Mechanical Solidarity through Likeness

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Belarus State Economic University


“Mechanical Solidarity through Likeness”

Minsk 2008

Тhe only common characteristic of all crimes is that they consist –
except some apparent exceptions with which we shall deal later – in acts
universally disapproved of by all members of society.

Сrime shocks sentiments which, for a given social system, are found in
all healthy consciences.

It is not possible otherwise to determine the nature of these
sentiments, to define them in terms of the function of their particular
objects, for these objects have infinitely varied and can still very.
Today, there are altruistic sentiments which present this character most
markedly; but there was a time, not far distant from ours, when
religious, domestic, and a thousand other traditional sentiments had
exactly the same effects.

But we have not defined crime when we say that it consists in an offense
to collective sentiments, for there are some among these which can be
offended without there being a crime… The collective sentiments to
which crime corresponds must, therefore, singularize themselves from
others by some distinctive; property; they must have a certain average
intensity. Not only are they engraved in all consciences, but they are
strongly engraved.

They are not hesitant and superficial desires, but emotions and
tendencies which are strongly ingrained in us. The proof of this is the
extreme slowness with which penal law evolves. Not only is it modified
more slowly than custom, but it is the part of positive most refractory
to change. Observe, for example, what has been accomplished in
legislation since the beginning of the nineteenth century in the
different spheres of juridical life; the innovations in the matter of
penal law are extremely rare and restricted compared to the multitude of
new dispositions introduced into the civil law, commercial law,
administrative law, and constitutional law.

It is not sufficient… that the sentiments be strong; they must be
precise. In effect, each of them is relatively to a very definite
practice. This practice can be simple or complex, positive or
negative… but it is always determined. It is a question of doing or
not doing this or that, of not killing, not wounding, of pronouncing
such a formula, of going through such a rite, etc. On the contrary,
sentiments such as filial love or charity are vague aspirations towards
very general objects. So penal laws are remarkable for their neatness
and precision, while purely moral rules are generally somewhat nebulous.

We are now in a position to come to a conclusion. The totality of
beliefs and sentiments common to average citizens of the same society
forms a determinate system which has its own life; one may call it the
collective or common conscience. No doubt, it has not a specific organ
as a substratum; it is, by definition, diffuse in every reach of
society. Nevertheless, it has specific characteristics which make it a
distinct reality. It is, in effect, independent of the particular
conditions in which individuals are placed; they pass on and it remains.
Moreover, it does not change with each generation, but, on the contrary,
it connects successive generations with one another. It is thus an
entirely different thing from particular consciences, although it can be
realised only through them.

Organic Solidarity Due to the Division of Labour

Everybody knows that there is a social cohesion whose cause lies in a
certain conformity of all particular consciences to a common type which
is none other than the psychic type of society.

There are in us two consciences: one contains states which are personal
to each of us and which characterise us, while the states which
comprehend the other are common to all society. To simplify the
exposition, we hold that the individual appears only in one society. In
fact, we take part in several groups and there are several collective
consciences in us; but this complication changes nothing with regard to
the relation that we are now establishing.

This law definitely plays a role in society analogous to that played by
the nervous system in the organism. The latter has as its task, in
effect, the regulation of the different functions of the body in such a
way as make them harmonise. It thus very naturally expresses the state
of concentration at which the organism has arrived, in accordance with
the division of physiological labour. Thus, on different levels of the
animal scale, we can measure the degree of this concentration according
to the development of the nervous system. Which is to say that we can
equally measure the degree of concentration at which society has arrived
in accordance with the division of social labour according to the
development of cooperative law with restitutive sanctions. We can
foresee the great services that this criterion will render us.

There are in each of us, as we have said, two consciences: one of which
is common to our group in its entirety, which, consequently, is not
ourselves, but society living and acting within us; the other, on the
contrary, represents that in us which is personal and distinct, that
which makes us an individual.

Solidarity which comes from likeness is at its maximum when the
collective conscience completely envelops our whole conscience and
coincides in all points with it…

Аt the moment when this solidarity exercises its force, our personality
vanishes… for we are no longer ourselves, but the collective life.

