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Marx And Weber Essay, Research Paper

Erik NicholsonMarx and Weber essayComparative Politics Max Weber’s book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is basically a counter argument to Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels s publication The Communist Manifesto. Both books deal with the progression and rise of capitalism, yet the authors discuss very different paths to explain how we achieved capitalism as it is today. Marx’s view of the history of capitalism is very focused on economics and class structure and was based on the premise that capitalism is embedded with the seeds for its own demise and is but one stage in an ever evolving path to socialism. Weber felt that religion and culture defined the rise of capitalism; specifically that Protestant ethics and ideals were instrumental to the development of modern capitalism. Weber believed there is no evolution beyond capitalism, such as Marx did. Both their views on the rise and dynamics of capitalism contain some similarities such as their pessimism towards what capitalism is doing to society and labor, yet it is the above differences on some of the most key elements regarding capitalism that set them apart. Both their similarities and differences are to be discussed. Marx had seen history as consisting of both the dialectic and materialism. This meant he saw history as conflict over the distribution of materials. He called this “Dialectic Materialism.” Marx’s dialectic was not based on the conflict of ideas, but rather on the dialectic of classes. This conflict results in a society s new mode of production. Each era of history consists of a mode of production. Throughout history, these modes changed through the dialectic. The dialectic would lead to a new mode of production and a new era in history. According to Marx, history would consist of epochs of modes of production. Marx states that the path of epochs from past to future go in a series from hunters and gatherers to slave society to feudalism to mercantilism to capitalism, and then finally society would reach a utopian state of socialism and communism. Marx believed that when studying the rise of capitalism one must be concerned with all the epochs of these past societies. Through the series of complicated class conflicts capitalism slowly emerged and with it so did new class distinctions. Marx defined these new classes as the proletariat who was a laborer, and the bourgeoisie who was the boss. Marx argued that in society production consists of two subclasses. If there is a slave society, there must be slave owners as well as slaves. (Marx pg. 9-10) Capitalism consists of those who own the means of production and those who are the means of production. (Marx pg. 13-15) Basically he meant the proletariat was the means of production and the bourgeoisie owned the means of production. Marx argued that in the formation of the capitalist society there are two prerequisites for the rise of capitalism. There first has to be the acquisition of enough money in the possession of certain individuals. As feudal society diminished and capitalism rose labor was taken from people and industrialized. Skilled labor was broken down into simpler tasks such that any individual could accomplish the tasks. Thus, skilled labor was devalued and unskilled labor rose to the dominant position. (Marx pg. 15-16) In the view of Marx the capitalist makes his money by the surplus of workers. According to Marx, any labor time over what is needed for constant capital is considered surplus. If it takes only a certain amount of hours a day for constant capital then all hours after that would be capital that the capitalist makes for free. This surplus capital may be free for the capitalist, but it causes a contradiction. For the capitalist the best way to sell a commodity is by having the lowest prices. The only way to have the lowest prices is by keeping the cost of production down. The only cost of production that the capitalist has control over is the cost of labor. So, in order to lower prices the capitalist must lower the wages of the workers. This causes one of the contradictions that Marx saw would crush capitalism from the inside. The laborers are also the consumers. If the laborers do not have the wages to buy a product then the company can not sell a product. This means that there is an overproduction and an under consumption of goods. When this happens the capitalist must lay off the laborer because he is not making the necessary constant capital. (Marx pg. 21) The other problem Marx saw with capitalism is that it “alienates” the workers from their jobs. He states when referring to the proletariat laborer He becomes and appendage to the machine, and it only the most simple, most monotonous, and most easily acquired knack, that is required of him. (Marx pg.16) The work becomes highly impersonal. In feudal times the laborer was able to see what the end product was and able to sell it for themselves. Under capitalism the laborer is not able to do this. They are forced to produce a product for someone else. The laborers feel alienated from their jobs. The laborers do not take pride in the work they have done. This will then lead to the laborer not producing quality products. The laborer is not dependent on the quality of the goods to sell the product because they are paid an hourly wage. This will lead to an unmotivated worker and low quality products.

