Organismic School

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Organismic School


in bourgeois sociology of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a school that viewed society as an organism and attempted to explain social life in terms of biological laws.

Many writers, including Plato, Hobbes, Comte, and H. Spencer, have compared society to an organism. Unlike their predecessors, however, representatives of the organismic school asserted that “society is an organism” (P. F. Lilienfel’d [Russia], A. Schäffle [Germany], and R. Worms and A. Espinas [France]). They continually sought new analogies, demonstrating the identity of society and the organism in many different ways. Lilienfel’d attributed to society all the characteristics of an organism: unity, purposefulness, and specialization. Commerce, for example, plays the role of the circulatory system, and government performs the functions of the cerebrum. Schäffle viewed the economic life of society as the analogue of metabolism. Worms went to extremes, discussing sexual differences and excretory organs in social organisms.

In the early 20th century the ideas of the organismic school declined in popularity. Compared to attempts to view society as a product of arbitrary agreement among individuals, the organismic approach was a step forward. However, on the whole, the concepts of the organismic school were scientifically defective because they substituted arbitrary analogies for the concrete historical study of social phenomena. The concepts of the school’s adherents were diffuse. Social laws were replaced by biological ones, and many phenomena of social life, including conflicts and the class struggle, were completely ignored or declared “diseases of the organism.” According to members of the organismic school, social development took place by means of evolution. References to the organismic character of society have often served as an apologia for capitalism.

Marxists use the term “social organism.” However, in Marxism such analogies do not replace the concrete study of the specific character and objective laws of social life.


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Lenin, V. I. Ekonomicheskoe soderzhanie narodnichestva i kritika ego v knige g. Struve. Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 1.
Kon, I. S. Pozitivizm v sotsiologii. Leningrad, 1964.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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