Ferdinand Tönnies

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Tönnies, Ferdinand

 

Born July 26, 1855, in Riep, near Oldenswort; died Apr. 11, 1935, in Kiel. German sociologist and one of the fathers of professional sociology in Germany.

Tönnies was a lecturer at the University of Kiel from 1881 to 1933, when he was dismissed from his post by the Nazis. His most important work was Community and Society (1887). Tönnies regarded social relationships as volitional, subdividing them according to the type of will manifested; the natural instinctive will (Wesenwille) lies behind man, as it were, and guides his behavior, while the rational will (Kürwille) presumes the possibility of choice and a consciously formulated goal of action. Maternal love may serve as an example of natural will, and commerce as an example of rational will. Natural will gives birth to community (Gemeinschaft); rational will, to society (Gesellschaft). A community is maintained by instincts, feelings, and organic relations, while a society is governed by calculating reason and mechanical relations. More and more, in the course of history, the first type of relationship has given way to the second. In a later work, Introduction to Sociology (1931), Tönnies proposed a more complex classification that included relationships of dominance and comradeship and the relations of groups and associations.

In spite of the psychologism of Tönnies’ concepts—that is, his classification of social relationships according to types of will—a number of his ideas were highly important. Tönnies was one of the first to advocate a strictly logical system of sociological concepts. Behind the contraposition of community and society lies the problem of the transition from feudal and patriarchal relations—and generally from relations of personal dependence and traditional forms of culture—to capitalist relations. Tönnies’ numerous empirical works were a significant contribution to scientific study. While adverse to the idea of revolution, Tönnies nonetheless acknowledged the great scientific importance of K. Marx’ works and corresponded with F. Engels. Tönnies was a consistent democrat and antifascist. He openly opposed racism, calling it “modern barbarism.”

WORKS

Die Sitte. Frankfurt am Main, 1909.
Der englische Stoat und der deutsche Staat. Berlin, 1917.
Marx: Leben und Lehre. Jena, 1921.
Kritik der öffentlichen Meinung. Berlin, 1922.
T. Hobbes: Leben und Lehre, 3rd ed. Stuttgart, 1925.
Soziologische Studien und Kritiken, vols. 1–3. Jena, 1925–29.
Die Entwicklung der sozialen Frage bis zum Weltkrieg, 4th ed. Berlin-Leipzig, 1926.
Das Eigentum. Vienna-Leipzig, 1926.
Fortschritt und soziale Entwicklung: Geschichtsphilosophische Ansichten. Karlsruhe, 1926.
Geist der Neuzeit. Leipzig, 1935.

REFERENCES

Bellebaum, A. Das soziologische System von F. Tönnies unter besonderer Berücksichtigung seiner soziographischen Untersuchungen. Meisenheim am Glan, 1966.
Cahnman, W. J., ed. F. Tönnies. Leiden, 1973.

I. S. KON

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