From Marcello Truzzi, Sociology: The Classic Statements.New York: Oxford University Press, 1971, pp. 145-154.


On Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft

Reprinted from Community and Society: Gemeinschaft undGesellschaft by Ferdinand Tonnies, translated and edited byCharles P. Loomis, pp. 223-231. Copyright 1957, The Michigan StateUniversity Press.

The German sociologist Ferdinand Tonnies (1855-1936) was a majorcontributor to theory and field studies in sociology. [1] He is bestremembered for his distinction between two basic types of socialgroups. [2] Tonnies argued that there are two basic forms of humanwill: the essential will, which is the underlying, organic, orinstinctive driving force; and arbitrary will, which is deliberative,purposive, and future (goal) oriented. Groups that form aroundessential will, in which membership is self-fulfilling, Tonniescalled Gemeinschaft (often translated as community). Groups inwhich membership was sustained by some instrumental goal or definiteend he termed Gesellschaft (often translated as society).Gemeinschaft was exemplified by the family or neighborhood;Gesellschaft, by the city or the state. [3]

Bibliographical Notes

1. Tonnies' major work, Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft(first published in 1887), is available in English translation(edited and translated by Charles P. Loomis) as Community andSociety (1957). It is also available in an earlier edition, whichalso contained some of Tonnies' later essays, as FundamentalConcepts of Sociology (1940). Tonnies ten other books, of whichthe major work dealing with sociology is his 1931 Einfuhrung indie Soziologie (An Introduction to Sociology), plus mostof his essays, still await English translations. A full bibliographyof Tonnies' work can be found in: American Journal ofSociology, 42 ( 1937), 100-101.

2. Brief critiques of Tonnies' works include: Louis Wirth, "TheSociology of Ferdinand Tonnies," American Journal ofSociology, 32 (1927), 412-422; and Rudolf Heberle, "TheSociological System of Ferdinand Tonnies: 'Community' and 'Society',"in Harry Elmer Barnes (ed.), An Introduction to the History ofSociology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948),pp.227-248.

3. Modern applications of Tonnies' typology can be found in:Linton C. Freeman and Robert F. Winch, "Societal Complexity: AnEmpirical Test of a Typology of Societies," American Journal ofSociology 62 (1957), 461-466; and Charles P. Loomis and Cohn C.McKinney "Systematic Differences between Latin-American Communitiesof Family Farms and Large Estates," American Journal ofSociology, 61 (1956), 404-412.

1. Order--Law--Mores

There is a contrast between a social order which--being based uponconsensus of wills--rests on harmony and is developed and ennobled byfolkways, mores, and religion, and an order which--being based upon aunion of rational wills--rests on convention and agreement, issafeguarded by political legislation, and finds its ideologicaljustification in public opinion.

There is, further, in the first instance a common and bindingsystem of positive law, of enforcible norms regulating theinterrelation of wills. It has its roots in family life and is basedon land ownership. Its forms are in the main determined by the codeof the folkways and mores. Religion consecrates and glorifies theseforms of the divine will, i.e., as interpreted by the will of wiseand ruling men. This system of norms is in direct contrast to asimilar positive law which upholds the separate identity of theindividual rational wills in all their interrelations andentanglements. The latter derives from the conventional order oftrade and similar relations but attains validity and binding forceonly through the sovereign will and power of the state. Thus, itbecomes one of the most important instruments of policy; it sustains,impedes, or furthers social trends; it is defended or contestedpublicly by doctrines and opinions and thus is changed, becoming morestrict or more lenient.

There is, further, the dual concept of morality as a purely idealor mental system of norms for community life. In the first case, itis mainly an expression and organ of religious beliefs and forces, bynecessity intertwined with the conditions and realities of familyspirit and the folkways and mores. In the second case, it is entirelya product and instrument of public opinion, which encompasses allrelations arising out of contractual sociableness, contacts, andpolitical intentions.

