marx supposedly asserts that the accumulation of capital and the industrial revolution were made possible by a preceding "socio-political revolution in late medieval Europe; the emergence of a civil society, burgerliche Gesellschaft, i.e., an autonomous sphere of economic activity, unimpeded by political and religious restrictions. . . . Marx ascribes the emergence of civil society to the communal movement of the late Middle Ages, which emancipated the urban corporations and communes from their dependence on the political arrangements of the feudal structure. According to Marx, the communal movement created a sphere of autonomous economic activity, unrestricted by political and religious tutelage which might limit its freedom of economic choice. . . . Only the late medieval town developed, in the wake of the communal movement, a concept of property free from feudal, i.e., political and community-oriented limitations. Not only did this development justify morally the accumulation of property; it also separated the political sphere from the economic and gave rise to legal and institutional arrangements that made the accumulation of capital possible and socially acceptable.''1

If this is a proper understanding of Marx, he did indeed see civil society as significant in the origin of capitalism. The first thing to note and reiterate, however, is that this insight is, if it exists at all, even more fugitive than the insight Marx had into the AMP. The problem that most concerns me here is why, in general, are Marx's studies of civil society aborted? The answer is largely that Marx normally emphasized that the social structures of civil society were not independent entities generating bourgeois society but were, rather, forms in which bourgeois society had emerged; that is, they were the products rather than the producers of the bourgeois class.

Marx thus speaks (in the letter of 27 July) of the corporations and guilds as "the forms, in short, in which the industrial bourgeoisie developed." He does not stress here that these social organizations are independent causes, but dependent effects, of the rise of the bourgeoisie. The emphasis is, at most, on the association or correlation of the two, not on the independence and priority of the civil society.

More than that, a main focus in the primary Marxist paradigm is on the way economic relations govern the political, rather than on the kinds of social structure (civil society) which are not reducible to economic classes or relationships. Thus civil society, for Marx, normally implies "forms" in which, essentially, economic developments take place. The primary paradigm of Marxism tends to dichotomize social structures, reducing all social relations either to economic or to political (and ideological) relations, i.e., infra- or superstructural elements. But in this impulse to dichotomize social relationships where, for example, did the kinship, the age, and the sex systems fit—were they infra- or superstructural? The insistent distinction between infra- and superstructures tended to focus on some concrete social spheres, while others fall between the two and, at the same time, neglected the fact that both political and economic spheres were differentiations of a more basic social material and, therefore, shared certain things in common, rather than simply being distinct from one another.

An essential aspect of civil society is that it is a sphere autonomous of the state, that it is not determined by the state or politics, but has a life of its own. The concept of the civil society that Marx encountered was thus largely a residual concept, being that which was not the state, and what was left over in society after the state was "excluded." Its essential point was to establish that the state did not encompass society, that there was something more of importance—but what exactly this was remained unclear. Marx filled that basket with (and reduced it to) economic activities and classes. In the preface to his Critique of Political Economy, he characterizes civil society as the sum total of the material conditions of life, and he maintains that "the anatomy of civil society is to be sought in political economy."2

In the Grundrisse, Marx sees civil society historically, as the corruption of society's ''natural bonds" by bourgeois competition and egoism, observing that "only in the eighteenth century, in 'civil society,' do the various forms of social connectedness confront the individual as a mere means toward his private purposes as external necessity."3 In that discussion, as Marx speaks of production as being inherently "social," part of what he refers to is, clearly, the larger whole encompassing the production of individuals, so that "social" here means totality. In another part, however, it also clearly means a form of human "connectedness," something quite apart from the differentiated political or economic specialization this connectedness may develop.

Civil society, then, was regarded by Marx as a development indeed a corruption, of the social whole which, at first entailed "natural bonds," that is, family and other traditional ties. Civil society was thus a stage in the evolution of social bonds, a corrupted connectedness in which social relationships are used and viewed only instrumentally. (Marx has here moved toward the brink of a distinction between the natural Gemeinschaft and the rational Gesellschaft that was to be a center of Ferdinand Tonnies's sociology.) Marx has seen—i.e., glimpsed but never analyzed—that common character shared by both the political and the economic, i.e., the "social" as the totality of "connectedness" which has an evolution of its own. His focus, however, is on the "anatomy" of the social, which he takes to be its material base and political economy. In short, for Marx, the focus is first on the economic, and then on the political as a sphere shaped by the former; while the social and, indeed, civil society itself thus slips away, remaining an undeveloped, residual concept.

