Updated: Nov 13
Note: The following article is from the Preface of sociologist Emile Durkheim's classic work The Division of Labor in Society, Durkheim, E. (1893/1933). -The Division of Labor in Society – George Simpson., trans. - New York: Macmillan - Preface to the second edition, pp. 1-31
In it are set forth the philosophical foundations of modern corporatism.
The 19th century was a capstone for the development of thinking about societies being organisms. Up to about 1820 there were evolving ideas about social consciousness, community, and integration, not the least of which were Catholic scholars, like St. Thomas Aquinas. Hegel in his Philosophy of Right formalized the thinking by describing the consciousness of the State. Durkheim coupled Hegel's abstractions with the reality of the industrial revolution in his book, the preface of which you are about to read.
Durkheim's “To be sure, each of us belongs to a commune, or a department, but the bonds attaching us there became daily more fragile and more slack. These geographical divisions are, for the most part, artificial and no longer awaken in us profound sentiments.” is very telling in that he recognizes that the power to labor is immanent in human identity (the “sentiments”) and this translates into the essence of the corporations. That is:
"A nation can be maintained only if between the State and the individual, there is in the middle a whole series of secondary groups near enough to the individuals to attract them to their sphere of action and drag them, in this way, into the general torrent of social life. We have just shown how occupational groups are suited to fill this role, and that is their destiny."
We present the following, then, under a title that aptly characterizes corporatism, and, although not using it, one that Durkheim very well might have found to his liking.
…In the economic order, occupational ethics exist only in the most rudimentary state. There is a professional ethic of the lawyer and the judge, the soldier and the priest, etc. But if one attempted to fix in a little more precise language the current ideas on what ought to be the relations of employer and employee, of worker and manager, of tradesmen in competition, to themselves or to the public, what indecisive formulas would be obtained! Some generalizations, without point, about the faithfulness and devotion workers of all sorts owe to those who employ them, about the moderation with which employers must use their economic advantages, a certain reprobation of all competition too openly dishonest, for all untempered exploitation of the consumer; that is about all the moral conscience of these trades contain. Moreover, most of these precepts are devoid of all juridical character, they are sanctioned only by opinion, not by law; and it is well known how indulgent opinion is concerning the manner in which these vague obligations are fulfilled. The most blameworthy acts are so often absolved by success that the boundary between what is permitted and what is prohibited, what is just and what is unjust, has nothing fixed about it, but seems susceptible to almost arbitrary change by individuals. An ethic so imprecise and inconsistent cannot constitute a discipline. The result is that all this sphere of collective life is, in large part, freed from the moderating action of regulation.
It is this state of anomie that is the cause, as we shall show, of the incessantly recurrent conflicts, and the multifarious disorders of which the economic world exhibits so sad a spectacle. For, as nothing restrains the active forces and assigns them limits they are bound to respect, they tend to develop haphazardly, and come into collision with one another, battling and weakening themselves. To be sure, the strongest succeed in completely demolishing the weakest, or in subordinating them. But, if the conquered, for a time, must suffer subordination under compulsion, they do not consent to it, and consequently this cannot constitute a stable equilibrium Truces, arrived at after violence, are never provisional, and satisfy no one. Human passions stop only before a moral power they respect. If all authority of this kind is wanting, the law of the strongest prevails, and latent or active, the state of war is necessarily chronic.
That such anarchy is an unhealthy phenomenon is quite evident, since it runs counter to the aim of society, which is to suppress, or at least to moderate, war among men, subordinating the law of the strongest to a higher law. To justify this chaotic state, we vainly praise its encouragement of individual liberty. Nothing is falser than this antagonism too often presented between legal authority and individual liberty. Quite on the contrary, liberty (we mean genuine liberty, which it is society’s duty to have respected) is itself the product of regulation, I can be free only to the extent that others are forbidden to profit from their physical, economic, or other superiority to the detriment of my liberty. But only social rules can prevent abuses of power. It is now known what complicated regulation is needed to assure individuals the economic independence without which their liberty is only nominal.
But what brings about the exceptional gravity of this state, nowadays particularly, is the heretofore-unknown development that economic functions have experienced for about two centuries. Whereas formerly they played only a secondary role, they are now of the first importance. We are far from the time when they were disdainfully abandoned to the inferior classes. In the face of the economic, the administrative, military, and religious functions become steadily less important. Only the scientific functions seem to dispute their place, and even science has scarcely any prestige save to the extent that it can serve practical occupations, which are largely economic. That is why it can be said, with some justice, that society is, or tends to be, essentially industrial. A form of activity which has assumed such a place in social life evidently cannot remain in this unruly state without resulting in the most profound disasters. It is a notable source of general demoralization. For, precisely because the economic functions today concern the greatest number of citizens, there are multitudes of individuals whose lives are passed almost entirely in the industrial and commercial world. From this, it follows that as that world is only feebly ruled by morality, the greatest part of their existence takes place outside the moral sphere. Now, for the sentiment of duty to be fixed strongly in us, the circumstances in which we live must keep us awake. Naturally, we are not inclined to thwart and restrain ourselves; if, then, we are not invited, at each moment, to exercise a restraint without which there is no ethic, how can we learn the habit? If in the task that occupies almost all our time we follow no other rule than that of our well-understood interest, how can we learn to depend upon disinterestedness, on self-forgetfulness, on sacrifice? In this way, the absence of all economic discipline cannot fail to extend its effects beyond the economic world, and consequently weaken public morality.
