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""The development of individualism was an upheaval that shook apart the traditional order. It ‘took degree away,’ freeing people from the strictures of status and therefore destroying the basis of trust in the status order. In its place it put as the basis of trust the integrity of the individual; trust became based on the consistency—generally the rational consistency—of action. It led to the necessity of forming an independently coherent sense of the self, distinct from social roles and institutions.

One core insight in both Weber and Durkheim is that the move to individualism did not mean the elimination of the shared moral beliefs, or even a relaxation of them. It involved rather the development of a new content to the moral order. Both associated this change with Protestantism, which created a moral imperative for individualism. Both stressed that individualism in this sense was not a matter of the expression of an essential ‘human nature,’ but quite the contrary, a socially determined obligation which created heavy burdens on personality: an obligation to be rational, self-interested, and consistent. It is in this sense that Gesellschaft is not the negation of community but a form of it. The individualism in Protestantism produced enormous pressures for the rationalization of motivation and the acceptance of individual responsibility, and (as Durkheim noted) the overload could easily lead to pathologies such as suicide. On the one hand, this value system—of which Protestantism is only one manifestation—supported and framed a market economy by freeing action from the constraints of status and by requiring a consistent moral person who can be responsible for promises and contracts.14 On the other hand, the second insight we take from Durkheim and Weber, as well as from Marx and other critics of modernity, is that this modern value is inherently incomplete and contradictory because it disconnects values from relationships. It breaks the communal ties of traditional society by separating people from each other. It does not provide a framework for lateral relationships of colleagueship and collaboration; indeed, it radically separates individuals from each other and connects them (in the Protestant version) directly to God or (in secular versions) to their own private grounding of values. Values aside from individualism itself thus become personal and private rather than ways of connecting to others. Gesellschaft is thus inevitably associated with subjective alienation. The communal dimension cannot be removed from human relationships without a loss of sense of self and of meaning. It is not surprising, then, that traditional community has continued to flourish in the interstices of the larger, cooler set of Gesellschaft associations, nor surprising that the two remain in tension. National and local communities draw people together, but they also limit the scope of markets and are essentially contradictory to the ethic of individualism.

The main solution in modern times has been to wall off community, especially the family, in a ‘private’ sphere, where it can provide comfort and solidarity without threatening the larger system.15 But this way of dealing with social interaction—through the separation of public from private and the reliance on informal links for community—is adequate only when the density of interaction is low enough that people can distinguish a large realm in which their actions do not affect others, and when there is no need for intensive collaboration. As these conditions change—as the intensity of interdependence and the needs for collaborative effort increase—the separation breaks down. Then there is a need for a socially ordered form of lateral, cooperative relationships. That change has been visible both at the societal level and within the economic sphere." (


Essay: Paul S. Adler and Charles Heckscher. Towards Collaborative Community / (Book: The Corporation as a Collaborative Community)


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