The theorized by Marx, were instrumental forces in examining

The human creative
capacity for production is the root of the Marxist conception that it is the
material basis of human life that is determinant of all other societal spheres.
Perceiving man as “at all events a social animal,” Marx regarded history as the
union of the social relations of production and the mode or techniques of
production, culminating in the superstructure of society (Capital 444). From his account of history as the succession of
“social formations,” characterized by antagonistic class structures and their
respective modes of production, Marx is conceived as interpreting economic
factors as the primary causal constituents of social life, that money binds
human life and society altogether. Max Weber, however, contended that the rise
of industrial capitalism could be rationalized by an emphasis on the ideas
manifested particularly in the Protestant religion, the moral values and norms
which pervaded Protestant societies and the reciprocal process by which
religious ethics are swayed by economic and social catalysts and vice versa.
Weber thus fostered a more dynamic conception of modern capitalist society,
where ideas, namely the spirit of capitalism, rather than economic preconditions
theorized by Marx, were instrumental forces in examining the origin of the
capitalist system, how it evolved, and how it manifested itself into its
present form.

The crux of Marx’s
understanding of history is a mechanistic or deterministic perception of the
entirety of human history as being characterized by social struggles. The modes
or techniques of production necessitate relations of production, characterized
by class relations and the class structure and together constitute the
superstructure of society. Fluctuations in the modes of production manifest
themselves correspondingly to changes within the relations of production and
therefore society as a whole. In this sense, Marx upholds a mechanistic
evaluation of how changes within society emerge, hinging on the belief that the
primary mode of being is the economy, and is predicated on the hypothesis that
civil society is necessarily the outgrowth of politics and the economy (“On the
Jewish Question,” 35). The relationships within the economic modes of
production are the means by which individuals express themselves as humans and
is in itself the foundation of politics and religion, for “the production of
ideas, of conceptions, of consciousness, is at first directly interwoven with
the material activity and the material intercourse of men” (Marx, The German Ideology, 154). Marx’s
rationalization of the pattern of development within society is predicated on
the inherent contradictions in social formations between classes as new forces
of production perpetually materialize and explains the entirety of history as
the “history of class struggles” (“The Communist Manifesto,” 473). He contends
that every form of society has its basis on the antagonism of the oppressing
and oppressed classes and the consistently evolving modes of production are
placed in opposition to the social relations of production. Such a condition is
distinguished by how the relations of production necessarily become the
“fetters” of the forces of production, as the capitalist class grows smaller
and monopolizes power over the ever-augmenting class of the proletarian
wage-laborers. The Marxist teleological end manifests itself in the prophesy
that such class antagonism will inevitably grow so extreme, that proletarian
revolution is fated to occur, and that the proletariat is destined to seize the
means of production from capitalist hands.

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dialectical historical materialism is predicated on the doctrine that, not only
does the economic basis of society determine changes in political and social
structure, but rather that the forces of production may also be influenced by
changes in the political or social realm, suggesting two directions of
causality. The dialectical method as applied to the economic realm still is
structured around a predominant mode of production, and hinges on the belief
that, “the ideal is nothing but the material world reflected in the mind of
man, and translated into forms of thought,” that material existences project
themselves into social frameworks (Mandel, Introduction to Capital, 18). Though Marx derives the dialectic from Hegel, he
turns the Hegelian dialectic on its head. Whereas the Hegelian dialectic
contends that the “Idea,” is the creator of the real world, Marx theorizes the
reverse: “the ideal is nothing but the material world reflected in the mind of
man, and translated into forms of thought” (Marx, Preface to the Second Edition
of Capital, 102). Although Marx’s
dialectic may be perceived as more dynamic than mechanistic materialism, it
still retains an exclusive emphasis upon an understanding of history on the
basis of systemic processes, and in this sense, resembles mechanistic
historical materialism.

outright rejects the Marxist premise of the economic sphere as the sole
determinant of the nature of society by maintaining that spheres of life are
inherently autonomous and changes in certain spheres necessarily correspond to
changes in other spheres. For example, religion is indeed influenced by the
economic and social spheres, but such realms are in turn influenced by
religion, suggesting a dynamic reciprocity within the interactions of different
societal spheres. Religious dogma, according to Weber, is continually
reinterpreted, and manifest themselves into changes within the community, and
the dynamism with which Weber characterizes modern capitalist society asserts
that Marxist historical materialism is insufficient to account for the
reciprocal interaction between the spheres of life. Weber heaps scorn unto
Marxist historical materialism, stamping it as a “one-sided causal
interpretation of culture and of history,” and aims not to “substitute for a
one-sided materialistic an equally one-sided spiritualistic,” theory of
history, but rather place both the economic basis and spiritual ethics in
conversation with one another in an attempt to accurately portray the
historical truth (Weber, Protestant Ethic,
125). Rather than rejecting it altogether, Weber accounts for the role of the
economy in the rise of industrial capitalism, particularly acknowledging that
the “mercantilistic regulations of the state might develop industries, but not,
or certainly not alone, the spirit of capitalism” (Weber, Protestant Ethic, 99). He thus subscribes to the notion that
historical developments cannot be reduced to a single, mono-causal explanation
of economic law and that the Marxist emphasis upon the economic basis of
society is an inadequate interpretation of the emergence of capitalism.

