The human creativecapacity for production is the root of the Marxist conception that it is thematerial 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 theunion of the social relations of production and the mode or techniques ofproduction, 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 theirrespective modes of production, Marx is conceived as interpreting economicfactors as the primary causal constituents of social life, that money bindshuman life and society altogether. Max Weber, however, contended that the riseof industrial capitalism could be rationalized by an emphasis on the ideasmanifested particularly in the Protestant religion, the moral values and normswhich pervaded Protestant societies and the reciprocal process by whichreligious 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 preconditionstheorized by Marx, were instrumental forces in examining the origin of thecapitalist system, how it evolved, and how it manifested itself into itspresent form.
The crux of Marx’sunderstanding of history is a mechanistic or deterministic perception of theentirety of human history as being characterized by social struggles. The modesor techniques of production necessitate relations of production, characterizedby class relations and the class structure and together constitute thesuperstructure of society. Fluctuations in the modes of production manifestthemselves correspondingly to changes within the relations of production andtherefore society as a whole. In this sense, Marx upholds a mechanisticevaluation of how changes within society emerge, hinging on the belief that theprimary mode of being is the economy, and is predicated on the hypothesis thatcivil society is necessarily the outgrowth of politics and the economy (“On theJewish Question,” 35). The relationships within the economic modes ofproduction are the means by which individuals express themselves as humans andis in itself the foundation of politics and religion, for “the production ofideas, of conceptions, of consciousness, is at first directly interwoven withthe material activity and the material intercourse of men” (Marx, The German Ideology, 154). Marx’srationalization of the pattern of development within society is predicated onthe inherent contradictions in social formations between classes as new forcesof production perpetually materialize and explains the entirety of history asthe “history of class struggles” (“The Communist Manifesto,” 473). He contendsthat every form of society has its basis on the antagonism of the oppressingand oppressed classes and the consistently evolving modes of production areplaced in opposition to the social relations of production. Such a condition isdistinguished by how the relations of production necessarily become the”fetters” of the forces of production, as the capitalist class grows smallerand monopolizes power over the ever-augmenting class of the proletarianwage-laborers.
The Marxist teleological end manifests itself in the prophesythat such class antagonism will inevitably grow so extreme, that proletarianrevolution is fated to occur, and that the proletariat is destined to seize themeans of production from capitalist hands. Marxistdialectical historical materialism is predicated on the doctrine that, not onlydoes the economic basis of society determine changes in political and socialstructure, but rather that the forces of production may also be influenced bychanges in the political or social realm, suggesting two directions ofcausality. The dialectical method as applied to the economic realm still isstructured around a predominant mode of production, and hinges on the beliefthat, “the ideal is nothing but the material world reflected in the mind ofman, and translated into forms of thought,” that material existences projectthemselves into social frameworks (Mandel, Introduction to Capital, 18). Though Marx derives the dialectic from Hegel, heturns the Hegelian dialectic on its head. Whereas the Hegelian dialecticcontends that the “Idea,” is the creator of the real world, Marx theorizes thereverse: “the ideal is nothing but the material world reflected in the mind ofman, and translated into forms of thought” (Marx, Preface to the Second Editionof Capital, 102).
