Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings

By Charles Lemert | Go to book overview

falser than this antagonism too often presented between legal authority and individual liberty. Quite on the contrary, liberty (we mean genuine liberty, which it is society's duty to have respected) is itself the product of regulation. I can be free only to the extent that others are forbidden to profit from their physical, economic, or other superiority to the detriment of my liberty. But only social rules can prevent abuses of power. It is now known what complicated regulation is needed to assure individuals the economic independence without which their liberty is only nominal.

But what brings about the exceptional gravity of this state, nowadays particularly, is the heretofore unknown development that economic functions have experienced for about two centuries. Whereas formerly they played only a secondary role, they are now of the first importance. We are far from the time when they were disdainfully abandoned to the inferior classes. In the face of the economic, the administrative, military, and religious functions become steadily less important. Only the scientific functions seem to dispute their place, and even science has scarcely any prestige save to the extent that it can serve practical occupations, which are largely economic. That is why it can be said, with some justice, that society is, or tends to be, essentially industrial. A form of activity which has assumed such a place in social life evidently cannot remain in this unruly state without resulting in the most profound disasters. It is a notable source of general demoralization. For, precisely because the economic functions today concern the greatest number of citizens, there are a multitude of individuals whose lives are passed almost entirely in the industrial and commercial world. From this, it follows that as that world is only feebly ruled by morality, the greatest part of their existence takes place outside the moral sphere. Now, for the sentiment of duty to be fixed strongly in us, the circumstances in which we live must keep us awake. Naturally, we are not inclined to thwart and restrain ourselves; if, then, we are not invited, at each moment, to exercise this restraint without which there is no ethic, how can we learn the habit? If in the task that occupies almost all our time we follow no other rule than that of our well-understood interest, how can we learn to depend upon disinterestedness, on self-forgetfulness, on sacrifice? In this way, the absence of all economic discipline cannot fail to extend its effects beyond the economic world, and consequently weaken public morality.

But, the evil observed, what is its cause and what can be its remedy❖


Sociology and Social Facts

Emile Durkheim ( 1897)

Sociology has been in vogue for some time. Today this word, little known and almost discredited a decade ago, is in common use. Representatives of the new science are increasing in number and there is something like a public feeling favorable to it. Much is expected of it. It must be confessed, however, that results up to the present time are not really proportionate to the number of publications nor the interest which they arouse. The progress of a science is proven by the progress toward solution of the problems it treats. It is said to be advancing when laws hitherto unknown are discovered, or when at least new facts are acquired modifying the formulation of these

____________________
Excerpt from "Preface", George Simpson, ed., John A. Spaulding and George Simpson, trans., Suicide: A Study in Sociology ( New York: Free Press, 1951), pp. 3-4. Reprinted with the permission of The Free Press, a Division of Macmillan, Inc. Copyright 1951, 1979 by The Free Press.

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