But, the evil observed, what is its cause and what could be its remedy?
In the body of this work, we have especially insisted upon showing that the division of labor cannot be held responsible, as is sometimes unjustly charged; that it does not necessarily produce dispersion and incoherence, but that functions, when they are sufficiently in contact with one another, tend to stabilize and regulate themselves. But this explanation is incomplete. For, if it is true that social functions spontaneously seek to adapt themselves to one another, provided they are regularly in relationship, nevertheless this mode of adaptation becomes a rule of conduct only if the group consecrates it with its authority. A rule, indeed, is not only an habitual means of acting; that is, above all, an obligatory means of acting; which is to say, withdrawn from individual discretion. Now, only a constituted society enjoys the moral and material supremacy indispensable in making law for individuals, for the only moral personality above particular personalities is the one formed by collective life. It alone has continuity and the necessary perpetuity to maintain the rule beyond the ephemeral relations which daily incarnate it. Moreover, its role is not limited simply to forming into imperative principles the most general results of particular contracts; it intervenes in an active and positive manner in the formation of each rule. First, it is the arbiter naturally designed to settle interests in conflict, and to assign to each its suitable limits. Then it has the chief interest in order and peace; if anomy is an evil, it is above all because society suffers from it, being unable to live without cohesion and regularity. A moral or juridical regulation essentially expresses, then, social needs that society alone can feel; it rests in a state of opinion, and all opinion is a collective thing, produced by collective elaboration. For anomy to end, there must then exist, or be formed, a group which can constitute the system of rules actually needed.
Neither political society, in its entirety, nor the State can take over this function; economic life, because it is specialized and grows more specialized every day, escapes their competence and their action. An occupational activity can be efficaciously regulated only by a group intimate enough with it to know its function, feel all its needs, and able to follow all their variations. The only one that could answer all these conditions is the one formed by all the agents of the same industry, united and organized into a single body. This is what is called the corporation or occupational group
Now, in the economic order, the occupational group does not exist anymore than occupational ethics. Since the eighteenth century rightfully suppressed the old corporations, only fragmentary and incomplete attempts have been made to bring them back with new foundations. To be sure, individuals working at the same trade have relations with one another because of their similar occupation. Even competition puts them in relationship. But these relations have nothing ordered about them; they depend upon chance meetings, and have, very often, an entirely personal aspect. A particular tradesman is found in contact with some fellow- tradesman; this does not result from the industrial body of this or that specialty united for common action. In exceptional circumstances, the members of the same occupation come together as a unit to treat some question of general interest, but these meetings are only temporary. They do not survive the particular circumstances which bring them into being, and consequently the collective life of which they are the cause is more or less completely obliterated with them.
The only groups which have a certain permanence today are those called syndicates, composed of either employers or workers. To be sure, there is, in this, a beginning of occupational organization, but still quite formless and rudimentary. For first, a syndicate is a private association, without legal authority, deprived, consequently, of all regulatory power. The number of syndicates is theoretically limitless, even in the interior of the same industrial category ; and as each of them is independent of the others, if they do not federate or unify there is nothing intrinsic in them expressing the unity of the occupation in its entirety. Finally, the syndicates of employers and the syndicates of employees are distinct from each other, which is legitimate and necessary, but with no regular contact between them. There exists no common organization for their union where they can develop a common authority, fixing their mutual relations and commanding obedience, without a consequent loss of individuality. Consequently, it is always the law of the strongest which settles conflicts, and the state of war is continuous. Save for those of their acts which arise from common ethics, employers and workers are, in relation to each other, in the same situation as two autonomous states, but of unequal power. They can form contracts; these contracts express the respective state of their military forces. They sanction a condition of fact; they cannot make it a condition of right.
For the establishment of an occupational ethic and law in the different economic occupations, the corporation, instead of remaining a confused aggregate, without unity, would have to become again a defined, organized group; in a word, a public institution. But any project of this sort runs afoul of a certain number of prejudices which must be forestalled or dissipated.
In the first place, the corporation has its historic past against it. Indeed, it is taken as being strictly solidary with our old political regime, and consequently considered unable to survive it. The point is made that to ask for a corporative organization for industry and commerce is to demand that we retrace the course of history. Such retrogression is correctly looked upon either as impossible or as abnormal.
This argument would carry weight if we proposed artificially to resuscitate the old corporation as it existed in the Middle Ages. But the problem is not presented in that light. It is not a question of discovering whether the medieval institution, can identically fit our contemporary societies, but whether the needs, which it answered, are not always present, although it must, in order to satisfy them, change according to the times.
Now, what precludes our seeing in the corporations a temporary organization, good only for someone epoch and determined civilization, is, at once, their venerable age and the manner in which they have developed in history. If they dated only from the Middle Ages, one could believe that, having been born with a political system, they must of necessity disappear with it. But in reality, they have a much more ancient origin. Generally, they appear as soon as there are trades, which means as soon as industry ceases being purely agricultural. If they seem to have been unknown in Greece, at least up to the time of the Roman conquest, that is because trades, being looked down upon there, were carried on almost exclusively by strangers, and for that very reason found themselves outside the legal organization of the city. But in Rome they date at least from the earliest times of the Republic; tradition even attributes their creation to king Numa. It is true that for a long time they had to lead a rather humble existence, for historians and tablets speak of them but rarely, so that we know very little of the way in which they were organized. But from the time of Cicero, their number became more considerable, and they began to play a part in Roman society. From that moment, says Waltzing, “all the working classes seem possessed with the desire to multiply the occupational groups.” The expanding movement continues apace, reaching, under the Empire, “an extension which, perhaps, has not been surpassed since, if one takes into account the economic differences.” All the categories of workers, which were many, finally ended by forming themselves into constituencies, and it was the same with men who lived by commerce. At the same time, the character of these groups was changed; they ended by becoming part of the administrative machine. They fulfilled official functions; each occupation was looked upon as a public service whose corresponding corporation had obligations and responsibilities toward the State.
