Karl Marx vs. Max Weber
The social order of the state is an essential determinant of life chances every individual can have. It can be defined as the particular organization, or structure of society that imposes specific values, rules, standards, norms, and practices on its members. It is a hierarchy where some individuals hold more power and rule the country, while others conform or struggle for their position (Cole, 2019). Capitalism, as a leading economic system, significantly influences social stratification. Fathers of sociology, Marx, and Weber elaborated on concepts of social order and class. Although they both criticized capitalism, Weber’s ideas on class interaction seem to be more applicable today.
Karl Marx: Class and Social Order
Marx sees class more as a social relationship rather than a rank in society. The German philosopher considered capitalism a social and economic construct grounded on hostile relationships between two major social groups: proletariat and bourgeoisie. Under this theory, people historically divide themselves into two unequal classes that create room for an ongoing class struggle.
In Communist Manifesto, he explains that “the modern bourgeois society that has sprouted from the ruins of feudal society has not done away with class antagonisms. It has but established new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones” (Losurdo, 2015, p. 56). Hence, social order is determined by society’s economic structure that ignites particular social relations needed for goods production.
For German philosophers, “ownership of the means of production” is the sole asset classes struggle for. Mass people united by common interest from class and oppose the ruling one politically. In that case, the workers oppose the wealthy employers that treat them as a labor force. The state and other social institutions play the role of a base that reinforces the superstructure by spreading the dominant class’s beliefs (Cole, 2019). In general, Marx views social order as a class-based hierarchy where the minority administers the majority for their own financial sake.
Max Weber: Status and Social Order
For Weber, power is not limited to the capital and means of production. Instead, he introduced status groups that emerge in capitalist society no matter if its members possess property. Under a three-component theory of stratification, an individual can have power either in social, economic, or political order represented by his/her status, class, or party, respectively. Thus, the distribution of power has a variety of forms in different class situations.
Max Weber argues that social class forms under different types of antagonism, social actions, and the current market situation. In other words, the German political economist presented two categories of class situations. The first one takes place when the dominant social group monopolizes the means of production. In this case, wealthy people tend to struggle with each other for power, while other groups have limited life chances.
On the contrary, the second category is based on individuals’ social characteristics such as education, skills, and abilities. Here individuals can sell their capabilities to endorse greater life chances even without owning capital. Hence, people struggle in different economic situations for their interests rather than the objectives of more generalized social groups. For Weber, legal order can resolve disputes among major classes mitigating the extreme class struggle (Losurdo, 2015). Instead, people tend to form status groups based on their choice and compete for reputation and prestige. The Party class seeks political power for personal or social change reasons.
Both Marx and Weber tried to explain how and why people form social groups under capitalism. Marx’s theory views social order entirely through the economic prism, whereas Weber’s approach to stratification is multidimensional. For Marx, hostile and ongoing class struggle is driven by the unequal distribution of wealth and power.
The power of the market and economic behavior is the overarching concept of his works. On the contrary, Weber’s status groups compete for social honor or political power even without regard to the market situation. In general, Weber disagreed with Marx’s class struggle concept and developed the theory based on the interplay of prestige, power, and wealth.
To my mind, Weber’s theory better explains today’s life under capitalism. It is true that wealth still plays a dominant role in society. Wealthy people usually have better life chances, enjoy more power, and a higher standard of living. There is also a higher chance to transform economic superiority into political power, as in the case of previously successful businessman Donald Trump.
Someone can state that Uber, Handy, or Amazon’s business strategies exploit sub-employed and over-employed workers (Merrifield, 2019). Nevertheless, government and legislation mitigate the class struggle and create opportunities for people who do not have capital but possess particular talents.
To conclude, Marx’s viewpoint is more pessimistic as he believed in the destructive power of capitalism. In his turn, Weber praised the rational lifestyle and moral nature of this economic system. The concept of social stratification that comes from the interplay of power, prestige, and wealth better explains the current situation in most capitalist societies. I believe that the current social order influenced by globalization is more liquid than it was before. The power distribution is a multidimensional process and not limited to wealth.
Cole, N. L. (2019). What is social order in sociology?. ThoughtCo. Web.
Losurdo, D. (2015). Class struggle: A political and philosophical history (Marx, Engels, and Marxisms). Palgrave Macmillan.
Merrifield, A. (2019). Notes on Marx’s “General Law of Capitalist Accumulation.” Monthly Review. Web.