Engels says all this quite plainly in the framework of his own remarks about the origins of the bourgeoisie. For him, too, the essential content of civil society, i.e., its anatomy, is clearly its political economy. Civil society was the product, not the condition, of capitalism and bourgeois development. The central thrust of Engels's argument was to deny Duhring's contention that "political conditions are the decisive cause of the economic order" Engels counters that "everyone knows that what took place was the opposite. . . . The burghers conquered one position after another in continuous struggle with the nobility. . . . And how did it accomplish this? Simply through a change in the economic order which sooner or later, voluntarily or as the outcome of a struggle, was followed by a change in the political conditions . . . the decisive weapon of the burghers in this struggle was their economic power. . . . In all their production the burghers had remained hemmed in by the feudal political forms of the Middle Ages. . . . The bourgeois revolution put an end to this. Not, however, by adjusting the economic order to suit the political conditions . . . but by doing the opposite, by casting aside the old mouldering political rubbish and creating political conditions in which the new 'economic order' could exist and develop."4

In this account of the origins of the bourgeoisie, there is not one word about the independence or priority of civil society. It is all a matter of economic development. In the primary paradigm, only the economic had its own natural and spontaneous development; it was the source of initiative and action, the other spheres were sites of re-action. The sphere of human connectedness, of society and the social, shared by both the economic and the political, was shunted aside by the imperative need to distinguish the two and demonstrate the hegemony of the economic.

Marx is thus operating with the tacit metaphor that the economic is the "content" and social organization is the "form." He is thus never able to consider that the capacity to organize effectively was a necessary condition of the "conspiratorial and revolutionary character of the municipal movement in the twelfth century," in which the Western bourgeoisie began to emerge. Their development greatly depended on their ingenuity and success in creating and maintaining a variety of new organizations which provided supportive structures to protect their new economic forms, preventing them from being overwhelmed and assimilated back into the feudal system.

Far from being, as Marx held, a corruption and dissolution of the natural social bond, civil society actually marked the rise of vital new modes of social organization. The natural bond whose dissolution Marx decried was often only the traditional social organization of feudalism which maintained the domination of nobility over the serfs and peasantry. While that "natural bond" of domination was being dissolved, this was not merely accomplished by society's atomization, i.e., by the egoism of competitive individuals; it involved new modes of social connectedness and organization, the shift from traditional to planned organizations, rather than just the dissolution of "natural" organization into sheer atomization. It was precisely this efflorescence of organizational creativity, rather than the emerging bourgeoisie's economic activities as such, that sovereigns saw as dangerous.

Marx himself thus cites (in the letter of 27 July) the energetic efforts made by the Emperors Frederick I and Frederick II to abolish precisely these new "forms"—the Communiones, conspirationes, conjurations, consulates. Frederick II thus declares: "It has recently come to our knowledge that the guilds of certain cities, market-towns and other places, have, of their own will constituted tribunals, authorities, offices, administrations and certain other institutions of this kind . . . and because among many of them . . . such things have already developed into abuse and malpractices . . . we hereby in virtue of our imperial power revoke these jurisdictions. . . . We prohibit, also, all conventions and sworn confederacies within and without cities: between city and city, between person and person or between city and person of whatsoever kind they may be." Again, Marx cites King Henry's decree against city communes requiring that "no city and no market-town may organise communes, unions, leagues or sworn confederacies of any kind."

All this marked the eruption of new social organizations which contributed to the extrication of secular social structure from the old "natural" bonds, that is, from domination by the feudal authorities. It provided organizational facilities which persons could use to pursue ends of their own choosing and resist feudal impositions upon their interests. These new organizations, however were not simply limited-purpose associations for economic pursuits, i.e., Gesellschaften, but were, also, new communities, Gemeinschaften, within which persons' entire lives might escape feudal dominion. City air, as the saying went, "makes men free," not just rich; in it, they learned self-help and self-respect. Even ordinary peasants, not simply merchants or craftsmen, were invited to take up a new life in the city and were promised its protection. A new civil society, nucleated with these energetic new organizations, thus arose, enabling a sector of the population to escape feudalism's constant and close supervision, and to develop a new independence.