This was the ruin of the institution. For this dependence upon the State was not long in degenerating into an intolerable servitude that emperors could maintain only by force. All sorts of methods were employed for preventing workers from getting rid of the heavy obligations resulting from their occupation; they went so far as to recruit and force enrollment. Such a system evidently could only last as long as the political power was strong enough to impose it. That is why it did not survive the dissolution of the Empire. Besides, civil wars and invasions had destroyed commerce and industry; workers profited from these circumstances to flee the cities and scatter about in the country. Thus, the first centuries of our era produced a phenomenon which was to be repeated identically at the end of the eighteenth century. Corporative life was almost completely extinguished. Some few traces remained, in Gaul and in Germany in the cities of Roman origin. If, then, a theorist had taken stock of the situation, he would reasonably have concluded, as economists did later, that corporations had not, or at least no longer had, any reason for existing, that they had disappeared once and for all, and he would, no doubt, have treated any attempt to bring them back as retrogressive and unrealizable. But events would soon have refuted such a prophecy.
Indeed, after some time, the corporations began a new existence in all European societies. They endured to rise again in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. At that time, says Levasseur, “the workmen began to feel the need of combining and forming their first associations. In any case, in the thirteenth century, they are once again flourishing, and they develop up to the day when a new decadence begins for them. So persistent an institution cannot depend upon a contingent and accidental existence. Still less possible is the admission that they may have been the product of some strange collective aberration. If from the origin of the city up to the zenith of the Empire, from the dawn of Christian societies up to modem times, they have been necessary, it is because they answer durable and profound needs. The fact that after having disappeared the first time they came into being themselves and in a new form especially removes all value from the argument which presents their violent disappearance at the end of the eighteenth century as a proof that they are no longer in harmony with the new conditions of collective existence. Moreover, the need which all great-civilized societies feel to recall them to life is the surest symptom that this radical suppression was not a remedy, and that the reform of Turgot necessitates another that cannot be indefinitely postponed.
But if all corporative organization is not necessarily an historical anachronism, is there any reason for believing that it may play, in contemporary societies, the great role we have attributed to it? For, if it were indispensable, it is not because of the economic services it can render, but because of the moral influence, it can have. What we especially see in the occupational group is a moral power capable of containing individual egos, of maintaining a spirited sentiment of common solidarity in the consciousness of all the workers, of preventing the law of the strongest from being brutally applied to industrial and commercial relations. It is now thought to be unsuitable for such a role. Because it had its origin in short-lived interests, it appears that it can be used only for utilitarian ends, and the mementos left by corporations of the old regime seem only to confirm this impression. They are gratuitously represented in the future, as they were during the last days of their existence, particularly busy in maintaining or increasing their privileges and their monopolies; and it cannot be seen how interests so narrowly occupational can have a favorable effect on the ethics of the body or its members.
But What has been true of certain corporations for a very short space of their development cannot be applied to the entire corporative regime. Far from having acquired a sort of moral infirmity from its constitution, it has especially played a moral role during the major part of its history. This is particularly evident in the Roman corporations. “The corporations of workers,” says Waltzing, “were, with the Romans, far from having an occupational character as pronounced as in the Middle Ages; we find there neither regulation of methods, nor imposed apprenticeship, nor monopoly; nor was their end to unite the necessary elements to exploit an industry.” To be sure, the association ' gave them more force in time of need for safeguarding their common interests. Yet, that was only one of the useful consequences produced by the institution; that was not its raison d'etre, its principal function. Above all, the corporation was a religious organization. Each one had its particular god whose cult was celebrated in a special temple when the means were available. In the same way as each family had its Lar familiaris; each city its Genius publicus, each organization had its protecting god, Genius collegii. Naturally, this occupational cult did not dispense with celebrations, with sacrifices and banquets in common. All sorts of circumstances were used as reasons for these joyful gatherings. Moreover, distribution of foodstuffs and money often took place at the community’s expense. There have been questions as to whether the corporation had a sick-fund; if it regularly helped those members who were in need. Opinions on this point are divergent. But what lends interest and import to this discussion is that these common banquets, more or less periodic, and the distributions accompanying them, often took the place of help, and formed a bureau of indirect assistance. Thus, the unfortunate knew they could count on this disguised aid. As corollary to this religious character, the organization of workers was, at the same time, a burial society. United in a cult during their lives, like the Gentiles, the members of these corporations also wished to rest together after death. All the fairly rich corporations had a collective columbarium where, when the organization had riot the funds to buy a burial plot, there was at least the certainty that its members would have honorable burial at the expense of the common fund.
