Durkheim argued that even subjective phenomena such as suicide are objective social facts; it exists no matter whether an individual chooses to leave that society or not commit suicide himself.2 It is in the same light that Durkheim viewed the existence and functioning of law within a society, and it is this intricate concept which will be the focus of the paper.
Durkheim saw beyond law as a mere set of rules and regulations; he primarily expressed law as an assurance of a society’s fundamental values, as the moral values attached to individuals by individuals borne of human dignity. He assigned law the unifying value of society, calling it a ‘glorification…of the individual in general…sympathy for all that is human’.3 As a form of coercive power in society, law depicts society as a moral unit, and we feel the force of this coercive power when we deviate from it. Yet how can the members of a society co-exist with a set of moral values which are not a sum of its members’ individual values? It is as though Durkheim describes us a blank slates, upon which our entering into society is drawn a set of moral values by this separate entity – does this not undermine any autonomy that we could possess as individuals? How can it be a ‘collective common conscience’?4
Durkheim appears to have been at pains to reconcile the concept of moral values in society with its individual members. He explains that to view law as a culture enables us to thus reconcile these conflicting elements; law viewed as a body of beliefs and practices commonly held within a society causes the common conscience to exist interdependently with its members. The collective conscience is both a product of its individuals and a development of sociological laws as separate from individuals. It is split into two elements, which form it as a singular social phenomenon