Order is natural law, law as such = positive law, mores = ideallaw. Law as the meaning of what may or ought to be, of what isordained or permitted, constitutes an object of social will. Even thenatural law, in order to attain validity and reality, has to berecognized as positive and binding. But it is positive in a moregeneral or less definite way. It is general in comparison withspecial laws. It is simple compared to complex and developed law.

2. Dissolution

The substance of the body social and the social will consists ofconcord, folkways, mores, and religion, the manifold forms of whichdevelop under favorable conditions during its lifetime. Thus, eachindividual receives his share from this common center, which ismanifest in his own sphere, i.e., in his sentiment, in his mind andheart, and in his conscience as well as in his environment, hispossessions, and his activities. This is also true of each group. Itis in this center that the individual's strength is rooted, and hisrights derive, in the last instance, from the one original law which,in its divine and natural character, encompasses and sustains him,just as it made him and will carry him away. But under certainconditions and in some relationships, man appears as a free agent(person) in his self-determined activities and has to be conceived ofas an independent person. The substance of the common spirit hasbecome so weak or the link connecting him with the others worn sothin that it has to be excluded from consideration. In contrast tothe family and co-operative relationship, this is true of allrelations among separate individuals where there is no commonunderstanding, and no time-honored custom or belief creates a commonbond. This means war and the unrestricted freedom of all to destroyand subjugate one another, or, being aware of possible greateradvantage, to conclude agreements and foster new ties. To the extentthat such a relationship exists between closed groups or communitiesor between their individuals or between members and nonmembers of acommunity, it does not come within the scope of this study. In thisconnection we see a community organization and social conditions inwhich the individuals remain in isolation and veiled hostility towardeach other so that only fear of clever retaliation restrains themfrom attacking one another, and, therefore, even peaceful andneighborly relations are in reality based upon a warlike situation.This is, according to our concepts, the condition ofGesellschaft-like civilization, in which peace and commerce aremaintained through conventions and the underlying mutual fear. Thestate protects this civilization through legislation and politics. Toa certain extent science and public opinion, attempting to conceiveit as necessary and eternal, glorify it as progress towardperfection.

But it is in the organization and order of the Gemeinschaft thatfolk life and folk culture persist. The state, which represents andembodies Gesellschaft, is opposed to these in veiled hatred andcontempt, the more so the further the state has moved away from andbecome estranged from these forms of community life. Thus, also inthe social and historical life of mankind there is partly closeinterrelation, partly juxtaposition and opposition of natural andrational will.

3. The People (Volkstum) and the State (Staatstum)

In the same way as the individual natural will evolves into purethinking and rational will, which tends to dissolve and subjugate itspredecessors, the original collective forms of Gemeinschaft havedeveloped into Gesellschaft and the rational will of theGesellschaft. In the course of history, folk culture has given riseto the civilization of the state.

The main features of this process can be described in thefollowing way. The anonymous mass of the people is the original anddominating power which creates the houses, the villages, and thetowns of the country. From it, too, spring the powerful andself-determined individuals of many different kinds: princes, feudallords, knights, as well as priests, artists, scholars. As long astheir economic condition is determined by the people as a whole, alltheir social control is conditioned by the will and power of thepeople. Their union on a national scale, which alone could make themdominant as a group, is dependent on economic conditions. And theirreal and essential control is economic control, which before them andwith them and partly against them the merchants attain by harnessingthe labor force of the nation. Such economic control is achieved inmany forms, the highest of which is planned capitalist production orlarge-scale industry. It is through the merchants that the technicalconditions for the national union of independent individuals and forcapitalistic production are created. This merchant class is bynature, and mostly also by origin, international as well as nationaland urban, i.e., it belongs to Gesellschaft, not Gemeinschaft. Laterall social groups and dignitaries and, at least in tendency, thewhole people acquire the characteristics of the Gesellschaft.

