Durkheim Essay Questions

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The first thing to realize is that Taylor is viewing Durkheim in this typology as a historically situated observer, and only secondarily as a theorist.

That is fine with me and works well with Taylor’s conception of the paleo-Durkheimian and neo-Durkheimian social forms.

And it is this regime that is closely related to the rise of modern nationalism, which may or may not shed its religious guise, but to which the churches in many ways remain oriented.

Taylor sees Durkheim, not incorrectly, as involved in a battle between surviving remnants of paleo-Durkheimianism, represented by the Catholic-royalist right wing in turn of the twentieth century France and expressed in the effort to prosecute Dreyfus, and oppose a neo-Durkheimian republicanism.

In speaking of God as the predominant idea that first organized our culture Delbanco is thinking primarily of the New England Puritans of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Nation became the predominant idea from the time of the Revolutionary War until well into the twentieth century.

And in his critique of American pragmatism, mainly the work of William James, which was coming into vogue in France in the early twentieth century, Durkheim condemned pragmatism for not meeting the standards of “clear and distinct ideas” of French thought descending from Descartes.

Nonetheless if one looks at the substance of Durkheim’s religion of the individual, particularly in comparison with any other nationalism of the time, particularly American nationalism with its strong emphasis on Americans as the chosen people, it is remarkably resonant with the substance, not only of expressive individualism as found in what Robert Wuthnow speaks of as the “seekers,” as opposed to the “dwellers,” but also with the substance of what has come to be known as the human rights regime and which provides the ideology for many NGOs and international social movements such as environmentalism, feminism and anti-economic globalization.

So I would suggest that Durkheim is a marginal case, on the borderline between what Taylor calls neo- and post-Durkheimianism. Durkheim never imagined that his religion of the individual would be post-Durkheimian in the sense that it would be an ideology for individuals without any larger social membership.

For him the religion of the individual or the religion of humanity really did involve membership in humanity as such—France might be an exemplar, but it could never be the only expression of this genuinely universal faith.

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