XIX century gave birth to a number of social development theories, including Darwinism, Komte’s sociological theories, cybernetics, utopian socialism, etc. Among them Marxism and Weber’s theory of capitalism can be named as the ones, which had the greatest influence on the further development of the West and entire humanity. Marx’s ideas resulted in birth of Communism, and Weber’s substantiated classical capitalism.
Although it may seem, that Marx and Weber are antagonists, they, nevertheless, show a lot of common views and assertions. This paper is to examine some basic ideas of Marx and Weber in one particular field – their idea of forces, determining social change and development and finally driving history. Basic ideas of Marx and Weber about social development In answering the fundamental sociological question (as to the origin or existence of society), Marx employed a materialism approach.
He began by analyzing human activity, and argued that consciousness is a product of that (economic) activity. Thus, in the Preface to Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, he argued, “it is not the consciousness of man that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness ”. In his views, society is the relationship acted out by individuals in coming to terms with the material conditions of their subsistence.
For him, there needed to be a material makeover of society, rather than a change in consciousness, for the achievement of human freedom. Hence, in using the economic world or ‘historical materialism’ to analyze this transformation and development, Marx purported that the very social institutions originated from or exists in economic behavior. This may explain why Marx was credited with the position of ‘historical materialism’ or ‘economic determinism’.
Weber’s most famous book is “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” (1904-5). It is generally taken as a counter to the Marxist thesis of the primacy of base over superstructure: Weber is supposed to have argued in this book that capitalism in fact developed historically as a result of a religious movement, protestantism, specifically Calvinism. The argument is that Calvinism, with its doctrine of predestination – i. e.
the doctrine that God eternally decreed the salvation of some and the damnation of others, not in view of the good or evil deeds they would do, but simply “because he willed it” – that this doctrine made Calvinists anxious about their salvation; that this led them to seek reassurance in attempting to succeed in their economic (and other) undertakings, in the belief that God signifies his favour by giving prosperity to the undertakings of the elect; at the same time the Calvinist did not spend his money on self-indulgence, so had nothing else to do with it but plough it back into the business.
And his employees, being Calvinists also, had a sense of their jobs as callings to be done well out of religious duty even for small earthly reward. Hence the Protestant ethic – the famous “work ethic” -, the drive for economic success, the will to work hard, the habit of not spending on frivolous self-indulgence – all this, originating in theology, provided a spirit for capitalism, the set of motivations and attitudes that led to rational investment of profits continually ploughed back, and to the modern world .
Philosophic backgrounds Marx’s philosophy is generally based of the dialectic idea of unity and struggle of opposites. Marxian notion of the dialectic becomes even more recognizable in his discourse concerning the components of the mode of production or the economy, which are the means of production (ideological elements), and the relations of production (material elements), otherwise called the ‘structure’ or ‘infrastructure’ and the ‘superstructure’, respectively
In recognizing that there is a dialectical interplay at all times between the structure and the superstructure, Marx purported that the economic system was the foundation of the institutional order and everything else was (religion, government, arts and marriage) seen as a derivative superstructure built upon the base of economics. The clear dichotomy in the mode of production or economy is actually a manifestation of his use of the dialectic. Thus, this manifestation of dialectical intercourse is also apparent as Marx goes on to discuss class, thus analyzing social conflict and social change .
Weber can be called an ideological heir of Hegel. In his characterization of the world religions, Weber sets up a series of ideal-types. Only the most salient features of any belief system are incorporated into the general construct. This necessarily entails the accentuation of some features and the exclusion or devaluation of others. In the case of Calvinism, it is noticeable that Weber heavily underscores those teachings that could be said to be broadly compatible with the capitalist ethos, while discounting those elements that appear to jar with it.
Following the work of the German philosophers, Weber sought to establish a sociological method which he defines as “the observation and theoretical interpretation of the subjective “states of mind” of actors. ” Weber was concerned with the creative abilities of human beings to construct their world and make it meaningful and orderly. In this sense human beings should be understood as actors. Weber recognized the uniqueness of human beings to construct and live in `culture’. He defined culture as “a finite segment of the meaningless infinity of the world process, a segment on which human beings confer meaning and significance .
” We have here a first clue as to Weber’s thinking on the relationships between individuals and culture. Culture allowed individuals to ‘confer meaning’ and thereby organize their social worlds. Individuals would have nothing but chaos without culture. Clearly the rules and norms of cultures would a central interest for Weber. Historical development In the Communist Manifesto, it is argued that “the history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggle ”.
Thus, concurrent with his historical determinism or historical materialism dialectics approach; Marx went on to look at class conflict as being the driving force of social change from one historical epoch to the next. In distinguishing the five different historical epochs or stage of societies to which every society exist or existed belong: Primitive communism, ancient slavery, feudal society, capitalism and ultimately communism societies, Marx forwarded a position that class society began when the structure and/or superstructure was no longer communally owned, and thereby moved to privatization of resources.
As such, class emerges and along with it, class conflict (due to the separation of wealth in the mode of production), there also emerged a dialectical struggle that characterized the relationship between the rulers and the ruled, the oppressor and the oppressed. It is because of this dialectic struggle that social change occurs. Which occurs when either the oppressors are overthrown by the oppressed or there is the “mutual ruination” of both.
