Anomie, egoisme, and the modern world : suicide, Durkheim and Weber, modern cultural traditions, and the first and second Protestant ethos
McCloskey, David Daniel, 1947-
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McCloskey, David Daniel, 1947-
Few have perceived that Durkheim entertained two distinct schemas of anomie and egoisme in his classic Suicide. I shall demonstrate that Durkheim shifted on his analytical axes from the notion that the absence of moral discipline generates modern suicides, to the more significant insight that anomie and egoisme are generated by the presence of extreme modern cultural sanctions. Absence/presence, too little/ too much--these are the key analytical axes around which Durkheim's two schemas of suicide revolved. Resting on his image of human nature (homo duplex) as inherently egoistic and insatiable, the first schema concerns the absence of legitimate moral constraint over the pre-social ego in the modern transitional crisis. The second schema, which shifted the original burden of insatiability from the organic half of human nature to modern culture, concerns the presence of cultural sanctions which absolutize individualism and d.rives for "progress and perfection." Only selected parts of the first schema have been perceived and pursued so far by sociologists. In the second schema, all four suicidal types are seen as the "exaggerated or deflected forms of virtues." Both anomie and egoisme proceed from common sources; they differ in their prime mode of expression .. Anomie is active; egoisme passive. When extreme individualism and drives for "progress and perfection" are turned against the external world, we see anomie--the "infinity of desires'--and the collapse of the will in frustration, as seen in suicides in the economic arena. This ethos,is supported by what I shall call the "Anglo Utilitarian Cultural Tradition." Further, when these twin sanctions for absolute individualism and legitimate insatiability are turned inward against the self, we witness egoisme--the "infinity of dreams'--and the collapse of the will and imagination in frustration and exhaustion seen in suicides of artists, poets, and intellectuals. This ethos of angst and the "journey into the interior," in which suicide becomes a vocation, is sanctioned by what I shall call the "Romantic-Idealistic Cultural Tradition." Finally, these ironic and destructive outcomes of some of our highest aspirations are then linked with Weber's work in the sociology of religion and culture. As an "infinity of desires" sanctioned by a dominant modern cultural tradition, anomie is interpreted as the secularized outcome of Protestant "inner-light," "inner-worldly asceticism." As an "infinity of dreams" sanctioned by another dominant contemporary cultural tradition, egoisme is interpreted as the secularized outcome of Protestant "inner-light," "inner-worldly mysticism." These twin expressions of our highest callings and heroic ideals are chronic forms of the "moral anarchy" and "diseases of the infinite" plaguing the modern world. Durkheim's moral philosophy of "human finitude" and health as the "golden mean,'" lead us to recognize, then, that when our virtues are pushed to extremes, they also become, ironically, our special vices.