Although Marx’sdialectic may be perceived as more dynamic than mechanistic materialism, itstill retains an exclusive emphasis upon an understanding of history on thebasis of systemic processes, and in this sense, resembles mechanistichistorical materialism. Weberoutright rejects the Marxist premise of the economic sphere as the soledeterminant of the nature of society by maintaining that spheres of life areinherently autonomous and changes in certain spheres necessarily correspond tochanges in other spheres. For example, religion is indeed influenced by theeconomic and social spheres, but such realms are in turn influenced byreligion, suggesting a dynamic reciprocity within the interactions of differentsocietal spheres. Religious dogma, according to Weber, is continuallyreinterpreted, and manifest themselves into changes within the community, andthe dynamism with which Weber characterizes modern capitalist society assertsthat Marxist historical materialism is insufficient to account for thereciprocal interaction between the spheres of life. Weber heaps scorn untoMarxist historical materialism, stamping it as a “one-sided causalinterpretation of culture and of history,” and aims not to “substitute for aone-sided materialistic an equally one-sided spiritualistic,” theory ofhistory, but rather place both the economic basis and spiritual ethics inconversation with one another in an attempt to accurately portray thehistorical truth (Weber, Protestant Ethic,125). Rather than rejecting it altogether, Weber accounts for the role of theeconomy in the rise of industrial capitalism, particularly acknowledging thatthe “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 thathistorical developments cannot be reduced to a single, mono-causal explanationof economic law and that the Marxist emphasis upon the economic basis ofsociety is an inadequate interpretation of the emergence of capitalism. Therole of the abstract idea within Weberian sociology as a prime determinant inthe rise of capitalist society outwardly contradicts the Marxist notion thatsocial relations emanate solely from changes within the economic modes ofproduction. Weber justifies this assertion by observing that the capitalistethic, characterized by the desire for capital accumulation and the acceptanceof labor as an end of itself, as existing before the formal institution of thecapitalist system. The Protestant ethic, the preservation of hard work andprogress, caused people to unconsciously adopt the ethos of capitalism, forreligious motivation served as the reinforcement of the capitalist spirit.Weber maintained that the indoctrination of the capitalist spirit had its rootsin the process of rationalization of religious beliefs, the process by whichreligious values espouse new meanings. As a side effect, religious values becamesecularized and outlived religious usefulness, and the Protestant value of hardwork 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 thecapitalist order,” intimating that “the causal relation is certainly thereverse of that suggested by the materialistic standpoint” (Weber, Protestant Ethic, 20). Naïve historicalmaterialism thus falsely proposes that ideas originate as a reflection of thesuperstructure of economic situations and the Weberian reversal of this logicunderscores the role of ideas in superseding economic predominance as the soledeterminant of history. Furthermore, Weber’s notion of thecalling or the duty to moral conduct outright refutes Marxist prerequisites ofthe material conditions for the emergence of capitalism and that thesuperstructure alone is determinative of societal conditions. The Weberianemphasis upon the process of rationalization as cornerstone of both theProtestant ethic and the capitalistspirit was predicated on the notion of labor in service to humanity and procuringmeaning out of contributing to a common good. This process was representativeof the spirit of capitalism, which placed utmost importance on the productivityof labor and further explains the existence of the capitalist ethic beforeformal capitalism. The value of laboring productively was considered the”essence of moral conduct, commanded in the name of duty,” which “gave the wayof life of the new entrepreneur its ethical foundation and justification,” andcould not be accurately represented as a reflection of the material conditionsin the ideal superstructure of Marxist historical materialism (Weber, Protestant Ethic, 36).
The Lutherannotion of the calling was derived from Protestantism as the epitome of theascetic religion, which espoused the doctrine that individuals are instrumentsof the divine, that they must mold the world to God’s Divine Will. It is fromthis notion of calling or vocation, that individuals extract religious meaningto otherwise secular, worldly activity. The notion of thecalling or vocation is thus derived from the ascetic conception of wealth asimmoral, as it in excess can induce a “temptation to idleness and sinful enjoymentof life” (Weber, Protestant Ethic,108). Weber’s interpretation of religious asceticism puts forward the role ofideology in perceiving that it is not wealth itself or primitive capitalaccumulation, as historical materialism suggests, which is the driving force ofcapitalism. Rather, it is the labor involved in the pursuit of wealth, not formere idleness, that serves as a motivating factor inducing individuals to workharder. The ascetic significance of a calling thus provides an ethicaljustification for the modern specialized division of labor. Marx condemned thedivision 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 socialformations which characterize them.
The growth of specialization as a sideeffect of the changing economic base of society, according to Marx, was acatalyst in the changing relations between humans and the products of labor.Because individuals’ occupations were reduced to menial, mundane tasks, theydid not produce objects that individually have value, but rather represented apart of a whole. Marx regarded this process as destructive to laborer’srealization of their own capacities as species beings, for they failed to developa connection with the product of their labor, which culminates in a phenomenonwhich Marx called alienation. The division of labor, Marx contended, implied acontradiction between individual and common interest, and established a processby which man’s own deed became an alien power opposed to him and enslaves him. Weber, as opposedto Marxist historical materialism, which portrayed the division of labor assimply a stage in the succession of the modes of production, provided aninterpretation of the origin of the division of labor which hinged on religiousideas, particularly the conception that the division of labor is a directconsequence of the divine scheme of things and that it is necessarily God’sWill. On the basis of religious ideas, Weber contends that the differentiationof individuals on the basis of class and occupations through the process ofhistorical development is not a result of changes within the means of productionand the superstructure. Rather, the segmentation of individuals as evincedthrough the phenomenon of the division of labor could be perceived as a directresult of the divine will.
