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Toennies and Weber: a Rejoinder

Werner J. Cahnman

European Journal of Sociology / Volume 22 / Issue 01 / January 1981, pp 154 - 157

DOI: 10.1017/S0003975600003659, Published online: 28 July 2009

Link to this article: http://journals.cambridge.org/


How to cite this article:

Werner J. Cahnman (1981). Toennies and Weber: a Rejoinder. European
Journal of Sociology, 22, pp 154-157 doi:10.1017/S0003975600003659

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T H E relation between Toennies and Weber is frequently misunderstood.

On the one hand, minor contradictions and divergencies are emphasized
where fundamental agreement exists. On the other hand, an important
distinction is overlooked. Sometimes, elaborate schemes are substituted for
simple meanings which can be derived from an analysis of the texts. The
above observation applies to Gert H. Mueller's sophisticated exposition *.
Mueller starts the comparison between Weber and Toennies with a
reference to the terms Gemeinschaftshandeln and Gesellschaftshandeln in
Weber's paper of 1913 on'Uber einige Kategorien der verstehenden Sozio-
logie' (1). The terms Gemeinschaftshandeln and Gesellschaftshandeln are
also used in the older second part of Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, as contained
in the original edition of 1921. Contrary to Mueller's assumption that
Weber's use of these terms 'points' to Ferdinand Toennies' work, Gentein-
schaft und Gesellschaft (Mueller, p. 151), they are actually employed there in
a pre-Toenniesian sense. Gemeinschaft is understood in a general way as
a' social group' and Gemeinschafthandeln as equivalent to what Weber later
called 'social action'. Roth and Wittich have drawn attention to this
shift (2). Although Weber and Toennies met early, certainly not later
than during the international philosophical conference in Heidelberg in
1908, it was only in later years that their 'relationship grew close, with
the result that Toennies' influence on Weber became considerably more
than 'peripheral'. The voluminous Toennies-Weber correspondence
unfortunately was lost in World War II, but as co-founders of the Deutsche
Gesellschaft fiir Soziologie (of which association Toennies was the first and
remained the only president up to the fateful year 1933), they stood side by
side as proponents of sociological research and research institutes and as
advocates of the principle of a ' value-free' social science, at least as a pos-
tulate. The cooperation between Toennies and Weber was lasting and
As to the affinity of the two men as theorists, the record must be read
properly. Concerning Weber, Mueller appears to accept uncritically the
suggestion by Roth and Wittich (in reference to Toennies' Gemeinschaft
und Gesellschaft) that 'there is no indication that the work was a major
influence on his [Weber's] intellectual development' (2). According to

* Gert H. MUELLER, The notion of rationality in the work of Max Weber,

European Journal of Sociology, XX (1979), 149-171.
(1) The paper appeared in Logos IV and (2) Gunther ROTH and Claus WITTICH'S
is reprinted in Max WEBER, Gesammelte translation of Max WEBER, Economy and
Aufsatze zur Wissenschaftslehre (Tubingen, Society (New York, Bedminster Press, 1968),
Mohr, 1922), 427-474. I, xcvi.

Arch, europ. social., XXII (1981), 1S4-157 — 0003-9576/81/0000-0438 (02.50 © 1981. A.E.S.

Mueller, the terms Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft remained quite peripheral

to the work of Weber, as he points out explicitly (Mueller, p. 151).
Mueller's statement is not corroborated by a reading of the text. Weber
speaks in the passage in question of Vergemeinschaftung and Vergesell-
schaftung (the processes of becoming a community or an association) rather
than of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft as social entities. Consequently,
when he adds that 'Toennies has given the terms Gemeinschaft and Ge-
sellschaft a more specific meaning than would be convenient for purposes of
the present discussion', Weber means to say that he is not going to consider
Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft as fundamental principles in' pure' sociology,
but rather as concepts in historical analysis. Weber's intention was direc-
ted toward the comprehension of history by means of sociological cate-
gories (Parsons' ad hoc analysis), not toward the construction of a
sociological theory. Toennies' aim, on the other hand, was to formulate a
theory of society, even if he had to use historical examples for illustration.
With this distinction in mind, Weber's definition of 'communal' social
relationship as based on a subjective feeling of the parties, whether affec-
tional or traditional, that they 'belong together' and of an 'associative'
social relationship as resting on 'a rationally motivated adjustment of
interests or a similarly motivated agreement' is entirely in line with Toen-
nies' thinking. There is no reason to assume that Weber was not aware of
that basic agreement. Indeed, in the very first page of Wirtschaft und
Gesellschaft, Weber refers to Toennies' 'schone Werk, Gemeinschaft und
Gesellschaft' to which the reader's attention is directed as background
material; and in the explanatory note to the definition of communal and
associative relationships wherein according to Mueller the 'peripheral'
relationship of Weber to Toennies is 'explicitly' pointed out, Weber—quite
to the contrary—explains that the terminology he uses is' similar to the
distinction made by Ferdinand Toennies in his fundamental work Gemein-
schaft und Gesellschaft'. In another passage, Weber refers to Toennies'
'lastingly important work' (3). Weber's position is upheld by Parsons
when he says that Weber's terminology 'has been directly influenced by
Toennies'work' (4).
Also concerning Durkheim, speculation abounds. Mueller's statement
(p. 152) that 'Gesellschaft [and] Kurwille coincide' with Hobbesian Zweck-
rationalitdt is incomplete. The meaning of the terms in question is derived
from Hobbes as Toennies has pointed out in his book on Hobbes, and
elsewhere (5). There is no inadvertent coincidence. Neither do 'Ge-
(3) Gesammelte Aufsdtze... op. cit, p. 403. Leben und Lehre (New printing of third
(4) Talcott PARSONS, Max Weber : the edition : Stuttgart, Fromman, 1971; first
theory of social and economic organization edition 1896). Comp. Hobbes and the Zoon
(New York, Free Press, 1964), p. 136; comp. Politikon, in Werner J. CAHNMAN and
PARSONS, A Note on Gemeinschaft and Rudolf HEBERLE, Ferdinand Toennies on
Gesellschaft, in Werner J. CAHNMAN, Sociology Pure, Applied and Empirical
Ferdinand Toennies — A new evaluation (Chicago, University of Chicago Press,
(Leiden, E.J. Brill, 1973), p. 140. I97i), PP- 48-61.
(5) Ferdinand TOENNIES, Thomas Hobbes.


