Community: The Elusive Unity

Review of Metaphysics 37 (2):243 - 264 (1983)
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Abstract

IT is almost a century since Ferdinand Tönnies published his influential work, Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft. In it he drew semantic lines around the conception of "community" that have persisted to this day in much of the literature. He intended his description to be widely applicable, but he drew it chiefly from ancient, medieval, and modern European society up to the present century. Moreover, he circumscribed the terms "community" and "society" by placing them in contrast with one another, binding them together by the mutual antagonism of their meanings. Gemeinschaft is supposed to rest upon ties of blood and kinship, upon associations with the land and ties of place, and upon ties of friendship, shared feeling, and common belief. The prototype of Gemeinschaft is the family; and out of it have arisen extended communal forms of association, such as the village and neighborhood, the family farm, the older type of parish, and the more or less hereditary guild. The unity of such groups exists prior to their present members who receive the communal form and its values through tradition as a given way of life. In contrast with these bonds of kinship and friendship, Gesellschaft is supposed to be.

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