Essay: What are the differences and similarities between Marx's and Weber's understandings of capitalist society?
Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Max Weber (1864-1920) are two remarkable founding fathers of Sociology. Both of them spent huge effort to study the rise of capitalist society. Marx created conflict theory paradigm called Marxism while Weber inspired the symbolic interactionism, both paradigm are still influential nowaday. This paper would try to discuss the differences and similarities of their understanding of the historical development of capitalist society; their view on social stratification on capitalist society and their understanding on the operation and future prediction of the capitalist society in three parts.
Understanding of the historical development of capitalist society The different perspective of Marx and Weber's methodology to the understanding of human history underline an important divergence of their understanding of the capitalist society. According to Engels' speech at Marx's graveside, (1883)
The 'law of development of human history' is "the production of the immediate material means of subsistence and consequently the degree of economic development attained by a given people or during a given epoch …… (which) form the foundation upon which the state institutions, the legal conceptions, art, and even the ideas on religion, of the people concerned have been evolved".
In other words, Marx in his Capital (1867) argued that instead of adopting Hegel's idealism in explaining the historical development of society, Marx maintained that the 'economic base' of 'infrastructure' of material life is important determinant of all other aspect of a society, including family, religion, politics, laws, education, etc, which Marx named it as the 'superstructure'. Owing to the fact that 'economic base' is the sole determinant all the other parts of a society, Marx investigated the capitalist society mainly on the economic dimension, whom define capitalism as a mode of production as compared to the previous mode of production in primitive, slave and feudal societies. Marx argued that there is a 'law' in the historical development of society, because as the force of production develop and become more productive, but the class relations of production, or the ownership of means of production doesn't change accordingly, class antagonism may inevitably develop and finally historical change or social reorganization of relation of production may come.
Weber, on the other hand, disagreed with Marx's view on the methodology in understanding the development of society. He rejected Marx's one-dimensional 'economic determinism' and pointed out that 'the purpose of social science is to indicate the efficacy of the culturally unique not the naturally general'. (Barbalet, 2012) He maintained that there is no absolute 'law' of historical development and there is no immanent meaning in history or society. To Weber, history is developed by chance and contingency. It is composed of unique and contingent events which there cannot be empirical generalization of 'laws'. Thus, sociologist should attempt to use 'ideal types' as the analytical construct to interpret the causal meaning of action attached with subjective meanings. (Weber, 1920) Therefore, Weber adopted this methodology of cultural and ideal type analysis to the origin and development of the modern European capitalism in his book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905). In Weber's analysis, economic condition is also a determinant of the beginning of the capitalist society, but found that there is some unique, non-economic factor also causing the rise of the modern European capitalism, including political, legal and religion determinants. In particular, Weber found out that the religious belief in Calvinist Protestant ethnics of 'predestination', which the performance of the good worldly activity is a sign of election to the...
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