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Fraser, A.W. (1977). Moral Education. A Study in the Theory and Application of the Sociology of Education: By Emile Durkheim. New York: The Free Press; London: Collier Macmillan Publishers, 1961, 1973. 288 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 46:176-177.

(1977). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 46:176-177

Moral Education. A Study in the Theory and Application of the Sociology of Education: By Emile Durkheim. New York: The Free Press; London: Collier Macmillan Publishers, 1961, 1973. 288 pp.

Review by:
Alan W. Fraser

This series of lectures was first published in 1925. Its recent reappearance in a new translation reflects the increasing interest in the French moral philosopher, Emile Durkheim.

Durkheim was born two years after Freud, but had a shorter life span, dying in 1917. Initially a Rabbinical scholar, he early turned his philosophical talents to supporting the goals of the collective good against the trend toward individualism which swept Europe in the nineteenth century. Durkheim carried his thesis to extremes, proposing that society could mold the individual (and therefore society itself) in any way it chose. Society should foster the "morality" of the collective good, and science should be the one true guide to moral development. There is something either optimistic or ominous here, according to one's view of the corruptibility of human nature. At any rate, it is probably the extremism and the oversimplification (which give rise to hope or alarm, as the case may be) which have generated numerous book length commentaries on Durkheim in the past twenty years.

Freud read Durkheim, and in Totem and Taboo, he credited him with independently noting the relationship between totemism and the prevention of incest. But there is no indication that Durkheim ever read Freud, or indeed that he was aware of his existence. In consequence, the individuals about whom he writes appear as robots, devoid of any instinctual pressures which cannot be controlled by education, exhortation, or by threatening their exclusion from the group. Durkheim not only believed that individuals are completely controllable by social devices, but that their reactions throughout life can be fully explained in terms of their response to the society surrounding them. In his 1897 monograph on suicide, he used statistics from various nations to "explain" self-destruction exclusively in terms of the relation between the individual and the demands of his culture.

Durkheim is of interest to psychoanalysts in that he is an example—perhaps an extreme one—of those social scientists who ignore the whole range of psychoanalytic thought. Such men invariably come to an upside-down position.

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