It is difficult to say whether experience acquired in managing ~heir own small businesses gave craftsmen or merchants experience in running other kinds of organizations, whether it was the other way around, or, as seems most likely, whether each contributed to the other. Both were probably fostered by the more diffuse opportunities for self-help and self-management found in the cities. In this new community, a new economy was gradually established in which persona' economic obligations were now less likely to vary with their incomes; in which fixed, hence predictable rents and taxes allowed more economic rationality; in which merchants and craftsmen were less dependent on only local buyers and could, therefore, negotiate better terms of trade for themselves, with the result that capital accumulation, at least among some, could develop faster. The new organizational infrastructure included political instruments that edged the balance ~f power in favor of townspeople and, at the same time, constituted protected enclaves within which (not only economic activities but also) the larger reach of the everyday life could be lived according to new standards, even when deviant from the claims of feudalism.

At the same time, however, organizational competence and effectiveness was scarcely the monopoly of townsmen in Western Europe but was also an important characteristic of villagers as ~ell. Robert Brenner, for example, argues that in Western Germany of the later middle ages peasant organizations resisting the lord were "closely bound up with the very development of the quasi-communal character of peasant economy. Most fundamental was the need to regulate co-operatively the village commons and :o struggle against the lords to establish and to protect their common rights—common lands (for grazing and so on) and the common-field organization of agriculture.... The peasants organized themselves in order to fix rents and to ensure rights of inheritance ... they fought successfully to replace the old landlord-installed village mayor (Schultheis) by their own elected village magistrates. In some villages they even won the right to choose the village priest. All these rights the peasants forced the lords to recognize in countless village charters (Weistumer)."5

In East Germany, however, self-governing peasant villages did not develop to the same extent, and the peasants could not so readily displace the lord's Schultheis. This different development, suggests Brenner, derives from the East's more colonialized character, the underdevelopment of communal activities and land that might have formed a center of peasant collaboration and organization. In the East, the landlord came first as a colonizer bringing the peasant into a social framework he established, the village's single lord confronted a relatively sparser village population and he was, therefore, relatively stronger than in the West where a village might be divided between two lords.

Independent self-managed social organization outside of the feudal structure thus developed in the West both in the villages and in the towns. Far from deriving strength from a prior capitalist agriculture, they were often grounded in the communal aspects of the economy. The origins of civil society in the West, then, do not seem to be reducible to a prior development of trade or crafts or prior emergence of the bourgeoisie; civil society seems to contribute as much to bourgeois development as it derives from it. It was, moreover, not simply the prior development of trade and tradesmen that undermined the feudal structure but, at least just as much, the undermining of the feudal system through the prior development of organizations permitting self-help in the villages and town, that helped open the way for the bourgeois mode of production.

In the decline of serfdom, as in the rise of the bourgeoisie—and they are not two sides of one coin—Western Europeans' organizational competence, collective traditions of organization, and resulting experience of autonomy and mastery, in short, their collective capacity to use organization for self-help yielded a quasi-independent civil society that played a distinct role in events. Civil society was not simply a "form" through which the bourgeoisie made their history, but a necessary condition of that history. It was conducive to the development of habits of independence, and to the accumulation (and retention) of surpluses necessary for the advent of the bourgeoisie.

In his important study, Michael Walzer has also shown how organizational zeal and competence were fostered by Calvinism which, he says, led to a view of politics as "a kind of conscientious and continuous labor," which developed new types of men. Seeing themselves as divine instruments, they could escape total involvement with their families and seek "brethren" who shared their ideas and zeal; "thus there arose the leagues and covenants, conferences and congregations which are the prototype of revolutionary zeal. [There was] the formation of groups specifically and deliberately designed to implement these demands, groups based on the principle of voluntary association and requiring proof of ideological commitment but not of blood ties, aristocratic patronage, or local residence ... oriented not toward acquisition so much as toward contention, struggle, destruction, and rebuilding . . . [Calvin] relied above all on organizations, and imparted to his followers an extraordinary organizational initiative and stamina. There have been few men in history who loved meetings more.... Medieval Catholics had also organized the faithful, but they had done so without removing them in any way from the existing political and feudal worlds, or from the complex bonds of local and patriarchical connection."6

With the development of the new organizations, of new towns walled off from the feudal countryside, of new local politics enabling villagers to elect their own mayors and pastors, and of new leagues, conferences, and confederations, there was created, on the one hand, a set of special-purpose organizations able to concentrate resources and discharge them on behalf of focused goals, concentrations of power with which new purposes could be pursued and by which they might be defended from feudal backlash; and, on the other, there also arose new communities in which people were insulated from older authorities, were able to discourage old values and permit new ways of life and values to be internalized in persons during the course of an enveloping everyday socialization.

