Political Economy: Roles of Ideas and Interests Essay

Political Economy: Roles of Ideas and Interests Essay

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This essay aims to examine the roles of ideas and interests in the political econ-omy by mainly drawing on theories developed by Karl Marx and Max Weber. The two authors have very different views on the drivers of historical development, the establishment of capitalism and the structure of modern society. Marx’s no-tion of historical materialism emphasizes the role of material interest in con-structing the boundaries and structure of the political economy. Max Weber’s notion of the Protestant Ethic emphasizes the role of ideas and norms in shaping rational action and modern society.

This essay will explore, contrast and discuss these two authors and their views. Initially, I will give brief definitions of the concepts of interests and ideas. The underlying ontological debates regarding the formation of these concepts will be avoided and the boundaries of the concepts will instead evolve throughout the essay. Second, I will examine the role of interests in Marx’s theories by looking at his notion of historical materialism, his structure of society and Marxist theories of state. Third, I will contrast Marx’s theories to Max Weber’s notion of the pro-cess of rationalization, his structure of society and the Protestant Ethic.

The concept of interest will here be defined as the real material needs or desires of principal actors, including individuals and groups, in society. (Hall, 1979, p. 176)

The concept of ideas will here be defined as a mental representational image of some object. (Audi, 1999, p. 411)


Marx and the role of interests

Marx begins his notion of historical materialism by distinguishing the existences of mankind to animals by the fact that mankind produce their own means of sub-sistence. This is what he calls ...


... middle of paper ...


...ic and the Spirit of Capitalism London: Routledge Classics

Das, J. R. (2006) ‘Marxist Theories of the State’ In: Pressman, S. (2006) Alterna-tive Theories of the State New York: Palgrave Macmillan

Hall, P. A. (1979) ‘The role of interest, institutions, and ideas in the comparative political economy of the industrialized nations’ In: Lichbach, I. M. and Zucker-man, A. (1979) Comparative Politics: Rationality, Culture and Structure Cam-bridge university press

Becker, S. O. and Woessman L. (2009) ‘Was Weber Wrong? A Human Capital Theory of Protestant Economic History’ The Quarterly Journal of Economics 124(2) pp. 531- 596


Habermas, J (1975) ‘Towards a reconstruction of historical materialism’ Theory and Society 2(1) pp. 287-300

Vanberg, V. and Buchanan, J. M. (1989) ‘Interests and Theories in Constitutional Choice’ Journal of Theoretical Politics 1(1) pp. 49- 62

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