Imperial Rome- Policies of Expansionism and Military Society

The sophistication and success of Imperial Rome was significantly due to military integration and discipline, embodying the Roman diplomatic policy of expansion along defensive and offensive lines. The case study of Roman frontier policy in the East vis-à-vis their somewhat threatening Persian (Parthian) neighbors shall provide this essay with an explanation of expansionist strategy, presenting a specific example regarding this subject. In this case, defensive and aggressive strategies were incorporated, which were both arguably used as a strategy of defending Roman basic security in opposition to the threat of “barbaric” (or rather less sophisticated) civilizations on the frontiers of the empire. Furthermore, it may be argued that the military strategy that emerged in Imperial Rome is only possible because of and reflect upon the social military culture that was invoked as early as the beginnings of the Republic, although many reforms have been implemented. The military culture of the Roman Army can be seen through the lens of disciplina (military discipline), which cultivated loyalty amongst soldiers. This traditional military culture was based upon legitimation of hierarchical trajectories between the landed elite/Emperor and the soldiers, who were motivated to be adherents of the charismatic authority of generals and leaders. The army was entirely significant to the consuls (who wished for triumphs and glory on the short-term military expeditions) and especially to the Emperor, who, for legitimating his monarchy, required the loyalty of the army. The legitimation of the Empire’s leaders and hence the cultivation of military structure and discipline was rudimental in having a successful, integrated army. Sociological theory is applied to Roman Army by Weber, Althusser and Bourdieu, providing this essay with an explanation as to how the society of an army was established in such a disciplined form. This analysis is based on economic assumptions of class division, as well as class theory and formation of ideology, each in turn providing a successful integration of the army.

The main effort of Roman frontier policy was aimed to secure these frontiers from neighbors that pose a threat to the internal security of the Empire. The strategy can be seen as similar to that of Britain in Africa, who “once embarked on the fatal policy of establishing a frontier in South Africa and defending that frontier by force, there seems to be neither rest nor peace for us till we follow our flying enemies and plant the British standard on the walls of Timbuctoo. To subdue one tribe is only to come in contact with another equally fierce, impractical and barbarous…” (Isaac, p. 20) Hence, the effort to Westernize ‘barbarous’ African tribes can be seen as similar to Roman Imperialist effort to Romanize the civilizations with which they were confronted, and those already conquered. The approach has an implicit element of protecting the Empire’s own basic security against neighbors, whose “turbulence and nomadic instincts render them difficult to live with”, which characterize Roman expansionist policy with a certain rationalization on part of the policy-makers. Many Romans saw Parthia, which was right on the border of Rome in the East, as a powerful “systematic threat” (Isaac, p.28), but still to be part of the broader reach of the Empire. At some points in history, Parthia was seen as a more urgent threat, such as when Persian King Artabanus (around 35 AD) threatened Rome with their intention of regaining old territories which the Persians saw as their inherited right. However, such words, which Artabanus used as a threat to the Romans, were never entirely realized and never turned into actual deeds. In 51 BC, a Parthian raiding campaign was relatively successful, but it was aimed rather at booty and destruction of Roman property and not conquest. In 113, Trajan was successful in conflicts against the Parthians, conquering much of Parthian territory, which were later abandoned by Hadrian, who followed the example of Cato, where he “pronounced the Macedonians free because he could not protect them.” (Isaac, p.25) This shows us that Roman policy of expansion was defensive when necessary, and that Hadrian wished to strengthen lands already annexed by the Empire, rather than pursue aggressive intentions of expansion. According to Roman Imperialists and many scholars of the time, no difference was made between vassal kingdoms on the periphery and directly administered regions, and hence Roman expansionist policies were not based upon total, aggressive domination. The trend followed that of selective expansionism or expansionist triumphs, the first symbolizing that of Hadrian, and the latter that of Trajan. “Ancient sources speak of utility, cost and benefit, in addition to the desire for glory on the part of the emperor. Nowhere is not argued that one should refrain from conquest due to moral reasons or consideration of justice to humanity.” (Isaac, p.27-28) Modern scholars may condemn Roman imperialism, presenting arguments of human rights and morality; however the given quote shows us a different point of analysis: Roman expansionist tactics was based upon the Romanization of ‘barbaric’ lands, but also on protection of Roman civilization; frontier campaigns were for practical reasons of utility. “These are not matters of right or wrong, but of logic, cost, and benefit.” (Isaac, p.28) Hence, in order to provide a cohesive analysis in the historical context, moral considerations are not of importance as much as practical considerations. In the conflict between Rome and Parthia, the coexistence of two equal major powers was incompatible with the Roman character, or perhaps with ancient politics in general; this may be true of Roman frontier diplomacy in a broader scope. The relationship between the two civilizations was based on a continuous struggle for control on the bank of the Euphrates. In 100BC-20BC, Roman campaigns in the East subjected Syria under their control and Rome no longer saw Euphrates as symbolizing the division of spheres of influence vis-à-vis Parthia. In 51BC, Parthian incursions into Syria were repelled. In 63 AD, Roman emperor Corbula was successful in turning Armenia into a client state, later retreating to Syria. In 114 AD Trajan successfully annexed Armenia, but this subsequently ended in withdrawal. However, a few years later Armenia was finally considered a Roman territory. Hence, Parthians were often engaged in raids in Syria, which prompted the Roman legions to partially withdraw from Armenia and head for Syria for defensive purposes. In 198 AD, Mesopotamia was annexed. Parthians no longer had the desire to conquer Roman lands, but their raids continued. Organization and disposition of the Roman army in the East was geared for aggressive diplomacy or even offensive warfare. Many roads, canals and bridges were constructed, allowing troops from Africa to come in case of need. Rome had ambitions to acquire new territories and often made attempts to realize them, and frequently lands were conquered for profit. Hence, to conclude Roman frontier military strategy, we may say that, depending on the period discussed, the policy was either of aggressive or defensive nature. The expansion of Rome was rationalized by the stereotypes appropriated to neighbors of less sophisticated character, and there was sincere effort to Romanize them. This approach was essential to the culture of Roman soldiers, who were proud to be part of the great Roman Empire. The military policy regarding neighboring territories is considered with either a practical approach, involving the implementation of defensive strategies, or with aggressive conquest, induced by desire for glory or for profit.

