Marx vs. Weber: a Comparative Analysis

Topics: Sociology, Karl Marx, Max Weber Pages: 6 (1978 words) Published: April 7, 2007
Karl Marx v. Max Weber: Comparitive Analysis

C. Wright Mills places both Weber and Marx in the great tradition of what he calls the "sociological imagination" a quality that "enables us to grasp both history biography and the relationship between the two within society". (Mills, 12) In other words both theorists were dealing with the individual and society not either one to the exclusion of the other. Mills further writes that both Marx and Weber are in that tradition of sociological theorizing that leans towards sociology as "a theory of history,"(Mills, 30) sociology as (in this tradition) an encyclopedic endeavour, concerned with the whole of man's social life. Thus these two giants of sociology have a considerable amount in common but how do they differ? Karl Marx and his sociological theories have proven invaluable to sociological thinkers throughout history, as many who followed would use Marxist theories as a foundation on which to build their own, including Max Weber. However, this is not to say that influential thinkers such as Weber did not develop their own theoretical practices and ideals regarding society and the individual, in fact, Weber's work, though influenced by Marxist thought, would bring him to conclusions that differed greatly from that of Karl Marx. Max Weber, a Germany political economist would become a man later proclaimed as one of the "fathers of sociology" focused mostly on the influence of religion on society, however also wrote influential work in the fields of economics and politics, which had extremely large affects on his sociological theories. Though appreciative of Marx's theoretical formulations, Weber also became highly critical of the Austrian thinker. Like Marx, Weber had a wide ranging set of interests: politics, history, language, religion, law, economics, and administration, in addition to sociology. His historical and economic analysis does not provide as elaborate or as systematic a model of capitalism and capitalist development as does that of Marx. But the scope of his analysis ranges more widely than that of Marx; is examines broad historical changes, the origins of capitalism, the development of capitalism, political issues, the nature of a future society, and concepts and approaches that Marx paid less attention to; religion, ideas, values, meaning, and social action.Marx as a sociologist saw society as in a constantly evolving state of conflict. This conflict is between classes. Classes determined primarily by their position relative to the means of production or the way of making a living. "The first historical act is the production of material life itself" (Marx, 60). The evolution of this conflict between the classes follows a dialectical pattern and for Marx this was the pattern of history. Marx's vision of history goes from the domestication of animals and a very limited division of labour wherein there was a common relationship to the means of production and therefore a classless society , through increasing complexity and division of labour to the creation of antagonistic classes. It is a fundamentally, but not exclusively, economic analysis . All aspects of society; law, art, religion, cannot be reduced to economics but that economic relationship to the means of production is at the root of Marx analysis. Society is not a collection of individuals for Marx. The individual and individual aspects of society can only be understood in relation to the whole. The ideological implications of this analysis for twentieth century communism were destructive of freedom and many, many lives. The power the analysis generated through its collective empowerment of many disenfranchised was also intensely liberating. Marx based much of his beliefs on one of the foundations of his work, a theory known as "Historical Materialism". The most basic assumption in historical materialism being that...

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Mills, C.W. The Sociological Imagination. London: Penquin Books, 1971.
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Wright, E.O. et al. Max Weber 's Economy and Society: A Critical Companion. California: Standford University Press, 2005.
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