Weber vs. Marx

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Weber destabilizes the relationship between base and superstructure that Marx had established. According to Weber, the concept of historical materialism is naïve and nonsense because superstructures are not mere reflections of the economic base. (“The Protestant Ethic” and “The Spirit of Capitalism (1904-5) Weber agrees that the economy is one of the most faithful forces in modern life. However there are other social and legal factors which exhibit power and thus influence society. These factors help define bureaucratic society or Weber’s concept of modern society which operates through the rational administration of labor. According to Weber, the condition of modern society is disenchantment, which, through rationalization (division of labor), worldly activity is no longer motivated by cultural or spiritual values (meaning) but is instead motivated by economic impulsion. Ironically though, Weber attributes religious aestheticism (meaning) to the root of rationalization, and once mechanism (capitalism) takes off on its own, that religious root is no longer needed to justify work. Thus, mechanized petrification emerges, leaving hardly any room for spontaneity, with a few exceptions. In establishing a definition of modern society, Weber, unlike Marx, acknowledges that certain ideas can have great influence on material conditions. He suggests a more complex, dynamic relationship between economy and superstructure. Human activity is motivated by reasons other than just capitalist consumption. For example, many people act based on meaning, such as religious or spiritual. Values shape how people live. Weber accuses Marx of being an economic determinist for believing that the mode of production is the only force that moves the base. Weber believes that social and legal factors such as status, class, party, and the division of social honor from economic order in addition to the economy influence modern society, which, according to Weber, is a bureaucracy organized through the rational administration of labor. Weber believes that human history has been the progressive rationalization of life (modernity). The increased rationalism (measuring/controlling the labor process, ie: assembly line) based on logic and calculations instead of traditions, heart, and feeling of modernity le...

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... be used to promote one’s status. An influential politician, for example, has a lot of power not because he has money, but because his decisions impact society at large and play a very important role in governing the lives of others. Weber notes that although bureaucratic rationalization has disenchanted the world and its endurance seems inevitable, the spirit has not been completely eradicated. Weber believes that as an advanced society we cannot escape the pattern of rational rules and laws. However, he allows for the arrival of prophets or charismatic people from time to time, those who exhibit good rational administration skills as well as heart and passion. While offering no clear solution, Weber leaves us with an optimistic hope for the future and inspiration, perhaps, to emulate those extraordinary leaders of our time.
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