In theorizing how such strong military discipline was achieved (although mutiny was not infrequent), many aspects must be considered. Soldiers’ loyalty was secured by their annual oaths of allegiance to the emperor, who was a personal benefactor of his soldiers. The Roman hierarchy was based upon the traditional conditioning of aristocrats, allowing them to command. Officers were civilians, who had previously attained a status of equestrian (knights), and common soldiers could also ascend through promotion. Often aristocrats were appointed as officers and these did not have any special military education. Soldiers were used to obey these officers, with whom they were always in personal social contact. The tradition of this authority gave a “moralistic and often archaic tone to disciplina” (Phang, p.15), because soldiers adhered to the traditional values, which the aristocrat generals propounded through the exemplary Roman virtue.) Soldiers’ wages resembled that of a laborer’s, however they received additional benefits such as health care, donatives and pensions, and were always sufficiently fed. Hence, solders may be viewed as privileged. The general’s control of soldiers’ access to wealth allowed the elite to directly influence the army in politics. “Disciplina ideology was aimed at controlling military’s conditions of production, redistribution and consumption,” and in turn ideology worked to socialize soldiers to identify with the established order. (Isaac, p.15-20)

Weber analyses social conditions in the Army through various concepts. He identified that in order for the elite or emperor to influence the army, their order must be legitimated. Weber identified charismatic authority (these are personal qualities of a ruler that make him popular), as an unstable, but rather effective way of legitimating the order. This then underwent Routinization, which is the conversion of charismatic authority into legitimate authority that often takes a traditional form, such as the traditional disciplina of soldiers. While the charismatic authority may be true of a republican aristocrat, August transformed this into legitimate authority through rationalization of service and regularization of pensions. Hence, he built a systematic legality and bureaucracy to the many sectors of the Empire. This Legal-Rational Bureaucracy can be seen in Roman military culture as efforts of rational control of soldiers’ work, leisure, pay and consumption, which was used in preventing mutiny. Military discipline consisted of tradition and custom, not of law. Hence, it was a “social rather than legal code” (Isaac, p.26). Patrimonialism is where power flows directly from the leader. This was often the case of Roman politics, where rulers promoted relations, friends or dependents to offices and influential positions. Often Emperors had a personal relationship with his soldiers, attaining a position of material patron and granter of privileges, effectively making them his clients. Senatorial patronage of the troops was illegal, as a patron might use his troops to start a civil war. Direct control of soldiers’ wealth and of labor and other economic factors were “value-rational as well as instrumentally rational;” (Isaac, p.29) in other words, this control was a rational procedure working to ensure legitimation of the Roman order. (Isaac, p.21-29)

