Front Page Titles (by Subject) Durkheim, Ideology, and Method - Literature of Liberty, Spring 1981, vol. 4, No. 1
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Durkheim, Ideology, and Method - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Spring 1981, vol. 4, No. 1 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Durkheim, Ideology, and Method
“Durkheims's Concept of Ideology.” Sociological Review 28(February 1980):129–139.
French sociologist Émile Durkheim (1858–1917) never provided a systematic analysis of the concept of ideology, but he uses the term and proposes a certain understanding of it. Durkheim's most revealing use of the word may be found in The Rules of Sociological Method and The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. In The Rules, Durkheim deals with ideology in the context of laying the foundations of sociology as a science of social facts.
Before any field of knowledge constitutes itself as a science, Durkheim declared, men have already developed certain ideas or preconceptions about it. At the time a new phenomenon becomes the subject of science, those preconceptions, like Baconian idols, tend to struggle for primacy with objectively observed facts. If the preconceptions happen to win the struggle, then, “instead of a science concerned with realities, we produce no more than an ideological analysis.”
Obscurantist preconceptions which comprise an ideology are particularly active in sociology, because social things are a product of human activity and thus appear as the application of certain ideas. Comte's notion of sustained progress throughout history and Spencer's idea of cooperation represent two examples of influential preconceptions in sociology. In The Rules, Durkheim views the formation of ideological preconceptions as “the natural bent of the human mind.” This tendency toward spontaneous illusion requires that sociologists must submit to rigorous discipline.
In The Forms (a later work), Durkheim's concept of ideology seems to have undergone considerable alteration. Treating religion as an ideology, a system of preconceptions concerning the nature of the world he characterizes religious preconceptions as “collective representations which express collective realities.” On this view, religion cannot be a tissue of illusions. Instead, it becomes the members' collective expression of their society.
As such, religious notions play a vital role in social life, one which will be replaced by science only in its more speculative functions. The reaffirmation of collective sentiments remains the perennial function of religion. In contrast to his views in The Rules, Durkheim does not consider the origins of these preconceptions as innate in human nature. Instead, they arise and are conditioned within society.
Is it possible to reconcile these apparently divergent theories? The disparity between them may not be so great as first imagined. While The Rules, explained ideology as a natural bent in the minds of individuals, The Forms seems to show ideology developing from a natural bent in the mind of society considered as an individual subject. This occasions a blurring of the distinction between the two conceptions.
Logically, the view in The Forms expands (and does not contradict) the theory found in The Rules. The Rules already recognized that preconceptions play a necessary intellectual role as a prelude to science. Now, Durkheim adds to the role the complementary social function of expressing collective sentiments. Science, therefore, cannot refuse ideology's right to exist, however, it might take over ideology's intellectual functions.