A common cult, common banquets, a common cemetery, all united together, are these not all the distinctive characteristics of the domestic organization at the time of the Romans? Thus, it has been said that the Roman Corporation was a “great family.” “No word,” says Waltzing, “better indicates the nature of the relations uniting the brotherhood, and a great many indignations prove a great fraternity reigned in their midst.” the community of interests took the place of the community of blood “The members looked upon themselves as brothers, even to the extent of calling themselves by that name.” The most ordinary expression, in fact, was that of sodales, but even that word expresses a spiritual relationship implying a narrow fraternity. The protectors of the organization often took the names of father and mother. “A proof of the devotion the brothers had for their organization lies in the bequests and donations they made. There are also funereal monuments upon which are found: Pius in collegio, he was faithful towards his organization, as if one said, Pius in suos.” This familial life was so developed that Boissier makes it the principal aim of all the Roman corporations. “Even in the workers’ corporations,” he says, “there was association principally for the pleasure of living together, for finding outside oneself distractions from fatigue and boredom, to create an intimacy less restrained than the family, and less extensive than the city, and thus to make life easier and more agreeable.”
As Christian societies belong to a social type very different from the city-state, the corporations of the middle Ages do not exactly resemble the Roman corporations. But they also constitute a moral environment for their members. “The corporation,” says Levasseur, “united people of the same occupation by strong bonds. Rather often, they were established in the parish house or in a particular chapel and put themselves under the invocation of a saint who became the patron saint of all the community. . . . There they gathered attended with great ceremony the solemn masses, after which the members of the brotherhood went, all together, to end their day in joyous feasting. In this way the corporations of the Middle Ages closely resembled those of Roman times. ”The corporation” moreover, often used part of its budgetary funds for charity.
Moreover, precise rules fixed the respective duties of employers and workers, as well as the duties of employers toward each other, for each occupation. There are, to be sure, regulations not in accord with our present ideas, but judgment must be made according to the ethics of the time, since that is what the rules express. What is indisputable is that they are all inspired by zeal, not for individuals, but for corporative interest, whether poorly or well understood. Now the subordination of private utility to common utility, whatever it may be, always has a moral character, for it necessarily implies sacrifice and abnegation. In addition, a great many of these rules proceeded from moral sentiments still ours today. The valet was protected from the caprices of his master who could not dismiss him at will. It is true that the obligation was reciprocal; but besides this reciprocity being just in itself, it is still more justified because of the important privileges the worker enjoyed then. Thus, masters were forbidden to negate his right to work, which allowed him to seek assistance from his neighbors, or even their wives. In short, as Levasseur says, “these regulations concerning the apprentices and workmen are worthy of consideration by historian and economist. They are not the work of a barbarous century. They carry the mark of worth-while minds and good, common sense, worthy of observation.” Finally, a system of rules was designed to guarantee occupational honesty. All sorts of precautions were taken to prevent the merchant or worker from deceiving the buyer, to compel him “to perform good, loyal work.” To be sure, a time came when the rules became uselessly complicated, when the masters were a great deal busier safeguarding their privileges than caring about the good name of the occupation and the honesty of their members. However, there is no institution which, at some given moment, does not degenerate, either because it does not know how to change and mobilize anew, or because it develops unilaterally, overdoing some of its activities. This makes it unsuited to furnish the services with which it is charged. That is reason to seek its reformation, not to declare it forever useless, nor to destroy it.
Whatever it may be from this standpoint, the preceding facts sufficiently prove that the occupational group is not incapable of exerting moral action. The considerable place that religion took in life, in Rome as well as in the Middle Ages, makes particularly evident the true nature of its functions, for all religious community then constituted a moral milieu, in the same way as all moral discipline tended forcibly to take a religious form. And Besides, this character of corporative organization comes from very general causes that can be seen acting in other circumstances. When a certain number of individuals in the midst of a political society are found to have ideas, interests, sentiments, and occupations not shared by the rest of the population, it is inevitable that they will be attracted toward each other under the influence of these likenesses. They will seek each other out, enter into relations, associate, and thus, little by little, a restricted group, having its special characteristics, will be formed in the midst of the general society. But once the group is formed, a moral life appears naturally carrying the mark of the particular conditions in which it has developed. For it is impossible for men to live together, associating in industry, without acquiring a sentiment of the whole formed by their union, without attaching themselves to that whole, preoccupying themselves with its interests, and taking account of it in their conduct. This attachment has in it something surpassing the individual. This subordination of particular interests to the general interest is, indeed, the source of all moral activity. As this sentiment grows more precise and determined, applying itself to the most ordinary and the most important circumstances of life, it is translated into definitive formulae, and thus a body of moral rules is in process of establishment.
At the same time that this result is produced of itself and by the force of circumstances, it is useful and the feeling of its utility lends confirmation to it. Society is not alone in its interest in the formation of special groups to regulate their own activity, developing within them what otherwise would become anarchic; but the individual, on his part, finds joy in it, for anarchy is painful to him. He also suffers from pain and disorder produced whenever inter-individual relations are not submitted to some regulatory influence. It is not good for man to live with the threat of war in the midst of his immediate companions. This sensation of general hostility, the mutual defiance resulting from it, the tension it necessitates, are difficult states when they arc chronic. If we love war, we also love the joys of peace, and the latter are of more worth as men are more profoundly socialized, which is to say (for the two words are synonymous) more profoundly civilized. Common life is, attractive as well as coercive. Doubtless, constraint is necessary to lead man to surpass himself, to add to his physical nature another; but as he learns the charm of this new life, he contracts the need for it, and there is no order of activity in which he does not seek it passionately. That is why when individuals who are found to have common interests associate, it is not only to defend these interests, it is to associate, that is, not to feel lost among adversaries, to have the pleasure of communing, to make one out of many, which is to say, finally, to lead the same moral life together.
