The Anthem Companion to Ferdinand Tonnies

The Anthem Companion to Ferdinand Tonnies

by Christopher Adair-Toteff (Editor)


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ISBN-13: 9780857281821
Publisher: Anthem Press
Publication date: 06/19/2016
Series: Anthem Companions to Sociology
Pages: 242
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Christopher Adair-Toteff is a Fellow at the Center for Social and Political Thought, University of South Florida, Tampa, and an Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the University of Kent, Canterbury, UK.

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The Anthem Companion to Ferdinand Tönnies

By Christopher Adair-Toteff

Wimbledon Publishing Company

Copyright © 2016 Christopher Adair-Toteff editorial matter and selection
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-85728-182-1



Christopher Adair-Toteff

For three days in late October 1910, some 30 people participated in the first conference of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Soziologie (DGS). None of these people were professional sociologists; instead, they came from many different disciplines. Ferdinand Tönnies and Georg Simmel were trained as philosophers; Max Weber and Werner Sombart were political economists; and the rest tended to be lawyers and political and social thinkers and, in the case of Ernst Troeltsch, a theologian. The second conference of the DGS occurred two years later but, because of the war, the third was not held until 1922. By then Weber and Simmel were dead; Sombart and Troeltsch were no longer active in the DGS; and only Tönnies was left to establish sociology as a respectable German scholarly discipline. In fact, as I intend to show in this chapter, while Max Weber and Georg Simmel rightfully hold significant places in the history of sociology, it was Ferdinand Tönnies who probably did more than anyone else in Germany to develop sociology as a science.

The Early Years: From Philosophy to Sociology

Like Georg Simmel, Ferdinand Tönnies was trained primarily in philosophy, and many of Tönnies's early writings, like Simmel's, were on philosophers. These philosophers included Thomas Hobbes, Benedict Spinoza and Friedrich Nietzsche; but Tönnies soon rejected Nietzsche and moved beyond Spinoza. In marked contrast, Hobbes continued to interest Tönnies and clearly influenced Tönnies's sociological thinking (Merz-Benz 1995, 26, 247, 350). Unlike Simmel's writing, Tönnies's first major sociological work drew a considerable amount of interest, and, more importantly, established Tönnies's concern with the nature and the function of social life as well as his recognition of the importance of social justice. This concern reflects Tönnies's interest in and indebtedness to Karl Marx (Bond 2013, 138–40). For Tönnies, the first question is how to resolve the differences between tradition and the modern (Adair-Toteff 1995, 58–65; Lichtblau 2012a, 9). The second and more important question is how various classes and groups can coexist peacefully. This second question is, for Tönnies, one of the most important and most pressing questions of the time, and throughout his life he attempted to answer it. Thus sociology was not simply an abstract scholarly pursuit; it was also a means to help determine a better world for human beings. This was Ferdinand Tönnies's almost lifelong objective. While philosophy undoubtedly helped him to formulate his views and certainly aided him in clarifying his concepts, it was his development of sociology as a science that helped him to confront the many critical issues in social life. Tönnies's importance in establishing sociology is found even in his first major "philosophical" work — Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft.

The intention here is to trace Tönnies's approach to his most famous work, Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft, through his original "sketch" (Entwurf), his various introductions and his later responses to its meaning and its importance (see Liebersohn 1988, 27–35; Tönnies 2001, xv–xxii). The first few of these are important because they help trace Tönnies's evolution from philosophy to sociology, and the last of these are significant because in them Tönnies explains why he wrote Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft and what the book was intended to mean as well as what it meant to him.

During the years 1880 and 1881 Tönnies wrote his sketch for Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft and he subtitled it "theorems of cultural philosophy." It is a relatively lengthy piece for a sketch and Tönnies discusses a number of issues that will remain important in his writings. The first is his concern with "the facts of human life together" ("die Tatsachen des menschlichen Zusammenlebens") (Tönnies 1925b: 1. See also 350-1). What he meant by "Zusammenlebens" is that people need to live and work together. He noted that this was a fact in history, is a fact now, and will undoubtedly be a fact in the future. He is not concerned with the past; he will refrain from predictions about the future, but will discuss the present. People do not live solely by themselves, but live together, thus giving rise to what Tönnies calls "culture." He acknowledges that "culture" can be historical and he notes that it is composed of many different parts. These include legal history, economic history, moral history, art history, religious history and even the philosophy of history. It is the notion of philosophy that he wants to treat, and he does so by suggesting that philosophy focuses on a "world view" (Weltanschauung). Philosophy is primarily a rational endeavor, but Tönnies also emphasizes the empirical approach. While some philosophers are interested in metaphysical questions, Tönnies's concern is with ethical and aesthetic judgments, for these make up the cultural part of his philosophy (Tönnies 1925b, 8–11).

