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Marx Vs Weber Essay

1745 words - 7 pages

In the closing of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber writes, “it is, of course, not my aim to substitute for a one-sided materialistic an equally one-sided spiritualistic causal interpretation of culture and history. Each is equally possible, but if it does not serve as the preparation, but as the conclusion of an investigation, accomplishes equally litte in the interest of historical truth” (125). This closing statement presents Weber's main argument in The Protestant Ethic in a slightly different view than what many scholars think . Does Weber's essay merely criticize the theories of Karl Marx? Or is Weber simply trying to deepen the understanding of the cultural ...view middle of the document...

In his writing, Weber refutes Marx's historical materialism through an argument for the influence of Christian Protestantism on the development of capitalism. For Marx, to explain western rationalism one must recognize the importance of the economic factor which Weber opposes in The Protestant Ethic. The spirit of capitalism could have only resulted from certain effects of the Protestant Reformation according to Weber.
Marx's material conception of history, or “historical materialism” as it later came to be known, is one of the Marxian theories opposed by Weber in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Historical materialism is a major principle in the Marxist theory of history that regards material economic forces as the foundation for sociopolitical institutions and ideas, such as religion, are built. It is a methodological approach to the study of society, economics, and history; and as Marx summarizes in A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, “it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence that determines their consciousness” (11-12).
Unlike Marx, Weber takes a more idealist approach to the history of capitalism. The term [historical] idealism is a complex one, with many different meanings. Generally speaking, idealism is a theory of reality and knowledge that attributes a primary role in the constitution of the world to consciousness. In contrast to materialism, it is the view that all physical objects can not exist apart from a mind that is conscious of them. A philosophy is understood in which it is not the ever-changing world of the senses that constitutes reality, but incorporeal ideas. Idealism is an integral part of religious beliefs, as it supports the idea that the material world is a creation of the mind that is usually a higher power's.
To begin to see how Marx and Weber's perspectives might be compatible, it will benefit to review their positions on religion. Marx places religion in the same context as narcotics, saying, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” He views religion as a false hope given to those in the working class by those in the ruling classes. However, Marx does realize it as the working class's form of protest against the working conditions they are forced to endure (“A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right”, Introduction). Religion is defined as not only a form of social control, but as the “opium of the people,” and thus Marx portrays it as being dependent on the material base and not as an independent force of social change.
In The Protestant Ethic, Weber does not try to explain the religious instinct. Instead, he attempts to comprehend how religion determines human action from the actor's perspective. Additionally, he identifies Protestantism, specifically Calvinism, as the basis...

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