Domestic morality is not otherwise formed. Because of the prestige the family has in our eyes, it seems to us that if it has been, and if it is always, a school of devotion, of abnegation, the place par excellence of morality, it is because of quite particular, intrinsic characteristics found nowhere else. It is believed that consanguinity is an exceptionally powerful cause of moral relationship. But we have often had the occasion for showing that consanguinity has not the extraordinary efficacy attributed to it. The proof is that in many societies the non- blood relations are found in numbers in the center of the family; the so-called relationship is then contracted with great facility, and it has all the effects of a blood-tie. Inversely, it often happens that very near blood relations are, morally or juridically, strangers to each other; for example, the case of cognates in the Roman family. The family does not then owe its virtues to the unity of descent; it is quite simply a group of individuals who find themselves related to one another in the midst of political society by a particularly strong community of ideas, of sentiments and interests. Consanguinity facilitates this concentration, for it causes mutual adaptation of consciences. But a great many other factors come into play: material neighborhood, solidarity of interests, the need of uniting against a common danger, or simply to unite, are other powerful causes of relationship.
Now, they are not special to the family, but they are found, although in different forms, in the corporation. If, then, the first of these groups has played so considerable a role in the moral history of humanity, why should the second be incapable of doing the same? To be sure, there is always this difference between them, that members of a family live their lives together, while members a corporation live only their occupational lives together! The family is a sort of complete society whose action controls our economic activity as well as our religious, political, scientific activities. Anything significant we do, even outside the house, acts upon it, and provokes appropriate re- actions. The sphere of influence of a corporation is, in a sense, more restricted. Still, we must not lose sight of the increasingly important position the occupation takes in life as work becomes more specialized, for the field of each individual activity tends steadily to become delimited by the functions with which the individual is particularly charged. Moreover, if familial action extends everywhere, it can only be general; detail escapes it. Finally, the family, in losing the unity and indivisibility of former times, has lost with one stroke a great part of its efficacy. As it is today broken up with each generation, each man passes a notable part of his existence far from all domestic 'influence. The corporation has none of these disturbances; it is as continuous as life. The inferiority that it presents, in comparison with the family, has its compensation.
If we find it necessary thus to bring together the family and the corporation, it is not simply to establish an instructive parallel between them, but because the two institutions are closely connected. This is observable in the history of Roman corporations. We have seen, indeed, that they were formed on the model of domestic society, of which they were at first only a new and enlarged form. But the occupational group would not, at this point, recall the familial group, if there were not some bond of relation between them. In addition, indeed, the corporation has been, in a sense, the heir of the family. As long as industry is exclusively agricultural, it has, in the family and in the village, which is itself only a sort of great family, its immediate organ, and it needs no other. As exchange is not, or is very little, developed, the farmer’s life does not extend outside the familial circle. Economic activity, having no consequences outside the family, is sufficiently regulated by the family, and the family itself thus serves as an occupational group. However, the case is no longer the same once trades exist. For to live by a trade, customers are necessary, and going outside the house to find them is necessary, as is having relations with competitors, fighting against them, coming to an understanding with them. In addition, trades demand cities, and cities have always been formed and recruited principally from the ranks of immigrants, individuals who have left their native homes. A new form of activity was thus constituted which burst from the old familial form. In order not to remain in an unorganized state, it was necessary to create a new form, which would be fitting to it; or otherwise said, it was necessary for a secondary group of a new kind to be formed. This is the origin of the corporation; it was substituted for the family in the exercise of a function which had first been domestic, but which could no longer keep this character. Such an origin does not allow us to attribute to it that sort of constitutional amorality, which is generally gratuitously bestowed upon it. Just as the family has elaborated domestic ethics and law, the corporation is now the source of occupational ethics and law.
But to succeed in getting rid of all the prejudices, to show that the corporative system is not solely an institution of the past, it would be necessary to see what transformation it must and can submit to in order to adapt itself to modern societies, for evidently it cannot exist today as it did in the middle Ages.
To treat this question systematically, it would be necessary first to establish in what manner the corporative regime has evolved in the past and what are the causes which have determined the principal variations it has gone through. Being given the conditions in which European societies find themselves, one would be able to foresee fairly accurately, what it must become. But for that, comparative studies, which have not yet been made, would be necessary. These can only be made as we proceed. However, we can perhaps see, in a most general way, what the development has been.
We have seen from the preceding that the corporation in Rome did not become what it later did in Christian societies. Its difference does not rest only in its more religious and less occupational character, but in the place, it occupied in society. It was, indeed, at least in origin, an extra-social institution. The historian undertaking the study of Roman political organization in all its elements does not meet in the course of his analysis any fact manifesting the existence of corporations. They were not recognized in the Roman constitution as definite associations. In none of the electoral assemblies, in none of the army meetings, did the workers get together in organizations; the occupational group nowhere took part in public life as such, either in a body or through regular representatives. At most, there is a question as
to three or four organizations that have been identified with certain of the centuries set up by Servius Tullius even there the fact is problematical. Moreover, as for the other corporations, they were certainly outside the official organization of the Roman people.
