Durkheim – Anomie and the Modern Division of Labor (1902)
Summary by Kate Tennis

There is no code of ethics that pertains to industrial relations – for example between employers and employees – and thus there is no moderating force on people’s attempts to pursue their own ends at the expense of others. Given the fact that economic functions have taken on a paramount importance in his era and that industry has come to employ a majority of the population, this problem of the absence of an industrial ethic applies to many people.
Durkheim describes this anarchic condition as an “anomic state,” but claims that it is inherently unstable: Yes, the strong will conquer the weak, but because the weak only consent to this out of fear of brute force, this condition cannot last. Instead, society will only achieve equilibrium when it agrees to a common moral authority.
Moreover, the authority that will bring us out of anarchy should not be seen as being in conflict with individual liberty, but as supporting it. People cannot be free unless they are protected.
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First, Durkheim claims that equilibrium can only be maintained by a moral order, and that force cannot guarantee stability. Then, he claims that only a legal order will overcome our state of anomie.
But some would claim that legal systems must be at least backed by the threat of force in order to be functional. Given his comment that “Naturally, we are not inclined to thwart and restrain ourselves,” (79 in Lemert) he clearly does not take an optimistic approach to the state of nature.
How much do we think a rational legal system depends on force versus a “common moral authority”?