Similarly, as there appears to be a distinct manifestation of dialectic between structure and superstructure, Marx pays much attention to the concept of a dominant ideology, in analyzing class-consciousness. This dialectical struggle is made manifest in the superstructure where the dominant prevailing “false consciousness” of the bourgeoisie, either suppress or impede the true class-consciousness of the proletariat. As such, the value system of each class strives for hegemony there emerges a two-sided struggle at the superstructure level that also drives social change.
This explains the dialectical interplay when conflict seeks to threaten the equilibrium in society. Further analyses of the dialectics of history within Marxian sociology reveal a certain dialectical relationship between and within the two alternative stages of society – capitalism and communism. The focus on this realization as well as one’s criticisms of Marxian thought concerning them would be explained in the two concepts of “dialectical capitalism” and “classless consciousness ”. The concept of “dialectical capitalism” is critical realization of the notion of capitalism, being a presupposition of conflict within society.
Therefore, capitalism is a support of the fact that dialectics exist within this stage of society. For there to be value consensus, a collective conscience, or class-consciousness, then concurrently there is recognition of the existence of conflicting values, conflict, and false consciousness. As one cannot exist without the other, then the realization of one is the recognition of the other. The fact is, even where integration or collaboration exist, individuals will always strive for self-preservation, irrespective of the needs of others. This is what causes conflict.
However, even with the existence of conflict, a disgruntled proletarian class and the increasing socio-economic lacunae between classes, it appears that such a conflict has become institutionalized and engrafted in advanced capitalist societies. Thus, there may not be any threat to the present social order. The result is that, it appears that the proletarian class, far from being a class of itself, is dissolving in the “class consciousness” of the ruling class, which has created an emerging middle class, making the class structure of capitalist societies even more complex.
Hypothetically considering that capitalism ended, Marxian thought would assert that it is the final stage of societal evolution. It is here where the main contradiction of Marxism lies, since in case communism is an ideal stage of humanity, than the main idea of dialectics would no longer be effective and history would stop. The driving forces of Weber’s historial sociology was the belief that there was a growing rationality in how societies organized themselves and in their general belief systems. So in this thesis, Early Modern Europe was based on the principles of tradition but as rationality progressed tradition reciprocally withered.
Rationality was based around ideas of efficiency and effectiveness – discovering the means to a specific end. From Early Modern Europe we find rationality in the growth of capitalism and all of what that entails and the growth in the sort of science we have today, that is a trend away from magic and alchemy to chemistry and physics. For Weber, it was sociology which could explicate the relationship of capitalism and Protestantism and detect the “ultimate impulses behind men’s attitudes and behavior” As a society was complex, then a series of “ideal types” were drawn up.
It was a generalizing term to model or demonstrate attitudinal and behavioral differences. So there were ideal types of the capitalist, the charismatic (the prophet), the feudal lord, the romantic and so on. In some ways the ascetic Protestant sects and the Medieval Catholic Church described in Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism are ideal’ types: one shows rationalism and the other traditional values. Indeed, Weber speaks of the “ideal type of the capitalist entrepreneur ”. The prophet, for Weber, was an ideal type and his authority and legitimacy were not from rational activity but from God.
Developing this notion, a charismatic individual is someone who appeals not to tradition or rationality but to some “non-rational” source or inspiration. Luther was a charismatic figure, in the sense used by Weber. Puritan thinkers such as John Bunyan and Thomas Merton were less charismatic and more rational (so too, for example, Benjamin Franklin – though this is controversial. Charisma stood out as one of three types of authority: charismatic, traditional and legal – the ultimate expression of rationality. Conclusions The best test for ideas is practical application.
In case Marx lived in early XX century he would have an ability to observe communism in Russia. An attempt to form a classless society resulted in bloody civil war, repressions and total collapse of the country. As Orwell later ironically noticed, “all animals were equal, but some animals were more equal than others”. Within more than a hundred years not a single state managed to build communism, and now Russia, China and others are trying to come back to capitalism. Thus, struggle of classes has not necessarily resulted in the Marx’s fifth stage – communism.
The last prophet of capitalism was, perhaps, Fukuyama, with his concept of the “end of history”, resulting from ideal capitalism. Nevertheless, such ideal capitalism never existed de facto, and protestant ethics never became the only one. Marx believed, that the true driving force of history was class struggle, Weber stated, that these were rationality growth and ideal types. Classes now turn into stratas and their shapes become more and more vague. Social relationships turn out to be moving towards more irrationality due to rising role of NGOs and self organization of society, addressing occurring challenges.
Competition which seems to be the true driving force of history, made Marx’s and Weber’s ideas pass a long race with no winner. Communism did fell without being even fully constructed, but to defeat communism, capitalism had to become less “capitalistic” and embody many features of socialism. As a result, a present model of social partnership came to being. Perhaps Marx would say that social partnership marks a shift towards classless society and Weber would try to portray an ideal type of the early XXI century. However, history hates conjunctive assertions and deals only with the facts.
And the facts are, that both Marx and Weber described driving forces of their history, not ours. References 1. Karl Marx. Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, International Publishers, 1979 2. John Kilcullen, Max Weber: on Capitalism, Macquarie University, 1996. Available at: http://www. humanities. mq. edu. au/Ockham/y64l10. html Last viewed November 19, 2006 3. Robert C. Tucker. The Marx-Engels Reader. 2nd edition, W W Norton & Co Ltd, 1978 4. Max Weber. Protestant Ethic and Spirit of Capitalism, New York: Routledge, 1985 5. Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, Signet Classics. reprint edition. 1998
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