The social molecules which can be coherent in this way can act together
only in the measure that they have no actions of their own, as the
molecules of inorganic bodies. That is why we propose to call this type
of solidarity mechanical. The term does not signify that it is produced
by mechanical and artificial means. We call it that only by analogy to
the cohesion which unites the elements of an inanimate body, as opposed
to that which makes a unity out of the elements of a living body…

It is quite otherwise with the solidarity which the division of labour
produces. Whereas the previous type [mechanical solidarity] implies that
individuals resemble each other, this type [organic solidarity] presumes
their difference… each one has a sphere of action which is peculiar to
him; that is, a personality… on the one hand, each one depends as much
more strictly on society as labour is more divided; and, on the other,
the activity of each is as much more personal as it is more

This solidarity resembles that which we observe among the higher
animals. Each organ, in effect, has its special physiognomy, its
autonomy. And, moreover, the unity of the organism is as great as the
individuation of the parts is more marked. Because of his analogy, we
propose to call the solidarity which is due to the division of labour,

Progressive Preponderance of Organic Solidairy; its Consequences

It is an historical law that mechanical solidarity which first stands
alone, or nearly so, progressively loses ground, and that organic
solidarity becomes, little by little, preponderant. But when the way in
which men are solidary becomes modified, the structure of societies
cannot but change… Consequently… there ought to be two social types
which correspond to these two types of solidarity

If we try to construct intellectually the ideal type of a society whose
cohesion was exclusively the result of resemblances, we should have to
conceive it as an absolutely homogenous mass whose parts are not
distinguished from one another… We propose to call the aggregate thus
characterised, horde.

We have not yet observed societies which complied with this
definition… however, societies… which are most akin to primitivity
are formed by a simple repetition of aggregates of this kind…

Each Iroquois tribe, for example, contains a certain number of partial
societies… which present all the characteristics we have just

We give the name clan to the horde which has ceased to be independent by
becoming an element in a more extensive group, and that of segmental
societies with a clan base to peoples who are constituted through an
association of clans. We say of these societies that they are segmental
in order to indicate their formation by the repetition of like
aggregates in them… and we say of this elementary aggregate that it is
a clan, because this word… expresses its mixed nature, at once
familial and political. It is a family in the sense that all the members
who compose it are considered as kin to one another…

Organic Solidarity and Contractual Solidarity

In the industrial societies that Spencer speaks of… social harmony
comes essentially from the division of labour. It is characterized by a
cooperation which is automatically produced through the pursuit by each
individual of his own interests. It suffices that each individual
consecrate himself to a special function in order, by the force of
events, to make himself solidary with others.

For him, industrial solidarity, as he calls it, presents the two
following characters:

Since it is spontaneous, it does not require any coercive force either
to produce or to maintain it. Society does not have to intervene to
assure the harmony which is self established… The sphere of social
action would thus grow narrower and narrower, for it would have no other
object than that of keeping individuals from disturbing and harming one

The hypothesis of a social contract is irreconcilable with the notion of
the division of labour… For in order for such a contract to be
possible, it is necessary that, at a given moment, all individual wills
direct themselves toward the common bases of the social organisation,
and, consequently, that each particular conscience pose the political
problem for itself in all its generality…

Nothing, however, less resembles the spontaneous automatic solidarity
which, according to Spencer, distinguishes industrial societies, for he
sees, on the contrary, in this conscious pursuit of social ends the
characteristic of military societies.

Such a contract supposes that all individuals are able to represent in
themselves the general conditions of the collective life in order to
make a choice with knowledge.

Spencer believes that social life, just as all life in general, can
naturally organise itself only by an unconscious, spontaneous adaptation
under the immediate pressure of needs, and not according to a rational
plan of reflective intelligence…

The conception of a social contract is today difficult to defend, for it
has no relation to the facts… Not only are there no societies which
have such an origin, but there is none whose structure presents the
least trace of contractual organisation…

To rejuvenate the doctrine and accredit, it would be necessary to
qualify as a contract the adhesion which each individual, as adult, gave
to the society when he was born, solely by reason of which he continues
to live. But then we would have to term contractual every action of man
which is not determined by constraint. In this light, there is no
society, neither present nor past, which is not or has not been
contractual, for there is none that could exist solely through pressure.

If it has sometimes been thought that force was greater previously than
it is today, that is because of the illusion which attributes to a
coercive regime the small place given over to individual liberty in
lower societies. In reality, social life, wherever it is normal, is
spontaneous, and if it is abnormal, it cannot endure.

Higher societies have, according to Spencer, the vast system of
particular contracts which link individuals as a unique basis… Social
solidarity would then be nothing else than the spontaneous accord of
individual interests, an accord of which contracts are the natural

Is this the character of societies whose unity is produced by the
division of labour? If this were so, we could with justice doubt their
stability. For if interest relates men, it is never for more than some
few moments. It can create only an external link between them…

The governmental organ is more or less considerable, not because the
people are more or less passive, but rather because its growth is
proportional to the progress of the division of labour, societies
comprising more different organs the more intimately solidary they are.


