Durkheim’s core ideas (“crime because of social pressure”) were part of Leninist propaganda

Durkheim’s idea that social pressure leads to crime, which because of this should be perdoned, was present in Lenin’s first legal criminal code. Whereas Bolshevists were hunting “enemies of class”, Lenin thought at the same time that crime (stealers, murderers…) would disappear together with “exploitation”, his interpretation of Durkheim’s concept of “social pressure”. It is to me quite obvious that Lenin had read Durkheim. The code stated there “is no individual culpability” and the penalty should not be considered “a sanction”.

(source : Anne Applebaum, Goulag, p. 41 French edition 2005)

The concepts here are also remanent of progressive campaigns everywhere, concepts applied already by many judges (not all but many), in the USA and Western Europe. When Barack Obama landed his presidency, judges with this kind of view got promoted in the hierarchy of American tribunals. The French Parti socialiste, for instance, is also very very strong on this kind of views, traditionally. Since they cannot really attack economic liberalism (even though they promise it regularly before elections), they use general clemency as substitute – “love for everyone !”.

In public schools in France, most teachers choose to also resort to these principles. To tell my story : in 2016, I was a high school teacher in economics & sociology in a public lycée for two months, faced with normally turbulent classes and after trying to bring them to order with lots of hours of detention (together with a system of marking which took very strongly into account the behaviour of the students), I had this course to give to my oldest students on Durkheim’s ideas, during that course, I fell into depression… I had noted how the people in charge of keeping students in detention were simply not monitoring them seriously those that I sent there, that were not doing the work I gave them – there obviously was a general culture of “love for everyone” in this high school (and it also felt on the state of some more depressed teachers in the restroom). This nevertheless is understandable in contexts where high schools are crowded with students that are compelled to come – no choice, so what else to do? (Not to mention the irrealistic content of the courses of economics & sociology…)

Many issues of disorder, crime, are linked to State intervention. Those students, whom I saw acting disorderly were certainly interested more by making money, working in shops… for working in shops the teachings of high school are not so much going to help & this was the obvious cause of their discontempt. The “social pressure” in Durkheim’s is actually State pressure. Durkheim brings his theories a few dozen years after the expansion of compulsory education in France and after the legalization of trade unions. This obviously destabilized society, led to the development of insecurity, and Durkheim managed to find popularity by offering “answers” (that did not attack the social ideas of the new generation of legislators).

Likewise there is a culture in which “work”, in general, is good for public order (in particular in the new social-democracy of Tony Blair, Gerhard Schröder…). This encourages the development of useless jobs. Maybe, though, did the coronavirus teach people that not-working can actually be beneficial too, and that there are other values than work. Subjective value : a wage is not the only income. Why are we still thinking in terms of GDP ?

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