meinschaft [and] Wesettswille coincide' with Wertrationalitdt. They

coincide with the totality of affectual, traditional and value-rational action,
as will be observed as we go along. Further, how the Hobbesian derivation
should 'concur' with Durkheim's dichotomy of mechanical and organic
solidarity is unclear. Already Sorokin thought that Durkheim ' intention-
ally gave to his social types names which were opposite to those given
by Toennies' (6). But the further assumption by many authors that
Gemeinschaft is identical with mechanical solidarity, and Gesellschaft with
organic solidarity, is erroneous, even if that assumption is repeated in
secondary, tertiary or whatever subsequent analysis (7). If one reads what
Toennies wrote in Soziologische Studien und Kritiken (III, 192-194) or—in
my translation—in the chapter 'Toennies and Durkheim: an exchange of
reviews' in Ferdinand Toennies—A new evaluation (pp. 248-251), one
will realize that Durkheim deals with developmental aspects of social
organizations while Toennies, to use his own words, had in mind' structures
of united wills which represent themselves as social entities and which
therefore exist only in theory' (8). The Toenniesian type-constructs are
'pure', that is, notional concepts, even if in'applied' sociology there is a
tendency for Gesellschaft-like features to increase with the passage of time.
Durkheim speaks of'real types' that are observed, not of'ideal types' that
serve as measuring devices, as does Toennies. Therein lies a fundamental
distinction, no 'concurrence', as Mueller would like to have it.

As to Toennies' appreciation of Weber, the case is even simpler than the

other way round because Toennies, although older in years, survived Weber
and could pass his judgment in retrospect. I have dealt with that topic
in extenso, also with regard to the nominalism-realism distinction, the
means-end relationship and the theory of capitalism (9). Toennies'
comments on Weber's capitalism thesis have never caught the attention
which they deserve. What is relevant in the present context is Toennies'
reference to Weber in par. 2 of Einfiihrung in die Soziologie (10). Toennies
points out that Weber's value-rational, affectual, especially emotional, and
traditional kinds of social action are subsumed in his system under the
category of Wesenswille (essential or existential will) while purpose-
rational action is equivalent to Kurwille (arbitrary will). He goes on to
say in Einfiihrung that essential will should be considered in three stages.
He argues that essential will starts from habituation, based first on liking,
then on a friendly or antagonistic disposition or conviction: that it is further
(6) Pitirim SOROKIN, Contemporary Socio- evaluation, op. cit. p. 249.
logical Theories (New York/London 1928), (9) Werner J. CAHNMAN, Toennies and
p. 467. Weber, in Ferdinand Toennies, op. cit.
(7) For a more intensive comparison, see pp. 257-283.
Werner J. CAHNMAN, Toennies, Durkheim (10) Ferdinand TOENNIES, Einfiihrung in
and Weber, Social Science Information, XV det Soziologie (Stuttgart, Enke Verlag, 1965;
(1977) 6, 839-853. first edition 1931), pp. 6 sqq. Comp. CAHN-
(8) Toennies and Durkheim : an exchange MAN, Toennies and Weber, op. cit.
of reviews, in Ferdinand Toennies — A new


based on feeling, differing from disposition or conviction through the

element of attachment and loyalty; that it is elevated, as one might say, in a
process of socialization, to conscience (Gewissen) which, in turn, is largely
conditioned by the approval or disapproval of others. Toennies refers
here to Kant's categorical imperative, but the affinity to Adam Smith,
Cooley and Mead is equally evident. Finally, thinking (which always, to
one degree or another, is underlying volition) becomes independent of
motivations and directed exclusively toward the achievement of a purpose.
Thus, essential will, according to Toennies, is transmuted into arbitrary
will, it being understood that essential will and Gemeinschaft are not 'irra-
tional ', as a seemingly eradicable misconception would make us believe. A
mother's love to her child is not irrational—it is existentially bound to
human nature rather than arbitrarily directed in a means-end context, as it
would be in a deliberate calculation of advantage and disadvantage. Never-
theless, the means, namely love, is conducive to the end of bringing up the
child. Toennies is aware of the fact that human volition is a continuum,
ranging from habituation and attachment to conscious decision. We are
confronted here with a 'more-or-less' rather than with an 'either-or propo-
sition'. Fundamental concepts that are used in a dichotomous sense in
'pure' sociology are used in a continuous sense in 'applied' sociology.

W E R N E R J . C A H N M A N