Despite the differences in their ideologies, Karl Marx and Max Weber share commonalities regarding how they understand contemporary free enterprise. For instance, both philosophers agree with the idea that the functionality of the system is mostly under the influence abstractions. Nevertheless, it is still difficult to separate their narratives from a critical point of view. Whereas Marx's argument emerges as more explicit, Weber's is more conflicted. Because of this, the content and drive of their critique of the capitalist system tend to differ. For instance, Marx in his argument is confident of the possibility of getting rid of capitalism through the power of persuasion by the socialist movements. Contrarily, Weber seems to have an ambivalent approach to the capitalist economic system. The sociologist has no problem with the system's approach to management and manner of production.
However, the significant difference in their ideologies is eminent concerning their views on bourgeois capitalism, that is, a type of capitalist economic system which embraces the idea of exploitation of the proletariat (wage earners) by the upper-class. In that line, this paper attempts to discuss Weber's criticism of Marx regarding the causes of the rise of bourgeois capitalism. Consequently, this essay will describe both of their arguments about the growth of the capitalist economy and social system in broad terms. Apart from that, also contained in the body is a highlight of the aspect of Marx's opinion Weber was critical of while analyzing the methods of analysis the two used in their research. The last section of the essay contains my standpoint on the issue.
Firstly, let us consider Weber's opinion on the rise of the spirit of contemporary capitalist economic system. Weber, in his book The Protestant Moral belief and the Essence of Capitalism, asserts that social dynamics such as religion frolicked a major role in the rise of capitalism (Weber, Parsons, & Tawney, 1930). In defending his argument, Weber pinpoints the idea of being both a successful business person and a Protestant. He states that the spirit of Protestantism and the mentality of being business oriented steers an individual into a paradigm of some worldly calling. In essence, this is just an excuse to exploit the poor without looking shrewd or feeling guilty.
In supporting his argument, Weber refers to a branch of Protestant movement known as the Calvinism. The followers of Calvinist teachings believe in the idea of predestination whereby they recognize God as the one who determines one's fate, and that He has already decided our destiny. In consequence, Calvinists in their search for clues about one's future in the afterlife looked to their worldly possessions for the answer. They believed that riches were a blessing from God and a sign of good fortune. Weber argues that this change dismantled the traditional economic system thus paving the way to modern capitalism. Apart from attributing religion to the emergence of this bourgeois capitalism, Weber also mentions western rationalization as another contributor. He questions the authenticity of the knowledge behind the application of technical, scientific methods in the organization of labor. He evokes the techniques of bookkeeping associating them to free labor system. Weber mentions the peculiarities related to the system as those only best applicable to a free labor organization.
However, unlike Weber, Karl Marx does not relate the emergence of the conventional capitalist economic system to any religious aspect. He implicitly denounces western capitalism by considering the moral dignity of humankind. Marx argues that the failure of capitalism to uphold the universally accepted moral values, in essence, is enough critique to challenge the system. His anti-capitalist critique revolves around some vital social issues as a result of capitalism. Such problems include the injustices of exploitation, the loss of ethical values, modern barbarism and irrationality. Marx calls this combination of these moral values as revolutionary humanism. The major setback to Marx's argument\ is its ambiguity in separating fact judgments and values. His opinions are rigorously inseparable from facts on the ground.
However, Marx's argument is ambiguous and insufficient. For instance, in the manifesto, Marx seems to celebrate the progress of western imperialism through colonialism terming it as a necessary evil. In one of his writings, he praises the suppression of the barbaric nations to bourgeois capitalism while at the same time terming it a violation of human dignity. On the contrary, in the Capital, it is not very difficult for one to come across extreme anti-capitalist critique remarks such as "cruel acts and abominable atrocities." Marx also asserts that "because of this the world has never been more pitiless, gross, dangerous, and shameless." He further evokes the aggression of bourgeois civilization by stating that, "Each progression of capitalist agriculture is a progression not only of the art of exploiting the laborer but also the art of depleting the earth's soil; each progression in the art of augmenting its fertility for a time is also a progression in the ruination of its durable sources of fertility (Marx, & Engels, 2009)." The statement implies that capitalism exploits two resources, that is, the wealth from the earth and the laborer, with making a profit being the primary objective.
That said, amidst all the confusion caused by the two philosophers' conflicting ideas, Weber was however mostly crucial of the inevitability of bourgeois capitalism. Weber, in his works openly rejects the ideologies associated with communism. However, he occasionally employed apologetic arguments in a good turn of private capitalism. He accepts the inescapability of bourgeois civilization especially in promoting economic growth. Weber's critique of the capitalist economic system is somehow more perceptive than Marx's. Weber is neither interested in the grievances of the lower-class nor the atrocities caused by colonial expansion. He does not say a word on the matter of colonization but is aware of the dangers western imperialism pose to the traditional human activities. He is also aware of the capitalist dynamics of modernization and rationalization, and the absurdity of approaches put forth to achieve them. Weber states, "...money has not been considered up to this point as something in and on itself appears entirely transcendent and irrational under the relation of the benefit of the individual of the advantage that one may try and possess''(Marx, & Engels, 2002).
In conclusion, what the two philosophers failed to acknowledge in their works is the dominance of exchange value over human activities. For instance, mechanisms of fixing prices of commodities at an artificially high level and inscribing serial number on items lead to a monetarization of social relations. Nevertheless, I am for the argument of Max Weber. The reason for this is because of his opinion on capitalism. His ideas are sufficient and insightful, and can easily be translated into scientific logic. Unlike Max, Weber's view on the origin of capitalism does not relate to religion and is therefore of free of bias. Most importantly, I agree with Weber's opinion that relationship between religion and the spirit of capitalism is just a casual one.
Marx, K., & Engels, F. (2009). The economic and philosophic manuscripts of 1844 and the Communist manifesto. Prometheus Books.
Marx, K., & Engels, F. (2002). The communist manifesto. Penguin.
Weber, M., Parsons, T., & Tawney, R. H. (1930). The protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism (p. 182). G. Allen & Unwin.
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