The Anomie In Antique And The Middle Ages As A Pedagogical Problem


The study of anomie is traditionally considered the subject of sociology, but initially it was comprehended within the framework of ancient and medieval philosophy. The article describes the features of the transcendental approach to the study of anomie and its pedagogical features. The authors use a comparative historical method. Originally in ancient Greece, the word “anomie” described negative personality traits; this approach was laid down by Hesiod, Herodotus and Solon. The sophists were characterized by the idealization of anomie as a process of democratization of the polis; their ideas testify to the rupture of the transcendent and immanent. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle associate the violation of laws with the violation of the foundations of life, including injustice, godlessness, the decline of upbringing and the weakening of power. Anomy represents a weakening of rational control, immoderation, and a lack of virtue. Christian thought, having generally inherited the ancient interpretation, designates lawlessness as a sin. Thus, the transcendental approach understands anomie as “Ontological deviation” and transfers its understanding from the sphere of law, ethics or social institutions to the area of ontology and epistemology. Four features of the interpretation of anomie in ancient and medieval thought are revealed: its connection with personality traits; as a criterion of the norm, not social rules are proposed, but natural order; secret emergence in the socio-cultural relations of society; connection of anomie with democratization.

Keywords: Anomie, education, lawlessness, transcendence, upbringing, virtue


In recent decades, the problem of anomie has returned to the sphere of active scientific interest. This is largely due to the study of the terrorist threat and the large-scale transformations that followed the collapse of communist regimes in Eastern Europe (Galtung, 1996) and the modernization of China (Cao et al., 2010; He & Messner, 2020; Messner et al., 2017). The institutional theory of anomie by the American criminologists S. Messner and R. Rosenfeld has become widespread in recent decades (as cited in Hövermann et al., 2015; Hövermann & Messner, 2019). It has received many empirical tests, for example (Dolliver, 2015; Schaible & Altheimer, 2016).

In sociological and political science works, anomie is assessed as one of the negative consequences of globalization and increasing social inequality (Etemadifar, 2016; Zhao, 2015). There have been successful attempts to conduct a socio-psychological study of anomie (Abrutyn, 2019; Abrutyn & Mueller, 2018; Teymoori, et al., 2016). Another relevant area is the study of the connection between anomie and youth radicalization, the growing involvement of young people in terrorist organizations (Campelo et al., 2018).It is also worth noting the sociocultural paradigm, especially the study of anomie in the context of cultural trauma, social metamorphosis and cultural transformations (Alexander, 2017; Kravchenko, 2017а, 2017b, 2020; Sztompka, 2019; Toshchenko, 2019).

Localized in time and space, it sooner or later yields to the pressure of the growing social institutions and gives up its positions. At the same time, their hidden centers, where the forces of destruction are secretly hidden, practically always exist even in the most favorable conditions of stable civilized systems. In this aspect, the processes of education and upbringing, which minimize the deviant behavior of a person, acquire key importance. The inclination to anomie is in no small part a pedagogical problem; here one should pay attention to the ineffectiveness of the institutions that prepare a person for adult life. Therefore, it seems relevant to study the causes of anomie from the point of view of education.

Problem Statement

In pedagogical terms, anomie can be interpreted as a “gap” between normative and actual human behavior, dysfunction of social and pedagogical institutions.

Research Questions

  • What educational models were offered by the classics of philosophical thought for avoiding anomie?
  • What were the educational prerequisites for the spread of anomie in ancient and medieval society and the in efficiency of the learning processes?

Purpose of the Study

In this article, we will try, firstly, to describe briefly the history of the transcendental study of anomie, since it is poorly studied in Russian literature; second, to reveal the conceptual features of these studies from the pedagogical point of view.

Research Methods

The comparative historical method made it possible to study approaches to understanding anomie and compare their content, identify the strengths and weaknesses of each approach, and determine those that are relevant for further analysis. The structural-functional approach was used to identify elements of society and culture that contribute to the formation of anomalous orientation of the process of human upbringing.


At the same time, the understanding of nomos as civil legislation appeared in the 5th century BC, and before that there was a religious interpretation. A deviation from the established order was indicated by the word “anomos”, which in ancient Greek originally had the character of an adjective, i.e. described a certain quality, namely “the asocial behavior of a person who challenges the rule of law and acts in violation of any one or all of the canons considered valid and binding for the society in which he lives” (Ostwald, 1969, p. 85).

Apparently, for the first time the word “anomic” in this meaning was used by the famous poet Hesiod in the “Theogony” (about 700 BC). It is also found in the ancient Greek sage Solon, around 600 BC who wrote the poem “Eunomia” (good law). He emphasizes in it the leading role of rational rules in human education. It is interesting that Homer and Hesiod were criticized by some philosophers (for example, Xenophanes) for the humanoid image of the gods, which led to the corruption of the minds of young people. The concept of “anomalism” is more widely spread in the IV–V century BC, when the ancient Greek city-states begin to enter a period of decline, which subsequently led to their conquest by Macedonia. Anomies denote 1) a loss of moral qualities and a tendency to unjustified cruelty, 2) ignoring religious norms, 3) a challenge to unwritten norms, customs and traditions. In this context, it is actively used by the playwrights Sophocles and Euripides, the rhetorician Isocrates and the philosopher Plato. At the same time, “anomos” was first used by Herodotus in his “History” as a noun, and also “anomotatous”–“lawless” (Orru, 1985, p. 8). Thus, the word “anomie” made substantiation –the transition from one part of speech to another.