Althusser considered the aspect of social and cultural reproduction and ideology as major motives in the process of legitimation. People are educated and habituated to reproduce conditions that they view as part of their everyday life. This involves reproduction of ideology by both the subordinate and dominant classes, which served also to legitimate the order. The socialization of people forms ideological habits in people, and through institutions, which are ideological state apparatuses, members of society are hailed as subjects. An example of this is the case of Catholics in the Roman Catholic Church, who form ideologies based on their social status of Catholic that in turn legitimates the Church. Althusser conceptualizes the idea of roman disciplina as founded on traditional values and rejection of certain behaviors and identities that would abject them. Such stereotypes of the German barbarian vis-à-vis the traditional, virtuous Roman soldier, work to create their identity, hence helping promote social control. (Isaac, p.29-30) Bourdieu builds on this theory, and uses the term habitus, which is the physical embodiment of cultural capital, such as habits, skills and disposition, to specify how Roman soldiers may have embraced ideologies that helped form their soldierly identity. Bourdieu says that an individual grows up in a class and is educated in a field that creates social disposition. He terms “Pedagogic work”, which is the process of producing durable training in the habitus and internalization of the principles of their culture. In the army, the pedagogic work took the form of physical and combat training, routine fatigues and other duties such as building projects. These, in essence of the term “pedagogic work”, allow for routinized training in the field of soldering, which are embodied as a physical identity, legitimating the actions the soldiers are performing, and hence legitimating, in effect, the whole order. The Emperor was essential in emphasizing the soldiers’ habitus, and often exchanged gifts and benefaction, which worked to legitimate his rule. The mutual experience of hardships by the commander and his soldiers induced the latter to accept him as one of them; this was highly effective in consolidating social cohesion in the legion. Another ideology that had the same effect was the idea of masculinity, which was part of Roman military habitus, and in turn, military discipline was propagated because the alternative to military service was associated with effeminacy, which was viewed as shameful and disgusting. All these factors must be considered if we are to come to a clear analysis of social integration of the Roman army and how legitimating the Roman order was possible. Ideology, as sociology shows us, is persuasive in showing us the specific formation of social and economic statuses (particularly to the class of soldiers), and we can certainly see that legitimation of the imperial army was achieved through “discipline fashioned habitus” of soldiers and officers, and through direct control of the material wealth of soldiers. (Isaac, p.30-34)

This essay is an attempt to give a limited overview of military culture in the Imperial Roman Empire. The case study of Roman and Parthian relations gives understanding to the basic Roman conceptualization of their expansionist policy; Roman integrity and safety was vitally important, and the political strategies employed in the frontiers of the empire, whether aggressive or defensive, were generally aimed at encouraging this. Although, often emperors or consuls desired glory, it is still part of the greater Roman tradition and virtue, and whatever motives may be behind the military strategies employed, the context is always that of Roman integrity and glory. In facing neighbors who were viewed as less sophisticated than them, the Roman leaders often acted in effort to protect the Empire through defensive and selective expansionism. Although internal imbalance was perhaps the biggest threat to Rome, the greater part of Roman military action was focused on the frontier, and hence strategy regarding frontier diplomacy allows for important analysis of overall Roman military action. However, it is perhaps most important to analyze the social aspects that allow for cohesion amongst the imperial army to understand what military culture the Romans had. Here Weber, Althusser and Bourdieu provide important sociological theories. They allow not only for understanding military culture, but also for comprehending how such a huge army, largely due to discipline, legitimated the order and hence allowed for politicians to play the greater part of deliberating on military diplomacy. The two parts to this essay provide a sufficient preliminary understanding to how a military culture is conceived, and how social aspects are fundamental in creating an army.


Phang, Sara Elise. Roman Military Service: Ideologies of Discipline in the Late Republic and Early Principate. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2008. Print.