The division of labor is conducive to man’sacceptance of occupation within the limits which God has assigned to him as areligious duty, founded in the Protestant ethic that secular activity ought tohave religious significance in molding the earth to the Will of God. Specializationnecessarily leads to both quantitative and qualitative improvements inproduction and subsequently serves the common good, which is representative ofthe idea of the spirit of capitalism where individuals fulfil a designated”meaning,” and abide by a certain moral duty, which otherwise cannot beexplained by Marxist historical materialism. Furthermore, Weberrejects the Marxist prescription that communism was the ideal to which realityought to have to adjust itself, on the basis of bureaucracy as a homogenizingroutinizing force which deprived mankind of meaning. Weber conceived ofsocialism to be conducive to the forging of a self-defeating iron cage,constructed by rationalization itself, whereby rational understandings of theworld undermined religious visions which gives worldly life meaning. Theoverwhelming result of routinization is disenchantment, which forcesindividuals to see the world stripped of divine meaning, for actions no longerare governed by some higher, divine purpose.
Furthermore, Weber perceives ofrationalization as the result of the dichotomous relationship between the ideaof charisma, distinguished by a gift of grace and a personal devotion to duty,and routinization. The latter process fosters bureaucracy within moderncapitalist societies, which is characterized chiefly by a hierarchic order ofauthority which maximizes efficiency and processes internal to the bureaucraticstructure are fashioned to meet recurrent needs by means of normal routine(Weber, “Bureaucracy,” 197). Cautioning that thedanger of modern society is that individuals will become trapped inbureaucratic systems, Weber envisions bureaucracy as the very edifice of theself-defeating iron cage, where routinization takes a life of its own, lifeloses meaning and impulse, and the world becomes disenchanted. The danger ofthe iron cage and its bureaucratic confines is that they negate individualagency, without which individuals find themselves alienated in a world in whichthey can find no meaning. Social practices as a whole will undergo atransformation by which they become demystified and reduced merely tomechanical functions. Weber’s rejection of socialism as an ideal is contingent onthe belief that the abolition of the market and the establishment of socialismwill create a society conducive to the bureaucratization of life and society,which in turn impede the human potential for charisma and self-expression. Theideal of the socialist abolition of class antagonism corresponds to thebureaucratic bases in the “leveling of economic and social differences,” aswell 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 whichpromoted the predominant existence of charismatic leaders, which suggests thatdemocracy and the charisma which it exercises is fundamentally at odds with thestatus character of bureaucracy which has a basis of rationality andspecialization. Marxist historicalmaterialism theorized that economic factors were the chief determining forcesof social life on the basis of an interpretation of history as the progressionof social formations and their respective modes of production, which constitutethe superstructure of society. Marx thus grounded his theory on the belief thatthe economic sphere was determinant of the entirety of social life, that moneyis the adhesive bond of both human life and of society. Regarding Marxisthistorical materialism as inherently inadequate to explain the rise ofindustrial capitalism, Weber maintained that the emergence of modern societycould be interpreted on the basis of ethics and values embodied particularlywithin the sphere of religion. Weber conceived of a dynamic and reciprocal interactionbetween the different spheres of life within society, particularly betweenreligious, economic, and social spheres, which mutually regulated one another.The dynamic Weberian conception of the emergence of capitalism thus hinged onthe role of ideas, as opposed to Marxist emphasis upon economic preconditions,which served as the pivotal forces in bringing about modern capitalism. Works CitedMarx, Karl, et al.
Capital: Volume 1. Penguin Books, 1991. Weber, Max, andRichard Swedberg. “IX: Sociology of Charismatic Authority.” Weber: Essays in Sociology, PrincetonUniversity Press, 1999, pp. 245-252.
Bureaucracy Weber, Max, andRichard Swedberg. “Science as a Vocation.” Weber:Essays in Sociology, Princeton University Press, 1999, pp.
129-159. Tucker,Robert C. “German Ideology, Part I.” TheMarx-Engels Reader, Norton, 1978, pp.146-200. Tucker, Robert C. “On theJewish Question.” The Marx-Engels Reader,Norton, 1978, pp.
26-53. Tucker,Robert C. “The Communist Manifesto.” TheMarx-Engels Reader, Norton, 1978, pp. 469-500. Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit ofCapitalism.