Emile Durkheim, the father of sociology, died nearly a hundred years ago, but his insights about society and culture seem more relevant now than ever. To understand why, it’s worth turning to the French intellectual’s groundbreaking empirical study Suicide (1897). Durkheim wanted to understand why people killed themselves. Why do some European societies, he wondered, have higher suicide rates than others? It’s an interesting question, one that he answered by looking at the relationship between suicide in men and variables like marriage, education levels, and religious orientation.

Here in the West, we take individualism and freedom to be foundational to the good life. But Durkheim’s research revealed a more complicated picture. He concluded that people kill themselves more when they are alienated from their communities and community institutions. “Men...

 

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