By Ferdinand Tonnies
Tonnies has been referenced often in the books I've read over the last decade, but perhaps most prominently in Adler and Heckscher's work, where they make full use of his distinction between Gemeinschaft (community) and Gesellschaft (society). When a collaborator brought this distinction up again, I decided I should invest the time to read the source material.
Tonnies published his first version of the book in 1887 (he was 32 at the time). Like Marx, Tonnies interpreted history in terms of economics, arguing that the development of trade, the modern state, and science, Gemeinschaft characteristics gave away to Gesellschaft characteristics.
So what are Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft? The distinction is similar to the one between mechanical and organic solidarity in Durkheim. Gemeinschaft relations are "real and organic," while Gesellschaft relations are "imaginary and mechanical" (p.33). (Confusingly, Gemeinschaft roughly corresponds to Durkheim's "mechanical solidarity" and Gesellschaft to Durkheim's "organic solidarity.")
"All intimate, private, and exclusive living together" is "life in Gemeinschaft," while "Gesellschaft ... is public life" (p.33).
Tonnies argues that Gemeinschaft emerged first, from "the assumption of perfect unity of human wills as an original or natural condition which is preserved in spite of actual separation," "because of dependence on the nature of the relationship between individuals who are differently conditioned" (p.37). It is characterized by mother-child relationships, husband-wife relationships, and sibling relationships (p.37). But beyond blood, it can also involve neighborhood (e.g., physical locality) and friendship (e.g., common mind/goals) (p.42). In Gemeinschaft, understanding is tacit by nature (p.49). Gemeinschaft is focused inward, toward the community (p.79).
In contrast, Tonnies argues that Gesellschaft is an "artificial construction of an aggregate of human beings which superficially resembles the Gemeinschaft in so far as the individuals live and dwell together peacefully," but "they remain united in spite of all separating factors"—in contrast with Gemeinschaft, in which they "are essentially separated in spite of all uniting factors" (pp.64-65). In Gesellschaft, "goods are conceived to be separate, as also are their owners" (p.65), so individuals engage in exchanges rather than gifts (p.66). Also in Gesellschaft, "Contracts must be executed" (p.75). Tonnies quotes Adam Smith as arguing that every man becomes a merchant (p.76). Gesellschaft is focused on the outward world and on trade (p.79). Indeed, it exists for merchants and capitalists, and in this frame, those who are not merchants or capitalists are slaves (p.83). Paradoxically, he claims, this line of thinking leads to the abolishment of slavery, since all people are free agents—and one cannot have a Gesellschaft relationship with nonpersons (p.84). (I am reporting this argument, but I am not sure that I adequately follow it.)
The structure of Gesellschaft is described by three acts: "(1) the purchase of labor, (2) the employment of labor, (3) the sale of labor in the form of value elements of the products" (pp.100-101).
In Part II, Tonnies writes taxonomically, contrasting natural and rational will. Natural will, he says, is just thinking, while rational will involves metacognition (p.103). He breaks will down further into "vegetative will" (material stimuli); "animal will" (perceptions, sensory stimulation); and "human will" (thoughts and verbal sensations; mental stimulation) (pp.106-108). Later, he sums up: Gemeinschaft involves natural will, including liking, habit, and memory. Gesellschaft involved rational will, including deliberation, decision, and conception (p.134).
The rest of Part II similarly breaks things down into binaries, always binaries. Organs vs. tools (p.135), freedom vs. choice (p.136), women's feelings vs. men's intellect (p.151). On the latter, Tonnies claims that by entering the workforce, women are developing their rational will (p.166).
In Part III, Tonnies discusses "the sociological basis of natural law" (p.171). He argues that under Gemeinschaft, every relationship is "either potentially or intrinsically, a higher and more general self"; under Gesellschaft, every relationship is "the beginning and the potentiality of a superimposed artificial person" (p.177). So Gemeinschaft is a "personality of united natural wills" and Gesellschaft a personality of "united rational wills" (p.177). He sums up with this contrast:
- Natural Will
- Family Law
- Rational Will
- Law of Contracts (p.181)