Durkheim Essay Questions

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So I would suggest that Durkheim is a marginal case, on the borderline between what Taylor calls neo- and post-Durkheimianism. Durkheim never imagined that his religion of the individual would be post-Durkheimian in the sense that it would be an ideology for individuals without any larger social membership.

For him the religion of the individual or the religion of humanity really did involve membership in humanity as such—France might be an exemplar, but it could never be the only expression of this genuinely universal faith.

And in his critique of American pragmatism, mainly the work of William James, which was coming into vogue in France in the early twentieth century, Durkheim condemned pragmatism for not meeting the standards of “clear and distinct ideas” of French thought descending from Descartes.

Nonetheless if one looks at the substance of Durkheim’s religion of the individual, particularly in comparison with any other nationalism of the time, particularly American nationalism with its strong emphasis on Americans as the chosen people, it is remarkably resonant with the substance, not only of expressive individualism as found in what Robert Wuthnow speaks of as the “seekers,” as opposed to the “dwellers,” but also with the substance of what has come to be known as the human rights regime and which provides the ideology for many NGOs and international social movements such as environmentalism, feminism and anti-economic globalization.

A social form is one in which religion is partially disembedded from the traditional social structure of kinship and village life but comes to serve as an expression of a larger social identity, namely the newly emerging nation state in the West.

The post-Westphalian regime of established churches—one realm, one church—is an example.

I would like to raise two questions about whether Taylor’s post-Durkheimian social form is theoretically really post-Durkheimian. There is no political reason which can excuse an attack on the individual when the rights of the individual are placed above those of the state.” At the same time Durkheim wants to distinguish between individualism and egoism: “After all, individualism is the glorification not of the self but of the individual in general.

The first is whether Durkheim himself was not a major prophet of post-Durkheimianism insofar as he preached the religion, indeed the worship, of the individual. Nowhere are the rights of the individual affirmed with greater energy, since the individual is placed in the ranks of sacrosanct objects. It springs not from egoism but from sympathy for all that is human, a broader pity for all sufferings, for all human miseries, a more ardent need to combat them and mitigate them, a greater thirst for justice.

That is to say that Durkheim’s form of what Taylor calls neo-Durkheimianism, that is a fusion of faith and nation, is almost devoid of any particularism.

Now the French are notoriously famous for thinking that their form of universalism is universalism itself and Durkheim himself engaged to some degree in French chauvinism when he wrote an anti-German pamphlet during World War I in which he compared the universal ideals of France, which stood for civilization itself, with the narrow particularism of German nationalism, elevating the German nation above all others.


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