It is during the Middle Ages, then, that the organizational foundations were laid for the democratic revolutions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Scholars such as Emile Lousse and Robert R. Palmer have stressed the importance of "constituted bodies," "most of them predominantly aristocratic in 1760, and including parliaments, councils, assemblies, and magistracies of various kinds,"7 for the development of these democratic revolutions. Palmer holds that these revolutions were in part grounded in "the attempts of these constituted bodies to defend their corporate liberties and their independence." They also provided arenas within which various classes—and not only the bourgeoisie— acquired organizational competence, political experience, and developed leaders. Typically, these organizations were absent in Russia until fairly late in the eighteenth century and it was only in 1785 that the Empress Catherine issued a Charter of the Nobility. "The absence from Russia of bodies of the kind described is only one of the signs that Russia, at the middle of the eighteenth century, did not belong to the region of Western Civilization,"8 although moving in that direction.

In contrast to the views of Walzer, Brenner, and Palmer cited above, stressing the importance of organizational competence as a special element in the development of both the economy and politics of Western Europe, Marxism lacked a systematic focus on social organization as a distinct level of social structures, whether of limited-purpose organizations or multi-bonded communities and these tend to be assimilated in Marx to the mode of production, or to the political region of the superstructure, constituting mere "forms" through which the bourgeoisie developed. For Marx, then, civil society remained a residual concept that never came into focus.


Civil Society as Sociology's Object
and Historical Mission

While civil society was only a residual concept for Marxism it was focal for sociology; if it was a given for Marxism, civil society was sociology's central problematic, the main scientific object to which it has devoted itself. Indeed, civil society has been sociology's principal scientific object since its beginnings in the positivistic sociology of Auguste Comte, the putative "father" of sociology, as well as of the man whose protege he was, positivism's founder, Henri Saint-Simon.

The emergence of sociology was in part shaped by its critique of three main preceding intellectual commitments, and it is these that help to define it and establish civil society as sociology's scientific object. First, sociology developed a critique of political economy's emphasis on a competitive, market individualism. Second, early sociology opposed institutionalized religions, including both Catholicism and Protestantism, regarded the critique of deism as a necessary foundation of the sciences, and saw the sciences as the necessary basis of modern society. In short, the critique of conventional and established religion was, for early sociologists (particularly Saint-Simon) as for Marxism, the beginning of all critique. Third, and finally, early sociology rejected the dominance of society by the state, saw the state as undermining society and as essentially archaic insofar as its characteristic form was domination by force. Sociology viewed the modern period as one whose enlightenment and productivity no longer required the repression characteristic of the state, and which it thus expected (and encouraged) to "wither" away. Among the foundations of sociology then are, first, its antiindividualism; second, its suspicion and critique of traditional religions, of religious authority as a basis of knowledge, and its strongly secularizing epistemology; third, and finally, sociology was antistatist and, more generally, defocalized the importance of politics.

Sociology's concern with civil society, however, was also still largely residual, including at the largest remove all groups and institutions not directly part of the state. At another, more analytical level, however, sociology also associated civil society with elements contributing to the maintenance of order and stability in society that spontaneously and "naturally" developed; that is, without the planful initiative of the state or anyone else. The central problem of modern society, to the sociology that arose on the heels of the French Revolution, was the threat to social order— whether anarchy or revolution—seen as partly exacerbated by the growing division of labor, by the Protestant principle of individual responsibility for decisions, by unbridled individualism (Comte), the greediness of the state, or the dangers of the discontented and hungry proletariat (Saint-Simon). It was the maintenance of social order, the prevention of another 1789, that was a fundamental impetus behind the new sociology. It wanted a group life that limited individualism while serving as a buffer between persons and the state, as the crucial desideratum. The voluntary group, whose members come together spontaneously and voluntarily, is seen as the healthy social unit. The new sociology, then, thus emphasized the group as a distinctive type of system with its own requirements and placed this at its center. For Comte, for example, the family was the basic unit of society, while (new and critically purified) religion was to be the basis of social regulation and integration.

