Economy and Society in Marx, Durkheim, and Weber
The economy is a fundamental part of contemporary society; on that most sociologists agree. Besides being a social institution in its own right, it also contributes to the administrative, educational, ethical, legal, and religious organization of society; in short, the social superstructure. But the dynamic of this relationship and how it is determined is a matter of theoretical debate. The classical sociologists Marx, Durkheim, and Weber (as listed chronologically) were the first to explore the relationship between the economy and society in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; each developed differing viewpoints based on their respective theoretical positions. As will be detailed, Marx viewed the economy as the base that determines the social superstructure; Durkheim viewed the economy as one of a number of social institutions that make up a society, whereas Weber viewed the economy in part as an extension of religious belief. Marx, Durkheim, and Weber form the foundation of classical sociology and provide brilliant theories and analyses that are still debated today; all three agree that the economy is essentially a social phenomenon and worthy of study as such. In the following, the economic and social theories of Marx, Durkheim, and Weber will be analyzed and the various similarities and differences between Marx, Durkheim, and Weber’s economic and social theories will be made explicit. The following analyses will be informed by the classic texts of Marx, Durkheim, and Weber. These include Marx’ Communist Manifesto (1988), The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1963), and The German Ideology (1998); Durkheim’s Suicide (1951), The Rules of Sociological Method (1982), The Division of Labor in Society (1984), and The
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Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1995); and Weber’s Economy and Society (1968), and The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1930). Marx
The economy is at the center of Marx’ sociological theories; he considered society to be the result of an economic base and a social superstructure; it is the economic base which determines all other social structures including ideology, politics, and religion. Marx’ earliest development of his social and economic theories can be found in The German Ideology (1998). In the text, he critiques Hegelian and Post-Hegelian philosophy and opposes German ideology with the history of class struggle. For Marx, history is dependent on the existence of human beings, who produce their own means of subsistence, and the resulting means of production determines their way of life (1998:37). The economy that forms from the means of production results in the division of labor and forms of property. Three main forms of property are found in history: tribal, ancient, and feudal. The tribal form of property follows the social structure of the family and is relatively primitive; the ancient form of property follows the development of cities created from the union of multiple tribes; the feudal form is the result of the development of countries and guilds of craftsmen.
Marx claims that social and political structures are derived from the economic means of production (1998:43). Consciousness is also determined by the means of production; therefore, all ideology derived from consciousness is part of the social superstructure. For Marx this social superstructure is determined by the economic base of a society. This economic base includes the division of labor; a division that harbors
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conflict between common and individual interests (1998:52). In this sense, the state, which is the result of the common interest, is opposed to individual interest. It is communism and the communal control of the means of production that offers freedom from the tyranny of the common interest of the state, with its imposed division of labor and privatization of...