MARX AND WEBER ON HISTORY AND THE RISE OF CAPITALISM

MARX AND WEBER ON HISTORY AND THE RISE OF CAPITALISM

MARX AND WEBER ON HISTORY AND THE RISE OF CAPITALISM

This research paper outlines the theory of Karl Marx (1818-1884) of historical materialism, discusses the views of Max Weber (1864-1920) on the forces which shape history and compares and contrasts the views of Marx and Weber on the rise of capitalism. A fundamental premise of Marx is that economic or material factors determine the course and outcome of history (historical materialism or economic determinism). Weber viewed economics as one among many important factors which contributed to the evolution of human society. He laid considerable emphasis on the importance of charismatic leadership and new ideas as determinants of historical change. He saw the rise of capitalism as the psychological product of a particular set of beliefs which he labeled the Protestant ethic.

From his studies in Berlin as a young man, Marx was influenced by the ideas of German philosophers, especially Georg Hegel and Ludwig Feuerbach. Marx borrowed from Hegel the concept of history as a scientific, ineluctable process. From Feuerbach came the concept that essence of man’s being was his economic circumstances, namely, as Feuerbach said, “a man is what he eats.” In 1848, in The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote the following:

[I]n the social production of their material means of existence men enter into definite, necessary relations which are independent of their will, productive relationships which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. The aggregate of these productive relationships constitute the economic structure of society, the real basis on which a juridical and political superstructure arises, and to which definite forms of social consciousness corresponds. The mode of production of the material means of existence conditions the whole process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that…

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