Unlike Saint-Simon who was at times more mechanistic, Comte emphasized that social order was to be maintained, like an organism, that is, through its own naturally emergent elements or organs. He conceived society as possessing a natural, built-in tendency toward order and equilibrium, regarding a naturally derived order as superior to that which had been imposed legally. He assumed that reason and rationality in daily life are somehow less "natural" than "spontaneous" reactions governed by unplanned tradition, habit, or feeling and that spontaneous methods of maintaining order were superior to others. There is no doubt, however, that Comte left room for planful intervention in the event of severe social disruptions, such as those he believed the new division of labor was generating for the social consensus There is also no doubt, however, that he held that "the final order which arises spontaneously is always superior to that which human combination had, by anticipation, constructed."

There was, then, a polemical preference in early sociology's search for the spontaneous maintenance of social order, for social order that was homeostatic, that is, self-maintained. (This converges with, but is not the same as, the view advanced by Eisenstadt and Curelaru that sociology's "most important characteristic" was the scientific analysis of "the general problem of social order"9 and of developmental trends.) It is precisely because of its focus on spontaneous, homeostatic social order that Comte was critical of rational and planned programs of legal, political, or constitutional reform. It is the last that Comte considers the paradigm of the "unnatural" and against which he inveighs: "The multitude of the so-called Constitutions produced by the people since the beginning of the crisis . . . would alone suffice to convince every capable intellect how entirely the nature and difficulty of forming a plan for Social Reorganisation have hitherto been misunderstood." And again, Comte insists that "no jealous legal provision against the selfish use of wealth, and no mischievous intervention, paralyzing social activity by political prohibition can be very effective." Similarly, Comte never suggested any constitutional guarantees of freedom or legal safeguards against tyranny. Essentially, what Comte is saying is that before political reforms can have effect, sentiments must be changed so that persons are disposed spontaneously to conform with them. He held that legal change cannot effect modifications in the beliefs and morals of a people but, rather, presupposes them. The illiberal and conservative import of much of this is plain and has been commented on at length in my Coming Crisis of Western Sociology.

Sociologists, since Comte's time (although scarcely of one single disposition), have been congenial to a conception of society and of the groups in it, that views them as a natural system. In this model, explicit, articulated policies (or goals) are but one of many needs the group is seen as attempting to satisfy. Internally, the group s component structures are seen as emergent organs, understandable only in relationship to the various needs of the group and not simply in terms of its articulate policies. Groups (and societies) are seen as striving to survive, to maintain their own equilibrium; this effort may persist even after the group's explicitly stated goals have been achieved. Indeed, the impulse toward survival may on occasion even lead to the neglect or distortion of the group's goals. Whatever the plans of their creators—if any creators are nameable—group maintenance may become an end in itself; groups possess their own distinctive needs which press toward satisfaction.

Once established, the structures and institutions of groups generate new goals that constrain subsequent decision-making, limiting the manner in which the groups' initial goals can be pursued. Group structures and institutions, then, are viewed as spontaneously maintained and as spontaneously changed. Changes in group arrangements are viewed as the result of cumulative, unplanned, adaptive responses to problems or threats (which may or may not be seen as mediated by its elite or dominant figures). Responses to group problems are thought of as taking the form of increasingly developed defense mechanisms, importantly shaped by shared values internalized in group members. The focus is thus on the spontaneously emergent and normatively sanctioned structures, on deviations from group stability or equilibrium rather than from rational plans, and, particularly, on mechanisms by which group structures are defended spontaneously. When departures from planned purposes are considered, they are viewed not so much as due to ignorance or human error but as arising from constraints imposed by existing social structures. Indeed, in given situations, it is assumed that ignorance may not always be disruptive of but may be useful to group structures and arrangements.

Being viewed as a connected system of parts, on the model of an organism, the focus is on their mutual interdependence, on how, therefore, even planned changes may produce ramifying, unanticipated consequences for the group or the planner. When "unanticipated consequences" occur they are usually seen as divergent from, rather than as supportive of, the planner's intentions. Society and groups in it are, then, seen as "growing" organically with their own "natural history" which is planfully modifiable only at considerable peril. Such long range change as takes place, is thus regarded not as conforming to any planner's intentions but as an evolution in conformity with "natural laws." This is modern sociology's most general model of the character of a civil society and its component groups.

