Ferdinand Tonnies: Public opinion

Mildred C Schachinger, Fordham University


This is a study of the development of public opinion as a social phenomenon, with special emphasis given to Tonnies' theory. This study indicated (1) how Tonnies' theory is integrated with his general propositions of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, "community" and "society", and (2) how public opinion as a social collective is associated with the idea of democracy. The inference is made that Tonnies hoped for a new community based on community of mind, or spirit, and on the material factor of a public (the actual living individuals) united in the acceptance of democratic values. Thus a possible socio-political model of community is presented which combines the components of individual and collective in the democratic idea. Tonnies made public opinion an entity of sociological study. His extensive writings on the subject, which were analytical and not uncritical, stressed the importance of public opinion as a force in history and contemporary society. Tonnies' method was conceptual in that he wished to clarify and make more precise--hence more useful as a tool of knowledge--the idea public opinion. When he applied the concept to actual social data, which was called applied sociology, Tonnies' writing approached philosophy of history. The construct public opinion evolved by Tonnies incorporated similar principles as were found in the basic theory of community and society: voluntarism (or autonomy, freedom), the collective (or social will composed of individual wills), norms, and rational judgment (a legacy of the Enlightenment). These characteristics delineate the basic tenor of public opinion for Tonnies--of which there are sub-variations--and help explain its influence in the creation of new institutions through changed ways of thinking.

Subject Area

Social research|Political science|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Schachinger, Mildred C, "Ferdinand Tonnies: Public opinion" (1991). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9137207.