Isaac, Benjamin H. “Rome and Persia.” The Limits of Empire: The Roman Army in the East. Oxford: Clarendon, 1992. N. pag. Print.


Comparing and Contrasting Max Weber and Karl Marx: The Rise of Capitalism and Class Theory

  1. Introduction

The task of identifying similarities and differences in Karl Marx and Max Weber is not an easy one. This essay will attempt to do so through their contesting theories regarding the emergence of capitalism and class theory. Although both thinkers provide a much more extensive analysis of society than is here offered, the ideas presented in this essay serve as a preliminary case study to the fundamental difference of conceptualizing society: namely Marx’s view of a material basis to both the expression of economic states and to social stratification is opposed to Weber’s primacy of cultural and social factors as influencing these conditions. The two prominent sociologists look towards an historical basis to explain the origins of capitalism, however it may be said that Marx devises a “grand theory” of historical determinism, while Weber focuses on contextual history, explaining the rise of capitalism through specific historical conditions. Marx puts forth a macro-economic theory later described as historical materialism, in which he bases all social production of men in the economic, material forces of production. He views forces of production as paramount in transforming society from one state to another; that is to say, that, according to Marx, a society determined by (e.g.) feudal forces of production have these forces contested when new, more modern forces of production conflict with the prior ones. Hence, material production determines the nature of historical conditions. Weber, on the other hand, searches for specific historical conditions that can explain the rise of capitalism. He equates the capitalist spirit with what he calls the protestant ethic. He sets a causal relationship between the two, viewing the protestant ethic as a cultural phenomenon forming a specific work ethic that explains the capitalist nature of men. The difference between the two positions is not only explained by Weber’s primacy of culture as opposed to an economic base to the historical development of capitalism, but also by his rejection of Marx’s belief that capitalism is an inevitable economic condition that will eventually be replaced by a more sophisticated economic state, i.e. communism. While they both see individuals in society as ruled by abstract systems where there are relations of distinct entities, the content of their analysis and their intellectual endeavor is substantially different.

Another difference embodied in the theories of the two sociologists pertains to ideas of class system. Marx constructs his theory around the two poles of the Bourgeoisie and Proletariat classes, the former owning the means of production and the latter having their labor exploited by the Bourgeoisie. Marx argues that the emergence of these two classes is inevitable in the context of historical determinism, owing to specific criteria of the organization of the forces of production. In other words, the formation of classes and a person’s economic position in society is determined by one’s relation to the material conditions of production. Weber provides a more extensive theory to social stratification, where he notes that the process is not merely dependent on the ownership of capital, but relies on the three instances of class, status and power (or party). This theory, called the three-component theory of stratification, which will later in the essay be explained in more detail, acknowledges social stratification as having ideological value; that is to say that the creation and maintenance of social strata are enveloped by the possession of power and the exercising of power (and not only material power). The status of individuals in a class is a social resource and not merely an economic one. In other words, Weber sees social stratification as the interplay between wealth, prestige and power, each taking place in three different instances of class, status and party. This theory posits that ideas can create social change, as opposed to Marx, who argues that society is only a result of material conditions.

  1. Karl Marx and Max Weber on The Rise of Capitalism

Marx’s historical materialism is based upon the fundamental reality that human survival from generation to generation depends upon the production and reproduction of the material requirements of life. This being said, material propagation happens through the process of people having definite social relations or, in other words, production relations. This, in turn, causes division of labor, which is determined by the relations of production. Marx says that “The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of consciousness.”1 Here the idea of historical materialism is clearly formulated; the “base” of society is its productive relations, these are “tools, instruments, technology, land, raw materials, and human knowledge and abilities in terms of using these means of production”,2 while the superstructure is everything else that exists in society (e.g. religion, legal status, government, philosophy, etc.) Marx identified four modes of production in history until his proposal of the fifth and final revolutionary communism. These are primitive communism or tribal society (a prehistoric stage), ancient society, feudalism, and capitalism. Each of these social stages is characterized by different modes of production and different allocation of material surplus. Primitive communism is called in this name because it is essentially an egalitarian hunter and gatherer society, where everyone has equal social relations and ownership. With the development of agricultural methods, the relations of production changed into that of ancient society, whose division of labor was characterized into that of slaves and slave-owners. Feudalism, hence, according to the Marxist view that production relations are determined by productive forces, is identified by landowners and serfs. Capitalism is based on the classes of the capitalist class (bourgeoisie) and the working class. In each of these social stages, except that of egalitarian primate communism, there is a privileged class (such as the capitalist class) that owns the means of production, and a class that survive by exchanging their labor (working class). In history, “at a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto.”3 Marx argues that this “era of social revolution” changes the economic foundations and leads “sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure.”4 Underlined here is Marx’s historical materialism, where it is clear that historical development from one economic state to another, and all the ideological or cultural forms that are expressed in these social stages, are entirely determined by the “base”, that is the material production relations. Marx believed that the final and ideal economic stage in the process of this historical determinism is communism, where there no longer exists class conflict between the dominant and subordinated class and society is egalitarian. The transition of society into communism will only occur through a proletariat led revolution.