The following propositions sum up the first part of our work. Social
life comes from a double source, the likeness of consciences and the
division of labour. The individual is socialised in the first case,
because not having any real individuality, he becomes with those whom he
resembles, part of the same collective type; in the second case,
because, whilst having a physiognomy and personal activity which
distinguishes him from others, he depends upon them in the same measure
that he is distinguished from them, and consequently upon the same
society which results from their union.

The similitude of consciences gives rise to juridical rules which, with
the threat of repressive measure, imposes uniform beliefs and practices
upon all… .

The division of labour gives rise to juridical rules which determine the
nature and the relations of divided functions, but whose violation calls
forth only restitutive measures without any expiatory character…

Even where society relies most completely upon the division of labour,
it does not become a jumble of juxtaposed atoms, between which it can
establish only external, transient contacts. Rather the members are
united by ties which extend deeper and far beyond the short moments
during which the exchange is made. Each of the functions that they
exercise is, in a fixed way, dependent on others, and with them forms a
solidary system. Accordingly, from the nature of the chosen task
permanent duties arise. Because we fill some certain domestic or social
function, we are involved in a complex of obligations from which we have
no right to free ourselves.

There is, above all, an organ upon which we are tending to depend more
and more; this is the State. The points at which we are in contact with
it multiply as do the occasions when it is entrusted with the duty of
reminding us of the sentiment of common solidarity.

Altruism is not destined to become, as Spencer desires, a sort of
agreeable ornament to social life, but it will forever be its
fundamental basis…

Every society is a moral society. In certain respects, this character is
even more pronounced in organised societies. Because the individual is
not sufficient unto himself, it is from society that he receives
everything necessary to him, as it is for society that he works.

Thus is formed a very strong sentiment of the state of dependence in
which he finds himself. He becomes accustomed to estimating it at its
just value, that is to say, in regarding himself as part of the whole,
the organ of an organism.

Such sentiments naturally inspire not only mundane sacrifices which
assure the regular development of daily social life, but even, on
occasion, acts of complete self-renunciation and whole-sale abnegation.

On its side, society learns to regard its members no longer as things
over which it has rights, but as co-operators whom it cannot neglect and
towards whom it owes duties. Thus it is wrong to oppose a society which
comes from a community of beliefs to one which has a co-operative basis,
according only to the first a moral character, and seeing in the latter
only an economic grouping. In reality, co-operation also has its
intrinsic morality.

We thus reach our first conclusion that the proclivity of Protestantism
for suicide must relate to the spirit of free inquiry that animates this
religion. Let us understand this relationship correctly. Free inquiry
itself is only the effect of another cause. When it appears, when men,
after having long received their ready made faith from tradition, claim
the right to shape it for themselves, this is not because of the
intrinsic desirability of free inquiry, for the latter involves as much
sorrow as happiness. But it is because men henceforth need this liberty.
This very need can have only one cause: the overthrow of traditional
beliefs. If they still asserted themselves with equal energy, it would
never occur to men to criticise them (p.158).

The beneficent influence of religion is not due to the special nature of
religious conceptions. If religion protects men against the desire for
self-destruction, it is not that it preaches the respect for his own
person to him with arguments sui generis; but because it is a society.
What constitutes the society is the existence of a certain number of
beliefs and practices common to all the faithful, traditional and thus

If… as has often been said, man is double, that is because social man
superimposes himself upon physical man. Social man necessarily
presupposes a society which he expresses and serves. If this dissolves,
if we no longer feel it in existence and action about and above us,
whatever is social in us is deprived of all objective foundation… Yet
this social is the essence of civilised man… Thus we are bereft of
reasons for existence; for the only life to which we could cling no
longer corresponds to anything actual; the only existence still based
upon reality no longer meets our needs.

Anomic Suicide

No living being can be happy or even exist unless his needs are
sufficiently proportioned to his means… In the animal, at least in a
normal condition, this equilibrium is established with automatic
spontaneity because the animal depends on purely material conditions…

This is not the case with man, because most of his needs are not
dependent on his body or not to the same degree… how determine the
quantity of well-being, comfort or luxury legitimately to be craved by a
human being?… They are unlimited so far as they depend on the
individual alone… Being unlimited, they constantly and indefinitely
surpass the means at their command; they cannot be quenched.
Inextinguishable thirst is constantly renewed torture…

The passions… must be limited. Only then can they be harmonised with
the faculties and satisfied. But since the individual has no way of
limiting them, this must be done by some force exterior to him. A
regulative force must play the same role for moral needs which the
organism plays for physical needs. This means that the force can only be
moral. The awakening of conscience interrupted the state of equilibrium
in the animal’s dormant existence; only conscience, therefore, can
furnish the means to re-establish it… the appetites… can be halted
only by a limit that they recognise as just. Men would never consent to
restrict their desires if they felt justified in passing the assigned
limit. But… they cannot assign themselves this law of justice. So they
must receive it from an authority which they respect, to which they
yield spontaneously. Either directly an as a whole, or through the
agency of one of its organs, society alone can play this moderating
role, for it is the only moral power superior to the individual, the
authority of which he accepts.