In sociology's developing treatment of civil society, then, several trends are to be observed: one is an analytical focus on the problem of a homeostatically, spontaneously maintained social order; the second is its focus on "natural," that is, unplanned social regularities and changes in group life which are counterposed (invidiously) to planned arrangements and changes; and the third is its focus, at the concrete level, on all groups except the state. Comte's emphasis was on overcoming the effects of the revolution which, he felt, had laid siege to the family and church, in its efforts to bar all impediments between person and state. He complained that the revolutionary state had devoured the functions properly belonging to such small groups, had hollowed out society, leaving a sandlike pile of atomized individuals. In its natural condition, Comte averred, society is an integrated assemblage of small groups unified by a common set of beliefs tempered by a religion.

Comte's mentor (and bete noir), Saint-Simon, similarly stressed antistatist views. Saint-Simon observed that "those who control public affairs share between them every year one-half of the taxes, and they do not even use a third of what they do not pocket personally in a way which benefits the citizen." Saint-Simon held that pre-modern social organization had to be on authoritarian military lines because the masses had earlier been uneducated, incapable of self-management, and were hungry. This, however, is no longer necessary because "the majority have become used to work (which eliminates disorder) and now consists of men who have recently proved that they are capable of administering property, whether in land or money." The men who made the revolution of 1789, he says, "have all sought to improve the governmental machine, whereas they should have subordinated it and put administration in the first place . . . it was with the aim of being governed less, and less expensively, that the nation embarked on revolution. Up to the present it has achieved as a result more government, and more expensive government, than it had before the revolution . . . the imposition of government on top of administration produced harmful effects at the present day, when the mass of the nation consists of men who no longer require to be closely supervised, since they have shown themselves capable of administering all kinds of property. Today the proletarian class can only become dangerous to public order, if the administrators of the national interests are so inept or selfish as to let them become unemployed.''10

Since Comte, the sociological tradition has been anchored in its emphasis on civil society, particularly in sociology's development within French, English, and American society. Civil society is important also for German sociology, although somewhat more ambiguously, considering the great importance that Max Weber attributed to the nation-state. Yet there is no mistaking its significance in the sociology of Ferdinand Tonnies, with its distinction between traditional social organization (Gemeinschaft) and rationally planned social organization (Gesellschctft) at the level of the everyday life, or in the sociology of Georg Simmel with its focus on formal structures of relationships.

The French tradition culminates, at one landing, in the work of Emile Durkheim whose lectures on Professional Ethics and Civic Morals11as does the preface to the second edition of his Division of Labor in Society—indicate the convergence of his sociology with a syndicalist (but nonrevolutionary) socialism. Durkheim held that class differences made it impossible for "just" contracts to be negotiated and led to an uneqtlal exchange of goods and services, being thus conducive to a sense of injustice which had socially unstabilizing effects. These unstabilizing power disparities, Durkheim held, were grounded in the institution of inheritance. Durkheim thus regards inheritance as in tension with modern contractual and individualistic views, anticipates its ultimate elimination, and conceives it possible that property will no longer be transmitted through the family. To whom, then, is property to go after the death of its private owner, especially since the state is blundering and wasteful? Durkheim replied that the occupational organization was to be its recipient and manager.

In his second preface to The Division of Labor, Durkheim also stressed the importance of such occupational communities, seeing them as ultimately supplanting the state and as constituting the focus for the revitalization of modern morality, the "poverty" which he held central to the modern malaise. It is clear, however, that these syndicates did not only have a morality-building function for Durkheim but also had important economic functions. They were to be Durkheim's equivalent for Marxist nationalization of property by the state.

Durkheim's central concern, however, was the decline of civil society; the dissolution of group structures were, he feared, conducive to various social pathologies, among them suicide and, more generally, to a kind of Hobbesian war of each against all. New self-maintaining social groups were needed to administer and control modern social life that could be coordinated with its newly industrial character. In industrial society, it no longer suffices to organize society in terms of family, church, or territorial units. Moreover, "the state is poorly equipped to supervise these very specialized economic tasks." Durkheim concluded that the new groups appropriate for modern industrial life would be corporations organized around different industries, constituting a focus of common interests and social interaction, from which he expected to arise a new and effective social morality to which persons would give voluntary consent.

