Functionalists theorise that for society to be successful, everyone has a role which needs to be fulfilled. Emile Durkheim felt that the ideal society would consist of people being assigned their role based on excellence and that the inheritance of money would detract from that. This sort of society is called a meritocracy. While Durkheim does not defend the capitalist society, his functionalist theories do revolve around every group as having a role in society and therefore, by default, the wealthy capitalist upper-class does too
Functionalist theory states that the economic institution of work is amongst the most important of all social institutions because through it, we are able to nurture ourselves, our loved ones and society itself: the economic institution keeps our society stable. However, in capitalist terms, functionalist theorists believe that once the wealth garnered has met our basic needs of food, clothes and shelter, the remaining money should be put back into society to support other social institutions such as education, religion, the military and politics. Keeping our society stable is dependent on there being an excess of wealth to cover the above costs, and as such, functionalist theorists are in favour of capitalism although not for person wealth, but for the good of society.
Durkheim theorised that in the pre-Industrialization era, work roles were very similar and as such, people developed very similar norms and values (Durkheim, 1966). However, in the post-Industrialization age, the division of labour is such that individuals hold specific roles which leads to a lack of common norms and values and can lead to a state of ‘normlessness’ which means that society lacks a sense of unity. Arguably, functionalists see capitalism as a form of union in society as we are all striving to earn money to keep our society stable.
Anderson, M. L. & Taylor, H. F. (2007). Sociology: The Essentials. California: Thomson Higher Education.
Mooney, L. A. et al. (2009). Understanding Social Problems. California: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.