Men change their temperaments with the place and conditions oftheir daily life, which becomes hasty and changeable through restlessstriving. Simultaneously, along with this revolution in the socialorder, there takes place a gradual change of the law, in meaning aswell as in form. The contract as such becomes the basis of the entiresystem, and rational will of Gesellschaft, formed by its interests,combines with authoritative will of the state to create, maintain andchange the legal system. According to this conception, the law canand may completely change the Gesellschaft in line with its owndiscrimination and purpose; changes which, however, will be in theinterest of the Gesellschaft, making for usefulness and efficiency.The state frees itself more and more from the traditions and customsof the past and the belief in their importance. Thus, the forms oflaw change from a product of the folkways and mores and the law ofcustom into a purely legalistic law, a product of policy. The stateand its departments and the individuals are the only remainingagents, instead of numerous and manifold fellowships, communities,and commonwealths which have grown up organically. The characters ofthe people, which were influenced and determined by these previouslyexisting institutions, undergo new changes in adaptation to new andarbitrary legal constructions. These earlier institutions lose thefirm hold which folkways, mores, and the conviction of theirinfallibility gave to them.

Finally, as a consequence of these changes and in turn reactingupon them, a complete reversal of intellectual life takes place.While originally rooted entirely in the imagination, it now becomesdependent upon thinking. Previously, all was centered around thebelief in invisible beings, spirits and gods; now it is focalized onthe insight into visible nature. Religion, which is rooted in folklife or at least closely related to it, must cede supremacy toscience, which derives from and corresponds to consciousness. Suchconsciousness is a product of leaning and culture and, therefore,remote from the people. Religion has an immediate contact and ismoral in its nature because it is most deeply related to thephysical-spiritual link which connects the generations of men.Science receives its moral meaning only from an observation of thelaws of social life, which leads it to derive rules for an arbitraryand reasonable order of social organization. The intellectualattitude of the individual becomes gradually less and less influencedby religion and more and more influenced by science. Utilizing theresearch findings accumulated by the preceding industriousgeneration, we shall investigate the tremendous contrasts which theopposite poles of this dichotomy and these fluctuations entail. Forthis presentation, however, the following few remarks may suffice tooutline the underlying principles.

4. Types of Real Community Life

The exterior forms of community life as represented by naturalwill and Gemeinschaft were distinguished as house, village, and town.These are the lasting types of real and historical life. In adeveloped Gesellschaft, as in the earlier and middle stages, peoplelive together in these different ways. The town is the highest, viz.,the most complex, form of social life. Its local character, in commonwith that of the village, contrasts with the family character of thehouse. Both village and town retain many characteristics of thefamily; the village retains more, the town less. Only when the towndevelops into the city are these characteristics almost entirelylost. Individuals or families are separate identities, and theircommon locale is only an accidental or deliberately chosen place inwhich to live. But as the town lives on within the city, elements oflife in the Gemeinschaft, as the only real form of life, persistwithin the Gesellschaft, although lingering and decaying. On theother hand, the more general the condition of Gesellschaft becomes inthe nation or a group of nations, the more this entire "country" orthe entire "world" begins to resemble one large city. However, in thecity and therefore where general conditions characteristic of theGesellschaft prevail, only the upper strata, the rich and thecultured, are really active and alive. They set up the standards towhich the lower strata have to conform. These lower classes conformpartly to supersede the others, partly in imitation of them in orderto attain for themselves social power and independence. The cityconsists, for both groups (just as in the case of the "nation" andthe "world"), of free persons who stand in contact with each other,exchange with each other and cooperate without any Gemeinschaft orwill thereto developing among them except as such might developsporadically or as a leftover from former conditions. On thecontrary, these numerous external contacts, contracts, andcontractual relations only cover up as many inner hostilities andantagonistic interests. This is especially true of the antagonismbetween the rich or the so-called cultured class and the poor or theservant class, which try to obstruct and destroy each other. It isthis contrast which, according to Plato, gives the "city" its dualcharacter and makes it divide in itself. This itself, according toour concept, constitutes the city, but the same contrast is alsomanifest in every large-scale relationship between capital and labor.The common town life remains within the Gemeinschaft of family andrural life; it is devoted to some agricultural pursuits but concernsitself especially with art and handicraft which evolve from thesenatural needs and habits. City life, however, is sharplydistinguished from that; these basis activities are used only asmeans and tools for the special purposes of the city.