In like manner, Talcott Parsons's more recent work has been concerned to explore those factors that contribute to social system equilibrium which is seen as dependent on persons' readiness to conform voluntarily with one another's expectations. For Parsons as for Durkheim, voluntary conformity was important, for without it external restraints are required, and these are always vulnerable to avoidances and hostile coalitions, if they do not coincide with what is desired by the actors. Thus spontaneous and voluntary conformity with the expectations of others—as distinct from that externally coerced or forced—is the only basis of a stable social system and this, in turn, is seen as needing to be grounded in a consensus of moral beliefs and norms. Actors sharing the same moral beliefs would know what to expect from one another and would comply readily with one another's expectations.

In this sociological tradition, the question becomes, on what basis can such shared moral beliefs come into being, so that education and socialization become central. In the positivist tradition beginning with Comte it was also supposed that science, by authoritatively establishing the requirements of modern life, could win consent from persons in society, and thus reestablish the requisite voluntary consensus in morality.

Durkheim's own position came to stress that sheer interaction centering around common activities, would in time generate a new and shared morality. If for Durkheim the pathology of modern life premised a "poverty of morality," he increasingly doubted that it could be discovered and established by science or social science, as Comte and Saint-Simon had supposed. Durkheim surmises that a scientific ethic might emerge someday but, in the meanwhile, social science cannot provide it. The new morality, for him, must therefore be naturally or spontaneously developed around sustained patterns of social interaction. Patterns of social interaction would provide the focus around which moral beliefs emerge and develop. In his Suicide, Durkheim took a strongly antivoluntaristic position, insisting that you cannot simply "will" away the problem; that is, ways of thinking and acting cannot be changed without changing social structure.

Here Durkheim was converging with Marx's materialism, which saw consciousness as grounded in social being. But instead of focusing on the manner in which class relations or position shape consciousness, Durkheim held that more diversified social (not merely economic) relations influence the development of beliefs. In this vein, Durkheim had also held, in his Division of Labor, that society is the necessary condition of the moral world, and "cannot exist if its parts are not solidary, but solidarity is only one of the conditions of its existence. There are many others which are no less necessary but which are not moral.''12

Since Comte, then, one major stream of sociology has focused on the sources of a self-maintaining social order grounded in shared moral values and beliefs. Its focus on these has not, however, been as an end in itself but as a source of spontaneous and voluntary choices and social solidarity—i.e., of self-maintenance— thus avoiding (and devaluing) external constraint, including impositions by the state. In short, the problem of morality becomes important in this intellectual tradition in a utilitarian way, i.e., precisely because useful to the autonomy and vitality of civil society and its solidarity.

While this sociological tradition may be conceived as a generalization of a market system, thus embodying an ideology (at least) latently liberal or even conservative, yet it is precisely in this focus that modern sociology developed certain of its most abiding elements of rationality. It is seeking an alternative, third way, to the atomization of a competitive market society, on the one side, and to a state dominated existence, on the other. Sociology conceives of civil society as a haven and support for individual persons, i.e., as de-atomizing; as a medium through which they can pursue their own projects in the course of their everyday lives; and as ways of avoiding dependence on the domination by the state. Sociology thus focused on and took as problematic precisely the civil society Marxism took as given.

At the same time, sociology has largely failed to pursue its studies of civil society in the context of the limits imposed by the growing state apparatus and, more generally, in its connection with the state. In this respect, however, sociology only shares Marxism's tendency to treat politics and, indeed, the state, as epiphenomenal. Sociology, however, has been much more consistently prepared to oppose the state or to avoid reliance upon it. Sociology thus continues to supply insight into the working of the civil society that Marxism neglected. Although both traditions are deficient in their analyses of the state, sociology's knowledge of civil society becomes increasingly important, perhaps especially to Marxists whose own liberative ambitions for society have been crushed under the reality of the collectivist state.

