Differences between Marx and Weber’s approaches to society

In the 19th century, a time defined by extensive inequality, and rapid political and economic change in Europe, Karl Marx was concerned with the idea of freedom and its intended meaning. From this question, he structured an entirely different way of analyzing history, and in doing, so he laid the foundation for the conflict theory in sociology. Karl Marx was also highly influenced by Darwin. This can be reflected in his attempts to incorporate evolution into society and therefore come up with evolutionary dialectics, and ways to understand the process of production from an evolutionary standpoint.

Weber also grew up in the 19th century and was profoundly influenced by the convulsing changes that were happening around him due to the industrial revolution in Germany. New social structures were replacing the old ones; a new managerial elite replaced the old aristocracies, and the cities were ever-expanding, Weber spent his whole life analyzing these changes. Weber’s theoretical work influenced generations of academics through the course, “The Sociology of Organisations” at the London School of Economics. This course focuses primarily on symbolic behavior, especially those elements that are involved when individuals work together because they have agreed to do so as part of their job; jointly attend training sessions; or share positions within a company. Weber’s background in the field of sociology is essential in determining the quality and depth of his writings on sociology. Weber was a professor at Heidelberg University, where he taught for 20 years.

Marx’s approach on society

Marx believed the only way for humans to survive in the wild was to collectively labor to meet our needs. When we start to collectively labor, we gradually relieve ourselves from our biological constraints and encounter the second tier of social constraints. Social constraints in the capitalist system would appear as being able to own the means of production and the things required for maintaining a profit. Marx’s focus on labor and freedom made him conceptualize the perspective of historical materialism. Historical materialism analyses material reality over time, which was the economy, the organization of labor, and resources constituted the foundation of society. Unlike other historians, Marx studied historical development as modes of production and economic classes. Marx understood modes of production as stages of history, primitive communism, feudalism, and capitalism, as well as the social relations these bring about to maintain production.

Moreover, Marx stated that the primary means of change came from conflict or conflict of classes or the existing social structures. This meant, that economically, the conflict would exist or arise between the owners of the means of production, the bourgeois, and the proletariat. He believed that these conflicts between those who owned the means of production and those who were responsible for the production have appeared repeatedly throughout history during different social revolutions. These revolutions of class antagonisms as he addressed them, were a result of one of these two social structures, the owners of the means of production or the workers, being dominated by the other.

This relationship to workers’ efforts was no longer human nature but based on artificial conditions. Another idea that Marx developed is the concept of false consciousness. False consciousness is a condition in which the beliefs, ideals, or ideology of a person are not in the person’s own best interest. It is the ideology of the dominant class (here, the bourgeoisie capitalists) that is imposed upon the proletariat. Ideas like the emphasis on competition over cooperation, or on hard work being its own reward, clearly benefit the owners of the industry. which reinstates an idea on the workers to never examine their place in society and assume individual responsibility for existing conditions, reinforcing the ideals of false consciousness.

Weber’s approach on society

Weber’s primary focus on the structure of society lay in the elements of class, status, and power. Similar to Marx, Weber saw class as economically determined. Society, he believed, was split between owners and laborers. Status, on the other hand, was based on non-economic factors like education, kinship, and religion. Both status and class determined an individual’s power or influence over ideas. Unlike Marx, Weber believed these ideas formed the basis of society. Weber’s analysis of modern society centered on the concept of rationalization, a rational society is one built around logic and efficiency rather than morality or tradition. To Weber, capitalism is purely rational. Although this leads to efficiency and merit-based success, it can deliver negative effects when taken to the extreme. In some modern societies, this is seen when rigid routines and strict design lead to a mechanized work environment and a focus on producing identical products in every location. Weber was unlike his predecessors in that he was more interested in how individuals experienced societal divisions than in the divisions themselves. Max Weber also presented the idea of the Protestant work ethic, an altered attitude toward work based on the Calvinist principle of predestination. In the sixteenth century, Europe was shaken by the Protestant Revolution. Religious leaders like Martin Luther and John Calvin argued against the Catholic Church’s belief in salvation through obedience. While Catholic leaders emphasized the importance of religious dogma and performing good deeds as a gateway to Heaven, Protestants believed that inner grace or faith in God was enough to achieve salvation. John Calvin, in particular, popularized the Christian concept of predestination, the idea that all events, including salvation, have already been decided by God. Because followers were not quite sure whether they had been chosen to enter Heaven or Hell, they sought signs in their ordinary lives. If a person was hard-working and successful, he would be likely to be one of the chosen. If a person was lazy or simply indifferent, he was likely to be one of the damned.

Weber argued that this mentality encouraged people to work hard for personal gain; after all, why should one help the unfortunate if they were already damned? Over time, the Protestant work ethic spread and became the foundation for capitalism.


Weber’s interpretative sociology is the study of the motives, meanings, and effects of social action within the framework of a common-sense understanding of the world. Marx’s historical materialism claims that history is shaped by economic forces, and tells us that these economic forces dictate how society works. Weber wanted to see how these understandings were shaped by different actors’ perceptions and interpretations of reality. Unlike Marx’s historical materialism, this view of “the concept of ‘interest'” as it applies to society as a whole leaves room for individual freedom and agency. Weber believes that social actors are guided by interests that can be expressed in many ways including religion, politics, culture, and values. Weber’s interpretative sociology was a form of Social Ethics that involved an examination of the relationship between religion and politics, as well as values and action. Weber believed that it was the religious nature of people, rather than economic or social factors which determined the course of history. Marx, on the other hand, saw economics as a determining factor in human action.

While Marx’s theory was considerably influenced by Hegel’s dialectical method, he disagreed with the notion that abstract ideas were the engine for social change; he believed class antagonisms were what lead to social change and revolution. Max Weber on the other hand, similar to Weber believes that ideas do have an instrumental place in society and emphasized the differences in traditionalistic views during feudalism and the protestant work ethics. He believes that social structure and social change base their foundation on ideas, social action, and how we regard them, For Karl Marx, society exists in terms of class conflict. With the rise of capitalism, workers become alienated from themselves and others in society. Sociologist Max Weber noted that the rationalization of society can be taken to unhealthy extremes. While Marx attempted to analyze society in terms of the bourgeoisie and proletariats, Weber defined social relationships in terms of the rationality, cause, and other reasons that lead to the formation of that relationship.


Cluley, Robert. (2020). Introduction to Karl Marx. Marx, Karl.(1848) The Communist Manifesto

Marx, Karl, 1818-1883. The Essentials of Marx; The Communist Manifesto, by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels; Wage-Labor and Capital; Value, Price and Profit, and Other Selections, by Karl Marx. New York :Vanguard press, 1926.

Weber, Max, 1864-1920. Max Weber, the Theory of Social and Economic Organization. New York : London :Free Press ; Collier Macmillan, 1947.

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