Durkheim on Social Justice: The Argument from “Organic Solidarity”
by Lisa Herzog, Technical University of Munich
Writing in the 1890s, Émile Durkheim, one of the founders of sociology, developed an argument about social justice that is still relevant today. He argued that modern societies require a specific form of solidarity that is based on difference rather than similarity: “organic solidarity.” This solidarity can grow out of processes of divided labor, in which individuals experience the mutual usefulness of different occupations, but only if these processes happen “spontaneously.” This spontaneity is undermined by social inequality: social inequality distorts prices, such that they are perceived as unjust, and it undermines the equality of opportunity that modern society promises to its members. The paper reconstructs Durkheim’s argument and connects it to contemporary debates about just prices and equality of opportunity. It also discusses a problem neglected by Durkheim, namely that the perception of social justice can be ideologically distorted. The connections between social inequality, its perception, and social relations in the workplace deserve attention from the perspective of political theory and political science.