In socialist, no less than capitalist societies, then, a central and increasingly urgent problem is how may persons avoid dependence on the state; how may patterns of mutual and self-help— and of the self-management that is 1'art of this—be strengthened; how may society resist the enveloping superintendence by the state? From a Marxist standpoint, the growing question is how may civil society be fortified, so that Marxism's own liberative aspirations can be realized? Essentially, sociology's traditions— precisely because they have been conservative—have centered on the problems connected with developing a self-maintaining civil society, social organizations, and social systems. Deepened knowledge of this is certainly indispensable for any social movement, such as Marxism, which seeks workers' control (when this is not understood as equivalent to nationalization), or which seeks a responsible and competent citizenry, and hopes to develop persons capable of mutual aid and independence, and to retain a viable "public" sphere. Marxism has proven incompetent to deliver on its pledge to usher in an emancipatory society; it is, instead, encouraging authoritarian societies with bloated repressive states and paranoiac bureaucracies.

Insofar as sociologists continue to explore this problem, rather than sinking into routine market research for the welfare-warfare state—thereby transforming themselves into administrative tools of the state bureaucracy—they can play an historically emancipatory role. I have in my Coming Crisis of Western Sociology examined at some length the constraints on sociology that may distort its liberative potential. I have also stressed sociology's contradictory character. Civil society as infrastructure of the public sphere thus remains an important focus for at least some sociologists associated together in communities supportive of a critical theory. While it is far from sure that sociology is destined to fulfill its liberative potential, still this surely remains the object of some groups among them. Sociology's liberative potential is, in any event, no more uncertain that that of Marxism, which is already associated with immense political catastrophes. No emancipation is possible in the modern world, however, without a strong civil society that can strengthen the public sphere and can provide a haven from and a center of resistance to the Behemoth state. An understanding of this has been central to the sociological project, though systematically neglected by Marxism.

One part of the liberative potential of sociology—i.e., its rational kernel—was brought to focus by Max Weber's theory of bureaucracy. At a time when German Social Democrats were developing a burgeoning bureaucracy, Weber's somber but penetrating analysis warned that bureaucracy was on the march, in the new Soviet state as elsewhere in Europe. Weber warned that "socialism"—i.e., the kind of scientific socialism he saw around him in Germany—did not mean the dictatorship of the proletariat but, rather, "the dictatorship of the official." The subsequent development of Stalinism would seem to substantiate the profundity of Weber's critique. Indeed, even the Althusserian Scientific Marxist, Goran Therborn, acknowledges that Weber's "analysis of bureaucracy and other administrative apparatuses is far superior in depth and detail to that of either Marx, Engels or Lenin.''13



1. Shlomo Avineri, The Social and Political Thought of Karl Marx (London and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1969), p. 155. I use Avineri's reading of this letter because it is the most generous possible interpretation of it, attributing insights to it that less imaginative scholars might not find. My own reading sees Marx saying considerably less; and my own reading of Avineri sees him as transforming Marx into Weber. Here I think Avineri makes a mountain out of a molehill as he had earlier reduced a mountain to a molehill in discussing the Marxist position on technology.

2. For a good discussion, see Hal Draper, Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution, Part I: The State and Bureaucracy (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1977), vol. 1, pp. 32ff.

3. Karl Marx, Grundrisse: Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy, trans. Martin Nicolaus (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1973), pp. 83-84.

4. Frederick Engels, Herr Eugen Duhring's Revolution in Science, (Anti-Duhring), trans. Emile Burns, ed. C. P. Dutt (New York: International Publishers, 1939), pp. 182-83.

5. Robert Brenner, "Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre-Industrial Europe," Past and Present, February 1976, pp. 56-57.

6. Michael Walzer, The Revolution of the Saints: A Study in the Origins of Radical Politics (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1965), pp.

7. Robert R. Palmer, The Age of the Democratic Revolution: A Political History of Europe and America, 1760-1800 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959', p. 23.

8. Ibid., p. 30.

9. S. N. Eisenstadt with M. Curelaru, The Form of Sociology Paradigms and Crises (New York: John Wiley, 1976), p. 16.

10. Henri Comte de Saint-Simon, Selected Writings (1760-1825) ed. F. M. H. Markham (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1952), pp. 74, 76, 78, i9.

11. Emlle Durkheim, Professional Ethics and Civic Morals (Glencoe III.: Free Press, 1958), pp. 213ff.

12. Emile Durkheim, The Division of Labor in Society (Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, 1947), p. 399. Italics added.

13. Goran Therborn, Science, Class and Society (London: New Left Books, 1976), p. 302.


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From Alvin W. Gouldner,  The Two Marxisms.   New York:  Oxford University Press, 1980,  Chapter 12 - "Civil Society in Capitalism and Socialism," pp. 355-373.

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