Max Weber, unlike Marx, sees culture and ideology as a basis for the formation of capitalism. More specifically, Weber argued that the motivated spirit of capitalist accumulation in Northern Europe evolved from the ideology of Protestant (or Calvinist) ethic, which influenced people in developing a mindset of secular work. The result of this relationship was the engagement in capitalist enterprises, trade and accumulation of wealth and investments. While Weber doesn’t believe that capitalism is strictly Protestant, he argues that the culture of these religious ideas was one of the founding forces behind the emergence of modern capitalism. The Reformation of Christianity into Protestantism served as a change in values regarding hard work and progress. The spirit of capitalism is founded on favoring rational pursuit of economic gain and, Weber says:  “We shall nevertheless provisionally use the expression ‘spirit of capitalism’ for that attitude which, in the pursuit of a calling, strives systematically for profit for its own sake in the manner.”5 The divide that the Protestant Reformation had from the Catholic Church affected people of the Protestant religious orientation in such a manner that they believed that the institution of the Catholic Church has nothing to do with their salvation. Salvation is predetermined. People, hence, have an individual approach to the merit of religion and a personal relationship to the meaning that is embodied in God. This resulted in an ideological change of values, in which people of Protestant persuasion saw work as their vocation and they were hence encouraged to strive for “economic success”. ‘Wealth was an end in itself’, rather than a means to provide for the needy, as Catholic asceticism saw it.5 In extensive research of societies of mixed religion, Weber discovered that “the leaders of the economic system- business leaders, owners of capital, high-grade skilled labor, and more advanced technically and commercially trained personnel- were all overwhelmingly Protestant.”6 While Weber admits that the industrial revolution and the rationalization and secularization of society were significant indices to the emergence of capitalism, he also credits the aforementioned Protestant mentality of people at the time as a drive towards the “capitalist spirit”. Weber believed that the “spirit of capitalism” was not an example of greedy self-interest (as Marx believed), but rather an ethical duty enveloped by a set of values, “that among other things stresses economic success… Protestantism succeeded in turning the pursuit of profit into a moral crusade.”7

Both Marx and Weber share the view that modern capitalism is a system where “the individuals are ruled by abstractions, where the impersonal and “thing-like” relations replace the personal relations of dependence, and where the accumulation of capital becomes an end in itself.”8 However, there is a fundamental difference in the conception of the rise of modern capitalism. Namely, Marx argues that capitalism is inevitable in the determined course of history and that any ideological changes were created by strict evolution of the material basis of society; this is heavily contested by Weber’s primacy of the role of ideational conditions that he believed developed by chance: it is ideas and culture that are most involved in the transformation of society into capitalism. Marx’s historical materialism is contrasted by Weber’s analysis that the ideology of the Protestant ethic lead to the “spirit of capitalism”. “On a theoretical level, by stressing that he was dealing with the relationship between one ethos (Protestantism) and another (the spirit of capitalism), Weber was able to keep his analysis primarily at the level of systems of ideas.”9 While Marx saw capitalism as inherently immoral and “wagers on the possibility of overcoming capitalism thanks to a socialist revolution”, Weber, a “resigned observer”10, argued that the capitalist spirit was a moral system defined by the pursuit of wealth. However, both the sociologists agree on how to define the elements of capitalism, namely that capitalism is based on the rational accumulation of wealth/capital. The theories of Marx and Weber differ in regards to the emergence and state of modern capitalism; Marx insists on an economic motive, while Weber sees culture as its fundamental drive. Even though their theories share the commonality of using historical analysis to describe the rise of capitalism they still stand in opposition in understanding what is the force behind it all.

