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Durkheim on Social Justice: The Argument from “Organic Solidarity”

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 November 2017

Technical University of Munich
Lisa Herzog is an Assistant Professor of Political Philosophy and Theory at the Technical University of Munich, School of Governance, Richard-Wagner-Straße 1, 80333 München, Germany (


This article reintroduces a long-forgotten argument into the debate about social justice: Durkheim's argument from “organic solidarity,” as presented in The Division of Labor in Society. “Organic solidarity” is solidarity based on differentiation. According to Durkheim, it grows out of the division of labor, but only if the latter happens “spontaneously.” Social inequality creates obstacles to such spontaneity because it distorts prices, such that they are perceived as unjust, and it undermines equality of opportunity. Hence, Durkheim's argument connects commutative justice and distributive justice. The article argues that Durkheim's argument is plausible, interesting, and relevant for today. After presenting the argument, discussing its structure and methodology, and evaluating its plausibility by drawing on related contemporary debates, it focuses on the problem of the perception of social justice and the possibility of ideological distortions. It concludes by sketching the research program that follows from Durkheim's argument.

Research Article
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2017 

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I would like to thank Andrew Walton and Mark Reiff as well as the members of the research colloquium at the Centre Walras Pareto, Université de Lausanne, for comments on earlier drafts and very helpful discussions. The editors and three reviewers of the APSR have provided me with extremely helpful comments and suggestions, for which I am very grateful.



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