This unusual situation is, in some part, explained by the very conditions in which they were formed. They appear when trades begin to develop. Now, for a long time, trades were only an accessory and secondary form of the social activity of the Romans. Rome was essentially an agricultural and military society. As agricultural, it was divided into genies and curia; the centurial assembly rather reflected the military organization. As for the industrial functions, they were too rudimentary to affect the political structure of the city. Besides, up to a late stage in Roman history, the trades were socially outlawed and were not allowed any regular place in the State. To be sure, there came a time when their social condition improved. But the manner in which this improvement was achieved is in itself significant. To succeed in having their interests respected, and to play a role in public life, the workers had to resort to irregular and extra-legal procedures. They triumphed over scorn only by means of intrigues, plots, and clandestine agitation. This alone is the best proof that Roman society was not open to them. In addition, if, later, they finally became an integral part of the State and of the administrative machine, it cannot be said that this was a glorious triumph for them, but rather a painful dependence. If they then became a part of the State, it was not to occupy the position which their social services might rightfully give them, but simply so that they could be more adroitly watched by the governmental power. “The corporation,” says Levasseur, “became the chain which made them captives, and imperial power became more oppressive as their work became more difficult or more necessary to the State.”
Their place in the middle Ages is quite another matter. There, as soon as the corporation appears, it appears as the normal mould for that part of the population called to play such a considerable role in the State: the bourgeoisie or the third estate. Indeed, for a long time, the bourgeoisie and trades people are one and the same. “The bourgeoisie in the thirteenth century,” says Levasseur, “was exclusively composed of tradespeople. The class of magistrates and legists had scarcely begun to be formed; the scholars still belonged to the Church; the number of men receiving incomes from property was still restricted, because territorial property was then almost entirely in the hands of nobles. There remained to the commoner only the work of the shop and the counter, and it was by industry or commerce that they had conquered for themselves a place in the kingdom.” It was the same in Germany. Bourgeois and citizen were synonymous terms and we know that the German cities were formed about permanent markets, opened by a nobleman on a part of his domain. The population grouping itself around these markets, which became the urban population, was then almost exclusively made up of workers and merchants. Thus, the word forenses or mercatores was used indifferently to designate the inhabitants of cities, and the thus civil or urban law is very often called jus fori or law of the market. The organization of trades and of commerce seems, then, to have been the primitive organization of the European bourgeoisie.
Thus, when the cities freed themselves from the seigniorial power when the commune was formed, the body of trades, which preceded and prepared this movement, became the foundation of the communal constitution. Indeed, “in almost all the communes, the political system and the election of magistrates are founded on the division of citizens into bodies of trades.” Very often, votes were cast by bodies of trades, and elected, at the same time, the heads of the corporation and those of the commune. “At Amiens, the workers, for example, united every year to elect the mayors of each corporation; the elected mayors then named twelve sheriffs who named twelve others, and the sheriff presented in its turn to the mayors of the corporations three persons from among whom they chose the mayor of the commune. In some cities, the method of election was still more complicated, but, in all, the political and municipal organization was narrowly restricted to the organization of work.” Just as the commune was an aggregate of trades-bodies, the trades-bodies were communes on a small scale, for the very reason that they had been the model of which the communal institution was the enlarged and developed form.
Now, we know from the history of our societies that the commune has become their corner stone. Consequently, since it was a combination of corporations, and was formed on the style of a corporation, it is the latter, in the last analysis, which has served as foundation for the political system, which has issued from the communal movement. It has grown in importance and dignity. Whereas in Rome it began by being almost outside the normal framework, it has, on the contrary, served as the elementary framework in our present societies. This is another reason for our refusing to see in it a sort of archaic institution, destined to disappear from history. For if, in the past, the role it played became more vital as commerce and industry developed, it is entirely unreasonable to believe that new economic progress can drive it out of existence. The opposite hypothesis seems more justified. But there is more knowledge to be gathered from the summary we have just made. First of all, it shows us how the corporation has fallen into discredit for about two centuries, and, consequently, what it must become in order to take its place again among our public institutions. We have just seen, indeed, that in the form it had in the middle Ages it was narrowly bound to the organization of the commune. This solidarity was without inconvenience as long as the trades themselves had a communal character. While, as originally, merchants and workers had only the inhabitants of the city or its immediate environs for customers, which means as long as the market was principally local, the bodies of trades, with their municipal organization, answered all needs. But it was no longer the same once great industry was born. As it had nothing especially urban about it, it could not adapt itself to a system which had not been made for it. First, it does not necessarily have its center in a city; it can even be established outside all preexisting rural or urban agglomerations. It looks for that territory where it can best maintain itself and thrive. Thus, its field of action is limited to no determined region; its clientele is recruited everywhere. An institution so entirely wrapped up in the commune as was the old corporation could not then be used to encompass and regulate a form of collective activity which was so completely foreign to the communal life.
And, indeed, as soon as great industry appeared, it was found to be outside the corporative regime and that was what caused the bodies of trades to do all in their power to prevent industry’s progress. Nevertheless, it was certainly not freed of all regulation; in the beginning, the State played a role analogous to that which the corporations played for small-scale commerce and urban trades. At the same time as the royal power accorded the manufacturers certain privileges, in return it submitted them to its control. That is indicated in the title of royal manufacturers. But as it is well known how unsuited the State is for this function, this direct control could not fail to become oppressive. It was almost impossible from the time great industry reached a certain degree of development and diversity; that is why classical economists demanded its suppression, and with good cause. But if the corporation, as it then existed, could not be adapted to this new form of industry, and if the State could not replace the old corporative discipline, it does not follow that discipline would be useless, thenceforward. It simply meant that the old corporation had to be transformed to continue to fill its role in the new conditions of economic life. Unfortunately, it had not enough suppleness to be reformed in time; that is why it was discarded. Because it did not know how to assimilate itself to the new life which was evolving, it was divorced from that life, and, in this way, it became what it was upon the eve of the Revolution, a sort of dead substance, a strange body which could maintain itself in the social organism only through inertia. It is then not surprising that a moment came when it was violently expelled. But To destroy it was not a means of giving satisfaction to the needs it had not satisfied. That is the reason the question still remains with us, and has become still more acute after a century of groping and fruitless experience.
