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During the nineteenth century, Karl Marx and Max Weber were two of the most influential sociologists. Both of them tried to explain social change taking place in a society at that time. On the one hand, their views are very different, but on the other hand, they had many similarities.
Weber had argued that Marx was too narrow in his views. He felt that Marx was only concerned with the economic issues and believed that that issue is a central force that changed the society. Weber, on the other hand, tried to look at the macro-sociological phenomenon in his explanation. Weber felt that there is just more than one explanation about causes of change.
Marx’s perspective was not based on the conflict of ideas, but rather on the conflict of classes. This conflict is the results of a new mode of production. According to Marx, history would consist of epochs of modes of production. He states that these modes of production are: primitive communism, slave society, feudalism, capitalism, and then socialism and communism.
The changes accompany the transition from one epoch to another. In the late nineteenth century labor has become a commodity to the merchants, and the formation of a new mode of production has risen which gave rise to a capitalist society. There is a new class distinction between the laborer and those who owned the means of production.
Max Weber was opposed to Marx and believed that his theory was an oversimplification of history. He thought Marx’s view of history was too focused on economics and was not considering the role of ideas and values as causes. Weber felt that scientific, historical, and philosophical causation was so connected with economic development that they can not be
considered separately as causes of change in the society. He used the relationship between society and the individual to explain the causes of change in terms of social development.
Weber also thought there was a link between capitalism and the Protestant work ethic. Specifically he looked at Calvinism. Calvinism was a simple way of life in which you were to do good for others. The way into heaven was to do the greatest good for the greatest number of
people. Work was done not for one’s own personal gain, but for the sake of god. Weber found that in areas where Calvinism was the highest is where capitalism rose first, and no other religion resulted in the rise of capitalism.
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Marx was concerned with the structure of society rather than the meaning. He thought that it is the class structure which gave power to the classes. This term of class is used differently between Marx and Weber. For Marx the causes of change was the result of conflict between the
two classes. Weber, on the other hand, felt that once feudalism had been abolished so was the class system. Class in feudal era was determined by one’s blood line. If one were a serf then one’s son or daughter would be born into the same class status. The same would hold true for any other social status. The next in line for the throne of the king is his first born son. With
change this distinct line between classes vanished. They both may have different reasons as to causes of change, but they both agree as to what society has become.