Marx' and Weber's Concept of 'Capitalism'

Essay, 2012

14 Pages



Weber’s Understanding of Capitalism

Marx’ Understanding of Capitalism

Weber and Marx Comparison




Karl Marx and Max Weber are the classics of German sociology of the end of 19th and the beginning of 20th centuries. This paper provides a brief overview on Marx’ and Weber’s perception and definition of the notion of ‘capitalism’ as well as their further comparison. Capitalism in the theories of these two prominent sociologists is represented from the different points of view, thus, the comparison promises to be significant. As the main sources for this research it is planned to use main works of Karl Marx and Max Weber on capitalism, particularly: “Capital:

Critique of Political Economy” and “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” along with analytics and criticisms of their theories, which have been done by other sociologists.

Weber’s understanding of ‘capitalism’

Capitalism serves as one of the main topics in Max Weber’s research͘ Though, he is especially interested not in capitalism in its traditional understanding, but in its ethical and cultural value, which represents capitalism in variety of its perspectives͘ For Weber, ‘capitalism’ is not just a notion of political economy, as it was majorly regarded before him, but cultural and sociological concept. According to Weber, a modern capitalism is an inescapable consequence of Europe’s historical development and there is no way back to the patriarchal structures and values. Weber’s analysis focuses on the combination of political, economic and religious structures, which were shaping the Western capitalism. The foundation of the European capitalism Weber saw in religion, particularly in Protestantism. In his work “The protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism” Weber starts over with the denial of the perspective on capitalism as an aspiration for gaining the profit (Weber 1996). For him, this aspiration is hardly related to capitalism as it is common for people of all types and classes. Unrestrained avidity of possession is not equal to capitalism or its spirit in Weber’s perspective͘ Capitalism does represent the desire for possession, but a very rational one. If we consider capitalism in its traditional understanding as an economic activity, which was oriented on making profit and expenses in terms of money, then in this sense, according to Weber, capitalism existed in many countries around the world. The main issue in Weber’s research was the origin of the bourgeois capitalism with it rational organization of free labor.

The main idea in “The protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism” in its approach to understand the Western capitalism is that even though the economic conditions are important in sense of rationalization of technology and rational law, the economic rationalism is dependent on the ability and people’s proneness to certain types of practical and rational life behavior as well.

Weber points out the conditionality of the economic mentality and economy type by the certain religious orientation. The conditionality of the modern Western capitalism and the protestant ideology Weber proves by the various statistical data. Particularly, by the fact that the majority of the capital holders and entrepreneurs were represented by protestants, by the prevalence of protestants in the qualified classes of workers, as well as higher technological personnel in modern factories (Weber 1996: 35).

According to Weber, here it is possible can observe a certain causal relationship, connected to a certain psychology, which was cultivated by the education. In Protestantism this psychology had an orientation on the professional activity. In his point of view, one should look for the reason of different way of action of Catholics and Protestants, first of all in the stable internal originality of each confession and in their purely religious traits.

Explaining of the Protestant ethic Weber reveals the inner originality of this belief. Thus, referring to people raised in Protestantism ideology, he notes that they have a commitment to the ‘duty to labor’ which creates the most favorable conditions for work as understanding of vocation. That is what made the original motivational structure of the behavior of the urban European class - the bourgeoisie. This ethical core of the Protestant religion was the most adequate form of high-yield industrial capitalism. Noting the invasion of the new spirit, ‘the spirit of modern capitalism’ Weber does not reduce the issue of expansion of the driving forces of modern capitalism only to the question about the source of the financial resources used by the capitalist. He focuses on the distinct ethical qualities of the people who were able to provide necessary conditions for the unlimited growth in labor productivity. The formation of the ethical qualities of men of the "new type" the author of the "Protestant ethic" relates to the ideas of Martin Luther and his reform activities, in particular, the reinterpretation of the secular activities and interpretation of a professional vocation and equality of all occupations before God.

Weber points out that, "we only wish to ascertain whether and to what extent religious forces have taken part in the qualitative formation and the quantitative expansion of that [Capitalist] spirit over the world. Furthermore, what concrete aspects of our capitalistic culture can be traced to them?"(Weber 1996: 91)

Given the enormous complexity of the relationship between material basis, the forms of social and political organization and the spiritual content of the Reformation era, Weber tries, above all, to establish the link between certain points of the known forms of religious belief and professional ethics. This, in his opinion, can identify the general direction of the impact that religious movement has had on the development of the material culture. And only after it will be well established, it is possible to, according to Weber, try to determine to what extent the content of modern culture should be kept to religious grounds and to what extent to the motives of another kind.


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Marx' and Weber's Concept of 'Capitalism'
University of Bremen
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marx, weber, concept, capitalism
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Alina Degtiarova (Author), 2012, Marx' and Weber's Concept of 'Capitalism', Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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