The work of the sociologist is not that of the political leader. We do not have to present in detail what this reform should be. It will be sufficient to indicate the general principles as they appear from the preceding facts.
What the experience of the past proves, above all, is that the framework of the occupational group must always have relations with the framework of economic life. It is because of this lack of relationship that the corporative regime disappeared. Since the market, formerly municipal, has become national and international, the corporations must assume the same extension. Instead of being limited only to the workers of a city, it must enlarge in such a way as to include all the members of the occupation scattered over the territory for in whatever region they are found, whether they live in the city or the country, they are all solidary, and participate in a common life. Since this common life is, in certain respects, independent of all territorial determinations, the appropriate organ must be created that expresses and regularizes its function. Because of these dimensions, such an organ would necessarily be in direct contact with the central organ of the collective life, for the rather important events which interest a whole category of industrial enterprises in a country necessarily have very general repercussions of which the State cannot fail to take cognizance ; hence it intervenes. Thus, it is not without reason that royal power tended instinctively not to allow great industry outside its control when it did appear. It was impossible for it not to be interested in a form of activity, which, by its very nature, can always affect all of society. But this regulatory action, if it is necessary, must not degenerate into narrow subordination, as happened in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The two organs must remain distinct and autonomous; each of them has its function, which it alone can take care of. If the function of making general principles of industrial legislation belongs to the governmental assemblies, they are incapable of diversifying them according to the different industries. It is this diversification which constitutes the proper task of the corporation. This Unitarian organization for a whole country in no way excludes the formation of secondary organs, comprising workers of the same region, or of the same locality, whose role would be to specialize still more the occupational regulation according to the local or regional necessities. Economic life would thus be regulated and determined without losing any of its diversity.
For that very reason, the corporative regime would be protected against that tendency towards immobility that it has often been charged with in the past, for it is a fault, which is rooted, in the narrowly communal character of the corporation. As long as it was limited to the city, it was inevitable for it to become a prisoner of tradition as the city itself. As, in a group so restricted, the conditions of life are almost invariable, habit exercises a terrific effect upon people, and even innovations are dreaded. The traditionalism of the corporations was thus only an aspect of the communal traditionalism, and had the same qualities. Then, once it was ingrained in the mores, it survived the causes which had produced and originally justified it. That is why, when the material and moral concentration of the country, and great industry which is its consequence, had opened minds to new desires, awakened new needs, introduced into the tastes and fashions a mobility heretofore unknown, the corporation, which was obstinately attached to its old customs, was unable to satisfy these new exigencies. But national corporations, by virtue of their dimension and complexity, would not be exposed to this danger. Too many diverse minds would be in action for stationary uniformity to be established. In a group formed of numerous and varied elements, new combinations are always being produced. There would then be nothing rigid about such an organization, and it would consequently find itself in harmony with the mobile equilibrium of needs and ideas.
Besides, it must not be thought that the entire function of the corporation is to make rules and apply them. To be sure, where a group is formed, a moral discipline is formed too. But the institution of this discipline is only one of the many ways through which collective activity is manifested. A group is not only a moral authority which dominates the life of its members; it is also a source of life sui generis from it comes a warmth which animates its members, making them intensely human, destroying their egotisms. Thus, in the past, the family was the legislator of law and ethics whose severity went to extremes of violence, at the same time that it was the place where one first learned to enjoy the effusions of sentiment. We have also seen how the corporation, in Rome and in the Middle Ages, awakened these same needs and sought to satisfy them. The corporations of the future will have a complexity of attributes still greater, by reason of their increased growth. Around their proper occupational functions, others, which come from the communes or private societies, will be grouping themselves. The functions of assistance are such that, to be well filled, they demand feelings of solidarity between assistants and assisted, a certain intellectual and moral homogeneity such as the same occupation produces. A great many educational institutions (technical schools, adult education, etc.) equally seem to have to find their natural environment in the corporation. It is the same for aesthetic life, for it appears in the nature of things that this noble form of sport and recreation develops side by side with the serious life, which it serves to balance and relieve. In fact, there are even now syndicates, which are at the same time societies of mutual aid; others found common houses where there are organized courses, concerts, and dramatic presentations. The corporative activity can thus assume the most varied forms.
There is even reason to suppose that the corporation will become the foundation or one of the essential bases of our political organization. We have seen, indeed, that if it first begins by being outside the social system, it tends to fix itself in it in, proportion to the development of economic life. It is, therefore, just to say that if progress continues to be made in this direction, it will have to take a more prominent and more predominant place in society. It was formerly the elementary division of communal organization. Now that the commune, theretofore an autonomous organism, has lost its place in the State, as the municipal market did in the national market, is it not fair to suppose that the corporation also will have to experience a corresponding transformation, becoming the elementary division of the State, the fundamental political unity? Society, instead of remaining what it is today, an aggregate of juxtaposed territorial districts would become a system of national corporations. From various quarters, it is asked that elective assemblies be formed by occupations, and not by territorial divisions; and certainly, in this way, political assemblies would more exactly express the diversity of social interests and their relations. They would be a more faithful picture of social life in its entirety. But to say that the nation, in becoming aware of itself, must be grouped into occupations, does not this mean that the organized occupation or corporation should be the essential organ of public life?
