Monday, 8 April 2019

The Corporation

The Corporation

For the young Richard, who began his career with a reflection on the relationship between law and society, and for many thinkers, particularly in Germany and in Russia, whose ambition was to develop a sociology of law, there was no doubt that the law only existed on the basis of solidarity. Richard recalled at the end of his life that his doctoral thesis written in 1892 had already delivered the message that “law is a pacification of social relations, not the decomposition of solidarity to the benefit of egoistic claims” (Richard 1943a, 60).

Solidarity is the bedrock of law and forms the individual’s character (Richard 1935, 27). The reason is that solidarity, a concept drawn from, but, despite the writings of Fustel de Coulanges, not limited to, moral theology (Richard 1892, 27), refers to an idea of security “of a human being or a group of human beings responsible for the acts of another one” (ibid. 28–29). This idea of collective responsibility belongs to the realm of law, and Richard saw its modern expression in De l’esprit des lois by Montesquieu, an author not unknown to Durkheim, who, in 1892, wrote his Latin doctoral thesis on Montesquieu (Durkheim 1892a, 405–463). Nevertheless, if Durkheim, like Richard, saw Montesquieu as a precursor of modern sociology and took his contribution to the concept of solidarity
into account, then he did not do so in order to bind solidarity and law together. He did it with the purpose of reflecting on the individual’s place in society. Montesquieu is helpful in suggesting that solidarity evolves over time, that it does not only come in different forms but also in different meanings because individuals have become more independent from each other. The reasons for this independence have to lie in the division and in the distribution of social functions between individuals. This is his well-known thesis of the division of labour that Durkheim was subsequently to develop.

Up to here, however, it is important to understand that Richard and Durkheim did not share the same views on solidarity. For Richard, solidarity takes place in the relationship between collective responsibility and the law. For Durkheim, instead, it lies between the distribution of social labour including the collective effort it presupposes—and the social relationships between the actors, making them interdependent. In other words, that what Richard attributed to law Durkheim was attributing to labour. The groups of workers must not be seen as single groups of professionals  and thus the questions related to them cannot be limited to solely economic questions. They must also be seen as a “moral force capable of curbing individual egoism, nurturing among workers a more invigorated feeling of their common solidarity, and preventing the law of the strongest from being applied too brutally in industrial and commercial relationships” (Durkheim 1893b (2013), 14).

Despite this critical distinction, Richard and Durkheim shared a common interest in the question that is at the foreground of their understanding of solidarity, namely the question of the corporation, where they argue in a similar way. Richard saw the corporation as “an extension of the family” (Richard 1897, 100) just as did Durkheim, who said that “in one sense the corporation was heir to the family” (Durkheim 1893b (2013), 20). According to Richard, the corporation is governed by rules similar to those prevailing within the family, as for example the rules governing “brotherhood”, “hierarchy” and “inheritance” (Richard 1897, 100). But, above all, what characterises the built of corporations is what Durkheim calls their “position outside society”, or their situation “outside the official organization”, when referring to Roman Antiquity (Durkheim 1893b (2013), 21; ibid. 31 note 25). This outside situation is seen by Richard, quoting Durkheim (Richard 1897, 163 note 1), as affirmation of an “individual capacity” or, which is for Richard the same, as the decline of “the role of heredity and constraint” (ibid. 163). Corporations are the product of artisans who develop their activities at the periphery of agricultural and military occupations. They lead to the formation of a bourgeoisie that both authors recognise as the social group that most typically represents the corporation, which develops its activities in communities and in cities: “for a long time bourgeoisie and tradesmen formed a single body… Bourgeois and city-dweller were synonymous terms” (Durkheim 1893b (2013), 22). Richard shares his opinion: “If we consider the bourgeoisie at its beginnings, we see it coming from the guilds, and from the corporative regime” (Richard 1897, 162). This bourgeoisie “has been built in the cities; it corresponds to the reaction of urban populations against the preponderance of rich landowners” (ibid. 161). However, this type of corporation does not last. It is soon challenged by the emergence of small enterprises and by industrial activities. On this point, Richard and Durkheim differ.

According to Richard, the development of enterprises and industries that gradually replace such corporations is the logical result of an affirmation of individuality in society as a whole. “Humanity goes from the domestic workshop to the capitalist enterprise, as it goes from impersonal to personal art, from tradition to discussion, from subjection to things to reign over things, and, I would add, from the struggle between domestic societies to arbitration and cooperation between individuals” (ibid. 107).

These words actually partly veil the implicit formulation of a law of history, of an irreversible and irrepressible trend that leads from the corporation to society, a trend that Durkheim equally underlines: “the corporation, as it then was, could not adapt itself to this new form of industry…What remained was that the old-style corporation would have to change if it were to continue to play its part in the new conditions of economic life” (Durkheim 1893b (2013), 24).

Why is this transformation irrepressible? For Richard, it is because the exchanges between the social actors grow outside of the municipal boundaries, and are soon going to be internationalised, lowering at the same time the power of the political authority over the economy, and thus, on the professional groups.To say it in a word, this is—Richard quoting here Henry Sumner Maine—“the transition from status to the contract” (Richard 1897, 101).