role of the abstract idea within Weberian sociology as a prime determinant in
the rise of capitalist society outwardly contradicts the Marxist notion that
social relations emanate solely from changes within the economic modes of
production. Weber justifies this assertion by observing that the capitalist
ethic, characterized by the desire for capital accumulation and the acceptance
of labor as an end of itself, as existing before the formal institution of the
capitalist system. The Protestant ethic, the preservation of hard work and
progress, caused people to unconsciously adopt the ethos of capitalism, for
religious motivation served as the reinforcement of the capitalist spirit.
Weber maintained that the indoctrination of the capitalist spirit had its roots
in the process of rationalization of religious beliefs, the process by which
religious values espouse new meanings. As a side effect, religious values became
secularized and outlived religious usefulness, and the Protestant value of hard
work manifested itself in the capitalist conception of labor as an end of itself.
It is for this reason that “…the spirit of capitalism was present before the
capitalist order,” intimating that “the causal relation is certainly the
reverse of that suggested by the materialistic standpoint” (Weber, Protestant Ethic, 20). Naïve historical
materialism thus falsely proposes that ideas originate as a reflection of the
superstructure of economic situations and the Weberian reversal of this logic
underscores the role of ideas in superseding economic predominance as the sole
determinant of history.

            Furthermore, Weber’s notion of the
calling or the duty to moral conduct outright refutes Marxist prerequisites of
the material conditions for the emergence of capitalism and that the
superstructure alone is determinative of societal conditions. The Weberian
emphasis upon the process of rationalization as cornerstone of both the
Protestant ethic and the  capitalist
spirit was predicated on the notion of labor in service to humanity and procuring
meaning out of contributing to a common good. This process was representative
of the spirit of capitalism, which placed utmost importance on the productivity
of labor and further explains the existence of the capitalist ethic before
formal capitalism. The value of laboring productively was considered the
“essence of moral conduct, commanded in the name of duty,” which “gave the way
of life of the new entrepreneur its ethical foundation and justification,” and
could not be accurately represented as a reflection of the material conditions
in the ideal superstructure of Marxist historical materialism (Weber, Protestant Ethic, 36). The Lutheran
notion of the calling was derived from Protestantism as the epitome of the
ascetic religion, which espoused the doctrine that individuals are instruments
of the divine, that they must mold the world to God’s Divine Will. It is from
this notion of calling or vocation, that individuals extract religious meaning
to otherwise secular, worldly activity.

The notion of the
calling or vocation is thus derived from the ascetic conception of wealth as
immoral, as it in excess can induce a “temptation to idleness and sinful enjoyment
of life” (Weber, Protestant Ethic,
108). Weber’s interpretation of religious asceticism puts forward the role of
ideology in perceiving that it is not wealth itself or primitive capital
accumulation, as historical materialism suggests, which is the driving force of
capitalism. Rather, it is the labor involved in the pursuit of wealth, not for
mere idleness, that serves as a motivating factor inducing individuals to work
harder. The ascetic significance of a calling thus provides an ethical
justification for the modern specialized division of labor. Marx condemned the
division of labor as having detrimental effects upon workers, and is at heart,
a symptom of the process of ever-changing modes of production and the social
formations which characterize them. The growth of specialization as a side
effect of the changing economic base of society, according to Marx, was a
catalyst in the changing relations between humans and the products of labor.
Because individuals’ occupations were reduced to menial, mundane tasks, they
did not produce objects that individually have value, but rather represented a
part of a whole. Marx regarded this process as destructive to laborer’s
realization of their own capacities as species beings, for they failed to develop
a connection with the product of their labor, which culminates in a phenomenon
which Marx called alienation. The division of labor, Marx contended, implied a
contradiction between individual and common interest, and established a process
by which man’s own deed became an alien power opposed to him and enslaves him.