Thus, the great gap in the structure of European societies we elsewhere point to would be filled. It will be seen, indeed, how, as advances are made in history, the organization which has territorial groups as its base (village or city, district, province, etc.) steadily becomes effaced. To be sure, each of us belongs to a commune, or a department, but the bonds attaching us there became daily more fragile and more slack. These geographical divisions are, for the most part, artificial and no longer awaken in us profound sentiments. The provincial spirit has disappeared never to return; the patriotism of the parish has become an archaism that cannot be restored at will. The municipal or departmental affairs affect and agitate us in proportion to their coincidence with our occupational affairs. Our activity is extended quite beyond these groups, which are too narrow for it, and a good deal of what happens there leaves us indifferent. There is thus produced a spontaneous weakening of the old social structure. Now, it is impossible for this organization to disappear without something replacing it. A society composed of an infinite number of unorganized individuals, that a hypertrophied State is forced to oppress and contain, constitutes a veritable sociological monstrosity. Its collective activity is always too complex to be able to be expressed through the single and unique organ of the State. Moreover, the State is too remote from individuals, its relations with them too external and intermittent to penetrate deeply into individual consciences and socialize them within. Where the State is the only environment in which men can live communal lives, they inevitably lose contact, become detached, and thus society disintegrates. A nation can be maintained only if between the State and the individual, there is in the middle a whole series of secondary groups near enough to the individuals to attract them to their sphere of action and drag them, in this way, into the general torrent of social life. We have just shown how occupational groups are suited to fill this role, and that is their destiny. One thus conceives how important it is, especially in the economic order, for them to emerge from that state of inconsistency and disorganization in which they have remained for a century, since these occupations today absorb the major part of our collective lives.
Perhaps now we shall be better able to explain the conclusions we reached at the end of our book, Le Suicide. We were already proposing there a strong corporative organization as a means of remedying the misfortune which the increase in suicides, together with many other symptoms, evinces. Certain critics have found that the remedy was not proportionate to the extent of the evil, but that is because they have undervalued the true nature of the corporation, and the place to which it is destined in social life, as well as the grave anomaly resulting from its disappearance. They have seen only a utilitarian association whose effect would at best bring order to economic interests, whereas it must really be the essential element of our social structure. The absence of all corporative institutions creates, then, in the organization of a people like ours, a void whose importance it is difficult to exaggerate. It is a whole system of organs necessary in the normal functioning of the common life, which is wanting. Such a constitutive lack is evidently not a local evil, limited to a region of society; it is a totius substantiae, affecting the entire organism. Consequently, the attempt to put an end to it cannot fail to produce the most far-reaching consequences; it is the general health of the social body which is here at stake.
That does not mean, however, that the corporation is a sort of panacea for everything. The crisis through which we are passing is not rooted in a single and unique cause. To put an end to it, it is not sufficient to regulate it where necessary. Now, as we shall say further on, “as long as there are rich and poor at birth, there cannot be a just contract,” nor a just distribution of social goods. But if Corporative reform does not dispense with the others; it is the first condition for their efficacy. Let us imagine that the primordial condition of ideal justice may be realized; let us suppose that men enter life in a state of perfect economic equality, which is to say, that riches have entirely ceased being hereditary. The problems in the environment with which we were struggling would not be solved by that. Indeed, there will always be an economic apparatus, and various agents collaborating in its functioning. It will then be necessary to determine their rights and duties, and that, for each form of industry. It will be necessary that in each occupation a body of laws be made fixing the quantity of work, the just remuneration of the different officials, their duties toward each other, and toward the community, etc. Life will be just as complex as ever. Because riches will not be transmitted any longer as they are today, will not mean that the state of anarchy has disappeared, for, it is not a question as to the ownership of riches, but as to the regulation of the activity to which these riches give rise. This will not regulate itself by magic, as soon as it is useful, if the necessary forces for the institution of this regulation have not been aroused and organized.
Moreover, new difficulties will arise which will remain insoluble without a corporative organization. Up to now, it was the family which, either through collective property or descent, assured the continuity of economic life, by the possession and exploitation of goods held intact, or, from the time the old familial communism fell away, the nearest relatives received the goods of the deceased. In the case of collective property, neither death nor a new generation changed the relations of things to persons; in the case of descent, the change was made automatically, and the goods, at no time, remained unowned and unused. But if domestic society cannot play any longer, they must use another social organ to replace its exercise of this necessary function. For there is only one way of preventing the periodic suspension of any activity: a group, perpetual as the family, must possess goods and exploit them itself, or, at the death of the owner, receive them and send them to some other individual holder to improve them. But as we have shown, the State is poorly equipped to supervise these very specialized economic tasks. There is, then, only the occupational group which can capably look after them. It answers, indeed, two necessary conditions; it is so closely connected with the economic life that it feels its needs, at the same time having a perpetuity at least equal to the family. But to fill this role, it must exist and be mature enough to take care of the new and complex role, which devolves upon it.
If the problem of the corporation is not the only one demanding public attention, there is certainly none more urgent, for the others can be considered only when this has been solved. No modification, no matter how small, can be introduced into the juridical order, if one does not begin by creating the necessary organ for the institution of the new law. That is why it is vain to delay by seeking precisely what this law must be, for in the present state of knowledge, our approximation will be clumsy and always open to doubt. How much more important it is to put ourselves at once to work establishing the moral forces which alone can determine its realization!