Beyond the Market: The Social Foundations of Economic Efficiency

By Jens Beckert; Barbara Harshav | Go to book overview

TWO
ÉMILE DURKHEIM: THE ECONOMY
AS MORAL ORDER

It is not possible for a social function to exist without any
moral discipline. Otherwise, there is nothing left except
individual cravings, which cannot regulate themselves because
of their essential limitlessness and insatiability, but must
be controlled from outside.

—Émile Durkheim

ÉMILE DURKHEIM belongs to that generation of sociologists of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries who found the subject matter of sociological study in the process of social transformation and the conflictual transition from traditional agrarian societies to modern industrial societies that was caused by industrialization. The question of the possible social cohesion of societies that are marked by increasing individual freedom and the concomitant dissolution of relationships based on tradition had concerned political philosophy since the seventeenth century. Both contract theories and the theory of order of political economy sketched an optimistic scenario for the problem of social order in modern societies. The pacification of social relations is expected by giving up individual rights of sovereignty to the Leviathan or by market coordination, even if the members of society no longer belong to a moral community. This optimism was obviously counteracted by socioeconomic crises, which affected all industrializing societies in the nineteenth century. The misery of the proletarian masses documented in countless contemporary studies and literary descriptions and in the political conflicts—not only between capital and labor, but also between the middleclass, the clergy, and the nobility, or forces of restoration, reform, and revolution (Müller 1983)—make the incipient social structures seem profoundly anomistic.

The development of Durkheim’s sociology and the significance of the economy in it must be understood from Durkheim’s double awareness of crises, which refers on the one hand to the economic, social, and political situation of France after the defeat in the war of 1870–71, and on the other to the failure of the humanities (sciences morales) to contribute to overcoming social anomie.1 The Third Republic was marked by political

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