Ferdinand Tonnies Ethan Bradway

Birth and Death

Ferdinand Tonnies was born on July 29, 1855 and died on April 9, 1936

Merits and Life

Ferdinand studied at the Universities of Jena, Bonn, Leipzig, and Tubingen. He received a doctorate in classical philology in 1877 from Tubingen, but he had already discovered that his passions were political philosophy and analysis of social problems. He wrote and published over 900 treatises concerning these topics, including his magnum opus, Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft. He was both a founding member of the German Sociological Society and its President from 1909 to 1933; he also participated in the Hobbes, Spinoza, and Ethical Culture political organizations. His work covered social change, crime, and suicide.

Political Beliefs and Death

Ferdinand supported socialism, trade unions, and nationalist independence movements in Finland and Ireland. He also agreed with Germany's motives to enter World War 1. However, his hard stance against Nazism and the associated discrimination against Jews caused Hitler's government to deport Ferdinand from Germany in 1933. He died three years afterwards.

Main Ideas


Gemeinschaft in Preindustrial Society

Ferdinand used this term to define traditional communities, which included peasant villages and small towns. In these societies, people would interact directly with each other (face-to-face), and define the relationships that they formed with impulsive emotional expression. Ferdinand coined the term Wesenwille for this behavior. This idea was prevalent in the family economy system in preindustrial society. This economic structure placed family units as the main sources of production, with the family members choosing their hours and work pace. Peasants formed emotional relationships with each other because they could make time to do so. Therefore, Gemeinschaft was prevalent in preindustrial society.


Gesellschaft in Germany during the Industrial Revolution

Ferdinand used this word to define the opposite of Gemeinschaft. In this structure, relationships between people are not created based on emotional ties but instead are created based on rationality, efficiency, and a universal purpose. For instance, the family economy system was phased out of society by the Industrial Revolution. Specifically, the implementation of labor restriction laws for young children and women created a discrepancy between job options for the sexes. Adult men became the only family members able to legally work in most jobs outside of the home, and women were compelled to stay at home to maintain the house and children. Therefore, Gesellschaft was prevalent during the Industrial Revolution because increasing industrialization and "rationality" separating family members and forced people to prioritize rational relationships with coworkers and bosses over emotional relationships due to restrictive and repetitive schedules. Ferdinand used the word Kürwille for this type of social connection, where rational reasons for bonding (jobs, political and economic events, etc.) become more common over time, in conjunction with a progressive increase in indirect communication between people.

How did Ferdinand use these ideas?

Ferdinand believed as the complexity of society increased, the emotional component of relationships between people decreased. He believed that every social structure that could exist must contain elements of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft. Ferdinand interpreted the industrialized world in which he lived in as being primarily Gesellschaft. This is because while he did acknowledge the economic and technological progress that the Industrial Revolution produced, he emphasized the accompanying decline in face-to-face socializing and communication and the increasing prevalence of relationships formed on common interests. Ferdinand sought to explain the progress of society from ancient times to the era in which he lived in; primitive societies were defined by Gemeinschaft, while more modern, complex, and developed societies were mostly Gesellschaft.

Contemporary interpretations of his ideas

Intellectuals after World War 1 began to romanticize Gemeinschaft because they noticed the progressive social alienation and destruction of the moral standards and social structure of peasant society which were a part of Gesellschaft. However, they misinterpreting Ferdinand's ideas. This is because he constructed them to be hypothetical extremes which no real society could ever become, but these thinkers were using these terms to classify states of society.

Modern Relevance of Ferdinand's Ideas

Modern Gemeinschaft

Gemeinschaft in our society represents what the general public wants society to be. Specifically, people want the ability freely choose who they become friends with, and therefore do not like when someone or something else dictates who they must work and sociallize with, like a government or corporation.

Modern Gesellschaft

However, direction and organization is necessary in order for governments, companies, and societies to accomplish tasks and meet goals. In simplistic rural communities, large hierarchies of management are not necessary because these villages have few responsibilities to fulfill; they mostly need to make sure that their residents are secure, prosperous, and happy. A modern national government must preform these tasks on a much larger scale, so its administrative structure must be larger and the laws that it creates must be more numerous and specific.

Modern civilization is, as Ferdinand concluded, a combination of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft. However, his conclusion that society would eventually be dominated by Gesellschaft is wrong. This is because people have learned how to balance work-based and emotion-based relationships. In the real world, people can have both types of connections, and have enough time to participate in both a structured working environment and more open social situations. Modern governments are mostly, however, large. These administration have to be complex due to the large populations that they must support. Therefore, Ferdinand's ideas represent two contrasting extremes of society, where every society cannot be exclusively one or the other, but must be both.


  1. "Effects of the Industrial Revolution." Modern World History. Modern World History, n.d. Web. 29 Jan. 2017.
  2. "European Pre Industrial Society." Pinterest. Pinterest, n.d. Web. 29 Jan. 2017.
  3. "Ferdinand Tonnies." Wikimedia Commons. Wikimedia Commons, 26 Nov. 2013. Web. 29 Jan. 2017.
  4. "Ferdinand Tönnies." New World Encyclopedia. Ed. New World Encyclopedia Contributors. New World Encyclopedia, 19 July 2016. Web. 29 Jan. 2017.
  5. "Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft." Britannica School, Encyclopædia Britannica, 19 Sep. 2016. school.eb.com/levels/high/article/36340. Accessed 29 Jan. 2017.
  6. "Modernization." Britannica School, Encyclopædia Britannica, 5 Feb. 2009. school.eb.com/levels/high/article/108734#12024.toc. Accessed 29 Jan. 2017.
  7. "Peasant." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 29 Jan. 2017.
  8. Gale, Thomson. "Tönnies, Ferdinand." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. Encyclopedia.com, n.d. Web. 29 Jan. 2017.
  9. http://mediad.publicbroadcasting.net/p/kwmu/files/styles/x_large/public/201602/editorial_room_of_westliche_post_0.jpg
  10. http://thomasiland.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/dreamstime-diversity.jpg
  11. http://www.cubicles.com/uploads/light-box/58/images/used-office-cubicles-haworth-unigroup-052715c.jpg
  12. Rathode, Nisha. "Ferdinand Tonnies." Alchetron.com. Alchetron Social Encyclopedia, 18 Jan. 2014. Web. 29 Jan. 2017.
  13. Vale, Richmond. "The Dummies’ Guide to Industrial Revolution." Richmond Vale Academy. Richmond Vale Academy, 20 July 2016. Web. 29 Jan. 2017.
Created By
Ethan Bradway

Made with Adobe Slate

Make your words and images move.

Get Slate

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.