The above fundamentals of capitalism that create wage problems and alienate workers are the very things that s that Marx refers to as the seeds of capitalism own demise. He believes that the dialectic between the proletariat and the capitalist will then lead to a new synthesis. According to Marx, this new synthesis will be Socialism. In socialism there is no private property and the government owns the means of production. Marx hypothesized that socialism would lead communism, which would be a classless society. Unlike Marx, Weber thought the rise of capitalism was linked to Protestant work ethic. Specifically Weber looked at Calvinism. Calvinism was a relatively newer religion dating back to the reformation of the Catholic Church. Calvinists had a sense of a calling and felt that their highest moral obligation was to perform worldly affairs . The Calvinist faith based after life beliefs on the notion that they were predestined. Success was a sign of being predestined for good. Weber feels that this belief is eventually implemented into society and with that the spirit of capitalism . All other religions do not stress work as a means to get into heaven. If we take the Muslim faith we see that dying for ones religion is considered as a means to get into heaven. The Protestant ethic is the only faith that includes reinvesting wealth as a means to get into heaven. It was such strong asceticism rooted in their religion that kept their surplus. Weber had felt that the impersonal system of capitalism was exemplified in the bureaucratic power. Weber referred to this as the iron cage . (Weber pg. 181) Weber saw this iron cage as the capitalistic world, which we live in today. The world of the iron cage is a very materialistic one more concerned with success than happiness. Marx saw the impersonal system in the alienation of the proletariat workers. The writings of Weber leave the door open for the possibility for revolution in a capitalist society, but he does not directly speak of a revolution. Marx, although, speaks directly of a revolution and the self-destruction of the capitalistic society. One of the factors in this revolution is the impersonal relations between the proletariat and the capitalist. The impersonality of capitalism, exemplified in the failure of the proletariat to feel meaningful in their work, fuels the movement for a revolution. Weber was very concerned with this impersonal bureaucratic system. He had seen the rise of the bureaucratic powers in western society, and Weber saw how society was becoming less and less personal. This is a problem in the capitalist society that both men had seen in the nineteenth century, and it is a problem that still exists today. People have lost a sense of community and gained the sense of individuality. The loss of personal relationships can lead to many internal problems in a society and possibly a downfall. Marx and Weber may disagree about the rise of classes in a capitalist society, but they do have their similarities. Marx felt that history was based on the conflict between classes and this conflict would cause the downfall of capitalism. Weber does not agree that class conflict is what defines history, but he did think people of a community or group may have individual interests, but they put those aside to work as a whole. When individuals act in a societal movement they may do different things, but they are acting in cooperation because in the end it will serve in their individual interests. Individuals act in cooperation with the group because it is the most rational way to serve their individual interests. This is very similar to Marx’s view on a proletariat revolution in capitalist society. Marx felt that the individuals in the proletariat would come together and revolt against the capitalist. Marx did not feel that the proletariat would automatically come together because of their similar class. Rather, the people of the proletariat would come together in a common interest. They all realize that in the capitalist society they will always be exploited by the capitalists. So, the proletariat would come together in a communal action for their individual interests. People take part in the revolution in an attempt to better their individual lives. Marx and Weber are two sociologists who both wanted to explain the rise of capitalism in western society. Weber s views were much wider than Marx s was. Marx was only concerned with the economics and the rise of capitalism. Weber, on the other hand, tried to look at the big sociological picture in his explanation of capitalism. Weber felt that there is more than one explanation to the rise of capitalism. Regardless of their differences there are many similarities in the theories. The underlying theme in both of the theories is that capitalism rose from a personal society to a highly impersonal society. They both may have different reasons as to why capitalism rose, but they both agree as to what it became.


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