Durkheim the Communist

Re-reading Parsons on Durkheim (in The Structure of Social Action), and I liked his description of Durkheim as a “communist rather than a socialist”:

In the sense in which Durkheim uses the terms, communism is a doctrine advocating a rigid control over economic activities by the central organs of the community motivated primarily by a sense of the dangers of uncontrolled economic interests to the higher ends of the community. . . . Since this is an ever-recurring problem of human society in all times and places [he cites Plato’s Republic], communistic ideas are not bound to any particular social situation . . .

Socialism, on the other hand, is a doctrine advocating the fusion of the economic interests with the controlling organs of the community. Applied to the present situation of Western society it is not so much control by the state as fusion with the state. Underlying it is precisely an economic view of society. . . . There is no questioning of the desirability of maximizing wealth as an end – no question of its conflicting with other ends. This is possible because socialists are ethically and philosophically utilitarian individualists.

In response to a letter to the NY Review of Books, Sheldon Wolin elaborates:

[For Durkheim] socialism comes primarily to mean the effort to cope with social disorganization produced by economic individualism. He saw (Saint-Simonian) socialism as “extending to social sciences the method of the positive sciences, out of which sociology has come”; as promoting “religious regeneration”; and as seeking to overcome social disorganization by “connecting economic functions.”

It seems that Durkheim’s views on socialism were somewhat at odds with that professed by the Third Republic. For instance, one source writes that

Although he stressed the importance of socialism in philosophy, law, and history, Emile Durkheim faced opposition from the humanist Faculty of Letters members, who were somewhat afraid that his distinct explanations of legal and moral institutions through reference to purely social causes threatened volition and individual moral duty.

UPDATE: Some more discussion here.