For three days in late October 1910, some 30 people participated in the first conference of the Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Soziologie (DGS). None of these people were professional sociologists; instead, they came from many different disciplines. Ferdinand Tönnies and Georg Simmel were trained as philosophers; Max Weber and Werner Sombart were political economists; and the rest tended to be lawyers and political and social thinkers and, in the case of Ernst Troeltsch, a theologian. The second conference of the DGS occurred two years later but, because of the war, the third was not held until 1922. By then Weber and Simmel were dead; Sombart and Troeltsch were no longer active in the DGS; and only Tönnies was left to establish sociology as a respectable German scholarly discipline. In fact, as I intend to show in this chapter, while Max Weber and Georg Simmel rightfully hold significant places in the history of sociology, it was Ferdinand Tönnies who probably did more than anyone else in Germany to develop sociology as a science.
The Early Years: From Philosophy to Sociology
Like Georg Simmel, Ferdinand Tönnies was trained primarily in philosophy, and many of Tönnies's early writings, like Simmel's, were on philosophers. These philosophers included Thomas Hobbes, Benedict Spinoza and Friedrich Nietzsche; but Tönnies soon rejected Nietzsche and moved beyond Spinoza. In marked contrast, Hobbes continued to interest Tönnies and clearly influenced Tönnies's sociological thinking (Merz-Benz 1995, 26, 247, 350). Unlike Simmel's writing, Tönnies's first major sociological work drew a considerable amount of interest, and, more importantly, established Tönnies's concern with the nature and the function of social life as well as his recognition of the importance of social justice. This concern reflects Tönnies's interest in and indebtedness to Karl Marx (Bond 2013, 138–40). For Tönnies, the first question is how to resolve the differences between tradition and the modern (Adair-Toteff 1995, 58–65; Lichtblau 2012a, 9). The second and more important question is how various classes and groups can coexist peacefully. This second question is, for Tönnies, one of the most important and most pressing questions of the time, and throughout his life he attempted to answer it.