What were the individual and societal problems identified by the classical social theorists?
Abstract: In this essay I have tried to answer the question by analyzing the individual and societal problems identified by Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Karl Marx, and the way they suggested to resolve these problems - What were the individual and societal problems identified by the classical social theorists? introduction. I divided the essay by discussing each classical theorist’s ideas separately and then comparing them. The beginning of the 19th century saw the very end of large land ownership. Workers were starting to have more freedoms then their ancestors who lived during the feudal period. During this period the serfs had to work for their landlords: part of what they produced had to be given to their lords.
Very little could be sold by the farmers because there were no large scale markets. Before the turn of the century a very small part of the population in Europe had access to education: “It is said that in England, not more than 1 child in 15 possesses the means of being taught to read and write; in Wales, 1 in 20; in France, … 1 in 35. “1 Children were educated by their parents and in most cases the male children took over his father’s work and females took care of the house and eventually their children.
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This was starting to change in the first decades of the 19th century, and this is probably what enabled the increasing freedoms amongst the lower classes. This period was experiencing the transition from feudalism to capitalism. 2 Different theorists in the 1800s analyzed this change, amongst them the most well known to us today are Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Karl Marx. All of them described this change from traditional to modern society. In their ideas they took in consideration the individual and societal problems of the traditional society and proposed possible solutions to these problems.
Both Durkheim and Marx emphasized mostly on the material factors that brought the change, instead Weber focused on the role of ideas in the social change3. Marx also went further thinking how society could change after capitalism coming up with the idea of communism. Durkheim came up with a major social problem in traditional societies that is, that these had little division of labor and that “everyone does essentially the same thing (gathering fruit and vegetables, hunting animals)”4, he described this as ‘mechanical solidarity’.
The individual problem with this system is that people are forced in their labor, usually children are forced to continue their parents’ job. In this way most people wouldn’t be able to express their talents. This solidarity brings a strong ‘collective conscience’ where an offence to one person could be an offence to the community. So this leads to ‘repressive law’ where offenders could be seriously punished if their action was to be considered as an offence to the ‘collective conscience’.
Durkheim suggests that with capitalism society would move to an ‘organic solidarity’ where there is “a substantial division of labor … and people can perform increasingly specialized tasks. “5 Each person could do the job most fit to them. This decision has to come through education where a person growing can decide in what job they can maximize their talent. This is called ‘meritocracy’, where ones success is based on its merits. For this reason Durkheim suggests a solution that is to introduce universal public education, where all children need to go to school up to a certain age. Organic solidarity’ would end the problem of forced labor and repressive law, but Durkheim understands that this new social relationship would introduce another problem, ‘anomie’.
Anomie is “a sense of not knowing what one is expected to do”. 6 In mechanical solidarity everyone knows what their duties are towards the community and their beliefs, in organic solidarity this is not the case and one doesn’t know what he is supposed to do. Max Weber similarly also looks at this transition from feudalism to capitalism, although, he mainly focused on the societal problems rather than the individual problems.
He emphasized more on the role of ideas and the way people were thinking in relation to the change in society not only on technological and material change. 7 Weber noticed that places where capitalism developed first were the places where Protestantism was more eradicated. He believed that the problem with traditional societies was religion. The main religion around Europe before the spread of Protestantism was the Catholic Church. According to him, people supporting this church are not motivated in their work.
This is because people can easily be absolved at any time, just by confessing their bad actions to their priest. In Protestantism, and in particular in Calvinism, there is no absolution and each person works for god. Each person has the interest build a successful business, earn money to reinvest on the business in order to enlarge their business and become more profitable. And since, according to them, each person is predestined either to heaven or to hell, one would always be satisfied with himself because at least during their life they have prospered economically even if they don’t go to heaven.
Weber also identified the problem of authority in traditional societies, such as feudalism. Weber called this ‘traditional authority’ where certain people follow a defined figurehead, such as a priest, an old person, whom everyone respects and obeys. According to the Max Weber’s theories this should change to ‘charismatic authority’, that means that each person doesn’t need to have extraordinary qualities to be considered as a charismatic leader it only depends on their ‘charisma’. Karl Marx brings the transition from traditional society to modern society further.
He goes from feudalism through capitalism to communism. Similarly to Durkheim he focuses on the material and economical facts that brings the change in society. As for Durkheim he identifies the problem of oppression by the ruling class on the working class. He also denounced the class struggle between the ruling class and the workers, and the fact that this society can only be kept together by force. According to Marx this would happen both in feudalism and to a certain extent also in capitalism. In this case the human potential wouldn’t still be maximized contrarily to what Durkheim sustained.
This is because the workers do not own what they produce, so they do no care much about what they are making they only care about the money they get from their employer. Under capitalism there is a special relationship between capitalists, those who own the means of production, and the proletariat, and those who work to produce. The capitalist will decide what is to be done and will offer a wage to a worker to produce in the way the capitalist decides. Marx sees three main problems to this system, firstly, the capitalist will try to give the minimum possible wage to the worker in order to maximize his profit.
The worker is “alienated from production and productive activity”8 because he cannot decide what will happen to what he produces and has non benefit from it, other than from his wage. Secondly, the worker is alienated from his colleagues. In many cases the worker is amidst other workers whom he does not know and that perform the same job, this often brings to competition where who produces the most with the minimum pay keep their job, those who fail often need to find another job.
Finally, they are “alienated from their human (creative) potential,”9 so they don’t produce for beauty but for profit. 10 For these reason Marx believes the proletariat is exploited and oppressed by capitalists, and the only solution to this problem is revolution. Since in a developed capitalist society there are a few capitalists and a large number of proletariat, according to Marx, these should unite and overthrow the capitalists and form a dictatorship of the proletariat.
Thus, Communism is a system that permits people to express the thoughtfulness, creativity, that have been possibility but inhibited or destroyed by previous social systems (e. g. , feudalism, capitalism). “11 However Marx understands that in order to have communism a society must pass through capitalism in order to have the technologies for such a revolution. All three classical theorists considered the change from a traditional society to a modern society. They took in consideration the sociological developments both in material factors and the role of ideas that caused the change.
They suggested ways to form an ‘ideal’ society, by looking at the individual and social problems of old traditional society, and suggesting ways they might be resolved. In the case of Karl Marx, in the 1920s, a group in the then-Soviet Union put in practice his ideas and went “in the direction of disastrous communist regime. “12 These leaders that called themselves as communist “would have been attacked by Marx himself for their inhumanity. “13 These societies hardly came close to Marxist ideology.