The city is typical of Gesellschaft in general. It is essentiallya commercial town and, in so far as commerce dominates its productivelabor, a factory town. Its wealth is capital wealth which, in theform of trade, usury, or industrial capital, is used and multiplies.Capital is the means for the appropriation of products of labor orfor the exploitation of workers. The city is also the center ofscience and culture, which always go hand in hand with commerce andindustry. Here the arts must make a living; they are exploited in acapitalistic way. Thoughts spread and change with astonishingrapidity. Speeches and books through mass distribution become stimuliof far-reaching importance.

The city is to be distinguished from the national capital, which,as residence of the court or center of government, manifests thefeatures of the city in many respects although its population andother conditions have not yet reached that level. In the synthesis ofcity and capital, the highest form of this kind is achieved: themetropolis. It is the essence not only of a national Gesellschaft,but contains representatives from a whole group of nations, i.e., ofthe world. In the metropolis, money and capital are unlimited andalmighty. It is able to produce and supply goods and science for theentire earth as well as laws and public opinion for all nations. Itrepresents the world market and world traffic; in it world industriesare concentrated. Its newspapers are world papers, its people comefrom all corners of the earth, being curious and hungry for money andpleasure.

5. Counterpart of Gemeinschaft

Family life is the general basis of life in the Gemeinschaft. Itsubsists in village and town life. The village community and the townthemselves can be considered as large families, the various clans andhouses representing the elementary organisms of its body; guilds,corporations, and offices, the tissues and organs of the town. Hereoriginal kinship and inherited status remain an essential, or atleast the most important, condition of participating fully in commonproperty and other rights. Strangers may be accepted and protected asserving-members or guests either temporarily or permanently. Thus,they can belong to the Gemeinschaft as objects, but not easily asagents and representatives of the Gemeinschaft. Children are, duringminority, dependent members of the family, but according to Romancustom they are called free because it is anticipated that underpossible and normal conditions they will certainly be masters, theirown heirs. This is true neither of guests nor of servants, either inthe house or in the community. But honored guests can approach theposition of children. If they are adopted or civic rights are grantedto them, they fully acquire this position with the right to inherit.Servants can be esteemed or treated as guests or even, because of thevalue of their functions, take part as members in the activities ofthe group. It also happens sometimes that they become natural orappointed heirs. In reality there are many gradations, lower orhigher, which are not exactly met by legal formulas. All theserelationships can, under special circumstances, be transformed intomerely interested and dissolvable interchange between independentcontracting parties. In the city such change, at least with regard toall relations of servitude, is only natural and becomes more and morewidespread with its development. The difference between natives andstrangers becomes irrelevant. Everyone is what he is, through hispersonal freedom, through his wealth and his contracts. He is aservant only in so far as he has granted certain services to someoneelse, master in so far as he receives such services. Wealth is,indeed, the only effective and original differentiatingcharacteristic; whereas in Gemeinschaften property it is consideredas participation in the common ownership and as a specific legalconcept is entirely the consequence and result of freedom oringenuity, either original or acquired. Therefore, wealth, to theextent that this is possible, corresponds to the degree of freedompossessed.

