Sociological Theories the Theory of Essay

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Many different views abound on the origins of modern capitalism, causalities that range from economic to political, from religious to cultural, or for some, an amalgamation of societies need to expand and the resources necessary to fuel that expansion. Max Weber's the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is a study of the relationship between the ethics of ascetic Protestantism and the emergence of the spirit of modern capitalism. An ascetic Protestant is one who practices self-denial and self-discipline. Weber argues that the religious ideas of groups such as the Calvinists played a role in creating the capitalistic spirit. Calvinism focused on predestination and God's infinite power, a hierarchical system that transcended religion and moved into economic and social activities.

This is true not only in cases where the difference in religion coincides with one of nationality, and thus of cultural development . . . . The same thing is shown in the figures of religious affiliation almost wherever capitalism, at the time of its great expansion, has had a free hand to alter the social distribution of the population in accordance with its needs, and to determine its occupational structure. The more freedom it has had, the more clearly is the effect shown. It is true that the greater relative participation of Protestants in the ownership of capital, in management, and the upper ranks of labour in great modern industrial and commercial enterprises, may in part be explained in terms of historical circumstances which extend far back into the past, and in which religious affiliation is not a cause of the economic conditions, but to a certain extent appears to be a result of them (Weber, PE, I).

For Weber, though it is interesting to note that he turns to a rather modern "liberal," Benjamin Franklin, to establish the basis of a true definition of capitalism. To demonstrate the meaning of the spirit of capitalism, Weber includes a long writing from Benjamin Franklin. He says that Franklin's attitudes illustrate capitalism's ethos. Franklin writes that time is money, that credit is money, and that money can beget money. He encourages people to pay all of their debts on time, because it encourages the confidence of others. He also encourages people to present themselves as industrious and trustworthy at all times. This is the spirit of modern capitalism. Weber argues that in order for a manner of life so conducive to capitalism to become dominant, it had to originate somewhere, as a way of life common to a large number of people. It is this origin that must be explained. Capitalism cannot then simply be a necessary step in the world's development, because in order for it to emerge, particular values must be present.

Religion, then, can be seen as a hierarchical outline of capitalistic structure. Weber speaks of "the Protestant Ethic" as being a work ethic in which followers of this religion incorporated their religious ideals and values into their own economic lives. The way they ran their business and their attitudes towards gaining wealth and how they would spend it was all derived from the way their religion showed them how to live all aspects of their life. On top of the work ethic there was another quality that Protestants felt to be necessary to be living life the correct way and that was individualism. This individualistic attitude can be understood to create a competitive mindset for those in business. Weber's study has produced thoughts about how we see religion. Weber does not limit religion and its importance strictly to worship, but also how it affected society and the people's roles in acting upon their beliefs. For Weber, religion also has another function -- organizing society into segments more conducive to economic control.

Comparison of the explanation of religion for Marx and Durkheim -- for Marx, religion is an expression of a hierarchy of the ruling classes that tends to focus material realities and economic injustice, thus causing societal problems by perpetuating class structure. However, religion is not the
...This view is the origin of Marx's comment that religion is the "opiate of the masses," in that it both numbs and comforts them, but in a perpetual state of falsehoods and confusion. and, an opiate does not solve the problem, it only masks the symptoms -- one forgets their pain and suffering, but only if one is masking pain while working to solve the cause of that pain. Instead, capitalist extremes push religion, instead, Marx notes: "Let us liberate them from these chimeras, let us revolt against the rule of thought. These innocent childlike fancies are the kernel of the Young-Hegelian philosophy which the present publication aims to uncloak, to show how their bleating merely imitates the conceptions of the German middle class" (Marx, GI, preface).

Religion, though, is an institution and part of the social structure of society at large. It is, according to Marx, only dependent upon economic realities of the individual culture, so much so that the trappings and belief systems are almost irrelevant. This functionalist approach to religion sees it as an illusion that is in place to keep society functioning at the status quo. For instance, Marx believed that capitalism takes labor and alienates the worker from the value of that labor -- so too, religion take human actualization and ideals and alienates the individual from that as well, projecting them into something unknown and yet all powerful -- God. Marx's primary reasons for finding religion to be a social injustice are:

Religion is a delusion -- it pressures the individual to worship appearances rather than reality.

Religion negates humanity -- it forces the hierarchy onto the individual by preaching that it is good to be servile and accepting of the status quo.

Religion is hypocritical -- it professes valuable and positive philosophical principles, but sides with the oppressor class.

Durkheim, as the developer of sociology as a serious discipline, was of course a champion of social relationships and institutions and their own interrelationships. Because religion is a social institution, Durkheim wrote that "religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden" (Durkheim, EF). Durkheim's focus was on the caption of the "sacred" and the way that it relates to the welfare and benefit of society. Like Marx, Durkheim believes that religion is symbolic of social realities -- meaning without this mirror based on society, religion would then have no meaning. Marx thought that religion was reflective of the real universe -- Durkheim argues that it was dependent upon social institutions, Marx economics. Of course, for Marx, all human institutions are interdependent upon economics. Thus, Durkheim's overall view of the unified system called religion relates to the sacred (e.g. forbidden or mysterious things), united to a single moral authority (the Church), to reflect societal control and evoke and maintain a similar status quo and power hierarchy.

Compare/Contrast concept of class for Marx and Mosca -- for Marx, of course, all of history was a history of class struggle, called historical materialism ("The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles" (Marx, CM)). Class struggle produces continual tension; from slave classes to serf classes (feudalism) to the proletariat (capitalism). Class was hierarchical and people of a certain class (e.g. The workers) were only as good as their product (e.g. labor). "We see then: the means of production and of exchange, on whose foundation the bourgeoisie built itself up, were generated in feudal society. At a certain stage in the development of these means of production and of exchange, the conditions under which feudal society produced and exchanged...the feudal relations of property became no longer compatible with the already developed productive forces; they became so many fetters" (Ibid). Class, then, is defined only by the ownership (or lack thereof) of property. With ownership, people in power can exclude others from that property and use it to enhance their own income (factors, rent, etc.). This class determination of property, as opposed to income status, is both a theoretical and formal relationship between individuals, resulting in groups that act more in congruence to protect and enhance their own class interests and situations. In feudalism, for instance, the upper class needed the serfs to survive; the serfs needed the knights for protection. In capitalism, the workers need the factory owners to earn income, and the owners need the workers to man the factories. The problem arises when classes are disadvantaged, one taking advantage of the other.

At the very heart of Mosca's theory of class is the classe dirigente, typically translated as the "ruling class," but can also be "leading class." Mosca had a…

Sources Used in Documents:


Durkheim, E. (1997). The Division of Labor in Society. New York: Free Press.

____. (2008). The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. New York: Oxford University


Grusky, D., ed. (2000). Social Stratification: Class, Race, and Gender in Sociological

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