Before examining these types of cultural judgments, Tönnies discusses the basic feelings of pleasure and pain and he ties them to desire and avoidance. This allows him to introduce his crucial notion of "will" (Tönnies 1925b, 13–15). A person's will can help determine the means to secure a specific end, but Tönnies is concerned with a particular type of will. This is "free will" or, in a term that he will employ for a number of years: Willkür. This term is difficult to translate, but it seems that Tönnies connects it with the term "arbitrary," but in the sense that the will is "unrestrained" by customs or morals (Tönnies 1925b, 16–18). He clarifies this somewhat by turning to a discussion of friends and enemies — the former share the same will while the latter have opposing wills. It is here also that Tönnies brings into play Thomas Hobbes's claim that the state of nature is the "war of all against all" (Tönnies 1925b, 20). However, in the state of society there cannot be a "general and unconditional" form of enemies; instead, there must be a mechanism for minimizing the number, duration and strength of disagreements. The mechanism is law; specifically contractual law. It is also here that Tönnies introduces his distinction between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft — the first applies to a group, a "community" that in numbers and strength stands in friendly relationships, while the second applies to a group, a "society" in which the individuals stand in marked contrast with each other and their activities are determined by recourse to the individual and "arbitrary" wills, namely by Willkür (Tönnies 1925b, 21–3). Tönnies emphasizes the importance of legal contracts for "society" because they regulate those cases where two opposing wills can agree. However, because "society" is driven by desire and fear, he has little interest in it. Instead, his distinct preference is for "community," where the importance of customs, tradition and the "feeling of obligation" (Pflichtgefühl) dominates (Tönnies 1925b, 30–2). While Tönnies would change some aspects of his 1880/1881 sketch, the basic contrast between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft is continued, as is his marked preference for the former over the latter.

Tönnies's contrast and his preference for Gemeinschaft are clearly present in the preface to the first edition of Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft. Even more evident is the philosophical background. Tönnies emphasizes the contrast between the historical and rationalist tendencies in the investigations into "social life," and he notes that it seems paradoxical that empiricism seems more dominant than rationalism — paradoxical because Kant adapted David Hume's empirical philosophy to construct his own more or less rational philosophy. Hume had discovered the psychological "laws" that govern how we interpret the world but, as Kant had argued and Hume himself had admitted, these were only fundamental psychological predispositions to believe that the future will conform to the past and that a given cause would give rise to a certain effect. Kant's discovery was to uncover the sources and limits to our knowledge; that the sources come from the inner workings of our minds but are confined to impressions of things given to us. Thus the very subjective-ness of our human nature that guarantees the universality and necessity of our empirical knowledge also limits it to phenomena. For Tönnies, one of the most important factors of Kant's method was to finally divorce human understanding from any supernatural sources (Tönnies 1925b, 34–7). A second important factor was Kant's addition of the principle of human causality to the previous fundamental laws of logic: the principle of identity and the principle of sufficient reason (Tönnies 1925b, 38–9). Tönnies agrees with Kant that all science is rationalistic and also concurs with Kant that every philosophical object is empirically apprehended. However, Tönnies's interest is in human life, and so his philosophical sources go beyond Kant and include a number of thinkers who were all concerned not with individuals but with groups. In their views as well as in Tönnies's, there is no individualism in history and in culture (Tönnies 1925b, 43). Thus his focus in Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft is on groups of people or types of culture. He concludes the preface to the first edition by the (somewhat unwarranted) claim that there are "scarcely any traces" of the sketch in the current book (Tönnies 1925b, 44).

The second edition of Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft was published in 1912, 25 years after it appeared. The book itself remained mostly unchanged; what had changed was Tönnies's connection with philosophy. In the preface to the second edition, almost all traces of philosophy had disappeared. The exception was in the beginning paragraphs where Tönnies mentions his affinity with the "Marburg School" of Neo-Kantianism (Adair-Toteff 2003, 33–6). However, he goes on to complain that every book on ethics suffers from some flaw and that because of the continuing importance of philosophy there is no place in German universities for sociology (Tönnies 1925b, 45). He acknowledges that philosophy grew alongside the natural sciences, but whereas the former continued to look toward the future, the latter seemed condemned to look more to the past. He objects that Hegel helped restore the old notion of the absolute state by fusing the notion of the state with the moral idea (Tönnies 1925b, 48). Unfortunately, what also occurred was the rise of "laissez faire" capitalism, but at least during the last decades of the nineteenth century it was countered by the rise of a new group of scholars who were concerned with the plight of the working class. Tönnies shared many sentiments with these scholars; but here he insisted that what he was offering was a strictly theoretical approach to the problems of culture. He was avoiding a socialistic theory with its attendant value judgments concerning capitalism, private property and the proletariat (Tönnies 1925b, 50). He concludes by reminding the reader that the origins of the book lie in the works of Joseph Bachofen, Henry Maine and others, but he insists that his approach is new and that the theory of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft cannot be separated from the two types of will: Wesenwille and Willkür. He does not explain these two types of will here, but he adds a few words about the new edition. The book remained much as he had originally written it, but he admitted that he would probably not write it as it is now. What is different is that he has added some comments and he has indicated these by noting the year (Tönnies 1925b, 56–7).