In the city as well as in the capital, and especially in themetropolis family life is decaying. The more and the longer theirinfluence prevails the more the residuals of family life acquire apurely accidental character. For there are only few who will confinetheir energies within such a narrow circle; all are attracted outsideby business, interests, and pleasures, and thus separated from oneanother. The great and mighty, feeling free and independent, havealways felt a strong inclination to break through the barriers of thefolkways and mores. They know that they can do as they please. Theyhave the power to bring about changes in their favor, and this ispositive proof of individual arbitrary power. The mechanism of money,under usual conditions and if working under high pressure, is meansto overcome all resistance, to obtain everything wanted and desired,to eliminate all dangers and to cure all evil. This does not holdalways. Even if all controls of the Gemeinschaft are eliminated,there are nevertheless controls in the Gesellschaft to which the freeand independent individuals are subject. For Gesellschaft (in thenarrower sense), convention takes to a large degree the place of thefolkways, mores, and religion. It forbids much as detrimental to thecommon interest which the folkways, mores, and religion had condemnedas evil in and of itself.

The will of the state plays the same role through law courts andpolice, although within narrower limits. The laws of the state applyequally to everyone; only children and lunatics are not heldresponsible to them. Convention maintains at least the appearance ofmorality; it is still related to the folkways, mores, and religiousand aesthetic feeling, although this feeling tends to becomearbitrary and formal. The state is hardly directly concerned withmorality. It has only to suppress and punish hostile actions whichare detrimental to the common weal or seemingly dangerous for itselfand society. For as the state has to administer the common weal, itmust be able to define this as it pleases. In the end it willprobably realize that no increase in knowledge and culture alone willmake people kinder, less egotistic, and more content and that deadfolkways, mores, and religions cannot be revived by coercion andteaching. The state will then arrive at the conclusion that in orderto create moral forces and moral beings it must prepare the groundand fulfill the necessary conditions, or at least it must eliminatecounteracting forces. The state, as the reason of Gesellschaft,should decide to destroy Gesellschaft or at least to reform or renewit. The success of such attempts is highly improbable.

6. The Real State

Public opinion, which brings the morality of Gesellschaft intorules and formulas and can rise above the state, has neverthelessdecided tendencies to urge the state to use its irresistible power toforce everyone to do what is useful and to leave undone what isdamaging. Extension of the penal code and the police power seems theright means to curb the evil impulses of the masses. Public opinionpasses easily from the demand for freedom (for the upper classes) tothat of despotism (against the lower classes). The makeshift,convention, has but little influence over the masses. In theirstriving for pleasure and entertainment they are limited only by thescarcity of the means which the capitalists furnish them as price fortheir labor, which condition is as general as it is natural in aworld where the interests of the capitalists and merchantsanticipated all possible needs and in mutual competition incite tothe most varied expenditures of money. Only through fear of discoveryand punishments that is, through fear of the state, is a special andlarge group, which encompasses far more people than the professionalcriminals, restrained in its desire to obtain the key to allnecessary and unnecessary pleasures. The state is their enemy. Thestate, to them, is an alien and unfriendly power; although seeminglyauthorized by them and embodying their own will, it is neverthelessopposed to all their needs and desires, protecting property whichthey do not possess, forcing them into military service for a countrywhich offers them hearth and altar only in the form of a heated roomon the upper floor or gives them, for native soil, city streets wherethey may stare at the glitter and luxury in lighted windows foreverbeyond their reach! Their own life is nothing but a constantalternative between work and leisure, which are both distorted intofactory routine and the low pleasure of the saloons. City life andGesellschaft down the common people to decay and death; in vain theystruggle to attain power through their own multitude, and it seems tothem that they can use their power only for a revolution if they wantto free themselves from their fate. The masses become conscious ofthis social position through the education in schools and throughnewspapers. They proceed from class consciousness to class struggle.This class struggle may destroy society and the state which is itspurpose to reform. The entire culture has been transformed into acivilization of state and Gesellschaft, and this transformation meansthe doom of culture itself if none of its scattered seeds remainalive and again bring forth the essence and idea of Gemeinschaft,thus secretly fostering a new culture amidst the decaying one.



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