Euripides and the Sophists translate the discussion into the plane of “nomos-fusis”, that is, they oppose the social and the natural. Their very formulation reflects the relativity of human consciousness, a predisposition to violation of norms. Sophists recorded the imperfection and injustice of civil norms, the need to refer to the universal moral law, embedded in man by nature itself. As teachers, the sophists not only expressed a certain speculative position, but also formed real sociocultural relations. They actualized the conflict between their pedagogical model and the traditional system, thereby creating the preconditions for the emergence of axiology. Therefore, a quite natural consequence was the strengthening of the transcendental direction represented by the names of Socrates and Plato.

Plato (1994a), anomie is associated with social anarchy, namely with injustice (“Minos”), godlessness (“Hippias the greater”), disorder (“Alcibiades”), impiety, non-observance of laws, tendency to cruelty and the decline of the culture of educating citizens (“State” and “Laws”). Mental depravity in young people manifests itself in a tendency to reason (p. 324). But it is important to note that in his doctrine of ideas and in social philosophy, Plato substantiated the transcendental paradigm, showing that the earthly order is a reflection of divine foundations. Thus, he equated justice and law in the highest sense, showing that the law comes from being itself, that is, the comprehension of the law is the comprehension of being itself. Education should teach not only factual knowledge, but also be value-laden, create a citizen. Unwillingness to obey the ruler is identical to disobedience to parents, all elders, laws and gods. In this sense, teaching is a sacred action and therefore it preserves social order. “If a person is not educated enough or not well, then this is the wildest creature that the earth gives birth to” (Plato, 1994b, p. 217).

It should be noted also the point of view on the nature of the laws of the greatest scientist of antiquity, Aristotle. Proper upbringing implies mastery of the laws, and the goal of upbringing is the virtue of life. Pedagogy is closely linked with ethics, psychology and politics. Life according to reason, morality and law are one and the same, while it is created by education and requires practice (Aristotle, 1983a, pp. 150, 287).

Upbringing is, in fact, a legal activity: “For [upbringing], as it may seem, the most capable is the one who, as follows from what has been said, has learned to create laws” (Aristotle, 1983a, p. 290). According to Aristotle (1983b), correct upbringing is a fundamental condition for the existence of the state. In this case, the source of anomie is education without taking into account the peculiarities of the corresponding state system (p. 551), that is, the pedagogical system must socialize citizens to the political characteristics of society. Upbringing uncontrolled by the state is excluded.

The two main thinkers of the Middle Ages – Aurelius Augustine and Thomas Aquinas - also raised the issue of anomie. Augustine briefly says that the veneration of the old, pagan gods introduces lawlessness into the world, as it turns Christians away from keeping the commandments (Augustine of Hippo, 1998, p. 70). As historical realities have shown, from this thesis, medieval pedagogy deduced the need for a religiously accentuated education and the fight against deviations in monastic schools and universities. Augustine also believed that respect for law and religion is a natural consequence of quality education, but if they are not, the state perishes. Thomas Aquinas (2010), following both the Bible and Aristotle, fixes the primacy of reason in relation to the law, on this basis condemns as illegal actions of the sovereign, contrary to reason, and also affirms the inviolability of the moral law and its natural order (pp. 5, 55). It is known only that training is useful, that leads a person to God and to the observance of his commandments, while secular education is secondary.


Plato and Aristotle propose laws regulating education. In general, education is what, from an early age, leads a person to virtue, directs him to be a perfect citizen who knows how to justly obey or lead. The goal of upbringing is the ascent of a person to the world of ideas under the supervision of an experienced mentor. Therefore, anomie, according to Plato and, is alienation from the world of ideas. Christian thinkers understood anomie as alienation from God.

In this context, the concept about pedagogical roots of anomie persisted until the end of the 19th century, when the French philosopher Guyau (1923) began to consider anomie as freedom from all external restrictions and therefore a positive factor in human development. A moral ideal is a person capable of making moral decisions regardless of external coercion or imposed motivation. In this sense, his approach is close to the pedagogical ideas of the sophists.

Anomy means a person's under-socialization, inability to control their sensory manifestations with the help of reason. The ancient Greek tradition of studying anomie focused on authoritarian education, fostering rational self-control and moderation.

Ancient philosophy and medieval theology laid two perspectives for the study of anomie: transcendental, rooted in the ideas of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, and immanent, based mainly on sophistic constructions. The first compares social pathologies with general divine requirements, the second –with the moral and legal foundations of a particular society.

Anomy is a “secret virus”, the roots of which should be sought in the spiritual, cultural life of the human community. This is the difficulty in diagnosing it.

Ancient Greek thinkers associated anomie with democratization and the decline of the culture of upbringing, while the pedagogical system must correspond to the political structure of society.


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Kuzmenkov, V., Gazniuk, L., & Soina, I. (2021). The Anomie In Antique And The Middle Ages As A Pedagogical Problem. In A. G. Shirin, M. V. Zvyaglova, O. A. Fikhtner, E. Y. Ignateva, & N. A. Shaydorova (Eds.), Education in a Changing World: Global Challenges and National Priorities, vol 114. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 514-519). European Publisher.