For Durkheim, if the conclusions are partly the same as Richard’s, his reasoning is exactly the opposite. If there is an evolution from corporation to enterprise and industry, this is because the corporation lacks adap-tion to the transformations that have affected municipal life, particularly to the extension of economic activities beyond the community.While Richard sees the corporations’ progressing disappearance as a transformation of the form and meaning of solidarity, Durkheim perceives that there is a risk of solidarity being destroyed. This motivated Durkheim in his preface to the second edition of The Division of Labour in Society to speak in favour of the return of corporations in a form adapted to modern society: “Thus, since the market, from being municipal as it once was, has become national and international, the corporation should assume the same dimensions” (Durkheim 1893b (2013) 24). Because for Durkheim, there is little doubt that “the corporation will be called upon to become the foundation, or one of the essential foundations, of our political organization” (ibid. 26). And what is the reason? Because a historical analysis of the corporations indicates to what extent the actors living in societies driven by organic solidarity are now less attached to their territory, an attachment to territory that has been the basis of the almost familial solidarity that characterised the corporation, bringing together actors who know each other because they live side by side. If these contacts disappear because their activities bring the actors out of their city and their community, then solidarity is challenged and, with it, the actors’ reason to live, as Durkheim shows in his book Suicide (1897). “The general health of the social body is at stake” (ibid. 28), and even if the comeback of a form of corporation is not the unique instrument by which solidarity in modern society can be promoted, it is “the sine qua non of their effectiveness” (ibid.).

The difference between Richard and Durkheim is also apparent when, in the transition from the corporation to enterprise/industry, it comes to the link between territory and state. Although their starting point is similar, they once more disagree on the conclusion. According to Durkheim, “the organizational framework of the professional group should always be related to that of economic life” (Durkheim 1893b (2013), 24), an assertion which finds its complementary formulation in Richard: “No one can deny that the ratio between the population and the territory has no impact on the division of labour, and then on the social structure” (Richard 1902a, 305). Similarly, both authors express a convergent view on the transition from family to corporation: “The mass of the population is no longer divided up according to blood relationships, whether real or fictitious, but according to land divisions” (Durkheim 1893b (2013), 145), while Richard says: “After having studied the social bounds which keep them [the actors; CP] together, we shall see how the social bond is strengthened by the physiological inheritance in the clan and the family, by the division of labour and the extended impact of the national territory on the divided labour in the state” (Richard 1903a, 371). Even this reference to the state is supported by Durkheim, who considers the state as the necessary actor required for regulating the society driven by organic solidarity. However, if the state is necessary, it is not sufficient for regulating economic life: “we do not mean that normally the state absorbs into itself all the regulatory organs of society of whatever kind, but only those that are of the same nature as its own, that is, those that govern life generally. As for those that control special functions, such as economic functions, they lie outside its zone of attraction” (Durkheim 1893a (1922), 174). This is why, according to Durkheim, there is a need to expand the corporation on the national level so that it can meet the challenges of occupational diversification and specialisation in agreement with the state. It is a conclusion that Richard underlines in his review of Durkheim’s Suicide (Richard 1898b, 404), but he does not accept it. Three years earlier, Richard had strongly criticised the idea of restoring the
corporation in modern societies. Such restoration would perpetuate the inheritance of habits from tradition, leading to more or less automatic behaviours. According to Richard, modern societies must be freed from corporations in order to be able to develop harmoniously, and not to be trapped in traditions: “The French Revolution, which destroyed the monarchy and the hereditary nobility did also destroy the corporation, an institution which might express the solidarity and cohesion of generations, but at the price of an unbearable automatism” (Richard 1895a, 499). It therefore seems that the demarcation line between Durkheim and Richard has been clearly established. 

In summary, we can say that, on the one hand, we have Durkheim who thought that the territorial extension of the economic activity first, and the professional specialisation second, contribute to destroying the solidarity or social bond between the actors. It is as if both of them would secretly conspire against the actors’ interdependence that Durkheim sees as the element that makes social life in modern societies possible. According to Durkheim, the territory—first in the form of the village and later the city—has facilitated the emergence of corporations as a means of maintaining social relationships that are no longer blood relationships only and are thus no longer supported solely by kinship. If this is the case, then, in modern societies, the corporation itself must become the means by which society is stabilised while taking the same rank as the state even if it must remain specialised in the defence of professional interests. This would mean that mechanical solidarity becomes entangled in organic solidarity, supporting Durkheim’s hope that maybe “the day will come when the
whole of our social and political organization will have an exclusively, or almost exclusively, professional basis” (Durkheim 1893b (2013), 148).

On the other hand, we have Richard, who thinks—similarly to Durkheim—that society evolves while at least partially maintaining the vestiges of the past. However, these vestiges, these traditions have to be criticised, or, at least, should be resisted in order to find alternate ways for developing society. It would therefore be illusory to believe that the future of society lies in the development of new corporations, even if they were as powerful as the state or a counter-power to it. However, a few years later, Richard writes:

The excessive weakening of the professional society or corporation at the beginning of our contemporary times has left the defence of labour and of the person performing it to the state alone. The limitation of the state’s intervention in the economic order can therefore not result in a restoration of professional ethics or in the formation of a kind of corporation better adapted than the former to the requirements of the division of labour. (Richard 1903a, 249–250)

If Durkheim seems coherent in extending his argument about solidarity to the questions of the corporations and the state, Richard’s statement seems inconsistent with his observations on corporations. What does he mean when he talks about the “restoration of professional ethics”?

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