Weber, as opposed
to Marxist historical materialism, which portrayed the division of labor as
simply a stage in the succession of the modes of production, provided an
interpretation of the origin of the division of labor which hinged on religious
ideas, particularly the conception that the division of labor is a direct
consequence of the divine scheme of things and that it is necessarily God’s
Will. On the basis of religious ideas, Weber contends that the differentiation
of individuals on the basis of class and occupations through the process of
historical development is not a result of changes within the means of production
and the superstructure. Rather, the segmentation of individuals as evinced
through the phenomenon of the division of labor could be perceived as a direct
result of the divine will. The division of labor is conducive to man’s
acceptance of occupation within the limits which God has assigned to him as a
religious duty, founded in the Protestant ethic that secular activity ought to
have religious significance in molding the earth to the Will of God. Specialization
necessarily leads to both quantitative and qualitative improvements in
production and subsequently serves the common good, which is representative of
the idea of the spirit of capitalism where individuals fulfil a designated
“meaning,” and abide by a certain moral duty, which otherwise cannot be
explained by Marxist historical materialism.

Furthermore, Weber
rejects the Marxist prescription that communism was the ideal to which reality
ought to have to adjust itself, on the basis of bureaucracy as a homogenizing
routinizing force which deprived mankind of meaning. Weber conceived of
socialism to be conducive to the forging of a self-defeating iron cage,
constructed by rationalization itself, whereby rational understandings of the
world undermined religious visions which gives worldly life meaning. The
overwhelming result of routinization is disenchantment, which forces
individuals to see the world stripped of divine meaning, for actions no longer
are governed by some higher, divine purpose. Furthermore, Weber perceives of
rationalization as the result of the dichotomous relationship between the idea
of charisma, distinguished by a gift of grace and a personal devotion to duty,
and routinization. The latter process fosters bureaucracy within modern
capitalist societies, which is characterized chiefly by a hierarchic order of
authority which maximizes efficiency and processes internal to the bureaucratic
structure are fashioned to meet recurrent needs by means of normal routine
(Weber, “Bureaucracy,” 197).

Cautioning that the
danger of modern society is that individuals will become trapped in
bureaucratic systems, Weber envisions bureaucracy as the very edifice of the
self-defeating iron cage, where routinization takes a life of its own, life
loses meaning and impulse, and the world becomes disenchanted. The danger of
the iron cage and its bureaucratic confines is that they negate individual
agency, without which individuals find themselves alienated in a world in which
they can find no meaning. Social practices as a whole will undergo a
transformation by which they become demystified and reduced merely to
mechanical functions. Weber’s rejection of socialism as an ideal is contingent on
the belief that the abolition of the market and the establishment of socialism
will create a society conducive to the bureaucratization of life and society,
which in turn impede the human potential for charisma and self-expression. The
ideal of the socialist abolition of class antagonism corresponds to the
bureaucratic bases in the “leveling of economic and social differences,” as
well as the resultant abstract regularity of the execution of authority (Weber,
“Bureaucracy,” 224). The Weberian prescription as opposed to that of Marx,
hinged on a certain advocacy of a system of parliamentary democracy which
promoted the predominant existence of charismatic leaders, which suggests that
democracy and the charisma which it exercises is fundamentally at odds with the
status character of bureaucracy which has a basis of rationality and

Marxist historical
materialism theorized that economic factors were the chief determining forces
of social life on the basis of an interpretation of history as the progression
of social formations and their respective modes of production, which constitute
the superstructure of society. Marx thus grounded his theory on the belief that
the economic sphere was determinant of the entirety of social life, that money
is the adhesive bond of both human life and of society. Regarding Marxist
historical materialism as inherently inadequate to explain the rise of
industrial capitalism, Weber maintained that the emergence of modern society
could be interpreted on the basis of ethics and values embodied particularly
within the sphere of religion. Weber conceived of a dynamic and reciprocal interaction
between the different spheres of life within society, particularly between
religious, economic, and social spheres, which mutually regulated one another.
The dynamic Weberian conception of the emergence of capitalism thus hinged on
the role of ideas, as opposed to Marxist emphasis upon economic preconditions,
which served as the pivotal forces in bringing about modern capitalism. 













Works Cited

Marx, Karl, et al. Capital: Volume 1. Penguin Books, 1991.

Weber, Max, and
Richard Swedberg. “IX: Sociology of Charismatic Authority.” Weber: Essays in Sociology, Princeton
University Press, 1999, pp. 245-252.


Weber, Max, and
Richard Swedberg. “Science as a Vocation.” Weber:
Essays in Sociology, Princeton University Press, 1999, pp. 129-159. 

Robert C. “German Ideology, Part I.” The
Marx-Engels Reader, Norton, 1978, pp.146-200.

Tucker, Robert C. “On the
Jewish Question.” The Marx-Engels Reader,
Norton, 1978, pp. 26-53.

Robert C. “The Communist Manifesto.” The
Marx-Engels Reader, Norton, 1978, pp. 469-500.

Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of
Capitalism. Routledge, 2001.