The third edition of Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft carries only a one-page preface. In it, Tönnies refers to the Great War that occurred between the second and third editions and he regarded it as a catastrophe for Europe. He noted further that he has replaced Willkür by Kürwille in the hopes of minimizing confusion about the meaning of this central concept. He also notes that despite the war, the second edition has been reviewed by Werner Sombart, Ernst Troeltsch, Martin Buber and a number of others. He also notes that a more proper preface will be reprinted "shortly" in the forthcoming volume of his Soziologische Studien und Kritiken (Tönnies 1920, III).

In this proper preface Tönnies refers to the notion of "communism" in the original subtitle of Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft. He wishes to clarify that he did not mean the "fantasy" of communism but rather the "scientific form" ("wissenschaftliche Gestalt") (Tönnies 1925b, 58–9). He suggests that earlier he had not sufficiently appreciated the cooperative function ("Genossenschaft") of the workers' movement, but that he now recognizes that it has "elements of the people" ("Elementen des Volkes") (Tönnies 1925b, 61). He directs the reader's attention to the 1912 "addition" to the third book (§ 14), where he had suggested that over the previous couple of decades there had been the growing tendency for people without property to band together against the encroaching domination of major companies. He applauded the morality of this tendency and contrasted it with the unfavorable traits of modern industrial society (Tönnies 1920, 167). He concludes his preface with the observation that while Germany had to lay down its weapons, it will not lay down its "weapons of the spirit" ("Waffen seines Geistes"). As an "ethical power" ("ethische Macht") Germany has the power of the thought of "community" and as such it stands between the raw communism of Russia and the individual capitalism of England and America. And, as such, Tönnies hopes and believes that Germany's future will lay in a just and an equitable type of socialism (Tönnies 1925b, 63–4).

The belief in a just society permeates Tönnies's writings and it is found in one of the most impressive of Tönnies's earlier books. Die Entwicklung der sozialen Frage (1907) is impressive for several reasons: it sets out Tönnies's vision of how people and classes can peacefully coexist, it covers not just Germany but Great Britain and France, and in it Tönnies draws on a wide variety of sources, including Marx and Engels, but also Adam Smith and Thomas Hobbes. The "social question" is the question of how people are to live together in harmony and Tönnies suggests that the social question appears in three life forms: economic, political and spiritual. The most important of these is economic life and its most important part is work. Previously people worked on the land, and frequently for other people. These other people were the ruling classes and they often made their workers into slaves. Now, the ruling class is composed of industrialists and the factory workers are reduced to servitude, not just to the factory owners, but also to the machines (Tönnies 1907, 7–11, 16–17, 23–4).

Part of Tönnies's goal is to call much warranted attention to the fundamental contrast between rich and poor; the former rule and the latter are ruled. Tönnies points out that this is not necessarily always bad; he points to the English common law that governs the relationship between master and servant and he also singles out the relationship in Germany between master and craftsman. But he also notes that often these relationships are neither productive nor beneficial (Tönnies 1907, 24–5). This is especially problematic in the modern industrial system with the capitalistic owner. This new development is largely responsible for the rise of the social question. Unfortunately, the factory owner employs uneducated and untrained people and pays them the minimum. Without adequate payment the worker and his family are forced to live in substandard housing and often lack enough food. In Tönnies's opinion, this opened up a "new world" — "hell on earth" (Tönnies 1907, 29). What gave rise to this "new society" was the Industrial Revolution with its introduction of machines, but the state helped further industrial development by its focused concentration on economic progress (Tönnies 1907, 32–5). Different conflicts among the classes also developed. Tönnies notes three types: the bourgeois and proletariat against the old masters, the old masters and proletariat against the bourgeois, and the old masters and the bourgeois against the proletariat. His particular interest is in the third struggle, which is both the struggle for equal rights and the struggle for one's interests. These struggles have occurred in France, Britain and Germany, but they have taken different forms: political in France, economic in Britain and predominately ideal in Germany (Tönnies 1907, 39–42). While Britain found the expression in the workers' movement, France found it in the various revolutionary movements (Tönnies 1907, 50–6, 89, 93, 104). In Germany it found its expression in philosophy — Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Ferdinand Lassalle and Karl Marx, as well as Friedrich Albert Lange and Franz Brentano (Tönnies 1907, 107–19). Tönnies does admit that there has been considerable progress in addressing the social question in Germany with the introduction of labor laws. However, much social reform is needed, and while Tönnies seems convinced that such reform can be conducted through a form of Marxist socialism, he does not seem totally convinced (Tönnies 1907, 138–51).


Excerpted from The Anthem Companion to Ferdinand Tönnies by Christopher Adair-Toteff. Copyright © 2016 Christopher Adair-Toteff editorial matter and selection. Excerpted by permission of Wimbledon Publishing Company.
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Table of Contents

Introduction; Ferdinand Tönnies and the Development of Sociology; Ferdinand Tönnies and Georg Simmel; Whither Gemeinschaft: Willing and Acting Together as Community; Tönnies and Globalization: Anticipations of Some Central Concerns of Twenty-First Century Sociology; From Metropolis with Love: Tönnies, Simel and Urban Social Architecture; Ferdinand Tönnies: Hobbes Scholar; Gender and Family; The Power and Value of Public Opinion as a Form of Societal Will; The Politics of Ferdinand Tönnies; Crime and Law in Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft

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