Money/Society Equation

Before we can turn to a description of the money/society equation we need to clarify Simmel's understanding of society. As David Frisby (1992: 5) reminds us, Simmel maintained that 'only by abandoning society as a hypostatized and totalized object could sociology develop successfully as an independent academic discipline'. This remark supports the established view that Simmel's theoretical perspective presents a model version of the German anti-Positivist paradigm of social research: 'methodological individualism', which stands in sharp contrast to 'methodological holism' of French school of sociology (as epitomized by Durkheim), which focuses on society understood as a specific entity of total character. This vision, however, needs to be corrected. It is true that Simmel postulated the shift in focus of sociological research from the society as a whole and from the great organs and systems to 'minor forms of interaction (Wechselwirkung) ... the less obvious and visible interactions which tie people together', because these 'fluctuating unpretentious interactions constitute the principle of social unity, a unity which in the empirical sense is nothing but the interactions of elements' (Featherstone 1991: 6). Nevertheless, Simmel was also convinced that, being a product of interactions between its members, the 'society of individuals' is itself an individual entity, a specific synthetic unit ('eine besondere Einheit') which calls for a separate analysis. Moreover, it seems that Durkheim's famous definition of society as 'une unité sui generis is in fact a translation of Simmel's formulation (Levine 1984: 319). We shall later discuss theoretical interdependencies between Simmel and Durkheim which can be observed in the field of sociology of religion.

Simmel's general notion of society is not easy to define. Frisby, who stresses the diversity of Simmel's conceptions of society, distinguished four understandings of society which might be inferred from Simmel's writings: society as a totality (Gesellschaft), society as sociation (Vergesellschaftung), society as experience and society as aesthetic object (Frisby 1992: 6ff.). Nevertheless, all these conceptualizations are not mutually exclusive but rather complementary. In fact, they are all based on the general premise that the idea of society is closely related to - or is a conceptual version of - the idea of 'the whole' understood as unity (Einheit). Frisby often translates the polysemic German word Einheit as 'totality', but there are good reasons to translate it as 'unity'. 'Totality' suggests understanding of 'the whole' as an aggregate formed by collections of particulars, whereas 'unity' suggests a synthesis, oneness, concord. The shift in meaning seems to be small, but it is important for at least two reasons. First, if we assume - as Simmel did - that the society as a whole (Gesellschaft) is nothing but the unity of reciprocal actions (Wechselwirkung) - in today's sociological idiolect: interactions - then we see that Simmel never imagined society as a rigid, hypostasized entity, but saw it as a dynamic, 'living' unity of processes of sociation (Vergesellschaftung). Frisby himself noted rightly that 'unity' by Simmel cannot be understood as a monolith, but is conceptualized in terms of reciprocal relations (interactions) between elements. This 'unifying' quality is somehow lost in translation if we use the word 'totality'. Secondly, 'unity' is an absolutely underlying category of Simmel's thought: one constantly comes across this term throughout Simmel's writings (Featherstone 1991: 5). It is widely acknowledged that Simmel's main heuristic device was the dialectic of form and content. Nevertheless, at least equally important is dialectic of the part and the whole, of the individual and the unity. One can even say that the mutual relation of part and the whole constitutes the underlying theorem of Simmel's philosophy and sociology. In consequence, it also constitutes the matrix of sociological conceptualization of the relationship between the individual and the society: both the part (individual) and the whole (society) were conceived as singular 'individuals'. The idea of unity, understood not as monolith but as the entirety of interconnected and interacting elements, constitutes a common matrix of the three discussed concepts: money, society and God, which can be all characterised as unifying agents and metaphors for unity.

The main common feature of money and society lies in fact that they both are transindividual constructs of universal and yet not abstract character. What is even more important, both money and society are based on acts of exchange. In Philosophy of Money Simmel argues that exchange does not simply promote sociation, but exchange itself is a form of sociation: a relationship which transforms a sum of individuals into a social group (Simmel 2004: 175). As Frisby (1992: 12) observed, Simmel took exchange to be 'both paradigmatic and symbolic of society as a whole'. Being a form of sociation, exchange reduces 'the human tragedy of competition' (Simmel 2004: 291). Money serves as a universal medium of exchange. It can be said that money (as a petrified form) is equivalent to exchange (as an action); in his own words: 'money belongs to the category of reified social functions. Like a flag incarnates the unity of a regiment, so money incarnates the function of exchange as a direct interaction between individuals' (Simmel 2004: 175). Already in Money in Modern Culture (1896) Simmel stated that 'money ties people together, for now everyone is working for the other'; 'money provides a common basis of direct mutual understanding'; it also 'serves as an ideal adhesive' in a certain type of social organizations, which 'represent one of the most enormous advances of culture' because 'it offers the only opportunity for a unity which eliminates everything personal' (for instance, trade union has only become possible by virtue of money). Therefore he concludes that 'money creates an extremely strong bond among the members of an economic circle. Precisely because it cannot be consumed directly, it refers people to others' (Simmel 1997a: 246ff.). To sum up: for Simmel, money is 'entirely a sociological phenomenon, a form of human interaction' (Simmel 2004: 172) and 'a claim upon society' (Frisby 1981: 96), whereas society (Gesellschaft) is understood as 'a synthesis or the general term for the totality of . interactions' (Simmel 2004: 175). The next important equation of Simmel's conceptualization of the mutual relationship between religion and monetary culture is the thesis on homology of society with the idea of God. To sketch this relationship properly we have to briefly address Simmel's general understanding of religion.

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