Marx vs Weber

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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 origins of capitalism, which includes Marx's materialist conception of history? In this paper, I will explore the ways in which Karl Marx and Max Weber might actually be compatible. By examining the two theorists' analyses in The Protestant Ethic and Marx's writings, including Capital and various essays, this paper will show how the difference between the two is not a matter of historical versus contemporary or historical materialism versus idealism. Rather, the two are compatible in their attempt to comprehend the connection between modern capitalism and history, their mutual understanding of religion as a practicality, and their pursuit of a diachronic analysis.
On one particular edition of Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, the phrase Weber “opposes the Marxian concept of historical materialism” can be seen on the back cover. It is this phrase that causes us to question the two theorists' stances on the creation of sociopolitical institutions. The Protestant Ethic challenges Marx's idea of historical materialism, t...

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...ncited capitalism. In Capital, when writing about individuals who exploit the working class and about the case studies of workers who have endured such exploitation, Marx humanizes these individuals by giving them specific characteristics. When describing the differences between exploitative capitalists and the exploited worker, he writes, “He who was previously the money-owner now strides out in front as a capitalist; the possessor of labour-power follows as his worker. The one smirks self-importantly and is intent on business; the other is timid and holds back, like someone who has brought his own hide to market and now has nothing else to expect but – a tanning” (Capital, 280). Therefore, while Marx does view history in terms of classes and processes, instead of as a collection of specific lines, he gives specific human traits to the individuals in his scenarios.
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