In normal conditions the collective order is regarded as just by the
great majority of persons. Therefore, when we say that an authority is
necessary to impose this order on individuals, we certainly do not mean
that violence is the only means of establishing it. Since this
regulation is meant to restrain individual passions, it must come from a
power which dominates individuals; but this power must also be obeyed
through respect, not fear.

It is not true, then, that human activity can be released from all
restraint. Nothing in the world can enjoy such a privilege. All
existence being a part of the universe is relative to the remainder…
Man’s characteristic privilege is that the bond he accepts is not
physical but moral; that is, social. He is governed not by a material
environment brutally imposed on him, but by a conscience superior to his
own, the superiority of which he feels. Because the greater, better part
of his existence transcends the body, he escapes the body’s yoke, but is
subject to that of society.

But when society is disturbed by some painful crisis or by beneficent
but abrupt transitions, it is momentarily incapable of exercising this
influence; thence come the sudden rises in the curve of suicides which
we have pointed out…

In the case of economic disasters, indeed, something like a
declassification occurs which suddenly casts certain individuals into a
lower state than their previous one. Then they must reduce their
requirements, restrain their needs, learn greater self-control. All the
advantages of social influence are lost so far as they are concerned;
their moral education has to be recommenced. But society cannot adjust
them instantaneously to this new life and teach them to practice the
increased self-repression to which they are unaccustomed. So they are
not adjusted to the condition forced on them, and its very prospect is
intolerable; hence the suffering which detaches them from a reduced
existence even before they have made trial of it.

It is the same if the source of the crisis is an abrupt growth of power
and wealth. Then, truly, as the conditions of life are changed, the
standard according to which needs were regulated can no longer remain
the same; for it varies with social resources, since it largely
determines the share of each class of producers. The scale is upset; but
a new scale cannot be immediately improvised. Time is required for the
public conscience to reclassify men and things. So long as the social
forces thus freed have not regained equilibrium, their respective values
are unknown and so all regulation is lacking for a time. The limits are
unknown between the possible and the impossible, what is just and what
is unjust, legitimate claims and hopes and those which are immoderate.
Consequently, there is no restraint upon aspirations.

Egoistic suicide results from man’s no longer finding a basis for
existence in life; altruistic suicide, because this basis for existence
appears to man situated beyond life itself. The third type of suicide…
results from man’s activity’s lacking regulation and his consequent
sufferings. By virtue of its origin we shall assign this last variety
the name of anomic suicide.

The conclusion from all these facts is that the social suicide-rate can
be explained only sociologically. At any given moment the moral
constitution of society establishes the contingent of voluntary deaths.
There is, therefore, for each people a collective force of a definite
amount of energy, impelling men to self-destruction. The victim’s acts
which at first seem to express only his personal temperament are really
the supplement and prolongation of a social condition which they express

It is not mere metaphor to say of each human society that it has a
greater or lesser aptitude for suicide; the expression is based on the
nature of things. Each social group really has a collective inclination
for the act quite its own, and the source of all individual inclination,
rather than their result.

Originally society is everything, the individual nothing. Consequently,
the strongest social feelings are those connecting the individual with
the collectivity; society is its own aim. Man is considered only an
instrument in its hands; he seems to draw all his rights from it and has
no counter-prerogative, because nothing higher than it exists. But
gradually things change. As societies become greater in volume and
density, they increase in complexity, work is divided, individual
differences multiply, and the moment approaches when the only remaining
bond among the members of a single human group will be that they are all

Additional literature

1. Blau P. Exchange and Power in Social Life. (3rd edition). – New
Brunswick and London: Transaction Publishers, 1992. – 354 p.

2. Bourdeiu P. Logic of Practice. – Cambridge: Polity Press, 1990. – 382

3. Coser L. The Functions of Social Conflict. – Glencoe, Ill: Free
Press, 1956. – 188 p.

4. Durkheim E. The Division of Labour in Society. – New York, NY: Free
Press; 1997. – 272 p.

5. Durkheim E. Suicide. – New York, NY: Free Press; 1951. – 345 p.

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