  1. Karl Max and Max Weber on Class System

Marxist class theory asserts that social stratification or the assembling of individuals into class hierarchies is determined by a person’s role in the production process, and this division, in turn, causes ideological, class consciousness. Hence, Marx defined class as embedded in material relations, rather than social status. Marx distinguished class status based on the economic factor relating to productive forces, and hence gave two criteria to class structure: ownership of the means of production and control of labor force. He sees modern capitalist society as having three classes: capitalist, or bourgeoisie class (the dominant class), the workers or proletariat class (people belonging to this class are subordinated and sell their labor), and the petite bourgeoisie class, known as smaller capitalists, who own sufficient means of production, but do not employ labor force. Marx further described his class theory by conceptualizing the idea of class conflict, which drives history and social division. Each class has, what he calls, class consciousness; this is self-awareness of the populace of a class, who act in their rational self-interest. Marx’s refusal of the capitalist class system lies in the antagonism “between worker and capitalist, replacing this with a class based analysis of the worker’s struggle for better wages and conditions of work, versus the capitalist’s drive for ever greater profits.”11 This conflict is inherently problematic according to Marx and will eventually lead either to the “revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.”12 Marx believed that class ideology works to reproduce and normalize the state of inequality that inherently exists in the capitalist class system. “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.”13 He believed, as stated in the previous section of the essay, that the ideal state in which this class struggle will be dissolved is egalitarian communism.

Weber “refused to reduce stratification to economic factors”.14 Instead, he offered a multi-dimensional theory of social stratification involving three instances of class, status and party. On the level of class, its basis is economic power (here he somewhat agrees with Marx), and individuals are classified by their income and economic life opportunities, especially in the capitalist economy, where the division of lower, middle and upper class are constituted by sharing similar income. Status is characterized by social prestige and on this level individuals share communal ties, as opposed to in class, where people only share economic interest.  “Very frequently the striving for power is also conditioned by the social ‘honor’ it entails” and “indeed, social honor; or prestige, may even be the basis of political or economic power, and very frequently has been.”15 Hence, the status order, or the kind of prestige a group of people have may determine economic power, and material relations have a basis in cultural ground, such as ethnic and racial groups as well as gender. This can be exemplified by the prestige a privileged man has vis-à-vis a subordinated woman, and the emphasis here is on the power of cultural values in the act of social stratification. Thus, status order propagates social power of individuals in a community based on cultural principles and “the decisive role of a ‘style of life’ in status ‘honor’ means that status groups are the specific bearers of all ‘conventions.’”16 “Such honorific preferences may consist of the privilege of wearing special costumes, of eating special dishes taboo to others, of carrying arms—which is most obvious in its consequences—the right to pursue certain non-professional dilettante artistic practices, e.g. to play certain musical instruments.”17 These examples show that status works to convene social privileges, rather than merely economic ones. The level of party in social stratification regards social influence, and its “action is oriented toward the acquisition of social ‘power,’ that is to say, toward influencing a communal action no matter what its content may be.”18 In other words, any form of planned communal action, whose goal it is to gain social power and influence constitutes as a party. A party may be a political institution that instates legal procedures, or a union that protects the society of the labor class, or non-governmental organizations that protect citizens of distinct social status. The party “may represent interests determined through ‘class situation’ or ‘status situation,’ and they may recruit their following respectively from one or the other.”19 Thus, class, status and party are instances of the distribution of power along trajectories of economic, social and political orders.

Marx and Weber agree in one important aspect: that there are privileged and subordinated classes. However, this does not say much in regards to their conceptions of class systems; because according to Weber the privileges of power are expressed through social factors and not merely material ones. Even though Weber believes that material relations are important in the level of class, “’Economically conditioned’ power is not, of course, identical with ‘power’ as such. On the contrary, the emergence of economic power may be the consequence of power existing on other grounds. Man does not strive for power only in order to enrich himself economically.”20 Again, there is a clear antagonism between Marx’s belief that material relations constitute society (regarding both the origins of capitalism and class divisions) and Weber’s prioritization of socio-cultural aspects in the power divisions of society. While Marx argues that class division is strictly motivated by an individual’s relation to production and that social groups are a result of class order alone, Weber observes the importance of social status that organizes individuals in such a way that they promote their economic as well as ideological interests through the party order. Weber states that “one’s duty in a calling is what is most characteristic of the social ethic of capitalistic culture, and is in a sense the fundamental basis of it.”21 Marx theorizes a coherent description founded on the dialectic between the relations of capital and the historically specific context of class division. It is a simplified analysis compared to Weber’s multiplicity of social, economic and political power that drives social stratification. Weber discusses how power is organized in modern society through a multi-dimensional analysis, while Marx asks how material forces and relations directly determine class division through the two competing forces of owning the means of labor and having one’s labor exploited.

