It is difficult to pinpoint the exact factors that radically change societies, much less to identify the consequences these changes entail and effects they have on individual lives. Sociology is a study that attempts to understand these factors and events that have shaped and continue to shape the ways societies behave today. This field of sociology was largely developed by the theories of three individuals, Emile Durkheim, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Engels. Although all three sought to explain why societies function the way that they do, their deductions on societal behaviors, as well as solutions to problems that afflict society, differ. In this essay I will discuss the differences between these observations and solutions.
Durkheim believed that certain social problems would arise due to the increasing industrialization of societies. He believed that good societies were guided through effective social integration and moral regulations. Durkheim believed that the spread of capitalist industrialization would weaken existing social integrations, as individuals would no longer be able to identify with one another due to differences in lifestyles. He feared that this could potentially lead to an increase in egoistic suicide, a form of suicide where individuals are no longer able to connect with others due to increased self-absorption.
Furthermore, Durkheim believed that since capitalist industrialization is guided by self-interest as well as the need to maximize profits, moral regulation would become obsolete. This, he feared, would lead to an increase in the risk of anomic suicide, one which an individual is no longer restrained by social morality and thus becomes driven purely by self-interest. Thus, the spread of capitalist industrialization could bring about certain dangers to existing societies.
Marx and Engels also saw dangers to the spread of capitalist industrialization. However, they were more concerned with the living conditions that affected the lives of individuals due to this shift into a capitalistic society. Because industrialization spread so rapidly, housing and tenements were often constructed to meet the absolute bare minimum of what human beings need to survive. As a result, many individuals in the working class were forced to pay large amounts of money to inhabit extreme squalor, as this was the only form of housing available to them. Marx and Engels saw an issue with this, and questioned why it was that the spread of capitalist industrialization was able to increase efficiency of production as well as factory infrastructure, but seemed unable to provide the means necessary to improve the lives of the working class, or proletariat.
Thus, they concluded that since capitalism was driven by a desire to increase profits, as well as individual interests of the bourgeoisie, an unequal distribution of wealth was inevitable. Marx and Engels did not necessarily perceive industrialism itself as a negative entity, but due to its capitalist nature would become unsustainable for societies, as the profits of the bourgeoise would only keep increasing while the standard of living for the proletariat would only continue to diminish.
Although Durkheim recognized the dangers that arose due to the spread of capitalism and industrialization, he believed that the structure of industrial capitalism would allow for social stability. Essentially, he believed that two forms of social solidarity existed in the two types of systems that existed in society. The first system was Agricultural in nature. He believed that in this system, mechanical solidarity existed in which members of society identified with one another since they lead similar lives. However, he saw issues with this kind of system, as agricultural societies did not allow for individuals to pursue their own interests, and typically enacted laws that aimed to punish rule breakers. The second system was the industrialism, which allowed for the formation of organic solidarity.
This type of solidarity allowed for social cohesion and thus social stability. This is due to the interdependence that individuals would have with one another due to specializations of societal roles, where different people perform different tasks based on their individual interests as well as natural talents.
Essentially, Durkheim believed that this awareness of interdependence would allow individuals to realize that they all relied on one another for survival. Durkheim believed in the importance of diminishing social prejudices, as these would hinder individuals from pursuing their natural talents due to a lack of fair resources. Furthermore, he believed that individuals could only pursue their natural talents if the concept of inherited wealth were abolished, as well as granting everyone equal access to education. Through organic solidarity, Durkheim believed in the possibility of social cohesion, which would ultimately allow industrial capitalist societies to function.
Marx and Engels on the other hand, did not believe that industrial capitalist societies were sustainable. Although they did believe that industrial capitalists created enough wealth to sustain all members of society, they believed that in actuality an unequal distribution of wealth existed. Ultimately, they believed this would lead to a proletariat revolution, as more and more people would become aware of the unfairness of a system in which the bourgeoise continues to profit while the working class continues to live in squalor.
Furthermore, the emergence of the “assembly mode” model of production, meant that individualized jobs and tasks diminished. This would often result in members of the working class working long monotonous hours, performing the same job, all while being unfairly compensated. They believed that ultimately radical social change would occur, and change the capitalist system itself into a socialist society, one in which no member lacked basic resources necessary for survival.
Although Durkheim proposes fair insight attempting to understand society, personally I believe that the perspective of Marx and Engels proves to be more significant in terms of understanding the ongoings of contemporary society. I believe Durkheim’s opinions on the mechanisms to oppose the oppressive effects of capitalist industrialization are somewhat idealistic, especially regarding his concept of natural inequality.
Personally, I don’t believe it resides in human nature to accept that some people deserve to be compensated more based on the importance or value of their work, as this is a subjective standard. I believe that compensating certain individuals in a greater amount will ultimately lead to those individuals furthering and pursuing their own self-interest, ultimately exploiting those that are compensated less. In contrast, I believe that Marx’s and Engels’s propositions to solve the issues presented through industrial capitalism would be far more effective. In my opinion, more permanent and effective forms of change come through the banding together of the exploited who put pressure on individuals with power to change the status quo.
Durkheim, Marx, and Engels all believed that the spread of industrial capitalism would result societal issues that would affect the lives of many individuals. However, they disagreed on the stability of industrialism, as well as where the future of capitalism was headed. Durkheim believed that through organic solidarity and social cohesion, it was possible to maintain capitalist societies. Marx and Engels, on the other hand, believed that the greedy driving force of capitalist societies would ultimately result in its own demise.
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