Ferdinand Tonnies wrote in Community and Association (1887) (translation p. 56) that “Just as language cannot be made by agreement… real concord cannot be artificially produced” How far, if at all, does this statement provide a clue to solving the puzzle of why so many attempts to create communes in modern societies have proved to be unsuccessful? Why have some succeeded? When Tonnies wrote about ‘concord’, he was talking in terms of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft bonds.
Gemeinschaft bonds are the bonds that community is associated with. Gemeinschaft bonds are a mode of mentality and behaviour. The word Gemeinschaft means literally “Great similarity” representing the type of relationship that Gemeinschaft represents. These bonds manifested themselves in the form of kinship, blood relationships, intellectual ties, friendship and neighbourhood1. Life in a Gemeinschaft bond is intimate, private and involves living together.
Tonnies himself said, “Gemeinschaft represents the truly human supreme form of community”2. It is a domestic kind of bond, and the strongest ties are found between mother and child, husband and wife and brother and sister. In a traditional society, Gemeinschaft bonds were the main forces that bound people together. The bonds took the form of social cohesion, the sense of being in a distinct group, sustained ties with the place the group live in and generations.Order now
The church and family would regulate the culturally homogenous behaviour. Today communities as evident in pre-industrial life are basically obsolete. Tonnies used the term Gemeinschaft to describe this type of social bond, which can also mean ‘community’ and Gesellschaft to mean ‘association’. In a modern society there is a diverse work force, lack of moral regulation, impersonal relationships, multiculturalism, dysfunctional families, privatised companies only available to a minority of the population etc.
Society is based on meritocracy (although the extent of this may be challenged) and this can be held partly responsible for the decline in Gemeinschaft bonds because is has encouraged individualism – creating conflicting identities within a society. It appears that Gemeinschaft bonds are almost on the verge of disappearing. The family no longer has a pivotal role in society as it used to, which was the origin of the Gemeinschaft bonds in the first place.
It could perhaps be said that the kind of love that is in the world today is not the kind of love that was evident in a traditional, ‘Gemeinschaft’ society. Gemeinschaft bonds demand an intimate knowledge of one another, understanding, a mixture of blood and proximity and unity. Today in society it is rare to find a family living under one roof. People are not as close with one another as they used to be, and with the lack of Gemeinschaft bonds in today’s society, does that mean that the kind of love we experience today is not real love?
Maybe people today do not experience the intensity of the supreme form of love, the love, which epitomises a Gemeinschaft society. This can be partly explained by Durkheim’s theory of Anomie. Individualism, which began in the 19th century, has been the demise of Gemeinschaft bonds. Individualism encourages a lesser sense of belonging or group identity. If Gemeinschaft bonds were stronger today, maybe people would respect society more and everyone in it.
This would reduce the amount of antisocial behaviour since feelings of dissatisfaction and frustration would not be so powerful and so on3. Instead, there is a lack of moral regulation – possibly due to the decline of the church and the family. The collective conscience is weaker and anomie ensues. Durkheim thought that finding an identity from one’s occupation could overcome anomie and its moral implications because it would encourage social cohesion, and therefore Gemeinschaft bonds. This would also decrease individualism and control greed, thus rediscovering a shared identity.