  1. Conclusion: Marx Weber

Marx’s approach is adequate in establishing a theory of deterministic quality that polarizes itself around conflicting societal forces; thus, he gives ground to the compulsions of historical processes in order to explain the development and essence of modern society. Weber can be seen to have a similar goal in explaining the emergence of capital through the protestant ethic vis-à-vis Marx’s historical materialism. Even regarding class divisions there is some agreement between the two sociologists; specifically, they both acknowledge that social stratification is founded upon the distribution of power. However, they differ significantly in their analysis of what phenomenon is primal in both the origins of capitalism and social division. Marx’s theory relies heavily on the idea that material production and reproduction is the basis of any societal structure, and this is elementary in understanding why he sees the capitalist economy as inherently problematic and why he vouches for social revolution in the form of communism. The antagonism in the material interests of the dominant and subordinated classes results in uncontrolled exploitation, which is opposed to Marx’s wish for an egalitarian society. Weber is reluctant to see society as strictly motivated by economic forces and sees the social motivations of individuals as moral at least in the sense that people’s drive in capitalist societies allow for their incorporation into the market system (this is true also for the exploited labor class). While both Marx and Weber look to history in order to explain the emergence of capitalism, Weber’s primacy of cultural and ideological forces taking place in the form of religious orientation (protestant ethic) is in strict opposition to Marx’s belief that the base of society is only its material relations. As stated in the introduction, Weber searches for specific social contexts occurring casually in history, while Marx views history as a totality of deterministic value. This is also true in their analysis of class divisions, where Marx is again inclined to see social distinctions as distribution of economic power, while Weber’s three-component theory is based on the multiplicity of economic, but more importantly social and political power. To conclude, it may be said that both Weber’s and Marx’s approach is strictly sociological, as they study the structure and development of human society, and however different the content of their theories, the importance of studying history through historical sociology is implicit in their theories; hence providing an important difference in theoretical background by which future sociologists may orientate their interpretation of human society.



  1. References
  • Marx, Karl. “Preface.” Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. Trans. S. W. Ryazanskaya. Moscow: Progress, 1859. N. pag. Https:// Web.
  • Karl Marx, by Hubert Kay, Life magazine, October 18, 1948, p. 66
  • Marx, Karl. “Preface.” Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. Trans. S. W. Ryazanskaya. Moscow: Progress, 1859. N. pag. Https:// Web.
  • Marx, Karl
  • Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism: And Other Writings. New York: Penguin Group, 2002. Google Books. Web.
  • Ritzer, George. “Chapter 4: Max Weber.” Sociological Theory. 8th Edition ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Companies, 2011. 149. Print.
  • Ritzer, George
  • Compare and Contrast Marx’s and Weber’s Theories about the Rise of Capitalism. Which Do You Prefer and Why?” Compare and Contrast Marx. Web. <;.
  • RItzer, George
  • Lowy, Michael. “Marx and Weber: Critics of Capitalism.” New Politics. N.p., 2007. Web.
  • Wolff, Jonathan. “Karl Marx.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University, 26 Aug. 2003. Web.
  • Marx, Karl, and Frederick Engels. Trans. Samual Moore.”Bourgeois and Proletarians.”. 1848. Marxist Internet Archive. Web. <;.
  • Marx, Karl
  • Ritzer, Goerge
  • Weber, Max. “Max Weber: Class, Status, Party.” Social Stratification. Ed. David B. Grusky. Print.
  • Weber Max
  • Weber Max
  • Weber Max
  • Weber Max
  • Weber Max
  • Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism: And Other Writings. New York: Penguin Group, 2002. Google Books. Web.